Shadowrun Returns Interview With Creator Jordan Weisman

Jordan Weisman's having a great week.

Forty-eight hours ago, the famous game designer and Harebrained Schemes made a passionate plea to the gaming community to fund a sequel to his award-winning Shadowrun franchise via Kickstarter, which has become the go-to site for developers interested in bypassing publishers. This new title, Shadowrun Returns, would follow the series' tradition of transporting players to a Cyberpunk-inspired fantasy world full of magic, monsters and intrigue. All he needed was $400,000, a tiny sum in comparison to the millions poured into big-budget console games.

Turns out, fans responded in startling fashion, helping Weisman raise the cash in less than 28 hours, and the money continues to pour in. As you read this, the project has cleared $500,000.

We caught up with Weisman to discuss his recent success, and how it'll translate to one of the year's most anticipated games.

Congratulations on meeting the 400K goal in record time. You mentioned additional features that would be possible if that happened. Care to shine some light on what those would be?

It has been a wild ride, and we can't believe the community rallied so quickly to fund the game in its first 28 hours. It does make an old man feel good to see that the game setting we created 23 years ago still has resonance for people, and that they responded so strongly to bringing that world back to life on modern platforms.

We added the Mac version, as that was a clear message from the fans. We are currently catching our breath and internalizing what we've heard from the community, and mapping it against our design goals and aspirations. Our plan is to post more about the game and funding "stretch" goals by the end of the day.

How long was the concept for Shadowrun Returns kicking around in your brain?

For several years, basically since I first got the license back from Microsoft for Smith & Tinker. We have been updating Shadowrun's main concept to take advantage of recent platforms (i.e. tablets).

How do you see Kickstarter changing video game development moving forward?

Kickstarter and its ilk could have a pretty profound impact on not just gaming, but all content funding. The reason that movie studios and large game publishers tend to invest in "blockbusters" is because they don't know what the audience wants, and thus take what they see as a safer bet. If the audience directly funds what they want to see, it should result in the audience getting more of what they want. But this greater role in deciding what gets made carries with it some of the risk that the studios and game publishers were carrying, the risk that the funded game or content either doesn't get finished or just sucks.

Why did you choose to design the game on iPad and Android tablets? Is this directly related to the budget?

The style of game we want to make lends itself best to these platforms. The budget played a factor in our choosing to use beautiful 2D graphics to render the world rather than 3D, but the gameplay determined the platform.

Some gamers feel these devices cannot be taken seriously when it comes to offering "core" experiences. How do you see Shadowrun Returns possibly changing this perception?

Shadowrun Returns will also be on PC, which is the home of "core" games. Having said that, the perception of mobile tablets as a platform only supporting very casual broad market games is a factor of installed base and is only a limitation of imagination. When a general purpose device has a limited installed base, you have to make games that appeal to everyone in order to have a big enough market, but with the enormous install-bases that iOS and Android devices have now, the market is big enough to create games for specific audiences, including the core audience. Plus, there is just something "right" about playing Shadowrun on a device that was science fiction when I wrote the game.

Was it by chance that you were able to license Shadowrun to propose this new adventure? Is this another case of a series of events falling the right way to make this happen?

When I was at Smith & Tinker, I tried to get a Shadowrun game going with publishers but we had no takers, and I thought I was not going to be able to bring these dreams to life. But after seeing the fans respond so well to Double Fine, I worked out a license with Smith & Tinker to allow Harebrained Schemes to bring the concept to the fans and try to make it happen.

What about the graphics? Should we expect something along the lines of the Shadowrun Super Nintendo game? How far do you intend to push the iPad and Android devices?

We pride ourselves on the look and feel of our games, such as Crimson Steam Pirates, and Shadowrun Returns will be a beautifully gritty world that takes advantage of modern graphics. That said, our game concept is designed to be played in 2D, presenting a great deal of tactical information to the player to intelligently control an entire team of Shadowrunners, each of whom may have very different world views and each providing the player with more information and interaction options.

The Kickstarter page mentions using a conversation system inspired by that SNES title. What can we expect from in-game conversations?

Well, they won't pass the Turing test and convince you our NPCs are real, but they should provide a lot of relevant contextual information and "color", hopefully without the frustration of having to navigate conversation trees.

How important was it to include an editor in this title, and what do you expect from the community once the game goes live?

To us, the editor was always an important element of the game concept because we want to enable the players to create their own stories and share them with their friends and the entire community. What do we expect from the community? As with most user-generated content, there will be a lot of it and you can be sure some of it will be off the chart brilliant stuff.

What if this hits $1 million? What could you guys do with that kind of money? Would that completely change the project's scope?

Wow, that would be wonderful, but we're fans of quality over quantity of features. For that reason, the project's feature list would not dramatically expand. Instead, we would look to add more depth of content and more stories told with more assets. In other words, we would go for depth rather than breath.

Excellent. The best of luck moving forward. We look forward to seeing the game.