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This isn't a photo of Jordan Weisman, head visionary of Harebrained Schemes. It's a frighteningly articulated Glory from Shadowrun: Dragonfall, his creation brought to life. Glory is a combat medic and closer-ranged cybernetic skirmisher with a tortured past. 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, Shadowrun: Dragonfall and Golem Arcana, as well as the forthcoming Necropolis and an untitled BattleTech game. In another life, he created Shadowrun, MechWarrior, BattleTech, and Crimson Skies.

Just like last Gen Con, it was a pleasure talking to Jordan and learning about Harebrained Schemes' newest PC Shadowrun. This year's offering, Shadowrun: Hong Kong, will be released August 20th. I also learned about the upcoming BattleTech RPG and a great reason why dungeon-delving hasn't taken off as a serious career choice. Seriously. It can be hazardous to your 'elf.

Warning: This interview contains spoilers for the 2012 horror film Cabin in the Woods.


Zach Welhouse: Harebrained Schemes has announced a new BattleTech game. What can you tell me about it?
Jordan Weisman: This is a PC and Mac game. It's a single-player mercenary campaign. Turn-based, tactical. You will be managing four mechs on the battlefield, in great detail, along with their MechWarriors. We have skill trees for MechWarriors that will be very deep so they can specialize in different weapon systems, different chases, different maneuvers, things like that.

Managing the mechs will also be in great detail, both from the design of the mech to the components, which we really want to dive down into beyond just weapon systems. We'll dive into why you use a different gyro, why you use different actuators, and actually have those have gameplay impact.

On a more strategic level, you're managing this mercenary company. It's the 3025 era, so you're deciding which of the noble houses to work for and work against within the Machiavellian politics of that era. Which house you choose to work for builds reputation, which then impacts which jobs you're offered in the future. It's an open-ended campaign that you can continue to grow your experience through. We want it to be very story-centric, have a lot of flavor of the BattleTech universe. It's about combat, right, but it's combat within a context you care about.

ZW: Will that extend to being able to say, "Oh, I don't like the morality of what this house is doing, so I'll do whatever I can to take them down?"
JW: That's exactly within the choices you have to make in accepting contracts. You'll be offered contracts from different houses and you can say, "No, I'm not going to take it because I don't want to support what they're doing and I don't like their philosophy." Yes: you'll be able to impact and express your affiliation based upon the contracts you take.

The Kickstarter will be in the fall and the game will launch the first quarter of 2017.

As I mentioned, the game is single-player. One of the stretch goals in the Kickstarter campaign will be to add multiplayer arena play, which is something we hope we get to. We'll have to see where things go in the Kickstarter campaign.

Z: Is that campaign starting right after Shadowrun: Hong Kong> is complete?
JW: Not right after, but within a month or so. After Shadowrun: Hong Kong delivers on August 20th —


ZW: That's fast!
JW: I know! It's like, "Aaah!" We're cranking away on it right now, trying to squash the bugs. It's looking great! The team's done a fantastic job on it: the new Matrix is awesome, and there's an overall upgrade to the art, which is something we never really talked about. The whole thing looks so much better!

ZW: Shadowrun: Hong Kong isI don't want to say "winding down," since there's probably lots of work popping up right at the end —
JW: Indeed! Anytime you're shipping a computer game, it's very intense at the end. You're bringing in all the content and debugging the content and then you've got bugs — you've been crushing bugs all along — but there's always a ton at the end you need to go through and playtest and debug. It's always crunchy at the end, but we're in that phase now and the playthroughs of the game are looking great, feedback from the playtesters has been fantastic. We're optimistic that fans will react positively to it.

We kind of set a tough bar to match with Dragonfall: Director's Cut. It got so well reviewed and fans loved it so much that we're very nervous about trying to beat that bar again, but we've given it our best shot. I think the team's done a great job.

ZW: So you're competing against yourself?
JW: Yeah, we are competing against ourselves on this one. (Laughs.)

Z: Have you done anything to shift the focus to highlight specific types of missions that Dragonfall didn't offer?
JW: There's a number of big changes. One: because we have the all-new Matric system, there are more opportunities for Matrix play than there were before. Two: there are a lot of new systems like wild magic, which makes using your shamans and your mages more interesting and different from it was in the previous campaigns.

