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Shadowrun Returns brings back one of our most original & cherished game settings as a 2D turn-based RPG for tablets & PC.
Shadowrun Returns brings back one of our most original & cherished game settings as a 2D turn-based RPG for tablets & PC.
36,276 backers pledged $1,836,447 to help bring this project to life.

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Chris's Dev Diary

Posted by Harebrained Schemes LLC (Creator)
Hey everybody!

Chris Rogers here; I head up the character art team here at HBS and with launch right around the corner I get to pull back the curtain a bit and show you some of the character customization options in Shadowrun Returns.

At the start of development, we knew we had to capture that independent and rebellious Shadowrunner spirit. From the hard-boiled, coolant-for-blood samurai, to the wild-child decker putting the punk back into cyberpunk, to the young shaman with an old soul in the newly Awakened world, Shadowrun is full of unique, memorable characters that simply don’t exist anywhere else. In order to bring those characters to life we decided to embrace that individuality and specificity, creating each piece of character art with a strong viewpoint and identity in order to give you the tools you need to create your own unique denizen of the Sixth World. If you’re reading this dev diary you probably know the basics: in Shadowrun Returns you can choose to play as a male or female human, elf, dwarf, ork, or troll. The two visual elements that really define your character in the game are a painted portrait and a 3D in-game model. The portrait captures the inner life, detail, and subtlety of the character while the model distills all that down to one instant and bold impression in the game.

I’m a big believer in the alchemy of art, that the right elements can combine and reinforce each other, suddenly creating something new. And character creation in Shadowrun Returns involves some serious alchemy between your character’s portrait and your model. Continuing our “best of both worlds” approach of melding 2D and 3D we have leveraged the strengths of both elements to help you create your character. Its not a one-to-one… we have a limited number of 3D assets to match with the much more diverse portraits, but the results tend to feel very natural even when the portrait and the 3D model aren’t a perfect match . The subtlety of the painted portrait communicates attitude and expression. In the isometric world, where you need to be able to take in the entire tactical situation at a glance, the 3D model synthesizes all that personality down into a simplified silhouette that you can instantly “read”. 

Character Portraits: Up Close and Personal

It is in the portrait that you will see a lot of detail and psychological depth in your character. As of this writing, there are nearly 200 player portraits in Shadowrun Returns. When our portrait artist, David Nash, started painting we put a special emphasis on the inner life of each character. To give you some idea of what I mean by that, here are some early portrait notes I pulled from an old e-mail, “Male elf, the handsome grifter. He’s the double-crosser, the guy who is always one step ahead of his enemies with a trick and a quick one-liner. He can move easily from the highest society to lowest gangs and seems to know everyone… He will shake your hand and promise you an honest deal even as he is stealing the watch off your wrist.” And one more example, “Human female, the brutal survivor, she was orphaned at a young age and has survived on the streets by making the hard decisions that others would flinch from. There is nothing -nothing- soft about her.” 

Dave then took those notes and created a portrait laden with all that subtext, investing the portrait with an inner life that continues to inform play throughout the game, as you can see in the examples below.

That psychological diversity compliments all the physical diversity in your portrait options. In addition to covering the basics of the ten possible gender and metahuman combinations, the portraits cover a wide range of ethnic backgrounds and etiquettes. Animator and character artist Hollie Mengert has curated the portrait set, putting some final touches on each and adding a number of variants- including cool piercings, arcane tattoos, painful scars, and cutting-edge cybereyes (though your portrait’s cybereyes are cosmetic and not tied to gameplay). Many of those variants are meant to support more magic focused or tech-centric characters, and some are simply opportunities Hollie saw to add something cool to the game and give you one more option that might spark your imagination.

The In-Game Model: Your Runner in Action

Complementing your portrait is the in-game model, which has to succeed in a completely different way. In the game environment details can get lost, or, worse, make the character look muddy and hard to understand visually. In Shadowrun Returns your character will have access to over 30 different gear sets (we’re still putting the final touches on the last few so we don’t have a final number yet), and we have designed each to immediately communicate an idea about your character in the isometric environment. Mike did a great job in Update 48 explaining how we get our (pretty small) characters to pop visually in the game environment. Check it out if you are interested! Here I want to talk about how those gear sets influence the look and feel of your character during legwork and combat.

