Interview with Dave Marsh and Karl Roelofs

   While many fantasy licenses continue to dwindle in importance across the gaming industry, Shadowgate makes a welcome return with Shadowgate 64: Trials of the Four Towers. A decade has passed since the original Shadowgate, and in that time, no game has managed to successfully fill the deliberately-paced, puzzle-solving niche that Shadowgate occupied. Be sure to check out the GIA's review for more info.

   The GIA was pleased to speak with the creators of the original Shadowgate, Dave Marsh and Karl Roelofs, who consulted for Infinite Ventures, the licensor of the new 64-bit version. We asked them about what went into recreating this classic franchise under contemporary deadlines.

GIA: Thanks for taking the time to speak with us, guys. Starting off, when did the idea of reviving the Shadowgate license first come up?
    Eugene Evans approached us about co-designing a new Shadowgate title in conjunction with KEMCO and TNS (the company that actually coded the game and created the game art.) His company, Infinite Venture, had recently acquired the rights. He explained that his hope was to revitalize the series starting with the re-release of Shadowgate Classic on Game Boy Color earlier this year. Shadowgate had remained untouched for years but we all knew that there was a following that would love to play new Shadowgate games.
GIA: So why now?
    Once Infinite Ventures was able to re-acquire the rights we were able to pursue new projects. The Game Boy Color represented the perfect new platform for the original Shadowgate, allowing us to introduce the series to new players and re-kindle the interest of players of the original. As for Shadowgate 64, KEMCO and IV agreed that the N64 was screaming out for a new adventure game and we all believed in the Shadowgate franchise.
GIA: Fantasy licenses seem to be on a downturn of late, why do you think this is?
    I think it's just a cyclical thing. Science fiction, cyber-punk, and horror are in their heyday right now. I have seen a lot of fantasy coming back however with Ultima reclaiming its rightful place, Diablo, Baldur's Gate, etc. It used to seem like most high-profile games were fantasy games (Dungeon Master, Wizardry, Bard's Tale, etc.) but the market has grown to huge proportions and we're seeing what is normally going to happen - something for everyone with all genres finding an audience. Fantasy, fortunately, isn't going away! :)
GIA: The trend also seems to be running away from fully realized worlds and towards marketable characters. How do you adjust for that when making a slower-paced first-person adventure like Shadowgate?
    Well, maybe in the box world this is happening but definitely not online. Ultima and Everquest are proving that. As far as marketable characters, I think that players like to know what they look like a bit more and who they are. Story telling and character building is just as important here as they are in cinema. Nameless, faceless barbarians, however, can still easily survive this market if the gameplay is good ñ and thatís the name of the game!
GIA: Was it difficult to innovate while keeping the theme and overall feeling similar?
    The biggest thing is overcoming the 1st person action disease. Back when we created Shadowgate, ICOM basically created the first-person adventure game (Deja vu: A Nightmare comes true). People enjoyed this unique way of playing adventure games since all the games before that were 3rd person isometric. When RPGs like Dungeon Master and action games like Wolfenstein came out, the goal to shoot, stab, or club everything in site became more prominent than pure adventuring. Myst pulled people back a bit but, overall, once you start moving in 1st person through a 3D space, players want to know where the chaingun is.
GIA: What else has changed about adventure gaming since you created the original Shadowgate?
    I think that adventure gaming has gotten funnier (like the Lucas Arts stuff), more beautiful (Myst, Riven), and definitely leaning more towards incorporating some sort of action and/or RPG elements. I think these are all good things. I think theyíre also moving toward better written stories (Grim Fandango) and puzzles. When we created Shadowgate, we only had a handful of other games to draw inspiration from - now, almost 15 years after we started it, itís great to see that there are so many great games out there!
GIA: What lessons from those 15 years since the original was KEMCO able to incorporate in Shadowgate 64?
    TNS and Kemco did most of the puzzle design on Shadowgate 64 with us providing feedback and direction. I think the average player is much more interested in story and puzzles that make sense. That might sound a bit strange but the audience definitely demands more logic and reasoning in the puzzles.
GIA: Without spoiling too much, what's your favorite puzzle?
    I would have to say itís the ones where you manipulate many objects in differing ways in order to solve a puzzle. In one instance you need to douse a magically burning fire because it bars your way. So, you need to figure out how to do that. It's not as easy as finding the elixir of fire dousing and using it on the fire. Rather, the player needs to somehow use a potion in a unique way on the fire. It's that type of thought provoking gameplay that we like to foster in our games.
GIA: Which part of the game best utilizes the fully 3D world?
    The candle maze in the Tower of Trials is a great utilization of the 3D world in SG64. A lit candle is all that lights your way through this 'test' in this tower. As the candle burns down, you need to find switches to open doors and trigger secret walls in order to get through the maze. If the candle burns down before you can complete the maze- game over, man! You have to start again. It's a great combination of a 3D environment and time-based gameplay that creates a claustrophobic unease that is very satisfying.
GIA: What was the most difficult part of moving the game into 3D?
    I think it's overcoming the Doom/Quake mentality of 1st person games. Can you move through a 3D space in 1st person and solve a puzzle without pulling out 1 of 10 different plasma guns? We think so and so do many people who have purchased Shadowgate 64. It's important to note that we love 1st person action titles (I still love to take out Heretic or pop in Quake) and donít dislike adding a combat element to adventures games. Weíve talked about adding some stuff in the future but we believe that the game really needs to concentrate on adventuring.
GIA: What do you consider the most important aspect of a game?
    Well, let me just talk about adventure gaming. I think the most important thing here is play balance. You have to make a puzzle hard enough to motivate the player to rethink the clues but not so hard that they whip the controller across the room. There has to be a huge sense of satisfaction when you finish the puzzle before you move on to the next one. Obviously, puzzles that are too easy are just as bad. Players then feel that they didnít get enough bang for their buck.
GIA: Where do you see the Shadowgate license (and the guys behind it) going from here?
    Having introduced so many new players to the world of Shadowgate and brought back so much nostalgia to fans of the original we've got the time and space to start to really innovate. Along with KEMCO we were really careful not to stray too much from the original style while creating a full first person 3D world. We didn't want to upset fans of the original by straying too far but also wanted to meet the expectations of N64 gamers. We are already in development of Shadowgate Rising and have plenty of surprises.

    We've already started to build the back story for this "next generation" world of Shadowgate by introducing new characters like Raven, Boethius, and Yoric the skull. These characters represent IV's vision of creating cool personas that really build the storyline and allow players to care and relate to. Raven, the heroine of Shadowgate Rising has been introduced this year in a free comic on the Shadowgate (http// site. We love comics as do many video gamers and the Raven comic was the perfect way to start to tell Raven's story. By the time Shadowgate Rising ships, fans should have a good idea of whom theyíll be playing and how that relates to the game and story.
GIA: Thanks for spending some time with the GIA, and best of luck with moving the Shadowgate franchise forward and bringing a classic title to an all-new set of gamers!

Interview by Ed McGlothlin, GIA.
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