We got a chance to talk to Mitch Gitelman, Executive Producer for the highly anticipated Shadowrun Returns, a crowd-funded continuation of one of the most popular RPGs of all-time.
I was fortunate enough to speak with the ever-awesome Mitch Gitelman, Executive Producer for Harebrained Schemes’ hotly anticipated title Shadowrun Returns, out July 25th. We talk about the difficulties of creating an RPG in one year, how much fan feedback made it into the game, possible future expansions, and more. Shadowrun Returns can be purchased here on Steam.
Metal Arcade: So first off, congrats on pulling Shadowrun Returns off! This close to launch, you guys get to fully realize the fruits of your labor. Excited?
Mitch Gitelman: Excited? Yeah. Excited, and nervous.
Uh…because I’m delivering a baby? [laughs] You know? Who knows, I’ve done this before. There’s always a last-minute complication or some weirdness, but more importantly, we very much want to satisfy everybody. That’s a very hard thing to do. There’s P&P players, those that read the novels, played the SNES version, or the Genesis [version], or the ‘doll’ games…er, Jordan doesn’t like me calling them ‘doll games’. They were ‘action figures’. Even fans of the FPS version.
There’s a lot of different people within the fandom to satisfy, and then on top of it there’s the fans that play CRPGs, and they come into it with their own expectations. That’s not where we put the lion’s share of our effort, we were trying to make Shadowrun Returns; trying to revitalize a game setting we thought was cool, and wanted to see come back. When all is said and done, making an RPG in a year with a million dollars, we can’t do every single thing.
The problem with Shadowrun Returns – and it’s kind of a nice problem to have, I don’t want to sound like I’m whining – but it was on like five Most Anticipated Games lists in 2013, alongside $50-$100 million dollar games. I guess that’s why I said I was nervous earlier, because I don’t know what people expect – you know, this is a $20 game that we’ve made in a year! But it’s as anticipated by some people as, say, Assassin’s Creed 4. I mean, there are people saying that we’ll break Kickstarter if our game fails, like everyone will lose faith in it if Shadowrun Returns sucks! [laughs]
I actually didn’t know about the FPS Shadowrun game until I came across the GIF of you getting pelted by balls.
There was some fruit in there, too.
Well, if nothing else, the community is clearly in your corner. You guys ended up with nearly five times the original goal on Kickstarter, so congrats on that.
And five times the number of features originally planned!
I’d wondered about that. There was brief mention of a stretch goal on the Shadowrun Returns Kickstarter page, what became of that?
We had multiple stretch goals. As the Kickstarter went on, there were little things people wanted that we said yes to. When we put all of that into the game, there was…a lot. The original game we envisioned was…different. Very different, than the one we’re actually shipping. This one’s far more expensive and complicated to make. It was a big deal.
So, why now? It’s been some time since we’ve had a true Shadowrun game, is there any reason the IP was rejuvenated at this point?
A couple of things. The reason why not before now, was because no publisher would really touch it due to restrictions on the license. When we shopped around for publishers, they were like, “Yeah, no. I don’t think so.” [Restrictions on the license were] tying our hands. Most publishers didn’t want to go anywhere near it. The FPS didn’t really do anything for the IP, and publishers are always hesitant about console-exclusive licenses. If you think about Halo, that series did huge numbers, but it was only on Xbox. If it was available on every platform like Call of Duty, it would have made a lot more money – perhaps as much as triple.
That’s why we couldn’t do it before. As to why we’re doing it now, the year before last I had this idea of going with Kickstarter for this, but we decided not to do it for a variety of reasons. But then around February or so, Tim (Schafer) came out with his Kickstarter and the thing went nuts, so we were like, I guess Kickstarter really was the right venue for it. At the same time we were thinking of going back to it, Kotaku ran an article of the top 10 games they’d love to see come back, and Shadowrun was #5 on the list. Third, we were working with a publisher that was like, “When are you guys going to make the next Shadowrun? I’d love to see another Shadowrun game.” It [was] like, alright…that’s it. We’re making a Shadowrun game. We’re doing this.
There was definitely an outpouring of demand and support for the IP. The forums were blowing up with feedback. How much of that feedback made it into the game?
That type of stuff definitely made it into the game. During the Kickstarter, I had people combing all the forums and all sorts of websites, listening to what people were saying about Shadowrun and what they’d like to see from Shadowrun Returns. We allowed it to influence our game design. We have people reading those forums constantly, and I’m on there all the time.
I remember reading that the main character from the SNES game, Jake, was going to be in Shadowrun Returns. How much of the story is connected to the past games, and will it be connected to the future online game?
So the first answer is that it is not connected to the story of the first games. Characters from those games will appear, but it’s not a sequel story-wise. Tone-wise, yes, we tried to really make it Shadowrun. But it’s not a sequel, it’s a successor. It takes place about 4 years after the original games.
So it’s basically its own story within the same universe.
Yeah! That’s the whole idea behind Shadowrun; there are tons and tons of stories going on simultaneously within the universe. That’s a really important part of it. This is about the world, and you adventuring within it.
What about Shadowrun Online?
There’s no connection with that game. Shadowrun takes place I think 2070, they’re working to connect their game with Shadowrun 5th edition. Shadowrun Returns takes place in 2054.
So for those that aren’t familiar with Shadowrun Returns, what’s the story behind the campaign?
