Read how Mimimi Productions created the Commandos inspired tactical stealth game Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun
Have you been yearning for a classic stealth game? Reviving the core gameplay mechanics of the classic RTS game Commandos, Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun blends an isometric perspective and stealth mechanics with the rich history and stylish environments of Edo-era Japan. Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun was a previous showcase participant at Unite Europe 2016 and released on December 6 topping the charts as a Steam global top seller within a week of their launch.
Today we’re excited to go behind the scenes with Dominik Abè, Founder & Creator of Mimimi Productions, who gave us an inside look at the development process for their Commandos-inspired tactical stealth game.
What was the inspiration for Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun?
Dominik Abè: We are huge fans of classics like Commandos and Desperados. With Shadow Tactics, we wanted to bring back the Real Time Tactics genre that we missed so much. Our goal was to mix the core gameplay of those titles with a fresh setting that suits the mechanics even better. Choosing ninjas and samurais felt like the most natural fit for a stealth game. It’s an idea that we had on our minds for years, and actually getting the chance to do it was pretty amazing.
Digging deep into Japanese history was a fun challenge. It’s always interesting when you’re working with a culture you are unfamiliar with, especially when the time period you chose isn’t as reliably documented as, say, World War II. We didn’t aim for 100% historical accuracy, but it was very important for us to nail the feel of Edo Period Japan without falling into stereotypes.
We watched some of the famous movies that take place around 1600, like Kurosawa’s “Seven Samurai”, and they were all great sources of inspiration, but if I had to point out what had the biggest influence on our game, it has to be James Clavell’s “Shogun”. Both the book and the TV series might seem dated at first glance, but they really do a fantastic job of conveying Japanese culture to an outside audience, which is exactly what we needed. That, and it’s basically Game of Thrones with samurai.
What were some of the biggest challenges designing a stealth game from an isometric perspective?
DA: In terms of mechanics, being able to build on the existing Commandos formula was definitely a huge advantage. We were very careful with making changes, since we wanted to remain faithful to what made these games so great. Still, we ended up adding and tweaking a lot of tiny things, mostly to improve accessibility, which was one of the problems of the original games. We also put a lot of effort into perfecting the core selection of skills, making sure that none of them overlapped or became redundant with time. We are really proud of the depth we could achieve with such a focussed number of features.
After we had the mouse and keyboard controls nailed down, we put a lot of effort into making gamepad controls viable as well. We knew that the game would always play very differently when using a controller, which is why we didn’t try to translate the controls one to one. Instead, we adapted to the strength of the gamepad, namely the awareness you get from controlling one character directly, and built the control scheme around that. In the end, it helped us achieve a very streamlined design that plays well in both cases, even if the game feel is different.
One of the biggest technical challenges was implementing a system that allows us to save the whole gamestate at any time. Games like Commandos are notorious for their necessity of quick-saving often, and Shadow Tactics is no exception. Many modern games don’t allow saving during combat or complex gameplay scenarios, which is fine. But for us, this was not an option, since mistakes are punished very hard in our game, and trial and error experimentation is part of the fun.
Can you tell us some of your team’s favorite gameplay elements from your game?
DA: We really like how the synergy between our five main characters turned out. You can do some pretty amazing things with just the few basic tools each team member brings to the table. It’s part of what makes solving challenges in our game feel so rewarding: you always come up with new ways your team can combine their talents.
We also really like how no two characters are the same, because making each of them viable was a big design goal. What was really great was the feedback we got after the game’s release, where people discussed in forums which team member is the best/worst. Characters that were deemed next to useless by some became the favorite characters of others. Seeing how differently the game is played by so many people makes us really happy.
Tell us about the visual style of the game and how your team settled on this particular art style.
DA: It was very important for us to create a unique art style that you can instantly recognize, so creating a realistic looking art style wasn’t an option. For Shadow Tactics, we mixed realism with clear stylization to create a look that is not only unique, but also very readable when considering gameplay. Inspired by traditional Japanese paintings, we decided to give our objects black outlines, which further helped with readability. During production we shifted from stylized textures to more realism and also made the outlines thinner, and after a few more iterations and tweaks we ended up with the balanced result you see in the game.
Your team was immensely successful during your launch and became a top seller on Steam’s global store. What elements of your game do you think has made your game so appealing for your fans?
DA: Challenging games have become more and more popular in recent years, especially after the success of the Souls-series (which we are all huge fans of). I think now was a very good time to release a new entry to a genre that is famous for its difficulty.
Of course, there’s always a degree of luck involved, especially when it gets to visibility and people actually noticing your game exists. What really helped us were all those people who played Commandos or Desperados back in the day and were so happy to see one of their favorite genres come back with a modern design.
Lastly, I think this is a real treat for players who prefer harcore stealth games. The fact that many are discovering this genre for the first time just adds to the excitement.
Can you tell us a specific feature of Unity you utilized really well and how you implemented it?
DA: We used Unity’s in-engine features for nearly all aspects of the game, including pathfinding via NavMesh, Mecanim animation, UI, Physics, Baked Realtime GI and Tracking. Our whole production pipeline is an extension of the existing unity framework.
With the ability to easily extend the Unity editor, we developed a node based scripting system for our game- and level designers. We extended this system further during production and created a behaviour tree system that we use for AI and gameplay programming.
Our approach for gameplay programming is a mix of node based scripting for higher level logic, which allows us to maintain an overview of our code and C#-scripting for fast and efficient code writing.The final touch for this system was to auto-generate something close to procedural code from heavily object-oriented code so we could maximize the runtime performance. Unity allowed us to extend nearly every aspect of the engine for runtime and for production.
Thanks, Dominik! We loved hearing about the approach to development your team took with Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun and we’re incredibly impressed with the success of your game. See more of Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun on their Made with Unity page!