Incarnate is an ambitious project, a true blend of 3D tactical strategy and collectible card games. Today we spoke with Sham and the team at Skeleton Hand about their Kickstarter project, and received a fantastic response that really captures their enthusiasm for this game and its development. We hope you enjoy reading all about Incarnate below.

PN: Firstly, a big thanks to Skeleton Hand, thank you for taking the time to answer our questions today. It’s clear that you’re a passionate team, can you enlighten us on how you came together to form Skeleton Hand?

skeleton-hand-logoThank you, guys, for having us–it’s great to be able to spread the word about something that we are very passionate about! Right now, we are a distributed, agile team. We all work in different cities and meet several times a week on Skype. Dane (our art director) is the only guy who I (Sham) didn’t know before forming the company. Dirk (who helped me design the base game) and I have been friends since college at IIT, and Shaun (our lead developer) and I met playing World of Warcraft 10 years ago. Once the idea for Incarnate started to come to fruition, we all pulled together and formed the company, and it has been a blast so far!

PN: And the name Skeleton Hand – where did that originate?

It’s funny where people draw inspiration from sometimes haha. Sham is a rock climber, and has been in that scene for a long time now. When you put chalk on your hands before you climb, he always thought it looked like a cheesy skeleton hand. It happens to fit with the types of things we are into making, but doesn’t really relate at all at the same time.

PN: Some of the artwork that we’ve seen so far is pretty incredible, and should resonate with fans of the genre. Who’s responsible for this work and where do you draw your inspiration?

Dane is our art director. He is responsible for the amazing feel of all of the art in the game. Sham reached out to him on when the project was still getting off the ground, and when it was actually still planned as being a physical boardgame/card game. We draw inspiration from a lot of different places, but I think that Joe Madureira’s Darksiders has really inspired Dane’s artwork for Incarnate. When designing each character, we would think of a long description of their traits, physical characteristics, and personality. Sham would send essentially cutouts of characters, images, games that he envisioned a character “feeling” like, and then Dane would take it from there. Once we got rolling, it didn’t take nearly as much explanation to get the characters to the point you see them at now. They’ve all grown to have their own personalities, which is really cool to see! It’s fun to refer to the characters when discussing an idea for a card or an action. “Oh, the character will smash you in the head and send you flying back? That’s so Titan!” We have a similar process for the card art, and because the characters are so fleshed out already, we just have to describe what the card will do in game, and figure out what part of the character’s backstory we want to tell and voila, Dane starts cranking them out.


PN: Now to the game itself – Incarnate. Described as a cross between Final Fantasy Tactics and Magic: The Gathering, can you give first-time readers an overview of the game and how it works?

A game like Final Fantasy Tactics has you leveling up, equipping your 3-7 person team, and battling your way through a single player experience. Magic or Hearthstone, on the other hand, has you building a deck full of summoned allies and spells, and pits you against one other player head to head in a death match. We are taking elements from both of these two different but fundamentally similar genres and melding them together! In the end, we think that Incarnate is something of a new genre.

Incarnate is a fully 3D tactical strategy and collectible card game with a rogue-like PvE endless dungeon and competitive PvP ladder. You can compete head-to-head or in teams with other players (2v2 for now), combining classes, cards, abilities, and even music to create your own customized Incarnate (physical character on the board like in FFT) with the goal of depleting your enemies Hit Points. The cards in your deck can be powerful, instant actions (like a fireball in Magic), triggered traps (“you’ve just set off my trap card”), or they can permanently change the way your Incarnate is played (this one’s sort of unique, but you basically build your toolset as you go with these cards). Your deck is like your build order in a MOBA–it can make or break your strategy. Position is everything in Incarnate, and there are cards and abilities that allow you to change the terrain in battle to gain the upper hand over your opponents.

What we would like everyone to understand is that when you are building your character, you are coming up with a shell: a character with stats and three “hero powers,” for the Hearthstone enthusiasts out there. You then have endless choices about how you want to actually design your battle plan. Do you want to be a deceptive type of character who keeps his enemies at bay with traps and feints? You can do that. Maybe you are more interested in getting right into your opponent’s face, and smashing them through the terrain. Grab some Titan parts and put three copies of the “Unstoppable Force” card and “Earthquake” in your deck. The combinations and builds are endless!


PN: Could you expand on how you came up with the concept? Did any other games influence the production of Incarnate?

