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Harebrained Schemes On The Future Of Shadowrun

Talking Hong Kong, avoiding stereotypes and less linearity

Last week I ran the first half of an interview with three-time Kickstarter winners Harebrained Schemes, in which they fielded my own questions about their upcoming cyberpunk-with-magic RPG sequel Shadowrun: Hong Kong. This time, they're fielding your questions - including what they've got planned for the future of the series, cyberpunk's Asian influences, how the stories are becoming increasingly less linear, avoiding Eastern stereotypes with the new setting, and improving the game's pace.

Oh, and at the time writing the Shadowrun Hong Kong Kickstarter has now brought in $750,000. They'd asked for $100,000. They've now unlocked 12 stretch goals, and promise an additional mini-campaign if they hit $1 million. There are still 19 days to go. *blinks*.

RPS: draglikepull says "I loved a lot of the improvements in Dragonfall, but the game also had some really long, repetitive combat sequences. Have they given any thought to splitting up some of the longer combat-oriented segments of SR: Hong Kong with some exploration or story in the middle?"

Mitch Gitelman (Harebrained Schemes co-founder): Yes, absolutely. We recognise that some combats had some pacing issues, and we are actively breaking it up into smaller, bite-size chunks.

There's this interesting thing that we're doing now, based on feedback from the audience. We're allowing you to move in and out of turn-based mode at your command, so that you can position yourself before you open a door, for example, to enter combat. So you're entering combat with your brick in front and your long-range guy in the back, that kind of thing.

RPS: Oh good. There were a few bits in other games where the enemy was two rooms away and you had to wait turn after turn for them to get over to you.

Jordan Weisman (Shadowrun creator): Exactly. So that'll answer some of the pacing issues by itself.

Mitch: But really it's just a matter of clean level design, and that's just a matter of us improving our game.

RPS: Darkheart says "Haven’t had the chance to play Dragonfall, yet, so I don’t know if it changed by now, but what greatly irked me was the lack of a loot system. That’s kinda half of RPG fun missing for me at least. Will this be rethunk in the Hong Kong iteration?"

Mitch: So we're not just revamping a loot system or something like that, because it's really not part of the Shadowrun setting. First of all, you don't get experience points for killing people, you get what we call Karma for completing objectives or doing things cleverly. For example, in Dragonfall, there are more things to find, more things that drop during the game, but one of the things we're adding in Hong Kong is the ability to when you pick up something that's been dropped, you can assign it to any one of your team members. The ability to swap inventory items between your team mates, we're giving you much more control of that as well.

Jordan: In Shadowrun, we don't think picking random stuff up off the floor is a lot of fun. So everything that drops on the floor is actually useful in some more significant way.

Mitch: There's stuff to find though in the game. By searching you can find things, which is more of a Shadowrun thing.

RPS: Zallgrin says "How do devs intend to approach the theology of China? Lots of Western devs tend to fetishise and simplify the Chinese culture, and as consequence it becomes a parody of itself. Do the devs have spoken to people living in Hong Kong or do they have by chance any freelancers from China on their team?"

Mitch: We do have gamers in Hong Kong that are Shadowrun Gamers, who are helping us out. We also have someone from the university of Washington Asian Studies department helping us out. We have an employee stationed over there too, for Golem Arcana, who does quality control of our manufacturing too, so we have our own employee boots in the ground.

It's just like with Dragonfall, because we did the same thing with people in Germany who helped us out, we're not interested in making a cartoon version of Hong Kong. I think we succeeded in turning Berlin into something really cool in 2054, and we're looking forwards to making something really cool and authentic-feeling in 2056 Hong Kong.

RPS: This is kind of my question rather than a reader's, but by moving to an Eastern setting I guess maybe you're moving closer to more established cyberpunk tropes. It was kind of an open book in Berlin, but there's much more established fiction and tropes to take from here. How much do you play with or against that?

Jordan: If you're looking at the Blade Runner interpretation of cyberpunk and the dominance of Asian culture, which was purely an outbreak of the era in which cyberpunk was originally written, right? At that point everybody believed Japan was going to own the world. They were wrong...

Mitch: China's going to rule the world!

