Shadow over Mystara – 1996 Developer Interview

Shadow over Mystara – 1996 Developer Interview

This lengthy interview first appeared in a 1996 mook covering all aspects of Shadow over Mystara and Tower of Doom. When Capcom released both games for the PS3 earlier this year, the special edition of the game included a reprint of this mook. In addition to covering the usual topics about the birth of the project and character design, there are also some very specific questions.

—Please introduce yourselves.

Kataoka: I did the main planning for this title, Shadow over Mystara. He is a man with flowing long hair, who, at first glance, does not seem like he belongs to the business world.

Yamawaki: I worked on the programming for Shadow over Mystara. With eyes gazing far into the distance, he tells you he did almost all the programming.

Sadamoto: I handled the planning for the previous title, D&D Tower of Doom. You wonder why they dragged this guy out here…

—Well then, shall we get started? My first question includes the previous game Tower of Doom, but why did you choose D&D as the setting?

Sadamoto: It was TSR, the copyright holder of D&D, who came to us first and talked about doing a game. However, an agreement couldn't be reached at that point and the project was on hold for awhile. Sometime later a compromise was reached and we were able to start working on Tower of Doom.

The abandoned “Berserker” NPC, who would have helped the Magic User.

—And it was planned as an arcade action game from the beginning? Not a console rpg?

Sadamoto: That’s right.

—Were the stories for Shadow over Mystara and Tower of Doom written by Capcom, or were they pre-existing D&D stories?

Sadamoto: Both were original stories written by Capcom. We used the D&D setting for the general world and the names of places, though.

Kataoka: Also, for Shadow over Mystara, we came up with the basics of the story here at Capcom, and then we had people in America who knew and loved D&D flesh out certain details. Finally, we took those revisions and worked them into something you could have in a game.

—And TSR gave the final OK on that before you added it to the game?

Kataoka: That’s right.

—What is the origin of the titles “Tower of Doom” and “Shadow over Mystara”? In the first game there’s the tower of doom in the last stage, so I think it comes from there. But Shadow over Mystara means “mystara o oou kage” ?1

Kataoka: Yeah. Those subtitles were added by TSR. At the time we thought they were really hard to pronounce. Mystara, by the way, is apparently a campaign seting in the Advanced Dungeons and Dragons world.

—Mystara is an actual place in AD&D?

Kataoka: I think so, probably. (laughs) Whether it's the name of a specific place or part of a kingdom I don’t know, but it is the name of some region. Anyway, it's hard to pronounce, isn’t it. (laughs)

A sourcebook for the
tabletop Mystara campaign.

—It was a very long time between the release of Tower of Doom and Shadow over Mystara. Were you working on Mystara during that entire period?

Kataoka: No, the development period was short. The substantial work started around October of the year before last, I think. Then we started coding everything last March. It took about a year and a half in total… ah, I guess it really took awhile after all. (laughs)

—So you didn’t begin working on Mystara right after Tower of Doom.

Kataoka: That’s right. Well, we did start working on some basic concepts.

—For Shadow over Mystara, you’ve added the new Thief and Magic User characters. I thought it was a little mysterious that there was no Magic User class in Tower of Doom, actually.

Sadamoto: In the world of D&D there aren’t actually many Magic User players who adventure alone, right? If they go out alone they’ll probably die right away, I thought.2

—I see, so that’s why you left out the Magic User from Tower of Doom.

Kataoka: Actually, for Shadow over Mystara, we tried implementing a system where if you selected the Magic User you’d be joined by a computer-controlled Fighter or other character to help you out. But as you can imagine, it turned out to be too much trouble to add…

—It sounds almost like Options from Gradius.

Kataoka: Right.

—Somehow Tower of Doom felt like a game that was meant to be played single-player. By adding the Thief and Magic User and having many character choices, were you trying to emphasize multiplayer in Shadow over Mystara?

Kataoka: That’s right. People really liked playing Tower of Doom multiplayer, more than we expected, so we’ve featured it in the sequel. And, you know, the Magic User is also a character I personally really wanted to add. (laughs) This is a sword and sorcery tale, so we wanted to make the magic look more cool and flashy.

—The magic effects really do look fantastic.

Kataoka: This is a slight digression from D&D, but we also wanted to show the world that yes, there’s a lot of good polygon based hardware out there today, but 2D bitmapped graphics can also be stunning.