Sham has been going to a game night with his high school friends for several years now. One night after an evening of DnD 4th edition last year, he started talking about this idea he had for a board game. Dirk and Sham have always been into Magic and loved min-maxing in DnD, and other games like that, so they started getting excited about this board game concept that blended the two. Around the same time, Sham’s father found out that he had stage three stomach cancer, so Sham took time off from work to be with him, talking about anything to keep his mind off of what was going on. One of their topics was this idea of mixing a board game with a card game. About a month before his father passed away last Christmas, Sham made a promise that he would finish their game. Incarnate started as kind of a mental escape for Sham, but has evolved into something so much more for all of us.

PN: Can you tell us a bit more about the customization options in Incarnate? There are 4 classes, each with a Body, a Mind and a Soul – how does that work exactly?

Alright, so here is the breakdown! There are 4 classes, and each of them have 3 pieces: a Body (legs and lower torso), a Mind (head and upper torso), and a Soul (arms and weapon). These can be mixed and matched to make 64 unique combinations.

  • Each piece of the Incarnate you choose gives you access to different cards to build your deck and grants you an ability that can be used once per turn (again, think hero power).
  • Each piece also has part of a song attached to it, and so when you go into battle, you will have your own customized theme song that everyone will hear (assuming they have music turned up) on your turn!
  • Each card is unique and interacts with your Incarnate, your enemies, and even with the battlefield itself.
  • Cards and abilities can be comboed and can synergize with your other abilities and with other cards.

What we want to stress is that there aren’t just 64 different characters to play, because the cards in your deck are really what will set your Incarnate apart from other Incarnates. As a simple example, you could think of the classes in Hearthstone and how there are 9 classes, but the class is really only the beginning—the deck is what’s important. It’s the same for Incarnate.


PN: Incarnate features several modes but in particular, can you tell us a little more about the Endless Dungeon Mode?

We’re glad you asked about this mode, as we are particularly excited about it!

The Endless Dungeon Mode will be a 1-4 player experience (co-operative) and the spoils will be split evenly between the group members based on how far into the dungeon they make it. So if you think you can get, say, one and a half times as far with a partner, it’s going to be worth it to grab a buddy and get to work!

Each floor of the dungeon will also feature a mini-boss and its minions. These mini-bosses and minions are themselves randomly generated, sporting cards and abilities available to the players. As the party progresses down each floor, the enemies become harder and harder, until it all becomes too much and the party is ultimately defeated. Along the way, each mini-boss will also drop loot for the players to collect and add to their collections. And, yes–there will be leaderboards!


PN: So how many players can we expect to be playing with in Incarnate?

Because Incarnate will be cross-platform (PC, Mac, Linux, iOS as well as Wii U), there will be a healthy group of players PvP’ing and doing dungeons together.

The primary PvP focus competitively will be 2v2 matches. While the PvE modes will allow 1-4 players to work together. If the community asks for it, and we feel that it is balanced, we will consider 3v3 or even 4v4!

We also plan on making the single player campaign an amazing experience, so don’t go thinking this game is multiplayer only!

PN: Do you have any previous experience working with Nintendo, and what was it that swayed you to work with the Wii U? How has this current experience been so far?

Shaun here (lead developer for Skeleton Hand). From the time I got my first Super Nintendo as a kid (which was followed up by an NES, then N64), I always thought to myself, “How freaking cool would it be to MAKE games for Nintendo?” That dream was put into motion when we got the call from Nintendo last month saying they had accepted us in to the Wii U developer program. The feeling was absolutely surreal, and we are still riding the high from that! This is our first time actually WORKING with Nintendo, but so far it has been a great experience. Everyone there has been extremely nice and helpful, the Wii U Developer community is very supportive, and Nintendo is really pushing to highlight and promote indie games in their eShop, which is phenomenally cool! We’ve made great friends along the way, and are excited to bring our game to the platform and see the Miiverse talking about it!

We had always been interested in Wii U, but it’s slow early sales made us put the idea on the backburner at first. The further along the development of Incarnate went, though, the more we started to see that our player interactions made PERFECT sense on Wii U. Wii U sales steadily increased as well, giving us more confidence in the platform. The tipping point was when we heard about the Nindies program. From that point, we knew it was our goal to bring Incarnate to Nintendo!