At the beginning of the development process we were thinking of gear sets as exactly that: sets of gear that a character might wear. We realized pretty quickly, however, that that wasn’t quite the right way to think about it. Given the zoomed-out isometric camera the gear sets weren’t something a character might wear, the gear sets were characters. I reworked some of the concepts, looking for that big visual punch. We found that once we started concentrating on distilling the clothes and gear down to the very essence of an idea, that defiant Shadowrun individuality really started to show up in game. It became pretty clear that we were on the right track when we started spontaneously referring to each set with nicknames like “Street Monk” or “Slick Mage” and everyone understood each other. All those names are just our internal shorthand; the gearsets aren’t tied to your archetype and you will be able outfit your character as you see fit from the in-game vendors. 

In-house we have been calling that instant impression of the character the “iso read”. There’s that one dominant area of each character that captures your imagination and communicates a bold idea simply, but the execution is anything but simple: too much detail and your character collapses into a pile of chattering pixels, too little detail and your character looks like a little tiny doll in a diorama. Maury Weiss and Fiona Turner have done an amazing job balancing the level of detail, value, and color in order to make sure that your character stays grounded in the reality of the game.

In the example above you can see how a gear set moves from concept to model – note how some details become emphasized or subdued in order to get the character to read in game. The idea behind the concept was to update the wandering fighting monk from Asian cinema. Here he still has his prayer beads and incense scars, and he’s swapped out his robes for some updated fighting leathers with a little flair. The cuffs are the primary read, with the most detail, followed by the prayer beads. Other details fade into the overall read – there’s a lot to see there, but it’s subdued in service of the whole. Once the concept is approved the 3D team begins work, keeping a careful eye on maintaining detail while avoiding chatter. Notice, for example, the number of prayer beads were reduced and scaled up. The final texture is painted based on the design rules mentioned in Mike’s update (such as using darker color values lower on the character, leading to brighter colors on the chest, shoulders, and arms). The final result is that in the game you have a character that still communicates attitude and function even when they occupy only a very small amount screen space.  

Finally, for you samurai out there: a number of those gear sets are sleeveless so you can show off your cyberarm – once you save up enough nuyen to get one done, that is.

Putting it all Together: Alchemy

And this is the result when you combine the portrait and model on the character creation screen. Once you choose a gender and metatype, you will be able to select a portrait. We have assigned each portrait a corresponding skin color, hairstyle, beard, hair color, and (where applicable) set of horns so as you scroll through the portraits your model will update to match your selection. But let’s say you want a little more control over the look of your character… no problem! you can unlock the model and the portrait and toggle through a variable (say hair color or style) for the model by hand. In addition to working up lots of cool visual effects for the game, technical artist Steven Rynders has collaborated with AJ Bolden on the engineering side in order to make sure the system handles all the different elements.

Before I sign off I want to mention how exciting it is, once you’ve made your own character, to hire three more runners, each with their own identity (like the samurai, decker, and shaman I mentioned at the start of the post). During those runs your “character” is really the entire party. A few weeks ago we asked you, the Backers, to help us with some names and descriptions of Shadowrunners, adding one more layer of depth to your group of runners. It’s a blast right now to sneak into a tenement with runners like Daytona, Macabre, and Jack Nine, trailing drones and ready to call in spirits at the first sign of trouble.


So that’s a quick look at the visual aspects of your character, and we haven’t even touched on the more design-oriented aspects of character customization like karma spends and implants. Ultimately, of course, your character won’t come alive until the game releases, when you’re out there on the rainy streets of Seattle 2054 – asking questions that powerful people don’t want asked, hiring runners, bribing, cajoling, and, of course, fighting your way to the answers. 

Until then we are here furiously tuning things and polishing everything up in anticipation of launch!

Cheers, Chris 

PS: If you’re going to be at Gencon, be sure to sign up for our events. Mitch and Jordan will be doing a panel discussion, we’re offering two hands-on Editor workshops and a Hack-a-thon. Hope to see you there! 

Shadowrun Returns: What’s Next? 

Shadowrun Returns: Game Mastering – Editor 101 

Shadowrun Returns: Advanced Game Mastering Tricks and Tips 

Shadowrun Returns: GM Hack-a-Thon

Mitch’s Dev Diary - There’s Something About Decking

Posted by Harebrained Schemes LLC (Creator)

First, some sharing -- our air conditioning hasn’t worked for about a week. It’s currently 88 degrees in the studio (and ironically, a breezy high 60’s outside). We are melting. Kohnert is wearing those goofy pants that unzip and become shorts. Although I mocked him this morning, I’m now thinking of tackling him and taking his pants. As the HBS Human Resources Representative, however, I’ve cautioned myself that this could be punishable by legal action or worse. I think I’ll grab some ice from the fridge and put it under my arms, instead.

