Out of the Shadow

Shadow Complex was sort of a game out of time when it released back on the Xbox 360 via Xbox Live Arcade in 2009. A side-scrolling action-adventure reminiscent of metroidvanias from years past, Shadow Complex put players in control of Jason Flemming, an ordinary man put in extraordinary circumstances.

When Jason’s girlfriend goes missing while they’re camping in the wilderness, he has to track her down. What he finds instead is a secret military installation run by an anarchist group called the Progressive Restoration that wants to overthrow the government en route to world domination. As he explores the facility, Jason will use a variety of super-powered armaments he finds inside to save his girl and possibly the world.

Now, with a remastered edition of the game on its way for Xbox One, PS4, and PC almost seven years after the release of the original, we sat down with ChAIR Entertainment co-founder and creative director Donald Mustard to discuss why now was the time to bring Shadow Complex back to gamers.


EGM: Why bring Shadow Complex to current gen, and why do it now specifically?

Donald Mustard: It’s always been one of our goals at ChAIR to bring Shadow Complex to as wide of an audience as possible. When we first finished Shadow Complex, we started working on and moving on to a sequel, but then the opportunity to make a game with Apple for their budding game platform presented itself to us. And we thought that would be a really great use of Unreal Engine technology and so we paused development on Shadow Complex 2 and started work on this iOS thing that ended up becoming Infinity Blade, which then became this huge thing and that we didn’t anticipate happening.

Then led to some sequels and once we finished work on Infinity Blade III, we started work on this new original IP with J.J. Abrams that we announced a few weeks ago called Spyjinx. But while doing that, enough stuff kind of finally aligned where we had the time and resources and could take the original Shadow Complex and it get it converted over to our most recent code base and get it prepped in a way that we could bring it to PC, Xbox One, and PS4 and man, I’m so excited. I’ve been wanting this to happen forever. I know it’s taken a while, but this was literally the first opportunity that we could do it, and so we did it.


EGM: Originally Shadow Complex was an Xbox 360 exclusive. Was it difficult to bring Remastered to current gen consoles and PC?

DM: Well, we have a couple of awesome things going for us. One is being part of Epic Games and we use Unreal Engine technology, which is super-versatile and is already very good at cross-platform performance. So, it’s been a relatively painless process to take the original Shadow Complex code and bring it up to date with our current version of Unreal Engine. And we’ve had a great partner in Hardsuit Labs that has helped us in doing that.

So we got everything moved over code-wise, and then luckily when we first developed Shadow Complex, we authored all of the art and textures at a higher resolution, and then turned and scaled down the textures and art to fit what the Xbox 360 could do. But modern consoles are a lot faster now, PCs are a lot faster now, and that allowed us to go back into the original source art and use it at its highest resolution settings, which is awesome because now all the art is in its original authored state. And everything looks amazing while still playing super-tight. So it hasn’t been that crazy of a process. Lots of work to make sure everything still looks and plays well, but it’s ready and we’re excited.


EGM: The original game ran on Unreal Engine 3. Is Remastered still running on Unreal 3 or did you switch over to Unreal 4?

DM: No, Remastered is running on Unreal 3 still, but it’s interesting because the engine has evolved a lot over the years. Unreal Engine 3 from 2009 is very different from Unreal Engine 3 in 2015. In fact, a lot of current gen games still use Unreal 3, like Batman: Arkham Knight. And there’s a lot of really awesome stuff we’ve done engine-wise. What we did do was move the entire code base to our most current version of Unreal 3.


EGM: You mentioned earlier that you had to “pause” production on Shadow Complex 2. If Remastered does well enough, do you think you’ll start production back up on the sequel?

