Shadowgrounds Survivor Interview

By Chris Dahlberg

Published on Thursday, July 5, 2007

Shadowgrounds was the first title to come out from new developer Frozenbyte Studios back in 2005/2006 (depending on what part of the world you were located in). The title was an interesting top-down shooter that featured a unique weapon upgrade mechanic and plenty of action. Thanks to being offered through both Canadian publisher Meridian 4 and Valve’s Steam platform (the game has recently been circulated around other digital distribution networks such as Direct2Drive). Now the studio is working on a sequel/spin-off, entitled Shadowgrounds Survivor, due for a release sometime this fall, and I had the chance to speak with Joel Kinnunen about the new title as well as the old one.

 

First off, tell us a little about yourself. What is your position at Frozenbyte, what was your job for Shadowgrounds and what will you be doing for Shadowgrounds Survivor?

I’m Joel Kinnunen and I work as Business Development Director at Frozenbyte. That’s a pretty broad title but basically I wear many hats that range from actual development to business stuff. Shadowgrounds was the debut game for the whole team, myself included, and my tasks started from participating in the design process, co-writing the story and dialogue, handling business relationships with publishers, doing some marketing & PR, and handling all of the localization stuff, testing and polishing the game, and ultimately delivering the final Gold Masters to publishers and supporting end-users and maintaining the website. It’s part of the fun being able to take part in such different areas of game production.

In Shadowgrounds Survivor I’m the Producer/Project Lead, which means that I’m now responsible for making sure that the team keeps working on the game – and on the right parts of the game no less. I also have lots of communication responsibility, and in general I try to make sure the game follows the vision that we set out for it. I also continue to handle all the old tasks, so it’s been a hectic ride! Luckily our team is very good and can also work independently on tasks, so that has made my job a lot easier.

Before we start talking about the new title, let’s briefly talk about the original Shadowgrounds. What were some aspects that you liked the best about the game, and what do you feel could’ve been improved on?

I think overall we did a very good job on Shadowgrounds. You have to remember that we had no prior experience in the games industry before founding Frozenbyte and working on the game. If I had to pick some areas where I think we succeeded very well, I’d choose first the weapons and upgrades and their gameplay effect. I think we had a very balanced set of weapons that were also very interesting and kept their effectiveness through the game. It’s fun to hear that all of the weapons are more or less fan favorites! I think we also succeeded in overall gameplay direction and making sure the game was fun, and of course the graphics and especially the shadow effects were great.

We could’ve improved on many things but that’s true for every game. But to be specific, I think we should’ve paid more attention to story progression and made sure the player understands what we were trying to tell – and perhaps we should’ve made some other story changes as well. Other than that, I think there are no major flaws in Shadowgrounds considering the resources we had. (Multiplayer is obviously a thing we would add if we had a time machine and a bunch of extra programmers.)

How did the original Shadowgrounds do sales wise, and how can you meet or surpass this number with Survivor?

Shadowgrounds did fairly well considering that it’s our first foray into the industry. It’s not a million seller and that’s fine. I think Shadowgrounds Survivor will sell better because everything points to a better game and we simply have more business and marketing experience now. I also think that the good word of mouth surrounding the original and our small but active fan community helps. We also hope that having our release dates much closer together will improve sales by decreasing the rampant piracy that plagues PC game sales.

The first Shadowgrounds put players in the shoes of Wesley Tyler. The site for Survivor says it features three characters; will he be one of them? In addition, how will the three be different; will they have relatively different playing styles?

No Wesley this time! He’s an important character in the game universe but we wanted to focus on new characters. They are different in a few ways; obviously we try to give them a distinct personality but more importantly they have their own weapons and character upgrades that make them unique. Because of this the playing styles will be slightly different but it’s more or less up to the player. Each character can wreak havoc in their own way.

One of the more interesting features of the first title was the upgradeable weapon system. It looks like this feature will return with some improvements but the website says it will work for characters this time as well. Can you provide some details on this new system?

In addition to the weapon upgrades, each character also has a number of upgrades that apply to the character itself. More health, better accuracy, that kind of stuff. More importantly they also have a few upgrades that are specifically only for the character in question and one special attack upgrade that gives a new gameplay attack mechanism.

How does Shadowgrounds Survivor compare graphically to the original?