                                                                             * * * 

As you may have heard, our Decker gameplay has gone through a few revisions. More than a few, actually. When we began Shadowrun Returns, we knew that trying to simulate the Matrix as it works in the tabletop game would be a huge task that we couldn’t commit to. So Jordan conceived of a system where the Decker would jack in and see an overlay on top of the physical world that displayed the local area network - what computers connected to others, what they controlled, and that sort of thing. An icon representing the decker’s avatar would then traverse the overlay and do stuff at different nodes. It gave us the ability to do some Matrix puzzle gameplay on top of the tactical combat system we were developing, but when we reviewed the design with our engineers, we realized that it would be challenging to integrate into our level editor, take too long to develop as a whole, and wouldn’t be an efficient use of our budget. So we abandoned this approach and started exploring other design concepts. 

The other day, I held my breath and dove past our reasonably up-to-date design document and into the repository that is our OLD STUFF, looking to see how many stabs at decking we took - at least on paper. I found five, plus a sketch, a diagram, and the beginnings of what looks to be a card game. I know there are a few more documents on local hard drives. . . 

Some of these designs were written during (what some would consider) normal office hours. But most were written late at night, over weekends, and sometimes during holidays. Each was an attempt by the author to move the ball forward to make decking a satisfying experience.

Finally, this February, we got together to review several other mini-game approaches - all of which were met with silence. (FYI, Harebrained isn’t known for its silence.) That’s when Trevor looked down, shook his head, exhaled his special exhale, and said, “Look, that’s not what Shadowrun fans want. They want decking. They want the Matrix.”

We all want the Matrix.

The issue was (and is) how we integrate the idea of a decker entering the Matrix with the rest of the game AND within the boundaries of our production reality. To do it (at least close to right) it would need its own look and feel. It would need new characters and environments and interface and sounds. It would need new gameplay features for cyberdecks and programs and intrusion countermeasures and Black IC and AI.

And, and, and. All the reasons why we said we couldn’t do it. . . 

But we felt like we HAD to do it. It’s as much a part of Shadowrun as spell slinging.

We worked fast. We worked longer and harder. We brought in an old friend to help. We found issues we hadn’t anticipated. We got frustrated. We kept going.

So after all that, here’s how decking works in Shadowrun Returns. Throughout much of the game, your decking skill will allow you to hack computers in the physical world and gain information others can’t. The sort of hacker stuff you’d expect.

But several times during our story, you’ll jack in and enter a node of the Matrix that looks like this:

Among the people who created our visuals for the Shadowrun Returns Matrix is Dave McCoy, the artist who created the 3D Matrix art for the VIRTUAL REALITIES book published by FASA Corp. 

To be clear, runs centered around the Matrix don’t occur often and you can’t jack in whenever you want to and travel the vastness of cyberspace. Nevertheless, Matrix runs should be quite a ride.

A Decker's Matrix avatar is automatically created based on his or her "meat-world" appearance. Every three turns a decker’s avatar takes in the cyberspace equals one turn the rest of the party gets in “meat-world”. (Things moves faster in there!) While the decker’s consciousness is running around cyberspace, his body is inert in the real world and the rest of the party needs to defend him until he returns. To exit a Matrix LAN, the decker needs to leave from the same portal he entered or eject and suffer dumpshock damage to his physical body.

As the decker’s avatar navigates a Matrix LAN node, it will encounter Intrusion Countermeasures (IC) which will attack him. To fight the IC, the decker uses computer programs and deploys ESP - Expert System Programs - which are “independently operating artificial life simulations”. ESP operate under the player’s control and each has its own abilities.

The decking skill is used to derive the decker’s “to-hit” calculation and the ESP subskill determines the power of his ESPs. The decker’s cyberdeck determines how many and what level of programs can be taken into the Matrix. There are a variety of different programs for attack, defense, buffing, and debuffing. The cyberdeck is also the decker’s first line of defense - damage the decker takes is first applied to the deck which has its own equivalent of health points called IP. But Black IC or attacks from enemy deckers can damage the decker directly. Every Matrix LAN has an alarm threshold and every action the decker takes within the LAN moves him closer to that threshold. When an alarm is tripped, it might trigger the arrival of Black IC, an enemy decker, or bad things back in the meat-world.

With all the danger inherent in cyberspace, why go there? Because the Matrix LAN nodes can control things in the meat-world like doors, security cameras, automated turrets, security clearances, and even poison gasses flooding into room. And, of course, the Matrix holds the most valuable thing in the 6th world - information. 