DM: That’s certainly a distinct possibility. One of the reasons why I’ve been so excited to bring Shadow Complex to a wider audience is for the express purpose to open the door and pave the way for more opportunities to do more in the Shadow Complex universe. We loved working with Peter David so much and writing the game with us. He’s always been one of my favorite comic book writers and we loved working with him and he wrote the first game. So one of the first things we did for pre-production on the sequel was for him to write a script for that sequel. So we’ve got this really awesome Peter David script for the sequel along with some other things. I mean, we’ve got some really awesome stuff that we’d love to do if there’s interest. So yeah, our hope is that if people are interested and they love the game and they want more of it across multiple platforms that this will open the path for us to do more. Nothing would make me happier.


EGM: So, what new things can we expect from Shadow Complex Remastered besides the improved upon graphics?

DM: One of the things when we sat down and said we were going to do this was that it was very important to us that we keep the core gameplay experience as close to the original as possible because it is such a beloved game. People really loved Shadow Complex and we love Shadow Complex. So while we were willing to allow ourselves to turn up the resolution and put in some of the original high-res art, we very deliberately didn’t change any of the core gameplay. The game is the original game in terms of how it feels and how it plays and the layout of the world and where all the power-ups are and what they do. That said, we did allow a few little things, a few tweaks here or there and a few little things we’ve hidden for people to find.

And we allowed one other cool thing. Early on in the development of Shadow Complex, we had created this melee system where if you got up near enemies, you could take them down and do this quick, cool, little cinematic takedown like snapping someone’s neck, or punching them, or kicking a bomb guy or whatever. And that was the like the 1.0 implementation of that system. So, one of the first things we were changing for Shadow Complex 2 was a more contextual melee takedown system. Like if you had ran up to a guy and jumped in the air and then hit the melee button, you’d do this flying jump kick. Or if you were hanging on a ladder above a guy and hit melee, you’d reach out with your legs and snap his neck or pull people off ledges. And that system was so cool and was pretty much finished, so we had all that and put all that into this as well. So that’s a cool new thing we added to the game and there’s a couple things like that, but for the most part we didn’t want to alter the game beyond what it is because we think it is so great as is and didn’t want people to not experience the same thing people experienced six years ago.


EGM: Back in 2009, old-school side-scrolling metroidvanias like Shadow Complex weren’t really being made at that time. Since then, particularly through the Indie scene, the genre has seen resurgence. Do you think that might help Shadow Complex Remastered hit a larger audience this go around?

DM: I agree and that is something we had hoped would happen because yeah, in 2009 not only were people not making non-linear exploration-based side-scrollers, people really weren’t making side-scrollers period. When we were talking to people about making this 3D-looking, but strictly 2D playing game, people thought we were crazy. And we said it wasn’t crazy and thought people were going to love it and decided to build it on our own. Then we said we’d make a Metroid-esque non-linear side-scroller.

To me, Super Metroid in 1994 was the pinnacle of 2D game design. Then all these 3D systems like the PlayStation and the N64 came out and we moved away from some of those design lessons. To me it was crazy. It would be like Grand Theft Auto came out and then no one made an open-world GTA style game for 15 years. So I felt we had to do this and we made the game and people loved it and we loved it.

Since then, I agree there has been this resurgence of non-linear side-scrollers, which was half the reason I even wanted to make Shadow Complex. Because I love playing those types of games and I love all those games that have come out over the last couple of years in the style I used to play. I’ve had the fortunate opportunity to be able to talk to the creators and teams behind some of those games and share our experiences making those games and it’s been really cool.


EGM: There appears to be some heavy subject matter throughout the story of Shadow Complex, with topics like terrorism and the NSA, among others coming up. What was the inspiration behind that when making Shadow Complex?

DM: When we sat down to make the game, we wanted to do two things. We wanted to explore our love of Metroid-style games and we also wanted to explore our love of G.I. Joe. We all grew up in the 80s and we loved G.I. Joe. I always loved the dichotomy between G.I. Joe and Cobra and the idea that there was this hi-tech enigmatic bad guy that had all these resources versus more low-tech military people. And we thought it’d be really cool if we could make our version of that and that was really our idea behind the Progressive Restoration. To make these hi-tech bad guys versus this lone hiker who had no technology, and then stealing their tech and using it against them. That was really our aim and goal.