—About the Thief, there’s some pretty difficult parts if you choose her in a single-player game. Was she tuned more for multiplayer?

Kataoka: Well, I don’t know. If you make a character specialized, there will always be sections that character is really weak at on their own. And conversely, it's boring in a multiplayer game if every character is the same, with no special features.

Early concept art for the male Thief.

—For Shadow over Mystara you’ve included a new ring system for the character inventory. Was that added as an improvement on what you perceived was a shortcoming in Tower of Doom?

Kataoka: Yeah. In fact, there were different opinions about whether the circle system itself was unwieldy or not, but we all agreed that Tower of Doom’s system was hard to use. We concluded that it would be better for beginners if they could be looking at their characters and items at the same time, so we adopted the ring inventory system.

—I was a little confused about opening and closing the menus at first… you just have to attack to close them.

Yamawaki: Yeah, if you press the attack button they close.

—At first, I tried to close it by pressing the open button again, and it just keep going around and around in a circle. (laughs) It seems like you must have struggled with the button layout.

Kataoka: We sure did. (laughs) We were thinking about making it a 6 button game at first. After opening the menu your choices would correspond to one of those 6 buttons. But we later found out that having 6 buttons would mean we couldn’t make this a 4 player simultaneous game. And so began our days of agonizing over the best button configuration… (laughs)

—So the configuration we have now was something you came up much later in the development process, then?

Kataoka: Yeah.

—Was dividing the item ring and magic ring menus part of your initial plans as well?

Kataoka: Conceptually, yes. But we didn’t know whether dividing it would be cumbersome or not. Once you got used to it, though, most agreed that it was better to divide the ring menus in two rather than try and cram too many items into one ring.

Early concept art for the Magic User, originally female.

—The appearances of the 1P and 2P players are very different for each character. Was there any trouble with TSR on that account?

Kataoka: The previous game was a success, you know, so they were pretty open to our ideas, I think. There was a problem with the colors though, for the 2P Elf. We gave her a pink outfit at first, but they told us her colors needed to be natural. We didn’t know what to do since natural colors pretty much means only brown and green… but then someone pointed out, “the sky is blue, so let’s use blue.” We sort of insisted and they eventually gave us the OK.

—Compared with the original D&D character, I think you’ve made the Thief design a lot more sexy. Wasn’t that a problem with the Americans?

Kataoka: Well… (laughs) For the Thief’s design, we were going for an Arabian style thief. And there was some precedent for that design in the tabletop game.

—Oh, really?

Kataoka: Originally the Thief was male, and the Magic User female. That’s how we began, but with the Magic User as a woman, her image became more witch-like and TSR ended up asking us to change it. So we switched the genders of Thief and Magic User. The design for the male Thief, by the way, was really cool and stylish.

—This has been touched on before in Gamest, but why do the Clerics in Capcom’s games always feel so tough and manly, with beards and shaved heads? (laughs)

Sadamoto: The 2P Cleric actually had hair at first. There was a bald spot, with hair growing on the sides like a shampoo hat.3

—Ah, like the Francisco Xavier haircut.

Sadamoto: Yeah. But TSR told us to change it. (laughs) They told us to make him completely bald. (laughs) 

Cleric concept art, with original tonsure haircut.

—I see, so it wasn’t Capcom’s decision to make him look that way. Changing the subject, I noticed the Brooch is the one item that doesn’t have any effect.

Kataoka: It was supposed to have an effect, actually. But due to various circumstances, we had to remove it just before the release of the game. But Gamest really saved us by saying in their review that it was intentionally added as a “dummy item”, and we were really happy about that. (laughs)

The brooch was supposed to allow you to find hidden items and hidden rooms. Originally there was an intelligence stat for the characters. We wanted to make an item that would help you find hidden rooms if that stat was high. But there were problems and we eventually had to remove it.

—I see, and the item got left in. Why doesn’t the Troll enemy return for Shadow over Mystara, by the way?

Kataoka: He was meant to be there. (laughs) There were other original characters we intended to add too, but couldn’t fit in.

—Ah. Why do two Manscorpions appear in a multiplayer game, yet other bosses don’t increase in number?

