Zojoi’s Karl Roelofs Discusses Shadowgate
By David Lins
Zojoi’s Shadowgate is an upcoming reimagining of the classic title of the same name, originally released in 1987 for the Apple Macintosh (and later in 1988 for the NES). It’s a point-and-click puzzle adventure game where even something as simple as picking up the wrong object could mean certain death. Zojoi received $137,232 in crowdfunding back in November 2012 for the project, well-exceeding its $120,000 goal.
Recently, we had the pleasure of speaking with Zojoi’s Design Director Karl Roelofs who, along with his “cohort in crime” Dave Marsh, also created the original game. Stock up on some torches, punch the rock above the door for the key, and take a look at what Roelofs has to say about Shadowgate and game design in general.
Cliqist : Tell us a little about yourself.
Karl Roelofs : I am Karl Roelofs, Design Director at Zojoi. I’ve been in the game business for just about 30 years- having gotten my start by designing the original Shadowgate back in 1985. My cohort in crime is Dave Marsh, my best friend since high school and the best collaborator one could ask for. Dave has been in the business for just about the same amount of time.
Karl Roelofs : Dave and I created the original game in 1987. We were always fans of swords and sorcery type of books and movies – The Lord of the Rings in particular. We were also inspired by Dungeons and Dragons and knew, based upon our experience with tabletop gaming, that we could create our own fantasy world- complete with an epic storyline, strong characters and original mythos. When we got the chance to create a game for this new computer called the Macintosh, we jumped on it, pulling our love of fantasy along.
Cliqist : What was your favorite death message from the original?
Karl Roelofs : There are many truly memorable death sequences in the original game. But two of the most blunt and gruesome ones have to be:
“As you try to pass the seemingly harmless slime, it quickly engulfs your body, dissolving it in seconds. You die instantly. No pain, no nothing. You were slimed.”
“As you remove the candle from its pedestal, the floor collapses, and you go with it. As you fall into darkness, you tell yourself that there must be a bottom to this pit. Your suspicions are confirmed as your head smashes into stone!”
Cliqist : What made you decide to revisit Shadowgate?
Karl Roelofs : Dave and I always had the desire to bring back the original and tell the other stories from the Shadowgate world that we have written in the past. We felt that the franchise never really got its due and as the creators, we knew no one could bring it into the 21st century like we could. So, a couple years ago, as the landscape for retro gaming and independent developers changed somewhat, we felt it was the right time. We re-acquired the license for Shadowgate and asked the Kickstarter community to help fund our dream of re-imagining Shadowgate.
Cliqist : What made you turn to Kickstarter? We’re a little late here, but congrats on getting funded, by the way!
Karl Roelofs : Well, thanks for that. So we had the license, the motivation, but not enough cash to create the project. We had pretty much put everything we could into it ourselves (and still have!) so Kickstarter was a logical avenue for us. Plus several retro games had previously been successful- so we said, “why not?” We didn’t want to ask for the moon but enough to make the game and provide awesome rewards. We are really pleased and thankful for the outpouring of support and encouragement from the Kickstarter community and our fan base.
Karl Roelofs : I have fond memories of Myst and Seventh Guest – so I’m glad to see that Cyan is working on Obduction. Also, I would like to see what Dirk the Daring has been up to.
Cliqist : Difficulty seems to be a big factor in Shadowgate, but the death messages always had a level of humor about them, despite how gruesome some were. Do you think it’s important to “pull the punch” of failure a little bit in games?
Karl Roelofs : Well you don’t want to discourage a player from continuing to play your game. And that is where the humor and story-telling factor in a bit. You want the player to feel invested in the world and offer them some tongue-in-cheek response to something stupid they just did in the game- it helps to take the edge off and allows the player to laugh at the situation or themselves, and give it another try.
We’ve had a load of discussions about difficulty and trying to offer the right experience to the right level of player. This is why we have actually modified the gameplay and puzzles based upon the level you choose to play. The Master level is for those familiar with this style of gaming with the hardest puzzles, while the Apprentice is for those new to the game who will find a lot more forgiveness – with longer torch times and easier solutions to the puzzles.
Cliqist : What’s the most important thing someone who’s never played Shadowgate should know before diving into the game?
Karl Roelofs : Save early and often. We allow players to try just about anything they want to in the game. This allows for lots of freedom but also means that we let players make bad choices in the game. We don’t stop you from burning the scroll that has that spell on it. If you really want to do that we’ll let you do that- it probably means that you won’t get far in the game but that is one of the strengths of Shadowgate- freedom to explore and experiment.
Cliqist : Several puzzles in the original game had multiple solutions. Will there be more than one way to tackle the obstacles in the new game?
Karl Roelofs : Yep, we allow for multiple solution paths and a couple of shortcuts in the game. We want to be hard but fair.
Cliqist : Will there be optional rooms to explore in Shadowgate, or must every room be visited at least once?
Karl Roelofs : We’ve included a good number of new rooms and areas to explore- not every room needs to be solved or visited in order to win the game. However, those rooms and areas are there for a reason- we’ve added some side-quests that our fans will be thrilled about. Also a number of our achievements can only be obtained by uncovering and solving everything in the game.
Karl Roelofs : The game is at about 95% complete – that is all puzzle and animated sequences are in. The game is playable all the way through to the end. We are nearing that polishing stage which will be the last 5%. And we all know that the last bit of development is probably the most important. If players want to get into the beta, they can find out more at www.shadowgate.com.
Cliqist : You’ve been in the industry for decades now. What advice can you give for new developers?
Karl Roelofs : Never lose the fact that you are making a game- it should always be fun and enjoyable. If you start getting away from that, then the job becomes, well… a job! And that is not necessarily bad, but it can hamper your ability to perform the best work you can. That tends to be the time where you phone it in and everything becomes good enough. I’d also recommend them to make the type of games they love and not just make games that they think are popular. It’s easy to do that. But if you make a game you love, it will show.
Cliqist : If you don’t mind, could you close us off with a custom Shadowgate-style death message for this interview?
Karl Roelofs : “You finish reading the enlightening interview on Cliqist, intent on navigating to shadowgate.com to get that awesome pre-sale deal. Suddenly, your screen begins to distort in an odd fashion and a mesmerizing aria rises, seemingly calling your name. Like something out of an Evil Dead movie, the monitor explodes in a shower of glass as two impossibly large, scaly hands reach out, grabbing hold of your face. As quickly as they came, the claws detract, pulling you headfirst into the screen. Any pain you feel is fleeting as darkness overcomes you, an unearthly, metallic laughing filling your head.”
It’s a sad thing that your interview has ended here! Reload a save (you did save, right?) and head on over to Zojoi’s official page for more information on Shadowgate, and to preorder the game. Shadowgate is due out sometime this summer, so stay tuned for an official release date.
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[author image=”http://cliqist.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/david.jpg” ]David Lins is a freelance writer from Pennsylvania that has loved video games since he was old enough to hold a controller. He enjoys all sorts of games, but prefers difficult or terrifying ones. Currently, he plays too many roguelikes. When not writing about his favorite hobby, he loves to drink beer, write fiction, play tabletop RPGs or board games, and hang out with his friends and family. He also has a passion for technology and loves tinkering with his phone, computer, and other devices. Follow David on Twitter for “hilarious” or “insightful” tweets about nothing in particular. [/author]