Vaulting The Bar: ‘Designing Shadow Complex’

So, you may know that the Game Developers Conferences – which I oversee – have a related site called GDC Vault. We spend a lot of time and effort digitizing almost all of the conference content presented at a GDC show.

By doing this, we’re capturing some wonderful content for posterity. Plus, we’re allowing GDC speakers to get their talks seen by hundreds or even thousands of extra viewers who can’t be in the room during the event.

So, Game Developers Conference All-Access Pass holders, speakers, and studio/individual subscribers get access to the entire multimedia database. But we’re making more and more videos available in the free section of the site alongside slides and the classic videos that digital historian Jason Scott is digitizing for us.

And because I’m lucky enough to have a GDC Vault admin login (heehee!), this post series, ‘Vaulting The Bar’, is me choosing a favorite GDC lecture every couple of weeks, and making the video free to everyone for the first time. And my debut pick is ‘Designing Shadow Complex‘, from Chair Entertainment’s Donald and Jeremy Mustard, from Game Developers Conference 2010.

This lecture from the Chair co-founders is one of the shorter Vault talks out there, at 29 minutes. While it’s quite high-level, it has some really important lessons for developers – and significant interest to fans. The title itself was one of the biggest Xbox Live Arcade hits of 2009/2010, and one of the first $15 (1200 MSP) games to really resonate with gamers.

As Donald notes in the talk, its success, after the slightly less well-received Undertow, was a result of really careful thinking into what would stand out on XBLA: “We tried to target an old and abandoned genre – which for us was this Metroidvania sidescroller… we found a niche and we decided to push it.”

The lecture really pushes the importance of getting a playable game as early as possible in the development process. It showcases the Adobe Illustrator mockup of the entire game world that the Salt Lake City-based Chair team made, as well as the super-basic UnrealEd game draft that they played through many times to get the gameplay down.

Having learned from more sprawling earlier titles like Advent Rising, the team’s enthusiasm on a narrower downloadable game focus is palpable here. (There’s a good question in the ending Q&A section about designing a demo which exemplifies the attention to detail shown.)

In fact, it’s interesting to see the Epic-owned dev team’s continuing, polish-infused success to this day – with its Infinity Blade sequel showcased in the iPhone 4S unveiling press conference just this week.

And it’s great to see them talking so enthusiastically about the key game development tenets they brought to Shadow Complex. After all, the game was so well received that recent hints at a possible sequel have been lapped up by the public. Hope you enjoy the talk!

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