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Building a New Shadowrun for Live Anywhere
game: Shadowrun
posted by: Aaron Stanton
publisher: Microsoft
date posted: 11:32 AM Mon May 15th, 2006
last revision: 11:32 AM Mon May 15th, 2006

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Click to read.Shadowrun Leaves Its Tradition to Make an Entertaining FPS:

As a first person shooter, Shadowrun is looking fast-paced and action packed. After a half-hour demo on the show floor, I was impressed with how it played; a mix between Counterstrike and a fantasy novel.

It wasn\'t until afterwards that I began to worry. The Shadowrun universe has a deep historical background, complex stories, and a strong RPG element.

Shadowrun the FPS, however, has no storyline. It has no single player mode at all, and each match lasts a maximum of only four minutes. It\'s a multiplayer twitch shooter; you buy weapons before each round under time constraint, because if you take too much time you\'ll be shot in the head or your flag will be captured. There\'s no persistent saving of stats or skills, and everyone is reset to zero between games.

And the graphics don\'t live up to the standards set by even the first generation of Xbox 360 titles already on the market.

Microsoft is grooming Shadowrun as the flagship title for Windows Vista and Live Anywhere; a cross-platform multiplayer experience that has almost nothing to do with the Shadowrun universe except that it has Elves and Orcs and carries the name.

Sitting in the press room after the meeting with Microsoft, it occurred to me: This new Shadowrun, with absolutely no single player story, and gameplay that can be compared to a series of 4 minute mini-games, is going to be seen as shallow to fans used to depth and history.

People will be expecting many layers from the Shadowrun franchise, and what they\'ll find is a title that offers Counterstrike and the ability to win while acting only on instinct.

Shadowrun is in danger of being fun but inconsequential.

The nice thing about being at E3 is the opportunity to get a developer\'s response. With these worries in mind, I stopped writing my preview and headed back down to South Hall with a list of questions for the designers. I wanted to know if they were aware that their title was in danger of disappointing every Shadowrun fan that cheered when they heard at the press conference that the universe was making a comeback. I wanted find out if they knew that a lack of story went against everything that established the Shadowrun universe. I wanted to know how they would react if I said, \"These graphics don\'t look worthy of what we\'ve already seen on the Xbox 360, let alone something that\'s coming in seven months at the earliest. Are you planning on changes before it ships?\"

I\'d already been told by at least one representative that the graphics were pretty much finalized, and that what I saw was what gamers could expect to see in January.

I\'m all for pushing intellectual properties in unusual directions (Kingdom Hearts, anyone?), but I still wanted to know if this new direction is the result of FASA\'s desire to make a Shadowrun FPS, or if the franchise is being forced into a counterintuitive genre simply because Microsoft needs a substantial name to launch Live Anywhere.

I wanted to know what would happen if I suggested that their new brainchild was, quite frankly, shallow.

\"We didn\'t know we were building a PC version (of Shadowrun) until after we had it running on the 360,\" said Bill Gross, one of Shadowrun\'s Testing Engineers, when I asked him if Windows Anywhere had driven the direction of Shadowrun\'s development. \"But,\" he added, \"we are the flagship title for the Live Anywhere system.\"

Apparently, Shadowrun for the Xbox 360 has been an action FPS since it was conceived, shedding the RPG and story driven heritage early in development. The action slant comes from FASA taking an intellectual property they already owned and making the type of game they knew how to make.

\"We\'re not an RPG company,\" Fulton said. \"Look at our history. We make predominantly multiplayer action games. We made (Shadowrun) to our strengths, and did it with the intellectual property with the flavor we liked the best. But you will see Shadowrun if you know Shadowrun. It isn\'t just a fantasy shooter.\"

No matter how good a first person shooter Shadowrun is, fans will be disappointed; it has few of the elements that made the original game universe famous. There\'s recognizable back-story and setting, but little else.

\"We used Counterstrike as a model,\" said Bill Gross. \"But once people sit down and play this, they\'ll see this is the multiplayer experience for the 360.\"

If you can step back from the preconceived concept of Shadowrun, the FPS elements are looking fairly strong. The ability to teleport not only through walls, but also up and down through the ceilings and floors, makes for an interesting gaming experience. It remains to be seen how well that will translate into sells when Shadowrun gamers think about buying the title come January, when it will ship the same time as Windows Vista.

I remain skeptical of how well a game with no storyline will do. The original meeting felt like I was being shown the multiplayer parts of a very cool game, only to discover that the multiplayer parts were the game.

All the game.

There\'s a reason that Counterstrike started out as a modification and evolved into a stand alone later. It would only sell after it had made a name for itself.

Shadowrun has a name already, but one that suggest a different style of gaming than what Microsoft and FASA are putting together.

A Response to Graphics Criticism:

Fulton\'s answer to my question of Shadowrun\'s graphics was met with a mixed answer. \"I think that you\'re reacting to the artistic design,\" he said when I asked if the graphics were going to be improved before release. I pointed to the large, blurry Trees of Life and compared them unfavorably to the foliage in Perfect Dark Zero, hardly the best looking game on the Xbox 360. I walked my character close to the wall for a better look at the textures. Objects in the levels they showed at E3 looked jagged and featureless. Artistic differences or not, I can\'t help but hope they make improvements to the levels before the title ships; at the moment the walls look flat and unimpressive, and climbing up and down ladders is a matter of watching your teammates float vertically into the air in the vicinity of a wooden splotch on the wall.

\"It\'s unclear at the moment (if that ladder climbing will change),\" says Chris Blohm, another of Shadowrun\'s designers. \"We\'ll see.\"

Unfortunately, in a game where the largest level holds 16 players and is seen for a grand total of 4 minutes at a time, the details make the heart of the game. Without a story, there\'s only a limited number of other factors to consider.

We here at GamesFirst have considered storytelling part of what makes video games art, and we\'re skeptical that Shadowrun fans will be as willing to part with something that\'s been so intricate to the series.

If Shadowrun has depth, the FPS Microsoft is planning on selling come January doesn\'t belong in the series. It\'s been reduced to a string of potentially exciting 4-minute gaming rounds.

Staying true to the concept of putting gameplay before graphics, Blohm was happy to point out where their priorities lay. \"We want this to run on a real network,\" he said. \"We will absolutely cut textures down in order to make it run smoothly. It\'s about gameplay.\"

Then he laughed. \"Not saying that I think it looks bad, or anything.\"

In an industry too focused on the looks of a title of quality of experience, it\'s good to hear a developer say that. However, no one is complaining about the lag in Perfect Dark Zero, and it looks substantially better than Shadowrun levels we\'ve seen at this point in development.

And Perfect Dark certainly isn\'t the prettiest game on the Xbox 360. Let\'s hope some things change come January. At the moment, Shadowrun comes across as an entertaining FPS that doesn\'t offer what people are really expecting from a Shadowrun title.

Without a story, we expect it to come and go with relatively little impact, and be forgotten as soon a Shadowrun title with some depth comes around.

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