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EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Shadowgate Design Director Karl Roelofs

Released in 1987, Shadowgate was one of the original point & click adventure games. Now this fantasy game is getting an updated upgrade from the original creators. One of whom, design director Karl Roelofs, recently explained how the game works, and how it will work differently than you remember it, when his company Zojoi releases it this August on PC and Mac (and later on iOS and Android).

Shadowgate 01

How did the original Shadowgate come about?

I, along with my friend Dave Marsh, we created the design and the art for the original Shadowgate. Back when the first Macs came out, a company called ICOM Simulations had the bright idea of bringing graphics to text adventures, utilizing all the stuff that the Mac had to offer. So they did the games Déjà Vu and Uninvited. We knew the people at ICOM, and knew they wanted another game, so Dave and I started designing Shadowgate.

Now if I’m remembering correctly, and I may not be, those games were still text adventures with graphics, not graphic adventure games, right?

No, there’s no typing, they had a point & click interface. But there was text to read, it was part of the adventure. There were some games like what you’re talking about, but they used static images. Shadowgate was object oriented; the point & click is the important part.

So, Dave and I designed Shadowgate, and then got hired by ICOM. All of this is back in the ’80s, on the original Macs with the small, built-in monitor, and everything was on a floppy disc. And we did so many ports of the game: Atari ST, Amiga, every PC clone. We actually redid all three of ICOM’s games. But Shadowgate really became successful when it got ported to the original Nintendo. We partnered with a company called Kemco, who programmed the game and did the art, while Dave and I executive produced it.

To fast forward a bit, Dave and I went on to do other things, other games, but we’ve always remained friends, and have often worked together. Then, a couple years ago, when Double Fine were wildly successful with the Kickstarter they did for their point & click adventure game, Broken Age, Dave and I kind of said to each other, “Why not us? Why not Shadowgate?” And we started to think about all the things we always hoped to do with the game.

Without using too much legalese, how hard was it to get the rights to Shadowgate?

Well, it was interesting. ICOM was later bought by Viacom. And while Dave and I eventually left ICOM, we still knew and were friends with people at Viacom. Well, when Viacom was shutting down their games division, a good friend of ours asked if he could have the rights to the ICOM games, and Viacom said sure.

Oh, that was easy.


Shadowgate 02

So you said that you and Dave always wanted to do different things with Shadowgate.

Yes. We’re not just porting over the original. We redid most of the game. We added puzzles, we altered some puzzles, and we turned some puzzles on their heads.

Is the story the same?

It’s interesting, the story is the same, but there wasn’t much of a story in the original game. In this version, we kept the story the same, but we fleshed it out quite a bit so you’d have more of an emotional attachment to what you’re doing, more motivation.

So was giving Shadowgate a deeper story something you wanted to do back when you made it, something you realized it needed later, or was it something you decided to do when you started work on this new version?

Like I said, this game was made on floppy discs back in the day, and you couldn’t fit much on a 512K disc. But we were also twenty when we made the game, and didn’t know what we were doing, didn’t quite know how to tell the story. So when the opportunity came to redo this game, we knew we had to flesh it out because no one knows why this, this, and this is happening. We had to expand the story.

And, obviously, the artwork is new as well. Did you hire anyone known in other realms to do it?

Yes. We found both of them on deviantART. Wang Lyn did the cut scenes, while Chris Cold is our main artist. He actually has a bit of a following.

Did you ever consider just having one of them do all the art?

We were originally going to have Chris do all of it, but when it came to the cut scenes, he was really busy, so we decided to find someone whose style would work well with his, which is how we wound up with Lyn.

Shadowgate 03

Did you change anything about the way the game is played?

Absolutely. I have a key in my satchel, which is my inventory, and I obviously want to use it on the door, so I click on the satchel, then click on the key, and then I click on the door. Which some people may want to do. But you can also use quick keys to create shortcuts. So I can assign the key to quick key 1, and then just go over the door and hit 1 and it will unlock the door.

That’s handy.

Though since you typically only use a key on one door, you’d probably want to use quick keys for something you’ll use more often, like a weapon.

Right, right.

You can also double click on things and the game will do the most obvious command. If there’s an open door, and I double click on it, I will walk through the door. If the door is closed but unlocked, double clicking on it will open the door. And, of course, the most obvious course of action is to just look at something.

Shadowgate is coming out on PC and Mac this August, and you’ve said it will also be coming to iOS and Android devices later. Any thought about consoles?

We’re not sure about that because our hope is that we can make other adventure games. For instance, back in the day, we got halfway through making a sequel called Beyond Shadowgate. I actually still have the design document for it. So the plan is to finally finish Beyond Shadowgate.

Shadowgate 04

One of the criticisms you’re going to get about Shadowgate is that you changed things, and you should’ve just rereleased the original game as it was it in 1987. Was there any thought to also releasing the original version, maybe as a bonus to do like they did with Halo and Halo: Combat Evolved: Anniversary and they’re doing with Halo 2 on the Halo: The Master Chief Collection?

Funny you should mention that. If you go into the options menu, you can turn on “Retro Sound,” “Retro Graphics,” and “Retro Text.” And what you get is an 8-bit feel for the game, with the original music. But it’s still the same game, it just has the original sound or 8-bit graphics. And you can mix those up, if you want to play with the old music but the new visuals, and can switch in mid-game as well.

But it’s a retro-looking and –sounding version of the new game, right?

The thing is, if you want to play the original Shadowgate, you can go online and find an emulator. There’s no point in us making the same game again. But we thought it would be fun to make a retro-style version of this new game.


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