Could you introduce yourself for us?
A: Sure. I'm Joel Kinnunen, the producer on Shadowgrounds Survivor. I'm responsible for keeping the game's vision together and ensuring that production goes as well as it can. Basically I try to remove all kinds of obstacles that would slow down production. I also handle some business development duties here at Frozenbyte. I've also worked on various bits and pieces and helped everybody to the best of my abilities, so it's been an interesting ride for sure!
How far along is Shadowgrounds Survivor?
A: We're in the final stages. We've got everything playable from start to finish and we're polishing the missions and other stuff. For example, our programmers just improved framerate by approx. 10% on medium and high-end computers. The levels are being polished on all fronts and we're working hard on getting all the "necessary" stuff done too (like installers, localization stuff, and so on).
We're also polishing the Survival mode that allows you to fight until the end in some missions. It's really cool and has caused a lot of rivalry here at the office as we try to beat each other's high scores...
After this is all done and the game has gone gold, we're going to take a vacation, and come back when the game becomes available to gamers, which should happen sometime in November or early December, and in early 2008 in some parts of Europe. We want to support the game and modding when the heat is on, and we plan to release a couple of extra missions after release too.
What level of destruction will players be able to realize in the game?
A: It's great. Shadowgrounds already had a nice amount of destroyable objects, so we have further expanded on that. But the biggest difference comes with the physics - or PhysX, I should say.
Shadowgrounds Survivor is an immensely more immersive experience because of the great physics. All objects move realistically and just the way you would expect.
There's a lot of action going on all the time, and it's not rare to see a barrel explode and set off dozens of boxes that cause other chainreactions, all the while you're trying to blow up the aliens. And it's not just the objects that break - the aliens also get their share, getting exploded to bits and pieces.
Could you tell us about the graphics enhancements?
A: We've got a couple of new environments like the snow and ice environment and the lava environment. They are extremely cool.
Obviously we've coupled these with nice effects like the snowstorm and the lava haze. Of course we also have the accompanying sounds and music for these environments, and you can really hear the snowstorm howling. Overall I think the environment variety in Shadowgrounds Survivor is great and that was definitely one of our goals with the game.
What new weapons will we be seeing?
A: Shadowgrounds has one of the best and well-balanced weapon arsenals so we didn't want to mess with that too much. All the fan-favorites make a triumphant return - Shotgun, Flamethrower, Railgun, they're all there. In addition we've brought in the new Plasma Rifle that is very effective against any kind of enemy and causes heavy damage. And it has a new, very cool effect, of course. We also added grenades as a regular weapon and each character has their own type of grenade, and that makes a nice difference in gameplay too.
We have also added some new upgrades and shuffled some old ones, but of course we still have e.g. the Minigun Sentry that's basically an independent stationary cannon against the aliens. If it works, why break it? :)
And there's one secret weapon that you can find if you're lucky...
What was the most challenging part of developing this sequel?
A: That's a tough one! I think it all comes down to the initial design, which proved surprisingly difficult to define. We had so many different ideas where to go, but eventually I think we chose the best direction possible, and the game has turned out great. We prefer to call Shadowgrounds Survivor a spin-off/sequel, which is our way of saying that it's not following the original game's storyline, but instead is set in the same timeframe and forges a new storypath in the Shadowgrounds universe.
I think it's also been a challenge to handle the marketing aspect of the project. We've been quite focused on development itself and neglected some of the marketing stuff, but I hope that is changing now!
Could you tell us about one of your favorite moments working with Shaodowgrounds Survivor?
I think one of my favorites was this one day when I walked into the office and saw something very bright, yellow and red. I asked the level designer "What's this, is this from our game?!" and he just said that he made a small test. I was quite happy to have a lava level in the game. It was not planned at all, but luckily we're in a position to do something like this - adding a new level and environment half-way through development is a bit risky but it paid off big time.
Seeing the physics in action for the first time was also a very colossal feeling and I also love our new character animations that were added at the last minute.
Which of the 3 playable characters is your favorite and why? (Do you alternate between characters, or just choose one throught the whole game?)
A: The singleplayer Campaign is divided into episodes, and the characters are tied to these episodes. So you start with the Marine and then get to play the "Napalm" character Bruno. After a while you get to control the Sniper, Isabel. So it's quite linear in that sense, but there's a slight twist at the end that will give you something to think about...
My favorite character is an impossible question to answer! I like them all of course, and I think they're very well balanced. With the Marine I like to use the grenades a lot, and he's an all-around good character. Napalm is the heavy guy and has the toughest weapons, so he's great at mowing down hundreds of aliens. I also love his Eastern European, deep voice.
But I guess I'd choose the Sniper as my favorite character. She's a little bit different and a bit more tactical perhaps, and you really need to think how to get out of some tough situations. You can go guns blazing and have some success, but ultimately you have to learn to use the Tazer grenades that freeze the enemies, as well as the time-slowing special attack.
What added levels of customizability are there?
A: We designed a slew of great character upgrades - or improvements, as we call them, and we had the same ideology as with the weapon upgrades.
Each character improvement should have an immediate effect on the gameplay and be something that the player wants to use. I think we succeeded with that. Each character has a pack of improvements just for that character, and then there are some more general upgrades which include the obvious Health, Critical Hits and so on.
One of the improvements is a new Special Attack that actually gives you a new "active" attack - you activate it with the space bar. For Napalm, it's the fiery flames of death that sends out a huge flame circle, burning everything in its path. For Sniper it's the time-slowing ability that gives you faster reflexes and, of course, slows down enemies. It's very useful and the effect is great. For Marine, it's the Brute Slayer, which I'll let you figure out yourselves.
What forms will the game be released in? (Will there be a special edition?)
A: We're talking about these right now but I think the normal version is very special already, because it's such a good game! The first release is planned in mid-November and that's the Steam version, and then retail versions and other online channels in early December in North America.
I should mention that we're going to include the Level Editor and the mod tools in the package, and it's very easy to create new missions, or, for example, a new Survival mission.
We hear that you are working on a new project that should be out sometime next year. Can you confirm this? Is it a completely new IP?
A: I think we want to return to the Shadowgrounds universe a third time someday but that's going to have to wait a bit because we've got a couple of new projects brewing up here. I can confirm that we have two new projects in production and they are both totally new IP. One project is set to launch in 2008 and the other is being prepared for 2009. I'm not very keen on hyping things that haven't even been announced yet but I will say that you're going to hear from us in 2008, and it's going to be huge.
Is there anything else you would tell us?
A: I think we got it all covered. I look forward to having the game released, and I can't wait to hear the feedback - and see the new mods and missions that are sure to pop up!