After getting a chance to check out FASA Interactive's fantasy cyberpunk online-only arena-based first-person shooter first hand, Eurogamer sat down for a chat with the developer's studio manager, Mitch Gitelman to discuss how to turn an 18-year-old pen and paper RPG into a fantasy cyberpunk online-only arena-based first-person shooter.
Eurogamer: You've probably been asked this about a million times, but why an arena-based FPS based on Shadowrun and not an RPG?
Mitch Gitelman: What I had to do was to play the strengths of my studio. We had never made an RPG before. When you combine the design team of a game like Crimson Skies - a great multiplayer action game - and MechAssault - the first game on Xbox Live - and you hire the lead designer on Halo... well you make a firstperson shooter out of it, you just have to. So that's why we did it. That doesn't mean that in the future we won't branch out with it, but for the first round that's what we decided to do.
Eurogamer: And is there much scope to add new content to the current game? Can you plug in new features like new magic abilities, or even something like decking (Shadowrun's equivalent of hacking into cyberspace)?
Mitch Gitelman: New magic and stuff? Absolutely. Decking like in Shadowrun the paper game? There is scope to do that. I'm not going to yet. Here's the plan for Shadowrun. The idea is that this version of Shadowrun takes place 25 years before the SNES and the Mega Drive/Genesis game as sort of a prequel before that decking thing was invented, and before they discovered the Astral Plane. So what happens is that with each version of Shadowrun that we release in the future, we'll move the timeline forward and we'll introduce a major new piece of gameplay. When we do the Matrix it's going to be very big. I'm not just going to do a little thing with it: we go big or stay home.
Eurogamer: The game actually has so many possibilities that the learning curve could be quite steep. How will you make the game accessible for novice players when they get online?
Mitch Gitelman: Well you've started playing the game after playing one or two training missions out of six, and after each one of those six there's a skirmish mode. You can also play the game solo with our bots - all of the game types, all of the different maps. And that's the best you can do. I don't think there's a multiplayer shooter out there that you don't go online and immediately get schooled. Also remember that when you played you were given a ton of money at the beginning, but the first round of Shadowrun is usually a pistol and one spell and it gradually goes up and up and up.
Eurogamer: And how will the game matching work on Vista?
Mitch Gitelman: I'm glad you brought that up because I'm very enamoured of our matchmaking system, which accounts for your skill and also your preferences - which maps you like, which game types you like - and it tries to match you with people who not only play at your skill level, but also play the maps and things that you like. We're trying to give you the best experience every time you go on and we hope that people really appreciate that. We try to make it as painless as possible.
Eurogamer: Obviously the Xbox Live system has a certain amount of in-built defensive measures against griefing. Is there anything that you guys will be adding on top of that?
Mitch Gitelman: Yeah, one thing we've learned from Halo 2, which is very interesting, is that there isn't ranked matches in Shadowrun. We find that rankings are the reward for griefing and the reward for cheating. And when you remove that reward, now people just play the game to have fun. So we feel that's another way. We're the first people I think to do it without ranking matches, so we're treading new ground there as well.
Eurogamer: So what do you think are the key features that set the game apart from other multiplayer-focused games?
Mitch Gitelman: It's improvisation. That's the thing really: there aren't a lot of options in other multiplayer games, and there's no [sharp intake of breath] "Huh? I never expected that!" And in Shadowrun there's constantly the unexpected that you hadn't thought of. For example, you remember the Tree of Life? The other day I saw somebody do something that I hadn't seen before, which is odd - I've been playing the game for three years. He used his Tree of Life, and then to make sure the enemy couldn't use it, he took the Strangle crystals and he put them around his tree, to deny it to the enemy.
Eurogamer: And what are you most pleased with now that the game's nearing completion?
Mitch Gitelman: The thing that I'm most pleased with is the thing that I see today. I've watched journalists play the game and they're laughing and shouting and that's the best thing. I've been waiting a long time for people to play my game. Game developers make games for players, so to see people actually enjoying it the way we intended is without a doubt the best thing.