Making Shadow Complex: Donald Mustard Speaks
August 28, 2009 Page 4 of 6
Did you get external testers or anything to look at the game to tell you about the readability and the mechanics and stuff?
DM: We did. I think probably one of the greatest advantages we had with the game is... So, Shadow Complex was published by Microsoft Game Studios. Because we were part of MGS, we got access to those labs. As early as we were allowed in there, we were putting the game in there to get as many people as we could playing the game.
That feedback was crazy. We'd get like basically our 2D map back with all these dots saying, "Here's where someone got lost. Here's where someone turned around. Here's where everyone got stuck at this spot." I think that without that data, we would have been up a creek because that just gave us such a broader perspective on things that we thought were so painfully obvious that nobody thought was obvious at all. We were definitely able to smooth out the huge bumps.
That being said, we're starting to see lots of posts on message boards about, "Stuck here. Need help here," but a lot of that is little stuff.
LM: A lot of them are gamers, too. We're getting emails from gamers who are like a minute and a half in. They're like, "I can't..." And it's just like, "Alright, you're going to have to try a little harder than that."
DM: This is actually a good and a bad. I don't know if you saw it when you were playing, but there's something Metroid never had. There's an objective line, a blue line that will trace the next objective. We put that in there for the modern gamer, not for us.
The benefit of the blue line is it tells you where to go. The problem with the blue line is it tells you where to go. And people start to get dependent on the blue line. And then when all of a sudden they have to maybe go off the blue line a little bit, they get scared. So, our hope is that we made the blue line loose enough in a way that by the end of the game, you're trained and you're comfortable exploring the world so that those new gamers will say, "Oh, I don't need a blue line. Screw the blue line."
Thinking in three dimensions is so hard that games got more linear, in all genres. But there's a balance that has got to be really tough for you guys, because the hallmark of the genre is explorability.
DM: [laughs] Yeah, man, it was way hard. I don't know. That's the one thing that I don't know how successful we were at. And we'll have to see. That's where I need like the feedback of all the people actually playing the game and looking at how they did it. But we tried...
Just an early example, when you got the grenades for the first time, so the blue line goes across and through the grenade door and keeps going, but you have to drop down, walk back, find the grenades, walk back out, fight the boss, walk up the boss, and then go through the grenade door. So, even though the blue line is saying go here, there's a blockage in the way that forces you to backtrack.
We tried to do stuff like that early on especially to say, "Oh, the blue line isn't going to say go here, then go here, then go here, then go here. It's going to give me a general direction, and then force me to think of ways to get to that goal." I don't know how successful that is, but it was my attempt -- or our attempt -- at getting people to think, "Oh, this is a game where I just don't go forward. I go forward, I go backwards, I go up, I go down," and start to rekindle that.
Do you think that when working in a genre like this, it seeds with the hardcore and they help spread the word because they're so excited to play a game like this?
DM: It's certainly our hope. Our hope was that if we made a game that fundamentally was a fun, compelling game to play, we would be successful. But then on top of that, our goal was to...
I don't know how we would achieve this, but our goal was to create a game that felt both nostalgic and new at that time, it had hints of what you remember being awesome playing before, but it still offered you something fresh and unique that you hadn't experienced before. We thought if we could get that, then we could get us. You know, the people who grew up playing Metroid.
Our hope was that if we get the hardcore, they would start talking enough about it that we'd get... Because there are a lot of gamers out there that grew up playing Halo. They've never ever experienced a game like this, and so we tried to design it in a way that maybe could appeal to them as well and hopefully get new people.
We, who are steeped in classic games, often think in that language. So much about games is actually based around the player expectations...
DM: Exactly. We knew if we made it too hardcore -- when I say "hardcore", I mean anyone that's over the age of 25, who had that opportunity -- that we wouldn't be making the right game because so many people that are 15 right now, or 20, that think classic game design is Halo.
No, I'm serious. Not that that's bad. That's great. It just your age of exposure, right? So, we're trying to get both.
LM: We have kids, and they're total gamers. Donald and I have two boys, 10 and 8, and it's like our job to make sure they embrace all the new stuff, but we make sure they know what the original Metroid is. They play it and they love it still, at least in tune enough where they want to play it on their Game Boy.
DM: Yeah, a lot of it is exposure. To me, the best thing ever for Shadow Complex to do is if someone played Shadow Complex and said, "I really like that game, and that made me go back and play Super Metroid, which I've never even heard of before."
LM: More games in the genre. We talk about it all the time even in the office. It's like, "Imagine for the next 15 years, no one made a first person shooter." It would be like this whole group of fans that were like, "Come on, man! Remember these games?"
DM: "Yeah, remember. They were awesome!" And people would be like, "What? Okay, whatever, old dudes that played these first-person shooters!" And then someone would make one, and people would be like, "Oh my gosh! These are awesome!"
Castle Crashers is a great example. Obviously, Double Dragon and Final Fight were huge. But then The Behemoth identified that. "There's nothing wrong with this idea. We just have to update it and make it." And now Castle Crashers is a huge success.
DM: Yup. Exactly. I think they're a great example of taking a classic genre and updating it and just proving, "Oh wait, that genre was always awesome."
The irony was that Bionic Commando Rearmed was better than Bionic Commando.
DM: It was. It's true. That game was sweet. My only criticism of that game was man, that end boss was so hard. I couldn't beat that end boss. But apparently now they have a patch that makes the end boss a little easier.
No, I'm serious. Now that Shadow Complex is done, I can go and play it. I agree. Rearmed... I thought that game was awesome. But I'm pretty hard... Because again, that was a hard game. I can see how most gamers nowadays would just be like...
Mega Man 9 was pretty hard, too.
DM: Yeah, yeah. Exactly.
So, you do have to be careful, because that's an audience thing.
DM: Yup. You have to know your audience, especially if you want a change to break out. I think that's what Castle Crashers did so brilliantly. It was an amazing game with a great genre, and it wasn't overly difficult. And so that allowed modern gamers who aren't into being punished to embrace the game and have fun with it.
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