Although runs in the Matrix are rare, when you get to play one, it’s pretty cool! We hope that the work that went into it pays off for you. Plus, the work we’ve done gives you even more building blocks for you to play with when you create your own stories.

Speaking of which. . . 

We’d planned to release the editor at the end of the month but the Matrix work and other issues pushed it out a bit. We'd rather give you the right thing a little later than something a little broken right away. Early Access Backers will be getting a direct mail with more details and an updated ETA for the early release ASAP.

Also, we’re setting up two forums for the Editor on One is a Q&A that our designers will respond to and the other is a general Editor forum. They’ll both be publicly visible, although Early Access Backers will be the only ones able to post questions to the devs in the Q&A forum until the game is released. We're also working on a Wiki that will document the Editor and in which you can share knowledge, tips, and tricks.

Oh, and I’ve just been tapped on the shoulder and asked to remind you that pre-orders on end 4/28. So let your friends know that this is the last chance they’ll have to pre-order the Collectors Edition of Shadowrun Returns and get their hands on those USB Dog Tags. Take care.

It’s time to get back to the sauna. 


What’s the Deal with DRM-free and Other Questions

Posted by Harebrained Schemes LLC (Creator)

Our Tuesday Kickstarter update generated many questions, particularly concerning the Steam vs. DRM-Free versions of the game. As we said, we wanted to wait until today to allow time for everyone’s questions and feedback to bubble up so we could write another update to address as many as we can, in one place.  

You funded this project because you saw something in our Kickstarter that resonated with you personally and made you want to be a part of it. Backers pledged more than financial support - you invested your belief in our ideas and gave us your trust that we would do what we said we would. We take that trust very seriously and are doing our best to be worthy of it. 

With your support, we will always do our best to fix problems or concerns that arise, with the understanding that some of the issues we must deal with may not always appear obvious to the community. We will endeavor to communicate such things more clearly and promptly to you, our Backers, whenever it is possible for us to do so. 

So let’s start here: We clearly left some critical information too vague, which resulted in some bad feelings and speculation. We are sorry about that and we’re going to fix that poor communication right now. 

  • To reiterate, our Backers don’t have to choose a DRM-free version of the game or a Steam version of the game. You get both. 
  • Backers who want a DRM-free experience with Shadowrun Returns (on Windows, OSX, and Linux) are getting the game, editor and all, and will be able to transfer community-created story files and update executables manually. (It works just like a non-Steam version of Skyrim: you can install mods manually or via a 3rd-party tool such as Nexus.) The DRM-free version will not require any internet connection or any form of online authorization to play. In addition, Backers who like the convenience and reliability of Steam and who want automatic updates, easy-to-browse content, and a DLC store are getting them. 
  • We said that post-Berlin Campaign DLC would only be available on Steam but we never said why. We regret the omission. The reason is that our license to develop Shadowrun Returns actually requires that the game and its DLC be distributed under DRM. This didn’t come up earlier because the situation was complicated by the number of parties involved in the license and because the process was “ongoing”. Ultimately, we were able to successfully negotiate an exception with Microsoft for us to provide our Backers with a DRM-free version of the Kickstarter rewards (specifically the game and the Berlin Campaign) but that exception does not extend to non-reward DLC. So unfortunately, we cannot sell or give away DRM-free versions of the game or DLC on stores like GoG, and that’s why any future Shadowrun Returns DLC will only be available for purchase on Steam. 
  • We will be updating/bugfixing the DRM-free versions (Windows, OSX, and Linux) of Shadowrun Returns, maintaining them along with the Steam versions. These updates will require Backers to re-download the game from the Harebrained Account Website, since it will not include auto-patching functionality. 

To sum it all up. . . 

We hope you’ll see that we’re doing our best to listen to and address the issues you’ve raised. However, if after reading this update, you are still unhappy, we’d like to talk to you about it to see if we can address your concerns. Please contact us at and we’ll get back to you as soon as possible.

Again, it is a privilege to have the opportunity make Shadowrun Returns and we appreciate all the support you’ve given us. 


Important Note about the Harebrained Account Website Mails 

For Backers waiting for emails containing a link and password to the Harebrained Account Website-- the emails are still being sent in batches in no particular order, so please be patient. We’ll drop another quick update when they’re done. Also, if you know that the Kickstarter or PayPal emails you used to Back us are no longer active or have changed somehow, please write to immediately using the proper email address. 

