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When will they show us some actual game?

Shadowrun Online - 17.01.2014 9:54AM

Hoi fellow runners!

The above question has been asked – in increasingly less patient ways – for a while now. We completely understand how unsatisfying the lack of concrete gameplay and visuals must be. We thank the many of you who have remained patient and positive and active in the forum. And we can only apologize for keeping you all waiting for so long. So here is some news and (almost) an actual game screen.

We have our eyes set on a first playable version towards End of March. This will allow all of you to play a number of missions and get a good idea of the core gameplay (although obviously it will expand in variety), but it will not be the complete game (so you will have predefined characters for example). But at least it is something to finally put into the hands of our backers and fans.

So why does it take us so damn long? For one, as many of you know, we had to find more budget for the game whilst not going to a publisher to get it. This was not an easy task. It actually took us almost a year to get the game securely funded (in the way we wanted it). That is the harsh truth of an independent developer: Even projects of limited ambition are hard to do with a small team and an MMO for that matter is not an easy thing to create.

We found ways to cross-finance the game with another project (AERENA – you can check it out on Steam or Android in its Alpha form), so we could share the cost for building the base infrastructure of a cross-platform online game. We worked through a LOAD of prototypes – it has been over a year since we played the first one. We went back to paper prototyping to get some more iterations done without having to tax our coders’ resources. We changed the skill system … then changed it further to incorporate stats. We tested the “deadliness” of encounters relative to player health and group size. And then we put all that back again into a playable online version. You can do cool things like hacking a gun and forcing it to eject all ammo (leaving your enemy with an empty gun and a stupid look on their face), we have status effects (like bleed, stun etc.) working, we have specific damages and resistances (magic vs tech vs physical), individual chances to hit based on weapon type and range and skill and cover and evasion and so on. And we have determined the actual level sizes and movement ranges etc.

Until this last step was done, creating graphic assets made little sense. How big is “a table”? Should it provide full or half-cover? How should things providing cover be visually set apart from others? Or does a potted plant provide cover as well? How big are our characters – how big is one meter on the screen? Can I still make out the size difference of my dwarf vs a troll on a mobile device? How many light sources can we use in a scene on mobile devices? How much light needs to be baked into scenes themselves or even painted into the textures (making objects less re-usable)? A lot of questions needed to be answered before we could work on making the game pretty. Below you can see some of the schematic views of a prototype underground level (by now changed to a decent brownstone sewer environment more fitting to our Boston location).

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Our level designers fought for one way to create levels, our producers suggested another, designers, artists and coders chimed in. We hope we have found a sensible system now, allowing us to build more interesting levels but not having to create huge amounts of scripting for each. Features for the future could be cameras, drones, access spots and all kinds of interactive objects that can be placed quickly, each with their own, limited AI and range of possible actions (the easiest one would be the famous button opening a secret door, but it can also be an entire system of linked security devices putting each other on alert and for example activating the deadly laser traps when spotting intruders).

We also have narrowed down our art style (as always a compromise between performance across devices, amount of work and making it as pretty as we can) and are in talks with the crew at Catalyst and leading Shadowrun artists to make sure it fits the universe. A sample can be seen below. Now the characters in this picture are a bit too small and some of the assets are game assets while others are ripped from somewhere (whoever can name the lady on the wall first gets a brownie point), but this is a lab level for the game…

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We like the look – clean yet with enough contrasts. You can also pretty much tell where you can find cover at a glance. It is not the typical street corner – we are getting to that later.

So the next weeks will be exciting as things finally come together – we have 5 new people in the team (welcome guys and girl!) to help us, greatly increasing the team size and we have an exciting and no doubt wild ride ahead of us.
Expect more pictures of actual levels next time we do a game update (after a few more of the short stories our favorite and energetic writer Scott Schletz has whizzed up). It is getting real, folks (and about time, too)!

See you in the Shadows

primetide