Kataoka: Where to begin… (laughs) At the first location test, everyone choose to take the River Vesuvia path for Stage 3. That path is certainly easier, but if everyone realized how easy it was then Stage 2 itself would become trivially easy. We really wanted people to play the Juggernaut path too, though it is very difficult. (laughs)

There were a number of problems with that part of the game. We wanted to convey the image that the river stage was also difficult, and we ended up adjusting it so that the stage itself is easy but the boss is hard. In the end I think the Juggernaut boss may be more difficult than the Manscorpions, in either event.

—Yeah, the Juggernaut was really hard. (laughs)

Kataoka: The River Vesuvia stage was originally three times as long, actually. But when people played it, the length was just annoying, so we removed the upper portion of the river and added the event with the Spirit (“Immortal” in the English version) who gives you advice.

Early map concept art.
This was the “beginner” route.

—Is there any advantage if you choose not to ask for info from the Spirit?

Kataoka: That was added for people who have played the game many times. For instance, if you’ve played it four times then you’ve heard all the information there is, and it's silly to just listen again. So we added that option as a way to save a little time.

—I see, so there’s no advantage or disadvantage to any of it.

Kataoka: Right, there isn’t.

—The Dark Warrior is an original character Capcom made for the game. Was there a reason for creating him?

Kataoka: Yeah. In the Lord of the Rings fantasy setting, there’s a kind of demon character called a Balrog. We really wanted to add him to the game, but since he’s not in the D&D universe we were told we couldn’t use him.

After that, we wondered if we couldn’t try making something original that resembled the Balrog. Then TSR gave us the name “Dark Warrior”, which hadn’t been in our original monster materials. That seemed original to us, so we went about joining our Balrog image with the name and created the Dark Warrior character.

—Were there any objections from TSR when they saw the character?

Kataoka: No, when they looked at it they said “This is the best character you’ve done.” (laughs) It seems they really liked it.

Concept art for Synn and other enemies.

—Why is the last boss Synn’s first form a human woman?

Kataoka: For our female characters in Shadow over Mystara, we wanted the designs to be sexy but not perverted. I thought a harpy would be good for this. But while my view of the harpy is an essentially elegant creature, in the D&D world a harpy is a grotesque monster. That was different from what we wanted to do for Synn, so we decided to make her a sexy human character.

—So you conceived of Synn as a human character from the beginning?

Kataoka: Well, it's something of a familiar trope now, but we were thinking Synn would be a 2-part boss with a transformation of some sort. Thinking along those lines, a human seemed like a natural choice. We initially considered using a Shadow Elf or some other demi-human monster.

—The Red Dragon appears in Shadow over Mystara again; this monster seems to have a special place in the world of D&D?

Kataoka: Yeah. In our initial plans we thought about bringing back the Red Dragon from Tower of Doom, but of course he gets destroyed at the end of that game. Then we thought maybe we’d bring him back as a Zombie Dragon. The heroes in the story are given the titles of “Dragon Slayers” though, and we didn’t want to remove that, so we ended up with the Red Dragon.

The Stone Golem, a boss that never made it past the planning stage.

—I see. There’s also the hidden Red Dragon boss who you find when falling down that chasm. I thought the entrance to his lair was very well hidden… I got the impression you guys were saying “See if you can find this!”

Kataoka: Yeah. We wanted it to be something where you’d only find it if you heard about it from a hostage or one of the gnome villagers.

—Why is it that the Magic User’s most powerful spell isn’t available if you play through on a single credit?

Yamawaki: Ah, we have to apologize for that. It happens depending on the version you played. In an early revision, you learn the spell but cannot use it.

—I see. Regarding the Harpy enemy that we talked about a moment ago, that boss is quite strong. That difficulty spike there, fighting multiple bosses in succession, feels like something of a Capcom tradition.

Kataoka: Yeah, it is. Basically we wanted that section to feel like the first climax of the story. Though, now that I think of it, many Capcom games have their difficulty spike in the second stage.

Unfortunately the climax of the latter of half of Mystara’s story didn’t come out as well as I wanted. I wish we had had a little more time to work on it.

—Ah. Now I understand why you made the Harpy more difficult.

Kataoka: Yeah. It's also hard because there’s no healing items there. Earlier in the development we had the players’ anti-air attacks too strong, and the battle was too easy.

—As with Tower of Doom, I can see you put a lot of emphasis on multiplayer in Shadow over Mystara.

