A Shadow’s Tale is a haunting puzzle platform game for Wii available from shops today. The player controls the severed shadow of a boy whose quest is to ascend a mysterious tower and reunite with his body - however, the shadow boy can only walk on, or interact with, other shadows. By manipulating objects in the environment and by altering the position of the light source the player can change the shadows cast on each level, creating new paths of darkness for the boy to walk on.
We sat down with the game’s Producer, Shinichi Kasahara, for an in-depth chat about the design and inspiration of the game.
Nintendo of Europe: Could you tell us a bit about the story and the setting of the game?
Shinichi Kasahara: In the beginning we don’t give you a whole lot to figure out what this world is all about, it’s really for you to play and figure out for yourself.
As you go along, you will find out what we had in mind and what kind of world we created, but just to give you an idea about how it starts: you’ll see a boy trapped at the top of a very tall tower when a person comes to cut off the shadow from the boy’s body and throws the shadow from the top of the tower all the way to the ground. The entire story is about the boy’s shadow wanting to reunite with the body, so therefore he must travel through the tower upwards to his body and along the way battle, look for things and solve puzzles.
NoE: You mentioned that your original inspiration for the game concept came from children playing shadow tag. Were there other influences?
SK : In terms of where the art direction goes, there is actually a pretty famous abandoned tower in the middle of Tokyo, which is really mysterious, because when you think of Tokyo, you think of modern high rise buildings. This building has persisted, abandoned, and we kind of thought that this was the overall feel that we wanted - that’s what the art direction goes for.
NoE: A Shadow’s Tale seems almost as if it’s a 2D game, but actually you have to think in three dimensions, so the solutions come in three dimensions. Could you give some examples of the particular challenges that come with developing puzzles in this way?
SK: Well it was obviously a brand new attempt on our part as a company, but also as an individual, to take on something totally different. Pretty much everything and anything we attempted was a challenge, but I think that in particular, although it might look simple, just creating a shadow for the boy to walk on or hang onto was a challenge.
You end up with a 2D image on screen but we have to construct it within our minds as 3D, so we have to think about the distance between the object and the source of the light, how that will change the shape of the shadow and therefore how that will change what the boy has to interact with. It was something that we physically had to experiment with in real life to figure out the different shapes and directions of the shadow. Coming up with an interesting new world in various different stages was also challenging.
NoE: In terms of developing these puzzles, was it all done purely in the code of the game, or did you use some kind of model to test it out?
SK: In the beginning stages, when we were trying to come up with the easier areas, we pretty much took care of that within our computer. But in a few instances, to create a 2D shadow from a 3D object, in order to better explain what we were imagining to the staff, we indeed created it using actual Lego®.
It served a pretty good purpose for that, but it was also important when we were trying to create something more complicated or unusual and it got too much to think about in our computer program. But believe it or not, building Lego® is hard work, very time consuming! (Laughs)
NoE : In the game you control the shadow but a large part of the player’s job is to affect the environment around him. Can you tell us a little more about the atmosphere this creates?
SK: Initially, we were brainstorming what’s so unique about playing as a shadow and among other things we realised that there is a sense of feeling trapped in the world of shadow. On the other hand, there is a sense of being in control: that by changing the source of light, or the distance between the source of light and the object, you are controlling the world within.
We thought that was kind of an unusual concept: you’re not affecting the shadow itself directly, you are controlling the shadow’s path indirectly. We felt like this was a unique aspect to the shadow world and we really focused on that. In the beginning stages, you are simply moving the source of light left and right, up and down, but in the later, harder stages it takes a lot more than that to progress. So we worked hard on these dynamics to show off what we thought was so unique about them.
NoE: The game also features a being of light called a Spangle, a fairy creature who helps the shadow boy and lets you manipulate objects. Does she also have a narrative function in the story? Where does she come from and why does she help him?
SK: In terms of why the Spangle shows up in the beginning of the story and starts helping the shadow, it may or may not be explained by the end of the story - it all depends on whether you can get all the way to the end. But she does have her own motivation for why the boy must get to the top of the tower and her own background that has to do with the mystery of the tower.
NoE: She must provide valuable help since there are other creatures in the tower too. Can you tell us a bit more about those?
SK: Within the tower the Spangle is the only friendly non-human, non-shadowy figure; everything else is your enemy. In terms of the enemy, we focused on how to make them look scary: the shadow, layout and the outline of the characters is really important because we’re relying on the shapes of shadows to convey a sense of fear.
But we also focused on adding a sense of sadness to them: wanting to somewhat identify with your enemy is quite a Japanese sensibility and it works with the side story of the tower, so there is a sentiment of sadness as well in the design of these characters.
NoE: The game starts with a lot of mysteries... Will the shadow boy learn the secrets of the tower, and if so how?
SK: The entire game starts with you not knowing anything about the story or the boy himself, as you progress through the game you collect what’s called “memory” and learn small pieces of the story... but it’s actually the memory of someone else who went through that particular tower, and that person must have gone through something dramatic for it to remain.
It’s a spiritual Japanese belief that if somebody experiences a strong emotion, like holding a grudge, that sort of emotion can stick around an area; which is what the boy is picking up along the way. So it’s not like the boy is going back and collecting his own memory; he’s actually collecting somebody else’s memory and learning through those experiences.
NoE: The game conveys a real sense of mystery. Did any particular authors or television shows inspire you in the creation of this feeling?
SK: Too many to name! But just the core elements of mysteries and the puzzle-solving manner from stories was inspiration. Much like Sherlock Holmes perhaps - there’s something special about being in a situation where you don’t know something. It’s all about how observant you can be, how can you put together two and two and figure out how to move forward - I’ve always been drawn to that aspect of mysteries.
NoE: There are several theories about the game, some suggest that the tower is some kind of purgatory. What is your opinion on those theories? Is A Shadow’s Tale a story of redemption?
SK: The focus is on the shadow and how that relates to the soul, so the theory of purgatory is very interesting - though we don’t want to spoil it. In terms of the emotional theme? It’s not so much about redemption, it’s not so much about revenge, there isn’t a single emotion that’s driving the story itself. The setting and situation is more what drives the story but you’ll have to get to the very, very end to know for sure what the entire game is all about!
NoE: Finally, what are your thoughts on the Nintendo 3DS?
SK: Before checking out the Nintendo 3DS personally I had my doubts because 3D could be quite hard on a small screen. But I have to say, upon seeing it and trying it out I was really, really impressed. Not only does it really allow a full 3D experience, it doesn’t cheapen it just because it’s smaller. It’s real 3D imagery, but also it has brand new elements, not just the visual effect. There are a lot of things we have to work out, but we are very excited and we think this console has a bright future in terms of developing software for it.
NoE: Kasahara-san, thank you very much for your time!
A Shadow’s Tale is in shops today, only for Wii.