Answers to Frequently Asked Questions:

I’m a $125 Backer (or above) and was promised a DRM-free download of the game, a copy on disc (in the boxed edition) and a copy on the USB dog tags. With this change, how many copies will I get?  

You’ll get a DRM-free download, a DRM-free copy on disc, three Steam keys for the game and three Steam keys for Berlin. 

Will the DRM-free version always be available to Backers through the website? 

Always is a mighty long time but yes, that’s our intention. 

Once it is available, will the DRM-free version of the Berlin Campaign always be available to Backers through the website? 


 Will the DRM-free version & Berlin Campaign be a downloadable executable that does not require internet to install? 


What version of the game will come in the Backer’s boxed version? 

The disc in the Kickstarter Deluxe Box Edition will contain the DRM-free version of Shadowrun Returns. 

What version of the game will Pre-order people get?  

All pre-order versions get a Steam key. 

How will pre-order people get the digital version of the Shadowrun Returns Anthology and Soundtrack?

Pre-order folk will get a mail from us giving them a link and password to the Harebrained Account Website, so they can download their goodies. 

Can we manually share community-created content from the DRM-free version to the Steam version and vice-versa?  

We haven’t finished Steam integration yet, but that is our goal. However, in the future, if a GM decides to use a Steam-only DLC in his or her story, that story would then only be usable in the Steam version because of this dependency. 

Will the Steam version be playable offline? 

Short answer: yes (though it still requires having Steam running on your computer). Here’s a link that explains how offline mode works with Steam:

Will the Steam version be playable offline after uninstalling Steam? Can the game be moved/copied to another PC without Steam? 

No, it will require Steam to run. 

Will the desktop version of the game (and future DLC) ever be available through other distribution channels than Steam

The desktop version will only be available for purchase on Steam at launch. It’s possible, depending on how they handle DLC and community-created content, to find alternate channels after launch. Again, they must support some form of digital rights management, according to our license. 

Will people who buy DLC through Steam be able to add it to the DRM-free version? 

This appears unlikely, given our DRM restrictions. 

Will the Editor be its own separate program? 

Yes, but it uses the game to facilitate testing of levels during development, so you'll want to keep them together. 

Can we manually share save data between different computers? 


Can we manually share save data between different versions of the game? 

Mostly. We’ll obviously make every effort to ensure save data for our own stories remains compatible as bug fixes are released, but unfortunately we have a pretty tricky situation with regard to community-created content. Because we’re putting the Editor directly in your hands, we can’t guarantee that player-GMs will create content in a way that preserves and works with existing save data robustly and remains compatible. 

Also, we do intend to allow save games from the PC version to be playable on the Mac or Linux versions (or vice versa). For instance, play on your PC at work (not that we’d condone that of course!) and then continue playing on your Mac at home. We do not, however, plan on officially supporting save game data across desktop and tablet versions of the game. 

Why are you doing DLC on launch? 

We’re not. All DLC will be released after launch. 

Why not manufacture the dog tags now and load them with the game when its done? 

To be clear, our manufacturer isn’t waiting until the game is done. Manufacturing began some time ago. But they need to ship the finished dog tags back to the U.S. before the game is done and they will arrive just in time to be shipped out with all the other rewards. 

So will there be anything on the dog tags or will they be blank? 

Unfortunately, due to the timing issues and the cost, they’ll be blank and ready for 8GB of whatever you’d like to put there.

                                                                      * * * 

 We hope we’ve answered your most pressing questions and that we haven’t missed anything major. We’ll put together an extensive FAQ about the game and put it on our website ASAP.

The Word of the Day is. . . Information!

Posted by Harebrained Schemes LLC (Creator)

Here we go...

This update is full of information about Backer Rewards, distribution plans, pre-orders, and more. No sexy behind the scenes look at how we’re making the game this time. Just good, clean process. This is important stuff (like deadlines) that everyone needs to know, so make sure you read it!

How long do I have to pre-order the Collector’s Edition of the game?

The last chance to get the Shadowrun Returns Collector's Edition is Sunday, April 28th, 2013. Please tell your friends! (More on pre-orders later.)

When can I give you my information for my Backer Rewards? 

We are happy to announce that the Harebrained Account Website is now open for business! It’s not pretty but it’ll get the job done! Starting today, Backers will begin to receive emails from us (as you’re imported into the system) containing a link to the website and a password. If you haven’t heard from us by Friday, April 12th, drop us a line at (Preorder folk will receive separate emails later.) 

If you’re a Backer, please log in as soon as possible to enter your mailing address and (based on your Backer Level) upload your picture for your DocWagon card, tell us which shirt and size you want, and all the other information we’ll need to get you your much-deserved rewards. 

