RPGamer Feature: Gen Con 2014 - Jordan Weisman Interview
Shadowrun Returns: Dragonfall
Platform: PC
Developer: Harebrained Schemes
Release Date: 09.18.14

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Jordan Weisman is a gaming industry veteran and founder of six game design companies: FASA, FASA Interactive, WizKids, 42 Entertainment, Smith & Tinker, and Harebrained Schemes. He is the CEO and Creative Director of Harebrained Schemes, which is responsible for Shadowrun Returns and Golem Arcana, as well as the forthcoming Shadowrun: Dragonfall - Director's Cut. In another life, he created Shadowrun, MechWarrior, Battletech, and Crimson Skies.

I had the chance to talk with Jordan about Shadowrun, Shadowrun: Dragonfall - Director's Cut, and his education career.

Zach: When I was first exposed to Shadowrun through the roleplaying games, Seattle seemed like a far-off mystical place. Now that Iíve lived there for a few years, I have a sense of what makes it feel different from other cities. Iíve taken several screenshots of my character standing next to the brass pig at Pike Place Market. Are you also a Seattleite?
Jordan Weisman: I wasnít when I wrote Shadowrun. I lived in Chicago. My sister had moved to Seattle and I had visited her.

Later, when I started on Shadowrun, I started looking for a city that I could make an island. Kind of like a West Berlin surrounded by Native American tribes, which of course, now ruled the roost. As I started looking where the tribal concentrations were, I realized that Seattle was just that place, where you could have the tribes rise up and all of a sudden youíve got this enclave of the city surrounded by all the Native American tribes. And then I thought maybe putting all the elves in Oregon would be fun. It just came together naturally in that the topographyís so interesting there that it was a natural place to set the game.

Z: Now that you are living in Seattle, do you feel like thatís added anything to the newer versions of Shadowrun?
JW: Certainly for Shadowrun Returns. The later version of the paper RPG, by the time I moved to Seattle, I wasnít writing that anymore. So it didnít really get to reflect that. The only funny part was that I could see all the parts that I did wrong. Because in those days we didnít have Google or anything else like that, so I was just looking at my one visit there and maps. I got stuff totally wrong about Seattle, like geography and stuff like that, which I realized years later. I was like, ďOh, oh well. Blew that.Ē (Laughs)

Z: I hear that from British gamers all the time. The British sourcebooks never live up to their lived experiences.
JW: Yeah, I can relate to the problem.

Z: How has the fan community taken off for Shadowrun Returns, specifically regarding scenario development?
JW: Itís been really positive. We spent a lot of time building the editor because we wanted to empower the audience to create content, and they have. Theyíve created thousands of pieces of content, some of which are quite brilliant. But it was a very significant investment, and Iím not sure itís something we can afford to do forever. But for a small subset of the community, they really, really dug it. The creativity they exhibited was fantastic.

Z: Is there a specific piece of content or adventure youíd like to single out?
JW: The guys whoíre redoing the SNES game are awesome. We did a series of Play It videos where we chose some of what we thought were the stronger ones. Those are some of the ones we thought were really interesting.

Z: Iíve held off on playing Shadowrun Returns: Dragonfall because Iíve heard the directorís cut is right around the corner. What can newcomers expect from this game, and what has been added to lure back old-time shadowrunners?
JW: Dragonfall is a big step up over Shadowrun Returns. As we learned how to use our tools better, we learned how to use them in ways much more creative than in the first scenario. We built this powerful tool, but it was V. 1 for the first campaign. Dragonfall, V.2, really benefited from that, both in RPG-play and combat-play.

Number two, because we gave you a specific character to inhabit and specific NPCs in a relationship, we were able to craft the dialogue much more specifically to the characterís backstory. You have a much greater depth of character in Dragonfall than we were able to do in Returns because in Returns you could be anybody. In Dragonfall we narrowed that down and subsequently got more depth. Dragonfall is a much more involving story.

The directorís cut takes that to another level. We added five more missions, so there are 5+ new hours of content, alternate endings, new dialogue trees, new UI, new AI for the opposing characters, so combat becomes more interesting and fun. For instance, we changed how cover works to make it more interesting. Plus, itís stand-alone, so you donít have to have purchased the first title.

Z: Will the updated cover mechanics and such be added to the base game eventually?
JW: No. It wonít roll back into Shadowrun Returns, but if we do another one, it will roll forward. Also, the other thing, is that in Directorís Cut, thereís more team management. Not complete team management, but some nice ways you can tweak your team more than you could in Returns or Dragonfall.

Z: Nice! Thatís one of the parts of Returns that I wasÖ less excited about. Although I had favorite shadowrunners, there wasnít much I could do besides picking them multiple times.
JW: Thatís something that improved in Dragonfall as well. Here you have a team thatís recurring, so you can build a relationship with them rather than being one-shots. Weíve added even more ability to tweak them up.

Z: Given the positive buzz for Shadowrun Returns and its sequels, does it seem likely thereís going to be more material after the directorís cut?
JW: Well, we hope so. We want to see how well Directorís Cut does as a stand-alone. Itís a universe we love to tell stories in, and we know we need to keep evolving our engine. Thereís some significant reinvestment weíd want to do to do another full-length campaign, but itís certainly something weíre seriously considering.

Z: Awesome! Thanks! One final question: one summer ago, I noticed the Shadowrun Returns team gave a talk at UW-Bothell. Were you involved in that?
JW: That particular one, no. I used to teach at UW-Bothell, but I havenít for the last couple of years. Mike Mulvihill, one of the ones on our design team, who I brought in to teach on some classes, and I put together a panel. He and some of the rest of the team went to speak to the students. It was organized as a class. A lot of the people there hadnít played the game or werenít aware of the game. It was about what it was like to author content in this kind of interactive environment.

Z: It looks like Gen Con is chasing me out of the exhibit hall now, so thank you very much for your time!
JW: Thank you very much for coming in, and please try to get a full game of Golem Arcana in!

We appreciate Jordan Weisman for taking time from his busy convention for this interview. We eagerly await the release of Shadowrun: Dragonfall - Director's Cut!

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