At the Mouth of Madness

PSMOnline interviews Crave on its US-developed RPG, Shadow Madness

The US market for RPGs has been primarily dominated by Japanese-developed games. Developer and publisher Crave is out to change all that with Shadow Madness, an impressive looking game with a lot going for it. The development team is being headed by former Square USA team members, who have come a long way from the gameās conception to its current status.

We spoke with Crave Production Evangelist Ted Woolsey about the companyās complicated history and got the dirt on Shadow Madness, which is due out in September 1998.

PSMOnline: Tell us the whole story of Crave and Big Rain, starting with Square USA.

Ted Woolsey: Well, Square decided to move its facilities down to Southern California. I was asked to come down but my wife and I looked around down there and we just didnāt want to do that. The idea came up to form a new company, buying some of the assets from the Redmond facility. Thatās how Big Rain became an entity.

We then got a contract with Ascii to do a role-playing game, which was Shadow Madness. We worked on that for a couple of months and as a developer itās tough, you just go from job to job. The cost of making games in the 1997 market is going up and up and up. Itās no longer a half a million dollar proposition, itās multi-million, and with all the acquisitions going on the industry, as with Good Times Interactive (GTI) buying SingleTrac, publishers arenāt putting money into small developers anymore. Theyāre trying to feed the developers theyāve already gobbled up. The model was very difficult for us to put into place and get moved forward. We also had some financial vehicles in place that timing-wise just couldnāt cut it for us so we had to dissolve the company.

Crave basically negotiated with Ascii for the rights to Shadow Madness on its own because it liked what it saw and bought the rights from Ascii. Thatās how Crave came to be doing Shadow Madness.

PSM: Tell us about Shadow Madness.

TW: We believe in story-telling. We really think that if a game has a great idea and pulls you through, and makes sense, is consistent, it really allows you to enter the game. The whole idea of Shadow Madness is to tell a great story. Itās a game that has prerendered backgrounds with polygon characters running through it. Itās got a very photo-realistic look to it as youāre walking through the different areas, kind of like Final Fantasy or some of the other games coming online. That in combination with the quest is enough for a pretty compelling product.

All of the artists here are obviously using Alias and SGIs so the technology weāre using is right there with what everybody else is using. But what really sets the developers here apart is that the skill sets are all so diverse. Weāve got people here who are professional animators and clay modelers, and cartographers from the military.

PSM: What about the technology? Final Fantasy came out and upped the ante for all RPGs. Can Shadow Madness compete on that level?

TW: As a financial success, Final Fantasy VII is a star. Itās gotten mega-support from Sony in terms of advertising dollars and the guys at Square are very brilliant when it comes to the product they make. Squareās basically grown the market in a way that no oneās done before, which is a huge upside to us. Itās proven the point that all these really smart, young RPG players from the early Ī90s have grown and matured, theyāre teenagers now, and they want entertainment thatās not a bunch of guys jumping on mushrooms. Ours is a darker game than some of the Nintendo products that have been popular in the past. With the production values that weāre looking at and with the story, itās not really our dream at this point to have a million seller. Itās our dream to have a great game where all the loose sends are taken care of, the characters are strong and we like them. Itās wonderful to look at Square and go, ćGreat, if we had 30 million bucks and 120 people putting together a game like this...ä but I donāt think you have to have that. You have to look at Final Fantasy VII as a game that has set precedents but I think Shadow Madness is going to surprise some people because the visuals are every bit as stunning.

PSM: An important element of any RPG is the battle system. What kind of battle is Shadow Madness going to have?

TW: Itās going to have that standard battle arena type style but itās going to have a different focus and emphasis on it. There are different ways of tuning that -- you can have thousands of battles and all you have to do is hit the enter button to win most of them, unless itās a boss-monster or something. Or you can put more thought into the battles, into what you have to do to defeat certain foes. So ours is going to have the basic command battle system where you switch from the game to the battle arena. Itāll have some surprises as well though.

PSM: Do you want it to be turn-based or more Alundra-like, that is to say action-based?

TW: Itās not going to be action-based. But if you sit and think about things youāre going to be in trouble. One of the big criticisms of the past is that these kinds of battle arenas take you out of the game, and now youāre lined up one side and the monsters are lined up on the other side and one by one you whack each other. Weāre trying to play with that to make it a little more realistic.

PSM: Whatās the story of the game in a nut shell?

TW: An RPG is not something you can summarize in a paragraph. Some of the major themes are themes that weāre living with now in the Ī90s. One is the idea of contagion, or disease. Weāre all living with any manner of diseases that are terrifying. Another idea is rumor, what happens to the towns when people start hearing about the disease. Itās about something thatās smashing parts of your world and youāre not really sure why, itās a matter of being thrown out there, unprepared, and trying to learn about the world around you and come up with some reason for whatās happened to you.

PSM: Is it set in a fantasy world?

TW: Yes it is, itās got a very diverse world, and there are various stories and mythologies about the areas that hopefully will be kind of fun side-quests that explore more about the world that youāre on.

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