IMPORTANT: In order to get your rewards on time, you must log in and fill in your information by Monday, April 22nd, 2013. Otherwise, your rewards may be left out of the shipment, get shipped to the wrong address or other, more heinous horrors. 

 When do I get my rewards? 

  • Your DIGITAL rewards (the game, the editor, the wallpaper, special ability, the soundtrack, the short story anthology PDF, etc) will all be available on the Harebrained Account Website on launch day
  • Your PHYSICAL rewards (the t-shirts, the DocWagon cards, the hardcover short story anthology, the USB dog tags, the deluxe box edition (which contains a bunch of stuff), will ship about 3 weeks after launch day. (We’ll explain why below.) 
  • People who pre-ordered the Shadowrun Returns Deluxe and Collector’s Editions will get their digital and physical goodies in the same timeframe as above. (And will download their digital goodies from the Harebrained Account Website too.)
  • Early access to the Shadowrun Returns EDITOR will be available to eligible Backers at the end of April
  • Backers eligible to have their photo turned into an NPC or CUSTOM PC have already been contacted and work has already begun! 

 Here’s some examples! 

Why do I have to wait until after the game releases to get my physical rewards? 

First, picking, packing, and shipping your physical rewards is an expensive proposition. If we send out physical rewards in more than one batch, the cost will be prohibitively expensive (like twice as much!). That would be a considerable percentage of our total budget and that money could go into the game. Our focus is (and always will be) on using the funding you’ve generously provided to make Shadowrun Returns great. So we’re doing one big shipment of all physical rewards at the same time. 

Second, in order to press the discs containing the game and the soundtrack, the game and the soundtrack actually have to be done! So, because we’re shipping everything in one batch and because we can’t press discs until the game is done, the physical rewards will ship about 3 weeks after the game is released. 

Unfortunately, this also means we can’t put the game and other stuff on the USB Dog Tags as we said we would during the Kickstarter. If we did, we'd first have to wait for the game to be done, then we’d have to wait for the manufacturing of the flash drives, and then wait again for them to arrive from China, adding at least a month to the wait. On the plus side, we’ve already received and approved functional prototypes of the dog tags, so we know they’re going to be awesome. (If you were at Emerald City Comic Con or SXSW, you got a chance to see them yourselves.)

And here's what the Doc Wagon cards will look like.

When will the game be released?

Shadowrun Returns will release in June. 

How will I download the game when it’s released? 

After a lot of prototyping and research, we decided that our best delivery option for OSX/Windows/Linux is to go the route that great games (like Skyrim!) have taken and embrace Steam and the Steam Workshop. Steam allows us to provide up-to-date downloads and patching along with a vibrant ecosystem for developing community-created content and file sharing. 

So, we're happy to announce that all Backers will receive a Steam Key for the game and will be able to contribute and browse community-created content using Steam Workshop. 

We realize that for some of you, releasing on Steam isn’t your first choice but there are a lot of really great things we get from this decision that allow us to focus on the game rather than on making things like backend servers to deploy and manage shared content. From the start, we’ve had to make practical decisions like this one to ensure we get the most out of the support you’ve given us. We consider this to be the best option for everyone. 

Now, that may prompt the question, “What about DRM-free?” To honor our original promise of a DRM-free version of the game, the Harebrained Account Website will also contain a downloadable version of Shadowrun Returns that does not include Steam integration. While this version will include the Seattle story (and Berlin, via a one-time update), without Steam integration, it will be unable to browse and play community-created stories from within the game. Any future DLC will only be available through Steam. 

Will people be able to pre-order the game on Steam? 

Yes. Pre-orders for Shadowrun Returns and the Shadowrun Returns Deluxe Edition will be available on Steam Monday, April 29th 2013. Again, the last chance to pre-order the Collectors Edition or get the pre-order discounts on is Sunday, April 28th 2013. Please spread the word. 

When do I get the Linux version of the game? 

As we said during the Kickstarter, we will release the Linux version in a reasonable timeframe after launch. We've done a few test builds in house but there are a fair number of issues remaining to be fixed. Rather than delay the entire release of the game to everyone, we're going to focus on the non-Linux platforms first as they have the most support and are the furthest along in development. 

What about the iOS and Android tablet versions of the game? 

Tablet versions of Shadowrun Returns are not part of any Backer reward levels and will be available for purchase from the Apple and Android App Stores. Tablet versions will not include the Editor or have the ability to browse and play community-created content. We hope to bundle and add the best community-created content to the tablet versions of the game in the future. 

