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Interview: Shadow Warrior's Michal Szustak on how to reboot a classic FPS

Flying Wild Hog lead talks remakes, humour and why PC is his platform of choice

Shadow Warrior is Flying Wild Hog's modern remake of the classic 3D Realms first-person shooter. The original game was a contemporary of Duke Nukem 3D and is fondly remembered for its visceral katana swinging action and puerile humour - and more controversially for accusations of racial stereotyping. However, Shadow Warrior did drive the FPS genre forward in many areas and it's available free forever on Steam, so you can check out its credentials for yourself.

Polish developer Flying Wild Hog recently released its thoroughly modern remake of Shadow Warrior and in this exclusive interview, studio lead Michal Szustak talks about how the project came to be, classic versus modern first-person shooters, humour in games and how the inspired crossover with the Viscera Clean Up Detail came to pass.

How did the idea for the remake of Shadow Warrior originally come about?

The team at Devolver Digital played our first game Hard Reset, a traditional twitch FPS, and reached out to see about working together on a project. Their team had the rights to the Shadow Warrior IP and asked about reimagining that game for a new generation of shooter fans. A lot of our team leaders were fans of the original so we decided to take the challenge and see what we could do to reinvent Lo Wang.


How did you balance the source material and the desire to do a modern game? What was the biggest challenge?

Finding a balance between maintaining that old school shooter vibe while bringing in new ideas and mechanics was something we had to work very hard to achieve. It was important that we maintained this unique setting, aesthetic and vibe while expanding on the story, the combat, and what Shadow Warrior could mean to modern FPS fans. There was certainly a lot of interesting ideas in the original so we took what we thought was best, expanded on it, and brought in complimentary ideas that could take advantage of the advances in shooters over the years. But keeping that balance was very tough though we think we got it right!

Shadow Warrior is an old school style shooter, no cover system, hordes of enemies, health packs. What appealed to you about that approach and do you think modern FPS fans have it too easy?

There has been a move with the larger FPS franchises to make gameplay more of a ride that you can hop on when you are ready to battle and hop off when it's time to recover health or change weapons. The appeal of old school shooters is the white-knuckle action and the unrelenting nature of the combat. The strategy comes in selecting the right weapon for the right encounter and balancing your attacks with dodging enemy advances. Most of our enemies don't fire guns so it's more in your face and that decision-making becomes pretty urgent. That's the type of shooter we wanted to create and deliver to the fans.

Humour seems to very integral to the SW experience too - yet this is something that's rarely handled well in games, what was your approach here?

The humour goes back to the original and that whole set of humorous shooters from an earlier age of FPS game design. Our team wanted to maintain that light feeling to the tone but make sure that humour came from the action and the interactions Lo Wang had with enemies and other characters he encounters along the way. Lo Wang is an asshole, no doubt about it, but one that grows on you over the course of the game. He's cocky and full of quips in the heat of battle but always self-deprecating too when the time comes.


Sword combat is a big component of SW and has rightly earned the game many plaudits. How did you set out to tackle this?

We looked at the original and saw when you used the katana it would cut enemies in half in this awesome animation. The team wanted to focus on that moment and expand upon it - something that hadn't been done well in an FPS. The thought was that in most shooters, the melee weapon was the back up for when the player runs out of ammo and just needs to survive. Well what if it was the most powerful, most useful weapon in the game? What if you were brave enough to get closer to all these powerful beasts and unleashed the power of that katana to tear them apart quicker than you could with any gun? That was an interesting idea and something that, as you point out, has become the trademark of the game.


What was your approach to designing the enemies and especially the boss battles?

There was a lot of Japanese mythology used to design the enemies and we wanted to make sure we had a variety of types to keep gameplay fresh and interesting. And boss battles were easy; let's make them big and epic like the classic shooters! We wanted something that took some real effort and classic FPS skill to take down like some of those great shooters of the past.

The original SW attracted quite a bit of controversy for its portrayal of East Asian society and culture. When it came to designing the modern SW were you very conscious of avoiding that?

That's correct, we took that into account from the beginning of the project and it was another fine line we had to traverse. Lo Wang needed to be humorous but we wanted that humour to come through more naturally rather than forced lines about Asian culture. He could be crass, dirty, and even a little bit of a sexist asshole, but Lo Wang needed to be more of a believable character this time around.

What other books, movies or games influenced the making of SW?

I think the influence of Kill Bill is pretty evident in one of the opening scenes with Lo Wang's first big katana battle. The film Old Boy and some classic samurai films definitely influenced the action and settings throughout Shadow Warrior.


Are there many secrets and Easter eggs in the game and can you reveal some of your favourites? Have players discovered them all?

Oh wow, there are tons of secrets! There are nods to the original, secret rooms, and we even rebuilt some of the original game using the classic sprites as fun areas for players to find here and there. The humping bunny rabbits were a funny part of the original and our new twist on that (if you attack them) might be my favourite.

Have you been pleased with the way the game has been received by media and fans?

Absolutely, for the most part fans of the original have appreciated our take on Shadow Warrior and everyone that plays it has seemed to really enjoy it. The katana combat, the art direction, music, and even the story have all been really well received and our team is extremely happy with how Shadow Warrior turned out.

Did you ever consider adding a multiplayer component, and if so why did you rule it out?

It was simply a matter of taking the resources we had to reimagine Shadow Warrior and putting that towards making the best, most incredible campaign that we could possible create. There were some ideas for multiplayer but in the end if you can't make something that will be unique and better than some of the big multiplayer shooters out there then the users might really only try it a bit before going back to the others. Those resources were best spent on what you see in the final game and we're happy we took that direction.


Viscera Clean Up Detail is awesome - what's the story behind the crossover version featuring Shadow Warrior?

That came from Devolver Digital! They had played this game Viscera Cleanup Detail from RuneStorm where you clean up the gory mess after these big battles in a generic sci-fi shooter and figured you could do that especially well with Shadow Warrior. They worked with the RuneStorm team to recreate one of the more iconic katana battles earlier on in Shadow Warrior and added in all the fun and frustrating gameplay of Viscera Cleanup Detail. It's brilliant!

The original SW spawned two expansion packs, Wanton Destruction and Twin Dragon (three if you count Deadly Kiss which wasn't released). Any plans for expanding the SW universe?

That is certainly something we're talking about with Devolver Digital but no formal plans are in place quite yet. There is a lot we can do with the combat, new weapons, new enemies, etc. When Lo Wang comes back, it could be pretty incredible.

The Xbox One and PS4 debut shortly, but do you think the PC is the true next gen platform for independent developers?

PC is certainly our platform of choice because of the flexibility and room to grow but we are looking at bringing Shadow Warrior to next gen consoles as well. But PC will always come first, it allows for more freedom in development, direct distribution and frequent updates with our players.

What's next for Flying Wild Hog?

Part of our team is finishing up another project now and we're looking at what we want to do next! More Shadow Warrior is a definite possibility with the success of the new game and there are always other concepts we've been kicking around for a while. Stay tuned!

Shadow Warrior, the modern remake, is now available from Get Games Go and with a very special offer - not only is currently 25 per cent off, but buy a copy of Shadow Warrior and you'll get a copy of Doom 3, absolutely free!