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Why Shadowgate's developers want you dead

Zojoi's Shadowgate remake isn't exactly a rehash of the adventure game released in the late '80s, but it does share one big similarity: death, death and more death.

Shadowgate is Zojoi's crowd-funded game set to launch Aug. 21 for Mac and Windows PC, while Android and iOS versions are expected to follow. Like the original game, players are confronted with a series of rooms, a couple of commands and a vague idea of what to do. It's part puzzle game, part patience simulator. If you encounter something unfriendly, or find yourself on a rickety bridge, there's a good chance you'll pay for it with your life — depending on what level you've set your game at.

New or shy players can choose a gentler experience, while the game's most advanced setting is happy to deliver a brutal playthrough, creative director and executive producer Karl Roelofs told Polygon during a recent interview.

"Shadowgate is known for its deaths," Roelofs said. "We embrace that. We love to kill you. If you do one thing wrong, we just wham! We'll kill you, because you need to think about things."

Trial and error is one way to solve Shadowgate's puzzles, but thinking about the clues you're given is more likely to keep you alive. That's half the appeal — Roelofs calls Shadowgate a more thoughtful approach to games, instead of a title that keeps you button mashing.

"This is more of a thoughtful exercise," the developer said. "You can sit there and take your time and think. I feel that we're appealing to a section that may not be getting its full due right now, and that we can really fill that more thoughtful approach."

Zojoi is filling a niche with Shadowgate, but the team also thinks it's the kind of game everyone can get into. The developer wants to keep the core of point-and-click adventures — but also help the genre grow into something more interesting. Still, the nostalgic pull is something not even Roelofs can deny.

"Our fans were young, and now it's [2014] and these are the people who would want to be looking back fondly at their game," Roelofs said. "We're trying to give them a new experience. We're trying to hit that nostalgia mark with this."

The idea is to tickle the nostalgia factor, the developer said, not milk it. The biggest kick comes from the game's retro mode — a throwback to the NES version, complete with the original music and "8-bit-like" visuals. It's a charming feature for fans with a yearning heart, though Roelofs doesn't expect the mode to make an appearance in future games. It just wouldn't have the same impact, he said.


Players old and new should know that Shadowgate isn't all throwback with style. More important than its new look is its updated story, which Zojoi finally has the chance to tell. Roelofs and his coworkers are tackling the game with years of design experience and a list of titles under their belt, and more writing to back it up. Shadowgate is the project Roelofs said he's always returned to because it's close to his heart.

"This is our baby," he said. "We came up with this. [Co-founder] Dave Marsh and myself are just huge fantasy fans [and] we just wanted to be creative."

The next level of puzzles.

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