Very well! We’re using the same technology with multiple tweaks, so there are some technical improvements in e.g. the lighting system, but I think a more important fact is that we are now more experienced in building levels. For example, we now have real height differences and proper canyon missions where you can go up and down a steep hill. It looks very cool and adds more oomph to the atmosphere. Overall the graphical quality is on a new level now and it should be apparent from the screenshots and upcoming trailers.

The press release also mentions new features such as a mech and sentry turret? How will these two aspects control and what will they add to the game?

The Sentry Turret and the Mech are great new additions to the gameplay. The player will be able to control both of them at specific points in the game. They add variety and break the normal gameplay and require the player to create some new brain connections. 🙂

Tell us a little about the new original soundtrack that is being composed for the game. In addition to this, do you have plans for who are going to voice the characters yet?

The Shadowgrounds Survivor soundtrack will again be composed by our in-house Audio & Music Producer, Ari Pulkkinen. I’ve heard some early work and it sounds great – a little different than the original Shadowgrounds soundtrack, yet very atmospheric and fitting to the game’s mood.

There are no specific plans for voiceovers yet. We’ll try to do a bit better job at casting this time, and the dialogue is better, so let’s see.

Give us some details about the Survival mode in the game. Will high scores be able to be shared online?

The Survival mode is very exciting. We have it up and running right now and it’s proving very popular within our own team too! Basically the Survival mode pits the player against hordes of spawning monsters.

Some of the Survival missions are based on the Campaign missions but there will also be some Survival-only missions. You can choose any of the characters and buy some upgrades before the mission begins. After that you’re on your own!

We’re also going the extra mile and make sure that modders will be able to create and share their own Survival missions easily. We’re going to add a Shadowgrounds Modding Wiki, for example, and simplify the Survival mission distribution and playing.

High scores are currently implemented locally. We have thought about online sharing but it’s one of those features that are still hanging in the air.

Frozenbyte is once again partnering with Meridian 4 for distribution of the game. How has it been working with Meridian 4? Will the new game be available on Steam just like the first Shadowgrounds?

Meridian4 is a great partner. They’re an underdog just like us, and we have been on the same page regarding many issues in the past. I’m also pleased that they truly do care about their customers, unlike so many other publishers big and small. I hope things work out for them in the overall scheme of things as well, because I’d gladly continue with them on more new projects.

I don’t have anything to announce regarding Steam yet, but I can say that Steam was a good thing for Shadowgrounds and I hope that continues. I think digital distribution is going to be a big help in keeping PC gaming alive.

What is one thing about Shadowgrounds Survivor that few people know about right now?

We’re keeping some things close to our chest on purpose. Well I can reveal that there will be some small easter eggs in the game. Where or what they are, well… 🙂

Frozenbyte is working on an unnamed title due out in 2008? I realize you can’t disclose details about this project, but will it retain the sci-fi theme of both Shadowgrounds titles or delve into some other theme?

Our focus is on Shadowgrounds Survivor right now and we aren’t talking about the other game much. I can confirm that the other game is not sci-fi in the traditional sense but it isn’t based on the real world either. And it has nothing at all to do with the Shadowgrounds series.

I’ll also say that Frozenbyte will keep creating new IP. Sometimes we’ll go back to our old IP, like we’re now doing with Shadowgrounds Survivor and maybe with another SG game if things go well, but at the same time we’ll also be bringing totally new games to the market. Some of the stuff we have cooking here is absolutely awesome and I hope to be able to talk about them in early-to-mid 2008.

Is there anything else you?d like to say about Shadowgrounds Survivor or Frozenbyte?

I’d like to thank you for the insightful questions. I think our fans and gamers all over appreciate them and it was fun answering them! I also hope that gamers keep following the progress on Shadowgrounds Survivor and check out the eventual demo. That’s usually enough to become a Shadowgrounds fan, and even more so with Shadowgrounds Survivor. 🙂

 

Shadowgrounds Survivor will be available this Fall. For more information on Shadowgrounds Survivor, the original Shadowgrounds, or the game’s developer, visit the following websites:

http://www.shadowgroundssurvivor.com/
http://www.shadowgroundsgame.com
http://www.frozenbyte.com/
http://www.meridian4.com/

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