Kataoka: With arcade games intended for a Japanese audience, usually you play alone at the arcade and there’s this unstated feeling of “please don’t join in.” But overseas, it's popular to play arcade games with others. For this sequel to Tower of Doom, once we reached the location test stage of development, we worked to strengthen that multiplayer aspect. We really wanted that part of the game to be well received by players. For our part, we were surprised by the “new” or unanticipated ideas that came to us through that process.

Concept art for Nagpa, the Summoner.

Yamawaki: I didn’t observe this myself, but I heard a story of a man who came to the same game center everyday to play Shadow over Mystara, and one day a woman came in, and they played together and ended up falling love.

—Wow… amazing. (laughs)

Kataoka: It sounds unbelievable, but it's a true story. I guess you could call our game a bridge to love. (laughs)

—Are there any particular party formations that Capcom recommends?

Kataoka: I personally play as the Dwarf and the Thief. They also happen to be the strongest. (laughs)

—The Dwarf?

Kataoka: Also, in the beginning of the development a team of two Thiefs was the strongest. Using their sling attacks, with good timing you could alternate the attack and pin enemies down.

—It seems that the Dwarf wasn’t very popular… (laughs)

Kataoka: I’ve liked the Dwarf since Tower of Doom, so I wanted to make him strong this time. I felt that, yeah, if you looked at the popularity of the characters, the Dwarf would probably be ranked the lowest.

A Dwarf would never actually use big weapons like the axe he wields. But visually I liked it so much that, defiantly, I made it huge. Also, although the Dwarf has no reach, we made it so he could do combos and multiple attacks quite easily, and it's especially satisfying to smash through enemies in close combat… well, at least I think so. (laughs)

Since the Dwarf and the Fighter don’t seem to be very different, I gave the Dwarf the short jump as a way to distinguish him, which I think turned out rather well.

Early design for the Dwarf. The text reads: “He was a bit more rotund then. TSR, by the way, called our final Dwarf design Mutant Santa Claus, because he was red.”

—In Tower of Doom, the rolling attack required you to be ducking first and attack just before standing up. In Shadow over Mystara you’ve assigned the rolling attack a specific hadouken command; did you change it because you found this way to be easier?

Kataoka: Yeah. I had a hard time doing the rolling attack in Tower of Doom, and I thought this way would be better. For special moves, we only created two because we felt having a bunch would be too hard to remember, and it wouldn’t be fun if it was too complex. It's a cue we took from X-MEN. In the beginning we thought about adding a shouryuuken input in addition to the hadouken input, but the Z-input that a shouryuuken requires would screw up your positioning on the battlefield. So after that we made the other moves simple up-down commands.

—I see. I apologize for another very specific question, but the Cleric’s voice… it sounds like a foreigner awkwardly trying to pronounce Japanese? (laughs)

Kataoka: You’re right. (laughs) It was a foreigner doing the voice acting, and he couldn’t speak the way we wanted him to.

—Was the Cleric the only character voice performed by a foreigner?

Kataoka: Yeah, just the Cleric.

—Were all the other characters voiced by different actors?

Kataoka: Yeah. The Thief was done by Morrigan’s voice actor, I think.

—The belt-scrolling, Final Fight-style brawlers are a pillar of Capcom’s game library. Will Capcom be making more in the future?

Kataoka: It's hard to say, but to the extent that there’s interesting new ideas to pursue within the genre, I think we will. And we do feel a certain kind of duty to continue making these games. Though we want to continue to be a leader in vs. fighting and STGs too.

A comic by the developers.

—Finally, to the players, would you like to say a word about how you think Shadow over Mystara should be enjoyed?

Kataoka: Sure, well, Mystara was made with multiplayer in mind, and we wanted to create something you could excitedly play together with your friends, something with a pleasure distinct from vs. fighting games. Please enjoy it to your heart’s content.

Sadamoto: We designed Mystara around multiplayer, so we do hope players enjoy it that way. Also, we wanted to bring back things like items and shops which used to be in arcade games, so I hope players enjoy the collecting aspect too.

Yamawaki: I think it's fun to be calling out and shouting to your friends in a multiplayer game. Please communicate with each other while you play.

—Thank you all for taking time out of your busy day for this interview.

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  1. A literal translation of “Shadow over Mystara.”

  2. In the original D&D and AD&D settings, the magic user (wizard) class started out extremely weak, with a 1d4 hit die for HP at level 1.

  3. He’s referring to the medieval monk’s tonsure hairstyle, which apparently reminds the Japanese of a baby’s shampoo hat.

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