We've taken the next step in storytelling, so the story is even more specific. Your backstory is even more specific, which allows us to have even more emotional connection to what happens in the game. I think there's a lot of new system work going on here.

ZW: My other questions about the game probably fall into spoiler territory, so —
JW: (Laughs.) I'll try to avoid those.

ZW: Some Kickstarter campaigns really zoom in on what the team's doing and make an inside look at the process part of the reward. The Shadowrun: Hong Kong reports, in contrast, are more focused on results. What's the general atmosphere surrounding the free bagels provided by the Kickstarter backers?
JW: (Laughs.) Ah, we love them! That really has been one of the moments of joy for the team. Every week there's a day, sometimes two, where we'll have a breakfast provided through the backers' bagel fund. It pulls peoples' spirits. We love making games, but it's hard work! It's very long hours and often more than five days a week sometimes. Seeing that expression of support from the fans has been an enormous impact.

We've done a few Kickstarter updates with everybody eating bagels and we try to express our gratitude through that.

ZW: I don't want to get in trouble with this question, but you mentioned sometimes working more than five days a week. I always hear horror stories about big game companies that do terrible things around crunch time. Are there moments of fun as well, like Nerf gun wars, silly pranks, or the like?
JW: Yeah, absolutely! First, I should say, having been doing this for a long time, we don't believe in long crunches. We think they're enormously counterproductive. When you're working twenty hours a day, you're not really being effective twenty hours a day. You may be there twenty hours, but... And the next day you're shot as well. We really try not to get into crazy long days like that. We also don't do what some teams do and go for six months or eight months of crunch. We may crunch for a week or two in a sprint to keep a better work-home balance.

The thing is, we love what we're making. People are there because they're having a great time working on it and making it. Yeah, it's hard and it's long, but they wouldn't rather be anywhere else because they're really enjoying what they're making. It's often a case of our producers saying, "Go home. Just go home. We'll start on it tomorrow, just go get some sleep." This is a motivated team. They really want to live up to the expectations of fans.

So, yeah, there's lots of fun moments. The Shadowrun team has a thing where every lunch hour, they play this multiplayer race game. It's a funny, silly, multiplayer race game that's become a religion among them. Then, obviously, you can't put a bunch of geeks together in a room together without constant debates on the most ridiculous of subjects because that's what we do as a species.

ZW: The Incredible Hulk's always going to win those battles. What's the point in having the debate?
JW: (Laughs.)

ZW: That answers my questions about Shadowrun. How about Necropolis? I see the pre-alpha build is available for playing on the show floor right now.
JW: Yes. This is the pre-alpha build we showed at PAX East. It illustrates the basic principles of the game: the idea of taking a Dark Souls-style play pattern and injecting it with a lot of elements from the old Rogue and Spelunky and a bit of self-referential humor like the movie Cabin in the Woods.

We've had a great reaction from people. That team is crunching right now for PAX Prime. There we're going to show more of the beta build that will have more characters, the procedural generation, and all sorts of other great features. We're looking good for launching the game early next year.

ZW: You mentioned the self-referential humor. A lot of that seems focused on the characters dying a lot and success being an iterative process. How does that play into character advancement?
JW: In this kind of game, life is... tenuous. (Laughs.) And short. Most of your gear drops when you die. But the magic tomes you've discovered stay in your library. Those allow you to ramp up quicker as you come back. An important aspect is growing over time, even though some of the assets are lost every time you die.

The self-referential humor is also connected to the way the dungeon speaks to you. In Cabin in the Woods, there's this giant, international, secret cabal to feed the deep, old gods. They're aware of all the tropes and they use the tropes to their benefit. Here, you have a sentient dungeon and it's aware of the tropes as well. Its communication with you has that kind of self-referential humor — as well as the humor of dying all the time. (Laughs).

ZW: The dungeon eats heroes, right?
JW: Yes, that's the whole idea. As you get further into the game it starts to realize, "Wow, you might actually be useful." It starts giving you things to help sustain the dungeon, which might also help sustain you. You can start to develop this odd, symbiotic relationship.

ZW: Excellent! I look forward to exploring that in the future.
JW: Well, thank you!




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