ION08 Conference – Dana Hanna on Shadowrun

by Darius Kazemi on May 15, 2008

in conferences,design,ION 2008,metrics,postmortem

Dana Hanna gave a 30-minute post mortem of Shadowrun titled You Can’t Do That!

These are my notes, mistakes and misinterpretations are my own. I showed up a little late so I missed the first 5 minutes. My comments in brackets.


One of the problems with developing the game was that multiple communities needed to be brought together: FPS, original RPG fans, etc.

The big reveal was at E3 2006. The game required some in-depth explanation, they couldn’t just put it up and say “here you go, play it” [seems like a core design problem to me]

Audience: traditional game press, console gamers, pc gamers, probably not so much the tabletop gamers even though it should have been. The reactions:

  • “why did you kill my baby?”
  • FPS blasphemy
  • set in Brazil? you work in Seattle! [Seattle is the main Shadowrun setting]

Game was difficult to show at E3, not terribly polished yet, too deep to really understand. There was instantly a very vocal minority shaping the opinions. In particular, game journalists also happened to be Shadowrun tabletop fans, so… yeah. the press was upset.

Why did they go to E3 at all if the game wasn’t polished? They believed in the game. [That's not enough!] To be completely honest: Hanna says it was the best game she ever worked on in terms of her own enjoyment. 1-2 hours a day of playtesting in the studio during development. The 60-100 person team would fight every day to get to be in the playtest. [This is normally a VERY good sign, see the AutoAssault post mortem from last year's OGDC for more on this]. “Our thoughts were probably colored a little by our enthusiasm for the game.” Some team members were very big into the tabletop RPG. They lost sight of big picture in E3 crunch, community was not even on the radar.

Started the game with a small core team 18 months before E3, custom engine, crossplatform. Then, 8 months before E3 they did a HARD RESET on the whole game, largely to do with the art direction. Went multiplayer-only in this stage, lost most of the art team, new art team largely from film industry which was a tough transition. The first level and characters were finished DAYS before E3.

Post-E3: had to reassure the hardcore RPGers. Get people to talk about the game we were making instead of the game we were not making. Sometimes you work on games you don’t like, but Hanna really liked this game.

Had to stop being a console game with a website and start being a real community. Had to fess up to some bad calls: went to E3 without talking about story, without engaging in the community about storylines and canon they felt attached to. Had to share their excitement.

Step one: invited over some important community folks.

Microsoft folks came first. An MS employee posted publicly that they were ashamed to be associated with MS due to Shadowrun E3 demo. The team sent out a meeting invite to him and said, “why don’t you spend a day playing the game with us?” 10 seconds later accepted and asked to bring 2 friends. They were test cases. They set aside one day for online journalists, one day for community folks. Invited friendlies, neutrals, and naysayers. Visitors had lots of one-on-one with designers. hands-on training with team members [hmmm, hands-on training can be misleading], played the game a lot.

Established personal relationships with opinion leaders this way. got timely positive coverage and gained some credibility from people talking about gameplay itself as opposed to differences with RPG.

“I hate you. Can I get a beta invite?” Still a lot of open hostility after these community days, but everyone wanted in the beta, and they did let people in. Console betas don’t happen often enough in general. Originally their beta focused entirely on technical networking issues. Grew into a PR event. Was a closed beta.

Beta takeaways: not nearly as gameplay focused as they should have been; instead they were technically focused. After a while the beta became a demo whether they liked it or not. Should have paid more attention to “hell is other people” [Sartre ftw]– the game relies entirely on playing with your friends. The beta folks tended to know each other. Game wasn’t nearly as fun in environment where people played with strangers. Beta was too late to put better matchmaking in.

Data collection only half the battle. Can data mine to your heart’s content, have to understand what people are doing. Had TONS of data: longest sniper shots, how many people used given weapons etc. Couldn’t say that people used rocket launcher to kill own teammates at spawn point [why not?]. Relied on community leaders for that kind of info. “If I could change something this time around I would like to find a more effective way to track what players are doing in game without relying so much on community leaders.” [aha, okay, they just needed a better metrics system]

What did we learn? Did some things right. Brought community leaders into the family. Listened to feedback from RPG folks. After e3 took ideas from community for better continuity with canon. Welcomed well-behaved naysayers. What we’d do differently: should have engaged community earlier. Devote more resources to story. Run a PC beta. Add community-building features like clans or guilds.

In closing, Shadowrun was one of the most crunch-intensive games she’d ever worked on, 80-100 hr weeks for months on end, one of tightest teams ever worked with. Former devs still miss the FASA studio. Game has its flaws, still feels like best game she’s ever worked on.

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