What qualifies as stealth development?
What are we talking about when we say stealth development? We are talking about games that are currently in ongoing development but do not have pro-active marketing and update visibility. Projects that developers are quietly grinding away on. Additionally, we are looking at projects from known developers with known track records. It is not a stealth operation if the project is from an unknown developer, in that scenario, its just unknown.
Stealth development gives developers the luxury of managing expectations. Under promising and over delivering. It can also be more resource efficient as developers will not have to focus on a constant marketing update stream and sales process like with a new property. The following discussion is highly speculative and it is possible these projects will never ship or eventually arrive in a highly different form than they are now.
Let’s start with a prime example of a stealth indie. Released in 2015 Undertale slowly spread and became a huge international success for the lead developer and designer Toby Fox. It built up a large diehard fan base. One day in October 2018 Toby Fox casually dropped a download link to Deltarune on twitter. Without any previous hints or information on the project. There was no indication that Toby had been working on additional projects, let alone a sequel to Undertale.
Fans wildly clamored over the release. The executable file for delta rune was called “Survey program” and didn’t even have the Deltarune brand attached. We know that Deltarune is back in development and working towards a final release. We know what to expect from the partial release but Toby looks to be keeping further development stealth. We look forward to the day when Toby casually out of the blue drops another download link to the completed version!
Austin Jorgensen aka LOVEBradGames ( formerly known as Dingaling ) is the sole developer of LISA: The Painful. If you like quirky RPGs like Earthbound, Undertale and haven’t played the LISA series, clear your schedule immediately and go play it. Ninja Tears is the second work from Jorgensen and is very stealth, maybe vaporware.
Ninja Tears has been in stealth mode since at least 2015. Jorgensen has gone relatively silent on Twitter. Where previously Jorgensen was keen for regular shit posting, his twitter feed has been constrained to re-tweeting LISA Fan art. Before going dark, Jorgensen did post a few tidbits of insight into Ninja Tears design.
When pressed for a release date Jorgensen has claimed “don’t expect it before 2036”. Jorgensen has made a few posts demonstrating static art. Its clear that this project is also an exercise to level up Jorgensen’s illustration skills. Jorgensen tweeted that the project would be a 2D side stroller, possibly a Streets of Rage 2 influenced beat’em up game…
That sounds pretty rad to us! To speculate more about Ninja Tears lets look at Jorgensen’s work on LISA. LISA’s writing is full of very sharp dark humor. The thematic world of LISA is gritty, post-apocalyptic wasteland full of unsavory characters of dubious regard. The LISA story is composed of topics that touch on the darker side of the human condition. Topics like drug addiction, depression, sexual abuse, loneliness, and mental illness. Jorgensen’s tweets have indicated a similar set of dark topics in mind for Ninja Tears Theme.
Tim Rogers may very well be made of video games. Tim has over 22 years of industry experience: critiquing, marketing, selling, and developing video games. Most recently Tim held a role at Kotaku.com producing unbelievable high quality commentary and video content. An example of this video content is a 12 part video series in which Tim meticulously scrutinizes the english translation of Final Fantasy 7 vs the original Japanese script. Tim is a founder of Action Button Entertainment. Action Button has a portfolio of simple minimalist games.
Tim has name-dropped Truck Heck consistently throughout his video catalog with Kotaku. Tim and Action Button have released scant details on the project. We can speculate based on Action Button’s portfolio and Tim’s taste that Truck Heck will be a minimalist game with simple mechanics and puzzle elements, maybe some basketball or Nascar vibes.
Darkest Dungeon 2
Red Hook Studios has been stealthily grinding away on Darkest Dungeon 2 in the dark for some time now. The buzz about the project started when they listed a few job openings for a new art team members. Immediate gossip and speculation began around the shape of the new project. Personally, I was hoping Red Hook would deliver a new Diabloesque action RPG using the Darkest Dungeon characters and aesthetics. Unfortunately Red Hook has since gone on the record with PCgamer and explained that new game will retain the formula of the original. We can probably expect Darkest Dungeon 2 to be more of the great horror-themed dungeon crawling of the original.
Stardew Valley 2
Stardew Valley has been a mega indie hit. It was a solo development effort of Eric Barone over the span of several years in which he did all the programming art and music. A monumental task for an indie developer. He has since hired a small team to help maintain and market Stardew Valley. He has previously posted about wanting to develop and action RPG. Most recently (2020-02-11) tweeted a confirmation that he was working on other projects and would like to keep them stealth. We can already speculate that this will not be a direct Stardew Valley sequel but something more.
Frog Fractions 3
Frog Fractions is the life’s work of solo indie dev, Jim Stormdancer. In the game dev hall of masters, Jim holds the title ‘master of secrets’. Video games have a history of hiding secret levels, treasures or bonuses within nooks and crannies for intrepid players to find. Jim takes this practice to another level by recursively hiding entire secondary games within games. If you haven’t played Frog Fractions that may be an issue. The original Frog Fractions was released as a Flash browser game. At the time of this writing Flash has been officially deprecated and may not be supported. Luckily Jim has begun work on a HD re-master of the original Frog Fractions and has put up a steam page for Frog Fractions: Game of the Decade Edition.
Frog Fractions 2 is the king of stealth releases. It was slowly teased and hinted at through an elaborate alternate reality game (ARG). When it finally launched it was hidden within a entirely distinct host game. During the Frog Fractions 2 ARG a meme was born : “Is this frog fractions 2?” was casually used when discussing new games or industry news.
Did you play Frog Fractions 2? Are we sure Frog Fractions 2 even launched? Which brings us to Frog Fractions 3 is it already out? Is this blog post Frog Fractions 3? Maybe we’re already on Frog Fractions 4.