Hi guys! Mike McCain here – I’m the art director for SRR, and I'm also heading up creative development of the Berlin campaign so I wanted to give everyone an update on where we’re at and where we’re going.
Story: We’ve completed a first draft of our story for the Berlin campaign. There’s still plenty to refine and iterate on but we’re all excited about where it’s heading and agree that the “bones” of it are solid. Without venturing into spoiler territory, it has a lot of fun Shadowrun elements and really plays to the strengths of the Berlin setting – the anarchist Flux state, the many varied factions and ideological viewpoints present in Berlin, and the sense of teeming opportunity for the savvy Shadowrunner. Berlin is a new standalone campaign, not a sequel to Dead Man’s Switch. As such, you’ll start the campaign with a new character. The player is cast as a more seasoned runner this time around, who’s recently relocated to Berlin. You’re running with a small crew which you’ll get to know well as the game progresses.
One thing we’re particularly excited about is developing the player’s home base neighborhood, which we’re currently calling the Haven. In 2054, Berlin exists as a fully neo-anarchist state – it’s not a crazy, lawless frontier, but rather a grand experiment in self-governance and emergent social order. Neighborhoods in Berlin become their own entities, with small communities banding together and often operating completely independently of the rest of the city. These neighborhoods organize their own protection and resources, sometimes even to the extent of walling off the entire block. Technology (and the electricity to use it) isn’t always available, and some parts of the city have fallen back to older patterns of living. We’re focusing on one such neighborhood for the player. Not only do you have a home base in this area, but you can explore and meet people in the surrounding neighborhood – meet a contact at the cafe down the street, or head to that back-alley street doc for some new meds or cyber. While developing this Haven area, I’ve been working with the Shadowrun pen-and-paper team in Germany to make sure we construct a slice of Berlin that’s accurate to the spirit of the campaign setting.
The main campaign of the game will allow you to complete certain missions in the order you choose, and will present you with some different ways to tackle those missions as well as some optional side objectives. To be clear though, Berlin is not a sandbox environment or an open-world experience. What we are working to create is a more flexible story structure and an engaging “hub area” that will give the player some choices and a sense of place and purpose.
Design: For the last few weeks, Trevor and Kevin (our designers who did the bulk of the level design for the Seattle campaign) have been prototyping a variety of gameplay ideas for missions. We want to create meaningful choices for the player within scenes. As an example, Kevin’s working on a run against a corporate facility with several possible ways for the player to gain entry depending on their party’s skillset. The choice of approach isn’t always clear cut, however – one path may allow the player to slip in undetected but at the expense of some innocents. We’re also working on some more unique non-combat elements – the other day Trevor created a dog character in the Haven area that you can interact with and get to follow you around.
Also, this week we welcome two new members to our design team, Simon and Andrew, who complete the team for Berlin. (Simon’s our new level designer and Andrew’s our new writer.) It was really fun recruiting for both of these positions, as Mitch and I got to play everyone’s audition levels which showed off a lot of fun, creative ideas. In fact, Andrew wrote a sample NPC character for his audition that we now plan to use in the game. When these guys showed up on Monday, we actually wound up re-arranging the office a bit so that now the design team has a dedicated space right next to the Berlin art team. This should allow for more fluid iteration on scenes between designers and environment artists.
Art: Berlin’s a really exciting environment to explore visually – the concept of the Flux State creates a ton of opportunities for unique visual elements. The environment team’s already put together a great European museum interior set and is now hard at work developing our Haven area. It’s fun to think about how a neighborhood would become self-sustaining – the residents of this place have to have their own shared arrangements for power, food, communications… this district is independent from the outside. This means, for example, rooftop gardens and a central growing area with hydroponics technology allowing a high yield of crops from a relatively small area; solar panels plastered across buildings; a cafe at the end of the block which has become the community’s informal gathering place; jury-rigged street lighting along the main strip of the area; and a ruined, fenced-off building which has since become an agreed-upon dump location for unwanted items.
(A sample of some visual development work for Berlin's Haven area. Larger here.)