Jordan: Yeah. We're probably wrong about that too. But I do think that though it was Western-created, it dressed itself in a lot of Asian tropes. In that era, we too had a very strong Asian dominance in the world. You had Japan controlling a fair chunk of California, for similar reasons of the era it was written in. And the currency of the world was called New Yen for the same reason.

I think Shadowrun is always going to have a solid foot in Asian culture. It's not alien for us to go there with this game and this campaign. It's kind of woven into the context of Shadowrun all the way through. Even phrases like the Street Samurai [clarification - this is a term for a character type which exists across the Shadowrun universe, rather than something added for Hong Kong]. It really it is a merging of aboriginal cultures from around the world. One of the premises of Shadowrun is that magic empowers aboriginal cultures, and so that's why we have the Native Americans as such a strong thing, but that's also true with the Shamanistic nature of Japanese magic as well, as it comes back into the forefront.

Mitch: Also, just like in Berlin, the Hong Kong setting, especially the 2056 setting, has been described and written about, but not in intensive detail. Which is perfect for us, there's a lot of great stuff for us to trigger our imaginations and inspire us, but not too much that it bogs us down in already-written detail. It's a great balancing act, just like it was for Berlin in Dragonfall.

RPS: Danarchist says "In Dragonfall I found it very difficult to acquire enough resources for some of the longer missions. Most specifically having enough medkits and summons in my inventory to get through the entire mission. When I hit the lab this became especially troublesome and I had to restart from an earlier save. Basically would it be possible to make inventory items like medkits etc stack, or could alternative/optional income sources be added so we do not have a finite amount of creds available?"

Mitch: That's a pretty specific question. All I can say is that we'll look into it. One of the things we pride ourselves on is listening to our audience. Even though we don't comment on every single suggestion or smaller feature request, the design team is very active in scouring the comments and listening and taking notes. We can't promise that we'll do everything, but we are listening.

RPS: I guess you've got to strike a balance between stuff a lot of people are asking for and stuff one person is upset by.

Mitch: Well, it's time and people. Everything's got to be prioritised.

Jordan: And you've got to watch out for something that, as you said, is specific to one player's case.

Mitch: That request would make the game much easier to other people, for example. That guy could turn down the difficulty and take less damage instead.

RPS: Morlock says "I would just like to know where they see the series going. Are there any plans to at some point switch engines? The stronger dedication to PC opens up new options. I would also like to know whether there are any new plans for the editor and whether they ever considered multiplayer (perhaps with Neverwinter-Nights-type DMing)?"

Mitch: That was seven questions in one. I'll take the first one. For me personally, interacting with the world Jordan created is the exciting part. In success, what I'd like to do is travel the globe, showing the world of Shadowrun, how magic returning to a cyberpunk world is affected by different cultures, and how it affects different cultures. There have been Shadowrun sourcebooks written in just about every major city over the globe, and showing different aspects of how this is a global thing, that's what's exciting to me.

Jordan: To me, I think the locations are great backdrops, but it's all got to come down to great stories of the characters and for the players. I think so long as we keep coming up with great stories and characters and interesting choices, we'd love to keep making them.

In terms of big things like adding multiplayer or co-op, those are really big feature sets. The current engine wasn't built to go there that easily, and so that's going to require either us doing really well and being able to fund it, and believe there's a big enough audience, or we bring a much bigger opportunity to crowd-funding. We're a very small studio. We're kind of bootstrapping the entire thing.

RPS: Lars Westergren says "For such a famous historical port, will they have some waterfront locations, docks, quays, maybe even ship to enter?"

Mitch: Yes. Absolutely we're into that. In fact, the very first scene in the game is on the waterfront.

RPS: VexingVision says "Please ask them about branching plotlines. Will the new plot be as rail-roady as the other SR Modules?"

Jordan: One of the things we're extremely focused on is more content. One of the reasons we're careful about responding to requests for more feature sets is we want more content, and more content means less linearity. With Dragonfall we took that next to step to less linear, and with this one we'll take that step even further to less linear. It's not an open world game, it's never going to be GTA, but in terms of more branches and choices for a player to move down, we are incrementally getting better and better.

RPS: Thanks for your time.

Shadowrun: Hong Kong has another 19 days to go on its Kickstarter. It's brought in over $750k, but has more stretch goals left to unlock.

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