Seeing as Incarnate is a mix between a turn-based tactical strategy game and a competitive card game, we have interactions from both genres. With card games specifically, people are used to physically touching their cards, and some card games have mimicked this successfully on tablets. We want to do the same: your hand of cards are your secret strategy, and it’s natural to be able to interact with them via touch. So we will show your hand, your deck, cards that are in play or being prepared, etc. on the Wii U GamePad, keeping them hidden from others when playing local multiplayer. You can also control your character with the GamePad buttons, as well as interact with the terrain, use abilities, or check other players stats. As is the case in several other Wii U games, when it’s your turn, you will have the GamePad, and will pass it when your turn is finished. This leaves the main screen free of a lot of UI elements, allowing us to use it as a sort of “Battle View” to make the gameplay feel that much more epic! Beyond the GamePad, we think Incarnate players will have great discussions in Miiverse, sharing their stories, custom builds, or anything else.

PN: Do you have an expected or hopeful release date for Incarnate?

Absolutely! We are shooting for a beta-release in mid 2015, likely in July. The only major hurdles between us and an earlier beta is building out the online multiplayer and community elements, which takes time. We cannot WAIT to get everyones hands on the game and start getting feedback on the characters, cards, builds, and gameplay modes. Feedback from the community is invaluable to us, and we want to incorporate as much as we can into the final product. With that in mind, our current projection is a 6 month or less beta cycle, followed by a full release. However, we have no plans to ever consider Incarnate “complete”…we want to keep growing it by continuously adding new cards, characters, modes, and features!

PN: According to your kickstarter campaign, there are currently 123 cards available. Can you elaborate a little on the types of cards in the deck; for example, are some cards rarer to discover that others, and will more cards or sets be added later?

Cards share the same rarity because we want players to be able to get into the game quickly after learning the basics. However, we do have skins, color swaps, cut scenes, achievements and other collectibles to uncover and unlock as you make your way through Incarnate.

As for adding more cards… of course! Each new character will bring a new set of cards to add to the mix. We will also periodically expand the “basic cards” that all characters are able to access.

Right now, there are three broad types of cards in Incarnate: Revelations, Eternals, and Shrouds.

  • Revelations are played from the hand with an immediate board effect, and then is placed in the user’s Void (our discard pile or graveyard).
  • Eternals are played from the hand and will be placed onto the board either immediately or after a two-turn delay. These cards are meant to be the proverbial meat-and-potatoes of your build. They change the way your character is played… eternally.<?li>
  • Shrouds also have a two-turn delay; however, instead of casting when the timer has counted down, they have a trigger that allows them to be cast any time the trigger’s condition is met, including on another player’s turn. Allowing players to interact with other players outside of their turn has its ups and downs, so to keep the pace of the gameplay fast and entertaining, shrouds have an autocast feature that can be toggled on or off. Because some eternals also share a two-turn timer called preparation time, shrouds make for some intense potential mind-games.

The cards really end up being the realization of our core philosophy as game makers. We want a player’s skill to shine through, and we want to give players as many chances to make meaningful decisions as possible. We spent months refining the “incomparables” of each card, making sure that deciding to include them in your deck isn’t simply a mathematical calculation: it’s a choice about your personal play-style preference.

2 Card- Careful Cyclone copy

PN: What does the future of Skeleton Hand look like? Can you give us an idea of any future plans for your team, and does that depend on the success of Incarnate?

Sham and Shaun have both left their big boy jobs to focus on Incarnate full time. As Skeleton Hand grows, we hope to bring some of our 3D modelling in house, and bring on additional development and art help. For the foreseeable future, we are focusing on just Incarnate. However, as mentioned earlier, we see Incarnate as somewhat of a new genre of gaming. A few high flying thoughts we have played around with are letting others build their own modes, or even their own games, using the Incarnate platform, and creating other games in the Incarnate universe that focus more on the back stories of the characters. But for now, it’s full steam ahead on Incarnate for Skeleton Hand! A lot rides on the success of Incarnate, for sure, but regardless of that, we plan to “Just keep swimming” to make our dreams a reality!

PN: Thanks once again for your time – we encourage interested readers to head over to your Kickstarter campaign for more information about supporting Incarnate. Do you have any final words for our readers about the game?

For us, the coolest thing is getting to hand over something that you came up with or created with your own two hands, and see someone get some joy out of it. We hope that you guys are as psyched as we are about the concept, and that what we have so far will entice you into becoming a part of our growing community. We want your feedback, we want your ideas, we want your criticism (but not too much…come on :P) and we can’t wait to get you into the game, and get owned by a build we never saw coming.

Thank you so much for checking Incarnate out, and thanks again to Pure Nintendo for spreading the good word!

PN: Check out more about Skeleton Hand and their project on the Incarnate website, or via KickstarterTwitter, or Facebook. There’s also a great trailer which you can view below.