ECCC 2013: Harebrained Schemes Gives Us A ‘Shadowrun Returns’ Update

[Update: The map editor will be available prior to the backer launch and not after as was originally reported. Everyone else will get the editor post-launch. Additionally, hiding in shadows was not a planned feature, but NPCs will respect line-of-sight. This has been your adventure in hasty con posting!]

After their wildly successful Kickstarter campaign, developer Harebrained Schemes has been actively plugging away at the development of “Shadowrun Returns,” the PC/iOS/Android/Linux resurrection of the pen and paper RPG.

During a panel at Emerald City Comic-Con, “Shadowrun” creator Jordan Weisman and producer Mitch Gitelman took the stage to talk about where the game is now and what’s next for the Seattle-based studio.

“We’ve been crunching for almost a year,” Gitelman joked at the start of the panel. Gitelman and Weisman thanked the fans for funding that year of development through the Kickstarter campaign back in 2012. Since then, they’ve doubled their team from the initial 10-person development crew to 20 (plus assorted college interns). When the panelists asked how many of the attendees in the room backed the campaign, nearly every person raised their hand.

There’s obviously some love for “Shadowrun Returns” in Seattle.

Gitelman describes the campaign as a 24-day adrenaline rush, during which they were crunching on another game while generating daily videos to respond to fan questions and concerns. “Our whole Kickstarter campaign was about listening and responding to what we heard,” Gitelman says.

The game, if you’ll recall, is returning to its roots, set in rainy Seattle–a location Weisman had never been to when writing the initial RPG. Since then, he’s moved to Seattle only to learn that his layout of the city was completely off. While the game won’t be a 1:1 match for the real city, there are callouts to real-world landmarks. Plus, their team has just implemented a rain cycle into the game.

Speaking of features, Gitelman joked about working with an ambition developer like Weisman who will typically say something like “I was thinking” which tended to translate to a new (possibly implausible) feature. The conversation typically comes down to “Do you want that feature or do you want the game to ship before we run out of money,” Weisman said.

That said, they would like to keep the campaign open enough to player exploration and player investigation. Weisman spoke about wanting the player to discover the answers to things in the world without spoonfeeding information or having the character discover revelations about the world. That being said, Harebrained Schemes wasn’t able to get as many detective moments into the games, but the feature set is there for players to create many of their own.

Responding to a fan question on when we might be able to see map creation in the game, Weisman jumped in saying it would be about a month after “Shadowrun Return’s” launch for Kickstarter backers (Gitelman squashed that, saying it would launch sometime shortly after launch). Lighting and sound effects triggers will be available, but for the time being, players won’t be able to add their own art assets (i.e. custom graffiti, etc.).

Speaking of backers, the physical rewards for the campaign won’t launch until the game launches, Weisman explaining that the rewards accounted for about 5% of “Shadowrun Return’s” budget. It just didn’t make sense to send out T-shirts or physical media that would potentially have the game when the game wasn’t ready–a scheme which would have added a couple of $100k on the game.

One of those bonuses is a hardcover short story collection which has 17 writers attached. Weisman says that many of the stories couldn’t have been told in the game, but that the story of the game and the “Shadowrun” timeline have been woven into the book. “There’s so much source material, so much canon, that it was a bit like getting a huge camel through the eye of a small needle,” he explained. There was so much canon that Harebrained Schemes had to consult with Catalyst who currently publishes the pen and paper RPG.

We got the chance to see some of the concept art from the game, including an apartment in the slums featuring a trashed living room with broken-down furniture and a massive tri-vid TV.

Displaying a piece of concept art set in the morgue, Wesiman says that during the Data East/Nintendo days, he wanted to explore the idea of morgues as privatized like the police and other municipal services, but that was nixed. It’s something being worked into the current game with Weisman joking that it would be a one-stop chop shop/fast food joint.

Elaborating on the gameplay, in classic RPG style, players will wander the world in a free mode and switch over to a turn-based mode with player characters and NPCs dropping into a crouch. A move grid will come up showing where the player can go, similar to “X-COM” (and in the same way, “Shadowrun Returns” will also have an action points system).

Describing NPC behavior, Weisman says that their reactions to the player would be based on their Awareness (can they see the player) and Perception (what kind of behavior is the player behaving in and are they a threat). Weisman lamented that one feature they had to cut was NPC awareness being based on the lightning. Charisma and Etiquette come into it if the player actually engages the NPC in conversation.

What’s next for “Shadownrun Returns?” Look for in-game screenshots next week as well as the first gameplay video.

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