Shadowrun Returns, Hopefully Here to Stay

Shadowrun. For those that know it, nothing else needs be said. For those who aren’t familiar with the name, it is a traditional pencil and paper role-playing system set in the near future. The “Sixth World”, where magic has returned, dragons have emerged from hiding and creatures both mysterious and deadly stalk the world again. Many humans “Goblinize” into orks and trolls while some human children are being born as elves and dwarves and other ancient races. Mega-corporations rule the world, and only the SINless (those without System Identification Numbers) can hide in the shadows cast by the corporate arcologies on the gritty streets below. It’s a wonderful blend of traditional fantasy, cyberpunk, horror, crime and conspiracy. And it’s been an incredibly popular setting for endless players over the years.

The games didn’t stop with the pencil and paper games though. Over the years four video games have been released using the Shadowrun setting. The first three were role-playing games, bringing the player into the dark and dangerous world. The fourth was a first-person shooter which did poorly, mostly because it deviated so far from the heart of the setting and was more of a shooter with elements that loosely resembled Shadowrun concepts.

After the fourth game it was feared that we would never again see a Shadowrun game for PC or consoles. Many who were dying to get a new RPG based on the setting were notably upset over the FPS release. Some had given up hope. But fortunately for us Jordan Weisman, the creator of Shadowrun, and the team at Harebrained Schemes hasn’t given up on us.

Using Kickstarter they’ve begun a project called Shadowrun Returns. And the name says it all. They’re working on giving us a deep, tactical role-playing game set in the Shadowrun universe. Not only are they giving us a proper game, but also they’ve brought in some of the great talent who have worked on the games and novels over the years.

After this geek managed to stop screaming like a love-struck schoolgirl, I managed to ask Weisman and the HBS team some questions on their glorious new project.

C&G Magazine: I would like to know more about the team who are working on this project. What are some of your major accomplishments?

Jordan Weisman: Our team is a combination of greybeards and youngsters. The greybeards have been in leadership positions at FASA, FASA Interactive, Microsoft, WizKids, 42 Entertainment and more. The youngsters bring experience from startups, DigiPen, Full Sail and other game development schools. You can read a little about us on the Harebrained Schemes website. Our first game together, Crimson Steam Pirates was published last year by Bungie and became iPad “App of the Week”, made Entertainment Weekly’s “MUST List”, metacritic.com’s “Best iPhone Games of 2011” list, and was one of Apple’s “Benchmark games for 2011”. You can see a sneak peak of our next game, Strikefleet Omega, on our website.

CGM: What was the reasoning for making the game for tablets and portable devices?
How will that coincide with the PC version? Will there be any limitations because of it?

JW: We hear this sort of question all the time. (BTW, the game will be played on PCs and tablets—not on phones.) We don’t see tablets as “lesser devices” for gaming. They’re powerful touch-based computers and we don’t feel limited by them. It’s just that a lot of “core gamer” content isn’t there yet. We know there’s a lot of “casual” games on tablets but that’s rapidly changing and believe us, Shadowrun Returns will look and play nothing like Angry Birds or even our first game, Crimson Steam Pirates.

CGM: Most modern games are taking an action route even with games that are traditionally turn based, what was the inspiration for going back to a turn based system for Shadowrun?

JW: The inspiration came from the way the Shadowrun RPG is played on the tabletop. When the drek hits the fan, Game Masters slow things down to allow each player to tactically plan and execute each move. In the game we envision, information and game play can exist in 4 “Realities”: Physical, Digital, Mystic and Astral. A player might become overwhelmed if decisions using multiple realities were in real-time.

CGM: Who is the target audience for the game? Will it be focused for the fans, introducing new players, or a bit of both?

JW: Shadowrun Returns is being created for fans of the world of Shadowrun – but if we do our jobs right, people who are new to the world will have no problem figuring things out.

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CGM: The game will have multiple classes with their own view of the world. Just how will that work?

JW: Selecting each character on your team of runners will show you the world from their perspective. A Street Samurai sees the physical world from a combat point-of-view: where there’s cover, who’s the greatest threat, etc. On the other hand, a Combat Mage sees the world via magical auras: where ley lines sit, which NPCs are magical, etc.

CGM: What classes will be available now that the funding has reached the level it has?

JW: Shadowrun Returns will feature the Street Samurai, Mage, Shaman, Decker, and, thanks to fan support, the Rigger.

CGM: How important is making use of all the classes? Or will the players not have a choice? Can players make their own party or must they use a pre-made one? Could a player have a party of all Street Samurai?

JW: Shadowrun is based on the idea of a group of people sitting at a table, role-playing a diverse group of characters who come together to achieve a common goal. Sometimes a character’s unique abilities are highlighted, sometimes not. But without diversity on your team, you may feel blind at times.

CGM: The Kickstarter site says that the game will be set in Seattle, the classic Shadowrun backdrop. What year is it based in? Will the game have any tie-ins or references to the novels, old or new?

JW: Shadowrun Returns is set some time in the 2050s. Since the world of Shadowrun is a dynamic gaming environment and has been going for over 20 years, the specific year we’ve chosen won’t be revealed for some time. The events in the game will be tied to events in the world, past and future.

CGM: Will there be famous characters making an appearance?

JW: We’ve just announced that Jake, the main character from the Super Nintendo game and Harlequin a major character from the Sega Genesis and tabletop game will make an appearance. We’ll also rope in other famous characters from the 2050 era.

CGM: What edition of the role-playing system going to be based on? Or will it be an entirely new system designed just for the game?

JW: Shadowrun was never about the rules. It's about the game world. If you need proof, look at the 1st Edition rules. They were lacking. But the world caught on and the rules improved. So we intend to be true to the world and take our rule cues from the 2nd and 3rd Editions. They best represent the 2050 era time frame.

CGM: How are deckers and otaku going to be handled?

Note: For those not familiar with Shadowrun, deckers user cyberdecks to hack into the Matrix, the virtual world that grew out of the old internet and on which everything is connected. Otaku are young people who have become one with the Matrix and can access it without the need of a cyberdeck.

JW: That would be telling . . . The truth is that we’re still early in the development process and are not ready to talk about specific design decisions yet. Things evolve from concept through preproduction through production and even through testing. We guarantee that when we have something to share, you’ll be hearing a lot from us.

CGM: Will the game use the updated PnP system for wireless matrix access or the classic method of physically "jacking in"?

JW: It’s classic Shadowrun all the way!

CGM: What creation options will players have access to? Will they be able to create their own settings or just campaigns/runs for themselves and others to go on?

JW: We want player-designers to have the same tools our designers use to create missions. When the editor is first released, you’ll be able to make runs in either of the two cities we create for the game.

CGM: How powerful will the editor be?

JW: Powerful enough to do what we do!

CGM: Will the editor be available for tablets as well as PC?

JW: We’d love to allow the ability to craft missions on tablets but we can’t commit to it at this time.

CGM: Do you feel this game will make up for the less than great response the last Shadowrun game received?

JW: Our goal is to create a game that makes players feel like they’re playing a Shadowrun game that is guided by the same hand that originally created Shadowrun. The response to the last Shadowrun game was largely due to its faithfulness to the setting. That won’t happen here!