Exclusive Shadowgate Remake Interview: Karl Roelofs Of Zojoi Talks Game Improvements, Challenges, Future Remakes!
Shadowgate has returned. The classic point-and-click adventure game is getting a remake courtesy of a successful Kickstarter campaign, one that afforded the original game's creators the chance to go back and completely redo their 1987 original.
Many gamers of my generation are most familiar with the later NES version, which was just so unlike any other game out there, offering puzzles and horrors that fractured many a growing mind. You think Dark Souls goes out of its way to kill you? Please. You don't know real horror - like being burned to a crisp by a dragon, or being mauled by a wolf-woman, or simply having your torch go out, falling down, and breaking your neck. Shadowgate was merciless, yes, but also immersive and atmospheric as can be, a genre-defining masterpiece whose influence is still felt on games to this day.
Now Shadowgate is set to stump and terrify a whole new generation of gamers. We spoke via email with Karl Roelofs, Design Director at Zojoi and original co-creator of the original MacVenture game, about what the new version will entail.
GNG: Of all the things you couldn't do with the original game, whether through technological or pacing restraints, what are you most excited to re-include in this one?
Karl Roelofs: Do you mean outside of removing the obtuse puzzles and replacing them with ones that more fit the narrative? Hmmm. Well, we're doing sooo many new things from ambient effects to adding spells to including achievements but I guess the one that sticks out is the sound design. We found composer Rich Douglas on YouTube (he had done an orchestral homage to Hiroyuki Masuno's original NES composition) and instantly knew that he would not only create all the ambient and sound effects that would bring rooms to life but create a soundtrack that would not only be inspired by Hiroyuki-san's work but take it up five notches. The neat thing about the music is that Rich developed at least 6 tracks of different instruments for each tune. This way we can turn more tracks on to increase suspense or bring them down when, for example, you enter a more contemplative environment. Having that type of ability has been pretty awesome.
Did you feel pressured to try and make locations familiar to Shadowgate vets, or did you try and create locations more in line with your original vision?
I don't think we felt pressure to make the locations familiar but that was certainly something we wanted to do from the start. We decided early on that we would not do another port. We've done that ten times over the years and that is more than enough. No, we wanted to re-introduce the franchise (rather than start immediately with a sequel) and thought it would be cool to have locations that everyone would remember but either tweak or completely change the puzzles associated with them. Then we decided to add new rooms and flesh out the narrative to tie it all together. For example, in the original game, there was this woman chained in the tower for no good reason. So we thought, let's keep her, not chain her up and give her a reason why she chooses to remain here. Then we expanded on her story and decided that a bit of this would carry over to the sequel. Fun stuff.
Any hints on what the Black Axe will allow us to do?
Ha ha. Well, this is the first time anyone has asked us about the Black Axe in twenty years. The original story on the Black Axe is that Dave and I designed this puzzle that, if memory serves, had something to do with either taking the enchanted weapon or dying by being sucked into a black hole. This puzzle didn't make it into the original game but an arrow that nearly kills you remained for some reason. On the arrow was a message that said "Seek ye the Black Axe." So, it became a bit of a mystery to what it was. We don't believe it made it into the NES or GBC version but when we re-imagined this new game, we thought we would reintroduce it. The current Black Axe quest is a bit of a side-quest [to be honest] but will be something that we will expand upon in the future. So, we're basically laying the groundwork for keeping this legend alive!
Were there any challenges in adapting the game for touch-screen controls for the mobile versions?
Well, we tried to find the right balance between old-school and modern UI design. We decided early on to make sure the commands, buttons, objects, etc. were large enough so that when the game goes to tablets, it's easy to use and understandable. Also, there isn't that much of a difference between mouse clicks and touching since our game is a point and click adventure. Obviously, using Unity makes the implementation of touch controls pretty straightforward. If there were any challenges, it was making sure that the player has quick access to everything they need without trying to figure out what some obtuse icon in the corner means. So everything is text based rather than some small stone icon where the player asks "Is that a hand for opening or hitting or using or what?"
How do the different difficulty levels change the puzzles?
Obviously the hardest level (Master) has the most complex puzzles, shortest torch life and game events (like how much time you have to cure yourself from a curse) are shorter as well. As you move your way down to the easier difficulty levels, the steps required to complete a puzzle are fewer, obstacles that you saw in the Master level may be easier to get by, torches last longer and you have more time for game events. There are also a few puzzles/side quests and achievements that only appear in the more difficult modes. The levels are designed so that if someone enjoys and beats the easier mode, they will have altered puzzles and experiences when they move to the harder levels.
Will the game include any content from the sequels like Beyond Shadowgate, or any of the ideas from the scrapped Shadowgate Rising?
No, the new content in the game are things we created specifically for this re-imagining. We are already in pre-production on Beyond Shadowgate so we wanted to keep those puzzles intact (as well as Shadowgate Rising).
What about Before Shadowgate? Any chance another book will come of this?
Ah, Before Shadowgate. You've done your homework ha,ha! We haven't talked about it much. Dave wrote a fantasy novel called The Solstice Treaty a few years back so I guess he might be interested in taking it on. But to be honest, we want to just continue to make games for the time being. So we'll put additional things like books on the backburner until we get this first done in the next couple of months.
The original score is included, but is there any chance that any of the original games be included entirely, perhaps as a unlockable bonus mode?
We've talked about it with our publisher Reverb and are keeping our options open. If we did it, we would probably offer the old SVGA PC version as this is one that could be most easily dusted off. The NES or GBC versions probably wouldn't be in the cards.
It's been said that if this game does well you'll return to Shadowgate, or bring back Uninvited or the Déjà vu games. Which would be first and which would benefit the most from a remake?
I'm a huge fan of The Uninvited because re-imagining a haunted house game sounds like a blast. I know Dave really loves Déjà vu and we talk about that one a lot as well. We also have a great design for a werewolf/horror adventure set in nineteenth century London that we are itching to do. All that said, we're gonna move on with Beyond Shadowgate first and see where the road takes us!
Thanks to Karl for his time! Shadowgate is currently available as a closed beta to backers of the Kickstarter or anyone who pre-orders, and the full version will be released sometime in late summer 2014 on Windows PC and Mac, with iOS and Android versions coming later. Check shadowgate.com for more.