Mitch Gitelman who is the studio manger of FASA shines some light on Microsoft’s upcoming game, Shadowrun. There is a lot of information in the Q&A, like how Shadowrun is going to work with the Xbox 360 and why they decided to switch the series from being a RPG to a FPS (big change!). While it might have surprised fans of the Shadowrun series, FASA Studio’s title sounds very promising as the first major cross platform game designed for the Xbox 360 and Vista.
Q: What is “Shadowrun”?
A: “‘Shadowrun™’ is the best game FASA Studio has ever made. It’s an intense, team-based first-person shooter that combines ancient magic, modern weapons and advanced technology in a way that’s never been done before. Rather than turn magic and tech into just another weapon, we’ve made them into tools the player uses to outwit and outfight the enemy. Notice that I used ‘outfight’ instead of ‘outshoot.’ That’s because ‘Shadowrun’ isn’t just about putting your cross-hairs on a troll and pulling the trigger. It’s about using the right abilities and the right weapons at the right time to get the advantage in combat. It’s really a thinking person’s shooter—but someone who thinks on fast on their feet.”
Q: Tell me about how the Live system works on Windows. Is it just like Xbox Live?
A: “It’s not just like Live, it is Live, but on Windows Vista™. You can voicechat, you can create a Friends list, and you can earn achievements. If you’re already a member of Xbox LIVE®, you’ll see your friends, messages, gamerscore – all the great stuff that makes Live a great online games service. You use the same gamertag, and can show off same gamerscore and achievements on each platform. The rest of the Xbox LIVE features, like Marketplace are coming later.”
Q: Okay, everyone talks about mouse/keyboard vs. controller. You’ve said it’s fair in the past but most people think that’s impossible.
A: “Most people aren’t professional game developers who specialize in making games with great controls like ‘MechWarrior,’ ‘MechAssault,’ ‘Crimson Skies’ and ‘Halo®.’ We also have developers from ‘Counter-Strike’ on the Xbox® on the team as well. No offense, but a lot of people balked at the idea of dual stick move/look controls when Bungie was making ‘Halo’ and now it’s the default control method for console shooters. Any time someone attempts to innovate, there will be naysayers. I know there are a lot of people who don’t believe we could make the controls fair but we did it. Remember that ‘Shadowrun’ isn’t just about putting your crosshairs on the enemy. You can be a great shot but get crushed by someone who uses tech, magic, and character abilities better than you. We have great testers who helped us balance the game. These guys are league FPS players, so they know what they’re doing. About half are ‘Counter-Strike’ players and the other half are ‘Halo’ players. They say it’s fair. Since they can kick my butt on either platform, I have to believe them.”
Q: Why no single player campaign?
A: “FASA always starts by designing our multiplayer first. We believe that the core of our gameplay is the multiplayer mechanics. Once those mechanics are clear, we develop single player scenarios to explore how to use them in fun ways in a campaign. As we were creating the single player scenario prototypes for ‘Shadowrun,’ we realized that the core multiplayer game completely stood on its own. It was that good. That’s when we came up with the idea of making Shadowrun the first cross-platform shooter so everyone could play it together. All we had to do was convince Shane Kim and Peter Moore we could to it and the Live Anywhere Vision was born.”
Q: But “Shadowrun” is an RPG franchise – why adapt it into an FPS?
A: “It’s true that ‘Shadowrun’ started as an RPG but it’s also been a tactical combat board game, a collectable card game and an action figure combat game. The world of ‘Shadowrun’ is large and there’s a lot to do in it. Pen-and-paper and electronic RPGs explore the story element of that world, but other mediums have focused on the combat like we did. Bu the question remains—why a team-based first-person shooter? If you look at FASA’s history, you’ll see why. We’ve been making multiplayer shooters since 1990 with the BattleTech pods. The pods were location-based multiplayer units that linked eight players together in virtual reality cockpits along with voicechat. Seven years ago, we released ‘MechWarrior 4’ and people are still playing it in multiplayer leagues. We produced ‘MechAssault,’ the launch title for Xbox Live at the birth of online console action gaming. After that, we developed ‘Crimson Skies,’ a game that lots of people call their favorite online game for the Xbox. And then I hired John Howard, the lead designer of ‘Halo,’ melded the design teams of those great games together and set out to make Shadowrun.
So why adapt it to an FPS? Because we know it would kick ass. If you ran a studio with a history of making groundbreaking and fun multiplayer action games and the lead designer of the best FPS on console, what would you do?”
Q: Okay, that makes sense but why not use that team to make a great shooter and call it something other than Shadowrun?
A: “Because this is ‘Shadowrun.’ It’s based on the core ideas and the themes of the pen and paper game. It’s just takes place about 25 years before the stories in the other games, when magic is first returning to the world. No one inhabits a dystopia yet but people can see it coming. Our intention has always been to move the timeline forward with each successive release. Not only will the world change, but the game mechanics will evolve as well when we introduce things like jacking your brain into a computer and traveling in the astral plane. There is plenty for a first-person shooter player to learn and enjoy in this game. The rest will come in time.
Q: How many players per game will “Shadowrun” support?
A: “‘Shadowrun’ will support a maximum of 16 players per game but you’ll see a lot more that 16 players flying around the battlefield. You can summon creatures to fight for you, strangle crystals to block entrances and capture enemies, and trees of life to magically heal you. A lot of people ask me why we only support 16 players when other PC shooters can go as high as 40. My first answer is, “What would happen if you let 40 people play football? Would it be any more fun?” Shadowrun is fun for 16 players. More than that would just mean chaos, not fun. Also, take a look at what we’re doing in the game. 16 players can teleport through walls, floors and ceilings. They can glide all over the map and see everything from a high vantage point. There are spells going off, creatures being summoned and bullets flying everywhere. And all of that at a smooth framerate and with next-generation graphics. When you realize what you’re actually looking at, the number of players and graphic fidelity is impressive.”
Q: Okay, I have to ask you about the art. The game got torn apart for its art at E3 but it looks very next-gen and competitive now. What happened there?
A: “We created ‘Shadowrun’ backwards from the way most games are made. Most developers create an exciting pitch and put together a pretty prototype to sell their game. They do all their art while desperately trying to make the game fun before they ship. Sometimes it comes together at the last minute and sometimes it doesn’t and you’re left with a game that’s pretty but not a lot of fun or that runs like a dog. Working on those games is a drag because everyone is working their butt of but secretly knows the game sucks. With ‘Shadowrun,’ we nailed the gameplay first to ensure that the art we were creating would work well with our design and run at framerate. So any time the project got into a rough spot, morale was always buoyed by the knowledge that our gameplay kicked ass. When you know that what you’re making is fun and different, it can get you over a lot of humps—like getting pummeled at E3.
Q: I heard you’ll only ship about 8-10 maps in the game. Other FPS games release a lot more than that. What’s up?”
A: “In ‘Shadowrun,’ you can teleport through walls, floors and ceilings, glide across the battlefield, and spy on enemies through solid objects. The gameplay in ‘Shadowrun’ is more vertical and three dimensional than other FPS games. That means the maps are way more complex to design and execute. FASA has really high standards and we would rather ship a few maps that are great than a bunch of mediocre ones so we have a marketing bullet point that says “over 15 maps’ or something. We have a bunch of maps that’ll never see the light of day. And let’s be honest, how many ‘Counter-Strike’ maps actually get used? Less than a handful. Two I can think of. Remember that the maps in ‘Shadowrun’ are the same 8-10 maps we’ve been playing for years and still love to play.