It’s been nearly two months since “Shadow Complex” released on Xbox Live to critical and commercial acclaim. The game, a side-scrolling adventure shooter, definitely raised the bar for what was possible in the downloadable space and introduced a whole new group of gamers to traditional Metroid-style gameplay.
Now that the game is done and dusted, I spoke with Donald Mustard, the creative director and co-founder of Chair Entertainment, to understand a bit about what went into its creation. First up, the map.
For Mustard, the map was one of his proudest achievements. “We always considered the main character in ’Shadow Complex’ to be the world itself. The idea that it’s this massively unfolding, layered world, and the more you get the power-ups, the more the world opens up to you.”
Clearly it wasn’t as simple as just designing as they went. For a game like this it requires a huge amount of planning. Said Mustard, “Even before we started making the game at all, we designed the entire game on paper first. We knew where every power-up was going to be, where every secret was. And that planning phase took a long, long time.”
So what was the planning phase like? Well, the folks at Chair were kind enough to send a prototype of the “Shadow Complex” map taken from this phase, which, as you can see, is totally hand-drawn. It’s worth noting that the map went through tons of revisions and the one we have here isn’t quite the final version, but its fascinating to get an early look at what was to appear in the game:
Here’s Donald Mustard, talking about the whole design phase:
“We created these little grid blocks and lines. We did a lot of it by hand at first, but then we went and transcribed it all into [Adobe] Illustrator…you could literally see a side view of the map, it was all just gray, with lines and stuff. And we had a stick figure that represented the player, and we’d say, ’Ok, the player can jump this many units high.’ And we had a little graph that showed how high you could jump and how long it would take to build up to a speed run and stuff like that. So we’d ’play through’ the entire game with this little stick figure guy.”
Once they had established the basics, they started seeing what worked and what didn’t.
“We’d have these big design meetings where we’d print this out, four feet by five feet, the whole map, and we’d be playing through it and be like, ’Oh, see how I was able to jump and get that missile pack before I was supposed to? That breaks the game.’ We look back at that map now and obviously some things have changed, but in our estimation, 85% of what we originally planned for is exactly what ended up in the game.”
We’ll have more details from our “Shadow Complex” postmortem throughout the week, so stay tuned.