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Shadowgate Postmortem Developer Interview

Shadowgate was one of many Kickstarter projects I helped support back in the initial crowd-funding explosion in gaming two years ago. While many projects were promised and created on an intoxicating nostalgia-laced aroma, I’m happy to report that two years later, Shadowgate not only successfully released but is a damn fine remake worthy of its name. It helps when you have the original developers that are just as passionate about remaking their classic for both new fans and rosy-eyed veterans.

shadowgate karl roelofsKarl Roelofs is the Design Director at Zojoi, and along with fellow Zojoi cohort Dave Marsh helped create the popular first-person puzzle adventure game, Shadowgate, back in the late 80s. “If it wasn’t for Kickstarter, we would have never been able to re-imagine Shadowgate,” Karl says, “I am very grateful to the innovation of crowd-funding and the particular focus on retro gaming.”  Nostalgia has proven to be an effective tool for many Kickstarter campaigns, whether they’re classic remakes (Carmageddon: Reincarnation), long-lost sequels (Wasteland 2) or spiritual successors of beloved but seldom seen genres (Pillars of Eternity, Broken Age, Divinity: Original Sin).

On whether Kickstarter remains a viable funding platform for indie gaming in 2014, Karl replies, “It’s still so tough for independent developers to make games, let alone find the audience to buy those games. That’s why I think crowd-funding is still a valuable avenue for some developers to get their products funded.” Kickstarter is far from a sure thing, and many indie developers and even prominent developers and game designers (most recently Uber Entertainment’s Human Resources) still fail to capture enough of an audience.

The most intriguing aspect to this new era of crowd-funding is the increasingly open development that many independent studios utilize. Each campaign differs in how they engage backers and fans, and gaming especially can benefit from instant feedback from those most interested in the game, as well as a host of fans willing to put in the meaty work of beta testing. “The support of our backers has been great! They have been patient with us, vocal about things they’d like to see and quick to offer up suggestions that have improved the game.”

Gamers, particularly nostalgic PC gamers can often be a loud, opinionated bunch, but every crowd-sourcing developer echoes the same positive sentiments with regards to engaging closely with fans.  Zojoi used Kickstarter backers and pre-orders as beta testers and they “have been a top-notch group that have brought a whole set of skills to our development that has helped tremendously.” Many fans and backers came with a host of useful applicable skills and backgrounds; Karl lists editors, linguists, musicians and those in Quality Assurance that helped out immeasurably with feedback, many of which is being incorporated into the upcoming Halloween-themed update (more on that later).

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Zojoi are very pleased with the both the critical and fan response following Shadowgate’s release. “We have gotten lots of love and satisfaction from those players that remembered Shadowgate on the NES or even the original Mac, Amiga, PC and Atari versions. I think our rating on Steam is a ridiculous 96% positive.” It is, though most critics were far more unforgiving of the difficulty and throwback designs, and Shadowgate’s MetaCritic rating sits at a mixed 71%. “The press has been good too and we read it all, digest it and the new update has a number of changes that we made based on suggestions or critiques from the press.”

On the difficulty level specifically Karl mentions that “one thing Shadowgate is known for is how difficult of a game it is. Our backers expected a difficult experience and we wanted to deliver that. However, we also wanted to create an easier and more forgiving version of the game for those players that would be new to adventure games or Shadowgate.” Three separate difficulty levels were created that incorporate puzzles and sometimes entire areas in different ways, one of my favorite new features of the remake. “The puzzles play out differently as the difficulty level goes up, forcing players to solve the increasing complexity of each puzzle. A lot of work but definitely worth it.”

Still, an easier or at least more intuitive difficulty could be a welcome addition for newcomers, and it’s one of many new updates coming to the Halloween Update, along with a new wheel command interface, tons of UI tweaks and fixes and an entirely new Halloween-themed side quest that is apparently Shadowgate’s take on It’s a Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown. “We had always wanted to update the game interface by adding a new type of command system to the game. Originally, we were going to wait till Beyond Shadowgate to do that. However, we realized that between what was being requested by fans and the press (and what would be best for the tablet version), an updated interface was important now. We had also planned to do DLC for Beyond Shadowgate and by designing an add-on quest for Shadowgate, we are testing our ability to do that.”

If you haven’t beaten the new Shadowgate yet, you may have missed the teaser trailer after the credits roll for Beyond Shadowgate, Zojoi’s next project. “Beyond Shadowgate will be based partially upon the original Macventure design that we made in 1989,” says Karl. The original vision was never published but the story stuck with the team.  “Beyond Shadowgate will be a first person adventure game much like Shadowgate. However, we want to add and expand on the play mechanisms – adding some more RPG elements like a self-icon with slots for wearing and equipping things. We want more people in our universe that you interact with, so we will probably implement a conversation interface that will have repercussions on your adventure. Additionally, we want to explore the use of 3D in more of the rendered scenes and animations.” An expanded RPG system on top of a devious puzzle game sounds intriguing – not unlike another masterfully modernized but wonderfully old-school adventure, Legend of Grimrock 2.

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Will Zojoi be returning to Kickstarter to fund Beyond Shadowgate? “As much as we are thankful for Kickstarter, it’s A LOT of work. Our hope is that we can fund Beyond Shadowgate with revenues form this game. So we need all those gaming fans to check out our updates and try the game out.” Voting with your wallet has always been the great equalizer, and ultimately the market will decide if Beyond Shadowgate will happen. As a fan I’m personally rooting for many more entries into the Shadowgate universe.

Thank you to Karl Roelofs for the interview. Below is a full list of updates (from Karl) coming to Shadowgate by the end of October.

  1. Alternate Command System: We have already touched on this a bit but the new system will be a wheel system where (on easier modes) only commands that can be used will be available. The other (retro) command system is obviously still available as well as are all the keybinds and locking commands.
  2. Casual/Normal Game Mode: We know that not all players are familiar with the Shadowgate universe or first-person adventure games in general so we added a mode that is very forgiving and there are very few red-herring objects in the game that aren’t required for puzzles.
  3. Ironman Mode: Each difficulty mode will have a checkbox that disables the ability to save the game so that players will have to play in one sitting (an achievement is given if completed, of course).
  4. Brand New Halloween Themed Side-Quest: The ‘Dread Pumpkin Quest’ is our homage to “It’s a Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.” This is a fun side quest where you have to raise the Dread Pumpkin from the mysterious pumpkin patch. Obviously, you need to solve a number of puzzles along the way to do so!
  5. Other UI changes: There is now a key bind that will glow all objects in a room, highlighting the things you can interact with. There is a Quick Load option to compliment Quick Save. The UI HUD elements are smaller for more visibility. The tutorials have been redesigned to pop up along the way, allowing you to get into the game quicker. Additionally, game hints have been given a once over so that there is more clarity.
  6. New Achievements: We added the following achievements : Gotta catch them all!, Ironman, Seven Angry Dwarven Miners, Signal the Castle, Librarian, Pyromaniac and Pumpkin Hunter.
  7. Adjustments to “USE” command: The USE command will work slightly different on stationary objects like levers and such. Simply hit USE and then the object and it acts as if you are using Thyself on the object.
  8. Retro Graphics: We added a pixelated filter for those who wish to play the game in retro graphics mode. This is a fun extra that is easily turned on and off in the settings or via a keybind.
  9. Settings screens: We also added a third volume slider for cut scenes, broke out the retro elements more and added additional keybinds.
  10. Adjustments To Game Bits: Some examples include the wraith will no longer return and goblins will have a lower firing percentage and the curse has been tweaked.