What about the German, French, and Italian versions of the game? 

We plan to release translated versions of the game around the same time as the Linux version. 

 What sort of DLC can we expect? 

Here’s what we’re planning to make available for paid download after launch: 

  • Berlin Campaign (new campaigns also allow you to build with an expanded set of tiles) 
  • Map Packs (new terrain tiles and props for you to use in your own campaigns) 
  • All New Shadowrun Stories (created by HBS) 
  • Additional Outfits and Portraits for your character 

Now to be clear, our Backers and Collector’s Edition Pre-orderers will get the Berlin Campaign at no charge. Any DLC developed after launch will require payment. 

Do I have to pay for Community Created Content? 

Stories created by the community will be available through Steam Workshop at no charge. However, if you download a story created with optional DLC (such as Berlin) that you don’t have yet, you’ll need to purchase that DLC before you play it. 

What type of modding support will there be? 

While we have not spent a lot of time creating hooks for modding in the core game code, we're confident that clever Shadowrun GMs will manage to do some amazing and creative things that we haven’t even dreamed of yet! We don't plan on getting in your way but we also don't have the resources to officially support a modding community beyond what the Editor is able to create (which is already a lot - it’s powerful and flexible). 

So that’s a big ol’ info dump! (Hmm, could be a cool band name - Info Dump.) 

If you have questions, please send them to  


Mike’s Dev Diary - Art

Posted by Harebrained Schemes LLC (Creator)

Hey guys! 

Mike McCain here, I head up the art team on Shadowrun Returns. The other week all of us at Harebrained were very excited (and a little nervous!) to give you guys a first look at Shadowrun Returns in action. The response was just fantastic - your enthusiasm at seeing the game for the first time has us even more excited about making it. We’ve got lots left to do, but things are really shaping up. Today I’d like to take you behind the art shown in the video - we’ll look at how art in the game works, and then see how a finished scene comes together.

Isometric Art

Shadowrun Returns mixes 3D characters, lighting & effects with a 2D isometric environment - a decision made early in our Kickstarter campaign. This hybrid approach gives us the best of both worlds from both a visual and art production standpoint. By going “old school” with 2D environments, we’re able to create much broader and more intricate environments than we'd have the time for in a full 3D game. Plus, painting the building blocks of the world directly allows us to stand out more with a rich, detailed rendering style.

2D isometric games generally use either pre-rendered environments (the Infinity Engine games) or tile-based environments (Fallout, Arcanum, Diablo). Pre-rendered environments are ultimately hand-crafted by artists and "baked out" as a single, finished environment - whereas a tiled environment remains a collection of many assembled parts. It's a plastic toy vs. a box of Legos. Shadowrun Returns uses a tile-based environment. While a pre-rendered approach could provide some more artistic freedom, modular tile-based art is more production-friendly and offers our designers far more flexibility to create and iterate on complex tactical combat spaces. It also, importantly, lets all of you guys build your own environments in the editor using our digital Legos!

Welcome to the Grid

There are several types of isometric projection commonly found in games, each with pros and cons depending on the needs of the project. For Shadowrun Returns, we're using a symmetrical 2:1 near-isometric view.

This means the camera is angled such that each diamond on the game grid is exactly twice as wide as it is tall. It’s the most common type of isometric projection found in games, I think for two reasons: one, it tends to looks the most natural (partially because that slight squish fakes a foreshortening effect in the world), and two, it's the fastest and most efficient choice from a production standpoint. Because the grid is symmetrical, props can simply be flipped horizontally for use in the other direction. In addition, because the proportions of a grid space are exactly 2:1, we get some nice shortcuts when painting - for example: take any image, rotate it by 45 degrees, then scale it's height down by 50% - now your image is flat on the isometric plane.

Anatomy of a Prop

Environment tiles generally fall into two categories: structural tiles (walls, floors, buildings, doors) and props (everything else, more or less). Depending on the complexity of a piece, we'll either start with some rough sketches or a basic 3D model. Here's a couple pieces that some of our interns painted for our Barrens and Tenements tilesets. Over the course of production, we've developed a painting guide that helps keep everyone's work efficient and consistent. (The painting process is likely another diary topic entirely of itself!)

Once props are finished and approved, they need to be setup for use in the game and editor. This process involves defining the different isometric facings of the prop, establishing how the prop should sit on the isometric grid, setting its gameplay properties (can I see through it? move through it? shoot through it?) and determining how the prop should receive light. 

