Klei, developers of Shank and its recently released sequel, Shank 2, recently announced their new project, Mark of the Ninja. We have the fortune of bringing you another interview with Klei’s founder, Jamie Cheng. This time, he’s been kind enough to talk about Mark of the Ninja in some detail regarding the team’s approach to the game and their gameplay goals. We’ve also got preview content coming up after PAX East, so stick around after this!

Shank is definitely a kinetic, quick paced beat ’em up and never denies that, but Mark of the Ninja is no brawler; in fact it’s far from it. So we had to ask: why a stealth game?

According to Cheng, the team at Klei that’s been working on Mark of the Ninja grew up with ninjas and, simply put, they wanted to make a game that does ninjas justice. “When I play other stealth games you don’t feel like a ninja, you feel like Shank actually. We wanted one where you actually felt sneaky, felt like an actual ninja.”

Cheng brought up Ninja Gaiden a few times and likened it to Shank (though they’re different for obvious reasons). Ryu Hayabusa, the ninja you play as in Ninja Gaiden, would have no business in Mark of the Ninja. Just like Shank, he’s a real butt-kicker; he’s agile, he’s powerful, and he even uses the weapons of a ninja, but does he ever hide from anything? No. He doesn’t need to. Likewise, players have taken to Mark of the Ninja similarly and found… interesting results.

Mark of the Ninja is “not going to be like Shank, we don’t want it to be like Shank. If you try to play this like a brawler, you’re going to die over and over.” Klei illustrated their gameplay focus via the text adventure teaser used to announce the game: if you got careless in that, you died.

There’s more to Mark of the Ninja than just being sneaky and solving stealth puzzles, however. Cheng wasn’t allowed to talk much about the story at the time of the interview, but was able to give the basic premise: you’re the champion of a clan and somehow acquire tattoos which give you powers. While we’re not sure what the powers are, Cheng reassured us they’re nothing like Ninja Gaiden- no massive fire-jutsus here.

While coming up with the environments for Mark of the Ninja, Klei is confronted with a difficult challenge: two dimensions. “With 2D, there is no such thing as “walking around a corner” or having guards “slip past you”. We’re working with mechanics like hiding in an alcove or sticking to a ceiling, you can peek around and see where things are.”

“It’s been very difficult to keep our visuals coherent, getting that pop, considering so much of the game is in darkness,” Cheng says. “We threw out tons of concepts. It needs to feel dark without being pitch black. We don’t mind that Shank is a more vibrant game. That’s kind of the point, right? The ninja is hard to see.”

The environment isn’t just an art focus, it’s a design and gameplay focus. Stealth puzzles in Mark of the Ninja will require observation and thought often based around the environment and layout of enemies. Different scenarios will invite different challenges, for which players have many tools such as the dart and spike mine (as seen in the trailer). Klei doesn’t want to “bog down players with a million things, you’re limited.” But they do want you to be able to solve different situations with different tools; that’s the focus of the puzzles.

Klei wants Mark of the Ninja to be as varied as possible, they want people to use everything in their arsenal to find their own “perfect” solution. Cheng found himself surprised at times by how people solved things at times. “It’s a very fine line, people take the shortest path and that’s really uninteresting. You really gotta’ think hard about how each scenario can’t be just bypassed by all these things.”

Mark of the Ninja is shaping up to be a very focused project, one that challenges a lot of recent developments in the “stealth” and “ninja” department. Klei is writing a rather large check considering the stealth genre is a sacred one and the line between challenging players and creating one-solution pain-in-the-butt puzzles is a pixel thin. That said, Klei seems to know what to focus on, and if they stick to the creed Cheng speaks of, Mark of the Ninja may just be the best stealth game on XBLA come Summer time.