With Shadowrun Returns, you get to make your own character starting with any of the archetypes that exist, or you can create your own character right from scratch. What happens is, at the beginning of the game, you’re down-and-out looking for your next job, when you get a video mail from a Shadowrunner you used to run with. The name of the story is Dead Man’s Switch, because when this guy died, a trigger went off in his head that sent the mail to you, hiring you to find his killer. So the story goes all the way from the lowest dregs of society to the very top of one of the dynastic corporations in the Seattle sprawl.
Shadownrun has always been a darker, grittier RPG series, even back when everyone else was making games about saving princesses. These days games are more graphic, has that changed or affected your representation of the universe in Shadowrun Returns?
Our art isn’t particularly grisly or anything like that. Well…[laughs]…there’s a couple of crime scenes that are pretty nasty to look at. But more importantly, thematically, we haven’t cleaned up the game at all. There’s some pretty dark concepts within Shadowrun Returns that we’re not backing away from at all.
The original game was punishing in difficulty, particularly the SNES version. How much of that challenge can we expect this time around?
We’re not going to be punishing. The truth is we’re trying to tell a story, and we want you to have fun and be challenged, but be able to move forward. So, we decided to add difficulty types to the game. So, if you’re the type that just wants the story, put it on Easy mode. But there’s also a hard mode, and a very hard mode.
Do the difficulty types affect the ending or unlockables?
Nope. Nothing like that. You know, I kind of like that idea.
*Oh dear, I hope I didn’t give you any ideas.
There’s no time for it, so don’t worry [laughs]. The game releases Thursday.
Between the original Kickstarter goal and the limited time spent in development, one of the things I was concerned about is the length of the game overall. About how much playtime can people expect, and is there side content?
There are some side runs in Shadowrun Returns. It’s not like Neverwinter Nights where you can’t swing a dead cat without hitting a side quest, but there’s one main story in the game and side missions that go off of that. Also, say you’re outside running around, there are other things you can do within that scene, but it’s not a huge open world. We didn’t have the time and money for something like that. In terms of playtime, our testers logged somewhere in the neighborhood of a dozen hours playing the game. Mileage may vary if you’re more cautious.
Are there plans to expand on the campaign, maybe with DLC or expansions?
So, we announced that we are creating a new campaign environment based in Berlin, same timeframe of 2054. We’ll put out a complete story of that in the Fall of this year. We’re also releasing the mission editor along with the game, and people have already starting making their own stories with it. We released the editor to some of our backers and they’ve had it for at least a month, and they’ve already started releasing all sorts of cool stuff. We’re also shipping all the scenes and the campaign itself so you can edit it, take it apart, change it around, that kind of thing.
The editor looked pretty robust. My experience with game editors is that the tutorial makes them look great, but once you get it in your hands, it’s just a big old mess. How in-depth is the tool? What’s the level of user-friendliness?
The tool is the same tool we used to make the game. It’s a big, ugly, powerful tool [laughs]. There’s a wiki for it, but yes it can be overwhelming. There’s a ton of functionality in that thing. We’ve really only scratched the surface of what our editor can create. There’s also – I don’t think I’ve said this in any other interviews – there’s actually more art in the editor than there is in the campaign!
Yeah, it’s a pretty big deal. You should probably tell people about that! [laughs]
That will definitely make it in. [laughs]
We didn’t just want art repeating itself. Let me tell you man, we crammed as much into Shadowrun Returns as we possibly could in a year. We killed ourselves making this game.
So can you make your own art for the game?
Not ‘officially’. We’ll say that is an…unsupported feature. We intend on releasing a document with our art guidelines that basically says, this is how we created the art in our game. We’re not going to bug fix your art for you, but here’s how we did it.
Jordan’s been making games for 30 years, I’ve been making them for 20, everyone in the studio’s pretty hardcore gamers. We want people to have a good time with this, to unleash their creativity. It’s all about Shadowrun returning, and if that means that other people can insert their own art, their own characters, whatever, so be it! We’re trying to entertain people!
I can certainly respect that. It would help the game live on long after it’s been released.
Let’s hope. If people want to see more Shadowrun from us, they’re gonna have to buy the game [laughs]. With DRM-free, there’s always the fear of piracy. And that’s true! But it’s not going to help Shadowrun to return. If you want to help support the project, the team so we can create more, I have to be able to pay people [laughs]. They don’t work for free!
For what it’s worth, you guys are releasing a long-anticipated game at a very modest price point of $19.99. I’m impressed.
Thanks, I appreciate that. It’s not all about money, but…
But you have to pay people.
Yes, gotta pay people. Well, we figured adding a fully featured editor on top of that should help sweeten the deal pretty good!
On that note, because Shadowrun Returns is releasing on multiple platforms (PC/Mac/iPad), will they translate well? For instance, if I were to make a campaign on my PC version, can someone on the iPad play it?
No. You can only use the editor on the PC and the Mac, and it can only be shared with people on the PC and the Mac. Eventually, we’re going to take some of the best user-created content and actually bundle it, and release it on iOS and Android, but that’s not going to be at launch.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
You know…we made this for the fans. We’re hoping to satisfy Shadowrun fans, and hopefully we’ll draw others to the game. And hoping to live to fight another day; our definition of success is the ability to make more games. That’s always the goal.
I’d say that’s a pretty good definition.
Keep your fingers crossed for us, please.
I definitely will. I wish you guys the best of luck, and thank you so much for taking the time to do this interview!
Yeah, it was good talking to you man!
*At this point I’d just like to apologize in advance for the potential future frustrations I have just caused, should the next campaign have some super secret ‘true’ ending that can only be unlocked by screaming at your computer in frustration as you play on the hardest mode. I swore I’d only use my powers for good, I swore it!
Shadowrun Returns can be purchased here on Steam.