 After this, our props should be ready to go! Our editor makes it easy to browse props (you can filter by multiple keywords) and drag them into the game world. Arrange a bunch of props and tiles in the world and, voila, you've got yourself a level! (Okay, it's slightly more involved than that, but you get the idea. : ) The process of laying out and iterating on a level in the editor will be the topic of a future diary from our design team. 

Tighten up the Graphics on Level 3!

The big downside to tiles is, well, when you first put them down they really just look like a bunch of tiles. Here’s some of the stuff we build on top of the base scene layout to make it look snazzy. 

More props! - This environment may be structurally complete, but our Lego box includes a lot of really cool decorative elements that we can add to spice things up. Want some graffiti? Here’s something about how “The SINless are free” - seems appropriate. Or how about some scaffolding for this building? Adding this extra layer of visual interest doesn’t change anything fundamentally about the scene layout - but now this intersection feels grounded and lived-in. 

Lighting - Thanks to some really cool engineering work, we're able to place directional and point lights within our environments. How does lighting in a 2D game work? The short version is, our art is projected onto some simple 3D geometry so that each prop or tile can receive light from the appropriate directions. Placing lights in our editor is a bit fiddly, but with some trial and error you can get some really nice results from it. (This is an example of what we meant when we said the editor would be “powerful but ugly.”) As you can see below, adding just a few lights immediately imparts both mood and focus on the scene.

Environmental effects - Yes, Seattlites like us know that it doesn't actually rain THAT much here.* But rain is such an evocative (and noir-appropriate) effect that we're going to be playing up the "it always rains in Seattle" stereotype a little bit in Shadowrun Returns. The fullscreen rain effect here instantly adds depth and liveliness to the scene - other localized effects contribute as well, such as steam rising from a vent. 

Putting Minis on the Board

All of this stuff's great, but the set serves no purpose without some actors. Characters are the focus of both story and gameplay - our environments and effects exist, first and foremost, to support our cast of characters and allow them to take center stage. One of the challenges we face here is that our characters in the game world, well, they're actually pretty damn small. The camera in Shadowrun Returns stays relatively zoomed out, in order to provide the player with a good tactical understanding of their surroundings. (There's nothing worse than trying to send a drone around back to flank your enemy while feeling super-confined by a camera.) 

 As a result, we put a lot of effort into optimizing what we've been calling the "iso read" of our characters - the simple, large shapes, colors, values, and high-contrast areas of a character's silhouette that allow the player to identify them at a glance. This is absolutely critical to gameplay - not only do I need to recognize Lone Star from lab tech, but I need to be able to distinguish between Lone Star grunts, captains and hired spellslingers at a glance during combat. It’s easy to go crazy with details, but if we don't first make sure there's a big iso read there, it's just going to be so much indiscernible noise when the character is 50 pixels tall. Once a strong read is established, our character artists have gotten really good at adding nice secondary reads and small details to the character at a low enough value contrast that they enhance without distracting - and without causing it to become a chattery mess of pixels. 

In addition, it's important to make sure these characters don't get lost in the very detailed world around them. Characters have to take focus during gameplay, and you should never not notice an enemy that your character has awareness of (and line-of-sight to). Here are a few things we do to ensure our characters “pop”: 

 Gradated value scheme - We design our characters to be darker towards the bottom, and brighter towards the top. This helps exaggerate their depth in the scene, and draws the eye up towards focal points on the upper half of the character. 

 Contrast & saturation - We try to save the highest contrast and greatest saturation in the game for characters. In fact, a couple weeks ago, Kohnert setup a custom shader for the characters so that they receive a bit more fill from lights in the game world. 

 Highlight states - Like most games, we employ basic edge highlighting around characters to indicate things like which character is active and which characters are targetable enemies. This also ensures that characters remain visible even when partially occluded by the environment.

As you saw in the alpha video, when all of this comes together - characters that pop, a compelling environment design, lighting and effects, animation - you end up with a pretty sharp-looking RPG! 

Signing off 

When we started this project there were three of us on the art team here at Harebrained; then Kickstarter happened, and now we have over a dozen artists in the fold. We've been able to assemble a really amazing art team all around, and everyone has been working incredibly hard the last several months to bring this world to life. I'd like to thank you guys, the Backers, for the opportunity to work with so many great artists (and designers and engineers too!) on this project. 

 And that about wraps it up! I hope this has been a useful look behind the art of Shadowrun Returns, and I'm excited to get the finished product in front of you guys this summer. -- Mike

                                         *Except October through May, when it rains all the f*cking time.