A GameCentral reader encourages you to help fund the Kickstarter campaign for Shadowrun Returns, and help give power back to the game developers.
In the wake of Tim Schafer’s success with Double Fine Adventure, a slew of game projects have been springing up on Kickstarter, many with intriguing concepts offering something different from the current status quo. Since it has already been mentioned a few times in the Inbox, I’m sure many of you are aware of the campaign to fund Shadowrun Returns, a new role-playing game to be created by start-up developer Harebrained Schemes.
Although they successfully achieved their initial funding goal a while ago, I have been surprised at how few backers there are in light of what the project offers – possibly due to a lack of familiarity with the developer or the concept. Since any extra money pledged will be used to further improve the game, for example by adding more content, I felt moved to write this to try and drum up a little more support. Let me begin with an admission – I have never played a game set in the world of Shadowrun before, nor am I a rich man. So why have I decided to back this project?
Firstly, the game is one of that rarest of breeds, a non-Japanese turn-based tactical role-player, with combat in the vein of the original X-COM games. Whilst the influence of Ogre Battle, Final Fantasy Tactics, Fire Emblem and Disgaea have kept a steady stream of turn-based tactics flowing out of the Far East, recent Western takes on the genre have been few and far between – indeed, aside from the upcoming X-COM reboot, there do not seem to be very many on the horizon. Like the best examples of the genre, Shadowrun Returns promises the opportunity for meaningful character development alongside highly-contextual tactical combat, so it won’t simply be a matter of moving your characters beside an enemy and selecting ‘attack’.
So far so good – but what makes it so different from the aforementioned titles? The key has to be the world itself, which takes the unusual step of taking a cyberpunk atmosphere and enriching it with a dose of high fantasy. Although the original idea dates from the late ’80s, it still feels remarkably fresh today. Melding such disparate archetypes is potentially a recipe for disaster, but thankfully expert storyteller Jordan Weisman, who heads up Harebrained Schemes, made sure to flesh out a cohesive and internally consistent world to support his initial idea for a genre mash-up. There is an excellent and informative world primer on the developer’s website, but I will provide a short summary here.
Set in the near future, the world of Shadowrun is marked by the resurgence of magic into nature. This has activated the latent ‘junk’ DNA lying dormant in animal genomes, leading wildlife to morph into mythical creatures, whilst humans are increasingly giving rise to ‘metahumans’ – elves, dwarves, orks and trolls. The game is set a couple of generations after this event – a time when the onward march of technological progress has finally transformed the World Wide Web into the all-pervading Matrix (a nod to Neuromancer, the original source of the Wachowskis’ inspiration) and national governments have been largely supplanted by all-powerful megacorporations that hold sway over large territories.
Most of Europe has descended into a squabbling network of city states, whilst other sizable areas are ruled by intelligent dragons (some of which have chosen to invest their vast hoards in the megacorps) and native peoples, newly empowered thanks to the magical expertise preserved via their cultural heritage – a world where advanced technology clashes with wild, unbridled natural forces.
The central game itself will take place across two cities (one a futuristic Seattle, with the second to be chosen by vote), where you will be controlling a team of ‘Shadowrunners’. These individuals, working from the shadows, are hired by companies to do their dirty work, from infiltration to investigation, espionage to sabotage – a little like the cyborgs of Syndicate, but considerably less amoral should you choose to have a heart.
Missions are tackled as teams of four, comprising your created character and three others, hired as you see fit. The game also allows you to import a friend’s character if you so wish, adding a subtle social aspect to what is in essence a single-player game (a conscious choice reflecting the limited budget). Each member brings different skills to the group: for example, deckers can hack into digital systems, shamans can access the astral plane to determine the true nature of people and other living things, combat mages can sense magical auras and power-augmenting ley lines, riggers use neural implants to become one with vehicles and robots, and street samurai are adept at spotting cover and potential weapons as well as evaluating enemy threats.
As a result, your team composition will be vital in determining how you tackle each ‘run’, allowing for a variety of approaches to problems and an immersive level of tactical depth.
To ensure both variety and quality, missions will be based on short stories written by a seasoned team of authors well versed in the Shadowrun universe. These will be bound into a coherent narrative by an overarching plot created by the guys at Harebrained Schemes, who have decades worth of world-building experience between them. An editor will also be included, enabling users to create and share their own runs, thereby greatly increasing the longevity of the game.
If you would like to know more about the developers, there is a useful ‘about us’ page on their website. As you can see, it’s a small team: a combination of grizzled veterans and bright sparks straight out of college, each bursting with enthusiasm as the Kickstarter pitch video (at the top of the project page) clearly shows.
Solid proof of their game-making credentials can be found in their first release, Crimson: Steam Pirates, which can be demoed through Google Chrome or on iPad. An enjoyable game with much character, it does its level best to bring a smile to your face from the opening notes of the main theme, and is packed with colourful little details, like the amusing biographies for crew members. It also provides a great example of how turn-based games can still feel dynamic, with the little steam warships constantly puffing away as the sea churns and flags flutter, all whilst you bring your best naval tactics (and guns) to bear.
Until very recently we have been living in a world where talented developers have been unable to work in the genres they built their reputations on – cases where their vast experience is very likely to lead to a well-made game – simply because no publisher could believe any profit lay in it. By helping to fund Shadowrun Returns, you would be voicing the opinion that proven industry veterans should be allowed to leverage their expertise in bringing their creations into the modern era; it would also help to prove that there really is a budgetary space worth exploring between multi-million dollar triple-A blockbusters and ambitious indie titles costing tens of thousands.
Donating via Kickstarter is secure (payments are processed via Amazon), and backers are granted access to a variety of rewards, depending on the amount pledged. The lowest reward tier, at $15 (around £10), will grant you a DRM-free copy of the completed game for PC, Mac or Linux, whilst doubling that will add an illustrated PDF anthology of stories set in the universe, available as a hardcover at higher tiers. If you like some of the ideas involved but are still not sure about pledging enough for the full game, remember it’s not all about the Benjamins – even a buck or two would show solidarity by adding to the number of backers, which I am sure publishers are keeping a close eye on.
Of note for fans of physical media, another higher tier reward is a boxed collector’s edition featuring the soundtrack, a poster and a striking USB dog tag set. Since the funds pledged go directly towards making the game even better, this handily avoids the slight embarrassment associated with buying a typical collector’s edition where the premium ends up largely as publisher profit. And speaking of profits, Harebrained Schemes have promised to pledge 5% of those earned post-release towards future Kickstarter projects from other developers, thereby sharing the success they shall hopefully achieve.
As gamers, we do not often have the opportunity to make a genuine impact on the way games are made. I see this as a rare chance to lend our support to ‘niche’ games with mid-sized budgets in terms any publisher can understand – player numbers and cold, hard cash. The all-important deadline is in the early hours of Sunday, April 29th, so spread the word – maybe you know someone who enjoys both Deus Ex and J.R.R. Tolkien, or who is equally fond of Blade Runner and Warcraft.
Even better if they like tactical games like chess or Warhammer – and the thoughtful turn-based nature of play means quick reflexes aren’t required. Let’s help give this project the support it deserves; let’s help sustain the momentum created by Tim Schafer’s visionary decision to try doing things a little differently. Together we can change the games industry for the better.
By Knight of Words