it's quickly proving to be one of the biggest buzz games of 2009, Shadow Complex was not a sure bet for
Chair Entertainment when the project began. Born of a love of Super Metroid and G.I. Joe, the
exploratory side-scroller meshes classic '90s 2D game design with contemporary
technology, visuals, and combat.
Entertainment was founded out of the ashes of the Advent Rising project, an ambitious but ultimately unsuccessful
Majesco-published attempt to build a triple-A epic fantasy adventure series around the writings
of sci-fi author Orson Scott Card. Chair's mission is now decidedly different: to
create high-quality download-only games.
company's debut release was 2007's Undertow,
a shooter that gained positive notice and also showed that Unreal Engine 3
could be squished down into 49 megs -- just under Microsoft's cap for download
game size at the time. Technical feats like this were likely one of the reasons the company was acquired by Epic Games
the company's creative director Donald Mustard, along with his wife, Laura, who
handles PR and biz duties, discuss the inspiration for Shadow Complex, including getting a 2D game to work with
contemporary technology; how to design a classic-style title but remain
relevant to contemporary audiences; how paper design trumps mucking about in
Unreal for prototyping; and how to find the right talent to collaborate with --
and much more.
I know you're a big Super Metroid fan; you probably feel
similarly as I do -- that we're losing as much as we're gaining, by moving
forward into huge 3D games and worlds. I think people felt that way, and we're
kind of getting it back now, with downloadable games.
Donald Mustard: Yeah. I certainly feel that way. I'm ecstatic about games like Castle Crashers and Braid and Splosion Man,
just these really original unique games that are on downloadable services. Look
at games like, I don't know, like Pixeljunk
Shooter coming out in a little bit; it looks awesome. Flower is amazing.
think it's provided an avenue for these kind of games that I've certainly been
missing. That's why we made Shadow
Complex. Because no one else was making a game like that. I've been dying
for a Shadow Complex. My only regret
with Shadow Complex is I know where
everything is, so I don't get to play it. I want someone else to make a game
like that, so I can play my favorite kind of game.
It's really strange, because for
years -- since the generation started -- everyone had this expectation that
Konami would make a Castlevania game
for a download service. It never materialized. It's sort of a surprise. Whereas
Capcom sort of went the other way with Mega
Man 9 and Bionic Commando Rearmed.
They actually recognized what they had.
know, Cliff Bleszinski is famous for saying that genre is camera, right? It's
just where you place the camera to find the genre you are. In many ways, I
think that's really true. For so many years, we've gone away from the idea that
a camera placed at a more side-scroller perspective isn't as valid or as fun of
a game type or genre as any other one.
hope that some of these successful games that are doing that will kind of start
to blur the line between the idea that a game can't just be the best game that
it is. For Shadow Complex to be its
optimal design -- it's a side-scroller. Then sweet, be a side-scroller and
embrace what that genre has to offer and just kind of move it forward. Super Metroid, to me, is the pinnacle of
2D game design, and there's no reason we shouldn't be pushing that pinnacle
forward and see what else we can do with it.
seem to have married this Super Metroid-derived
meta-design of the complex and the color-coded doors, with the cover shooter
mechanics that are much more of a recent development in game design. The fact
that it works is even more surprising. Right stick aim in a side-scroller... I
don't want to say in the history of games it's never happened, but I can't
think of an example.
couldn't find any examples. It doesn't mean they don't exist.
The only games that I can think of
were more like Robotron or Smash TV... which is more Robotron.
exactly. That was one thing we really wanted to do. We wanted to take the
exploration elements of Metroid, but
we wanted to fuse it with as much modern sensibility as we could find. We
really thought a good pairing would be the more tactical combat, this idea that
you do have to use cover, you do have to aim, you want to get headshots, you
That made me laugh, honestly. Not
in a bad way. I don't think "headshot" when I'm playing a 2D game.
[laughs] Again, most of our development time was spent working on the controls.
And that's the other thing, going from 2D to 3D. Shadow Complex is a fully 3D game. It's using real physics and real
gravity. We really still wanted it to have the tightness of a 2D game but still
be a real 3D game. It's blending animations and doing other stuff that modern
games do. That was a lot of work to get that to feel good.
As soon as polygons became
dominant, people have been making 2D games in 3D... But they've frequently lacked
the pixel precision of games like Super
Metroid or Contra or any game
that had that pinpoint precision that you could rely on. The feel just got
lost. It just didn't translate. What kind of process did you have? Was it
whole lot of prototyping. I don't know that I'd say that we absolutely got it
perfect because I don't know if you can. Mario
64 and Galaxy are probably the
closest I've ever felt in 3D to matching that precision. Even that has some
issues with 3D. It's a lot more challenging with 3D. But yeah, we prototyped
like crazy. Most of our development time went to the controls.
say well over 50 percent of our efforts... It wasn't the story. It wasn't the
music. It was the controls. A lot of it was music and level design, and we
spent a lot of time there, but our main emphasis was we've got to nail the
controls. If the controls don't feel sweet, then our game sucks, period. It