Hey there, everyone! Happy Awakening Day!
Even though the 6th World’s Awakening was technically (according to 80s logic) in 2011, we at Harebrained Schemes, along with our friends at Catalyst Game Labs and Cliffhanger Productions are excited that today marks the start of The Year of Shadowrun. It’s going to be a fun (and REALLY busy) year of new games set in the Shadowrun Universe. To celebrate, we’re launching Shadowlands. It’s a series of blog posts and Tweets from the 2050s, so if you want, follow it on Twitter and Facebook. Oh, and if you’re a 2070s fan, check out Jackpoint!
Anywho, if you haven’t been subject to the apocalypse and/or surprise bodily transformation, we assume you’re sufficiently capable of watching Jordan’s Fireside Chat Video. Did you notice the music at the beginning and end? It’s new Shadowrun music! The samples in the video aren’t so much tracks from the game as they are homages to the music from the classic Shadowrun games, meant to give you a little taste of what’s coming up in SR:R.
The opening clip is by Sam Powell, who composed the music for the SEGA game, and who’s going to be working on the music for our Berlin story. The closing clip is by is by Marshall Parker and his son Gavin. Marshall worked on the original SNES game, so we’re really happy to have them on board working on music for our Seattle story. We hope you like ‘em!
In addition to Jordan’s fireside chat, we thought we’d give you another look behind the curtain... Here’s the latest developer diary, from grizzled designer Mike Mulvihill! He’s been working with our other designers, Kevin Maloney and Trevor King-Yost, to figure out the ins and outs of Shadowrun’s mechanics.
Mike Mulvihill - 12/21/12 (here's Mike showing off his figure)
Eight months ago, while crunching on Strikefleet Omega, Jordan and Mitch started a flurry of high-energy conversations. ”We’re bringing Shadowrun back ”… “An authentic turn-based game”… “Kickstarter!”
We had plenty of tools to work with and plenty of feedback on where to start (thank you Shadowrun fans!!!)
25+ years of pen & paper RPG products using four very different rules sets (for better or worse), one of which I led
A SEGA game that had a great and fond following all these years later
A SNES game that had just as great and fond following as well
My experience in translating SR into other game types (a card game, an action figure game and other stuff)
Millions of written words
With all those tools, the excitement of the community, and the trust of Jordan and Mitch, my only possible answer was - “Let’s make a game!”
So, where to start?
Our first decision was simply one of ideology. In order to ensure that the “feel” of Shadowrun would translate to our new format, we started boiling down what was most loved by fans, no matter how they were introduced to the world of Shadowrun. As designers, we needed to juggle a handful of core elements: the uniqueness of the world, the stories we want to tell, the choice of actions players need to take, the risk and reward of making those choices, the characters’ growth, and especially the fun that players spoke about when playing all the previous versions of Shadowrun.
We also knew the game we wanted to make: a story-driven team-based tactical game, which reflects the feel of the old-school pen and paper RPG. The first order of business was codifying the tactics. To achieve this, we needed to hit our first concrete goal – creating a mathematical base that the engineers could implement and that we could use as our core design engine. We decided to call this the Action Calculator (AC1).
To mimic Shadowrun’s feel for the majority of the players, we wanted an Attribute / Skill / Specialization hierarchy like the ones was used in all of the electronic games and the first three editions of Shadowrun. Setting the game in the early 2050’s reinforced that decision. Now it was fun with numbers… and yes, for all you old-schoolers, we actually attempted to model rolling handfuls of six-sided dice. Unfortunately, the number-crunching in AC1 proved that chucking all those d6s around was not sustainable for what we wanted and not expandable into the other systems we’d planned.
From the ashes of AC1 came AC2: a new mathematical approach that doesn’t necessarily use the old math systems of the RPGs but mimics them in order to ensure that we’re true to the feeling of Shadowrun combat. With that math done and with AC2 passing the old “eyeball test”, we took our mechanics to the next level - we created a Shadowrun board game. That’s right: we played with miniatures, terrain, dice rolling, and “role-playing”, while I fed numbers into various spreadsheets to see what felt good and what...didn’t.
Each day, we would add a new twist to the board game: burst fire, shotguns, grenades, magic, swords, healing, full auto, etc. The next day, I’d rebuild the spreadsheet, adjusting numbers that felt out of whack, and adding new calcs to push the limits of what we could do (cover modifiers, armor, staging of damage up and down, stun effects, etc.).
To finish up the board game task, we wrote down our “mechanics” in rulebook form and it became the first working design document. I‘m not sure any of the original words of that document are still there...but that’s a whole other story! Nevertheless, AC2 stands today, along with over 25 spreadsheet tabs of older versions of the math engine - but most importantly, it still stands.
Turning the math aspect over to Engineering and watching them develop it into a game I could actually play on screen AND SEE IT WORK was just an incredible feeling. Even more incredible was knowing that the system didn’t just drive combat. It was the basis for the magic, decking and summoning systems as well! Also, we were able to guarantee every advancement a PC makes to his stats will have a noticeable in-game improvement. I’m actually really proud of that.
Some will say that real game design begins at this point - when it’s on-screen. This is when you take your “baby” and let the team try it. It’s when, as Jordan likes to say, “no plan survives contact with the enemy”. You end up answering a lot of “working right” questions....
Do the cover modifiers work right or do they favor dwarves?
Is the recoil calc for Burst Fire working right or does it make you avoid using Burst at all?
Are the grenades working right or does a missed skill check fling them too far from the target?
And every tester comes back with suggestions for improving what you did and most of the time they are absolutely right. This is a tough time for designers because it becomes a quandary between intent, execution and expectation. We have to explain what we intended the action/result to be. We have to check to see that the engineers have executed (or can execute) our intention. And then we have to evaluate that what we put on screen matches what we think the player’s expectations are. (Here's us. From left to right, Kevin Maloney, Trevor King-Yost, and me: Mike Mulvihill).
It can be a challenging process in such a collaborative studio because we all try to agree that there’s problem and then we all try to agree on the right fix. But we're all crammed into the same room and facing the same deadlines, so the decision-making is often pretty fast. We basically do everything fast - but not so fast that we take shortcuts. “Go fast; don’t rush.” is Mitch’s development mantra.
But making the math work isn’t all we’ve been up to! While doing all that, we were also tasked with many other designs, like the interaction of character abilities and skills, working with the engineers on the AI (as you read last time), the conversation system, gear, NPC and Awakened creature creation, the story itself, and finally, the editor which allows us (and eventually you) to make the actual missions and tell the story. Look for more detail on the editor in the future. It’s pretty sweet.
I hope that gives you some insight into what we in design have been working on and producing over the last few months. And as I like to say...