Berlin will come with several new tilesets, which will also mix and match well with the core game’s tilesets to create a lot of variety and opportunities. Our top priorities for Berlin environments are: 1. fully realizing the Haven area as a vibrant, dynamic community, 2. Creating a great European corporate office tileset (for all of our classic office-incursion shadowrunning needs), and 3. building a satisfying final-mission environment (which I can’t say more about without spoilers…). In addition, we have a cool industrial factory environment set underway and a couple of our environment artists have put together a great new set of Berlin advertisements, signs and graffiti.
We’re also working on other types of enemies and creatures for the game. So far we have some cool new supernatural creatures (such as a Fire Drake) and some new private security forces for you to contend with – Knight Errant. Berlin will also include some new player portraits, outfits, and Germanic totem choices for shamans.
Systems: In between their work on the other big-ticket dev tasks, the engineering team’s been able to complete some fun new features for us to use in Berlin. We now have the ability to display important mission data directly in the game’s UI. This makes it easy for us to communicate custom mission objectives (For example, the number of rounds before reinforcements arrive, # power junctions remaining, etc.) Another cool new toy is… exploding barrels! Because… video games. (Actually, our engineers went above and beyond with this feature and now we can make any actor explode with any type of effect or damage, and even leave behind damage-over-time effects on the tiles in the area.)
Another thing we’re excited to add in this new campaign is some more weapon variety. So far we have a grenade launcher, sniper rifle, throwing weapons, and even a taser going in. There may be one or two other fun weapons that find their way in as well…
What’s Next: This week we’re shifting from pre-production to production. I’ll be finalizing our story with the design team, along with Jordan and Mitch, to make sure we’re constructing this campaign on a strong foundation. We’ve flowed out a schedule from now until the end of the year so that we can budget our production time appropriately. The environment team is moving from concept art to full tileset production on our Haven location. Our story is being broken out into discrete mission outlines, with each designer taking the lead on a set of missions. Kevin’s created a great “mission doc” template that we’ll use not only to document a clear set of goals for each mission, but also to track feedback and important hotspots for our test team to pay attention to. Our next milestone as a team is to construct a full first-playable of our Haven neighborhood, with the player able to explore the area, talk with the locals, buy equipment, and maybe complete a small side objective or two – then return to their base to get to know their team. This will establish a strong template for both the Haven location and the characters in it that we can build the rest of the experience on.
So that’s where we’re at! If you have any questions about Berlin, I’ll be stopping by the HBS Dev Q&A section of the forum as time allows – starting next week – so feel free to leave questions there for me (please put [Berlin] at the front of your thread title).
Until next time!
And… some other quick updates:
Kickstarter Rewards: Many of you have already received your dogtags and t-shirts in the mail but those of you who backed at higher levels were still waiting. Not for much longer though! We have finally received the hardcover Anthologies from our printer and have already started to ship them out.
Tablet Releases: The iOS version of Shadowrun Returns is complete and has been submitted to Apple certification. It’s hard to predict certification times but we’ll keep you posted. The Android version of the game is nearly complete and should be ready for release at the same time as the iOS version.
The Next Patch: We’re looking to release the next patch for Shadowrun Returns sometime in early October, and it will include a number of the new code and editor features mentioned in the Berlin update above (like custom mission objectives) so you can start using them in your stories before Berlin is even released! It will also include the usual bug fixes and improvements.
Linux Release: The next patch (again due in early October) will also include the Linux Beta versions of both the game and the editor. If you’re a Linux user, we’d love to get your help testing when it comes out!
Improved Save Games: Our intrepid engineers are hacking away at improving our save game functionality in an experimental branch of the code. We still can’t commit to such a major architectural change or to how long it would take to complete but we are diligently working on it, so please stay tuned.
Localization: We’ve pulled all text from the game and sent it to our localization partners, who are currently translating the game into French, Italian, German and Spanish. We should receive translated text back at the end of the month, after which it will require some heavy integration work into the game. We anticipate this work being completed in late October / early November. We’re also working on Russian and Chinese translations of the game, though we don’t have a timeframe for those yet.
The Golem Arcana team has launched their Kickstarter funding campaign and it’s off to a great start – check it out, and tell your friends about it!