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Total eclipse of the art: The making of The Shadow Sun

Total eclipse of the art: The making of The Shadow Sun

In terms of human history, 2010 was barely a blink of the eye ago, but in the ever-changing world of mobile, it's practically the Pleistocene.

Four years ago, developers were still getting to grips with the iPad - who knew that'd take off? - Froyo held sway on Android, and Ossian Studios announced a console-quality RPG for iOS called The Shadow Sun.

Given the ambitious scope of the project, many expected The Shadow Sun to be in development for an extended period, but few expected it would take almost three years to see the light of day.

Fewer still could guess whether The Shadow Sun, a gritty and immersive RPG, could find an audience of interested players using assets that almost predated the iPhone 4 - but Ossian founder and CEO Alan Miranda never doubted its potential.

Solar powered

"Our goal for The Shadow Sun was to make a PC/console experience on mobile, with both gratifying action-oriented combat and deep role-playing, set in a grittier fantasy world," begins Miranda.

"We have no doubts that we achieved that. Our only regret is that we didn’t release in 2011 or 2012, as the mobile market changed during our long dev cycle, with games that had more cutting-edge graphics getting released."

Miranda drew inspiration for The Shadow Sun from ideas that had roots right back in his work on BioWare's Neverwinter Nights - but they weren't the only influences on his mobile RPG.

"We had started to imagine our own fantasy world, drawing inspiration from modern fantasy literature like A Song of Fire and Ice and the Malazan Book of the Fallen, as well as older fantasy like the Conan tales and H.P. Lovecraft's short stories," he adds.

The overall ambition was to create "a different kind of fantasy realm, without the typical Tolkienesque elves and dwarves, focusing instead on the struggles among humans set in a world with a rough edge."

Miranda also knew that The Shadow Sun's fortunes would live and die by its story.

"We intended TSS to be a story-focused RPG versus a more exploration-based one like Skyrim," Miranda continues.

"Creating strong narratives is something we've worked hard on in our previous games, so we felt that our compelling story in The Shadow Sun would keep players engaged and wanting to find out what happens next."

Blame it on the art

When asked about the anomalous development time for The Shadow Sun, Miranda is anything but evasive.

"There is no doubt that development was overly long. The crux of the matter stemmed from the art side of things, and managing the production of art for the game - that's the job of a lead artist and art director," he details.

"RPGs are notoriously art-heavy in the amount of assets they require, and we had a vision of providing a PC or console experience on mobile. But just over a year into our development we faced some challenges in that regard, which due to our small budget, prompted me to step in and assume both of those roles."

Taking on the mantle of lead artist and art director wasn't easy for Miranda to do, but he accepted both, as he's "very tenacious by nature" and didn't want the sun to set on The Shadow Sun.

Still, there were some ramifications for his autocratic decision.

"This was on top of everything else I was doing on the game, which led to a back-breaking burden and a project bottleneck."

Intriguingly, the cavalcade of iOS devices that came into the world between The Shadow Sun's announcement and its release - four different iPhones and four generation of iPads - didn't affect its development overly much.

"It was probably more annoying than difficult, as we kept having to purchase the new devices to test on! The only real difficulty came from adjusting our GUIs to factor in the different device resolutions."

Yet for all of the challenges Ossian faced in the three years of development for The Shadow Sun, Miranda never doubted that it would find its way into the hands of gamers.

"I never once thought the game wouldn't get done," Miranda contests. !There were times during development where the hills did feel steep to climb, but we did get over them."

Soaking up the sun

After entering into the world of The Shadow Sun, it becomes immediately clear that the three years of development time were not idly spent.

The amount of detail that Miranda and his team at Ossian put into The Shadow Sun is nothing short of captivating and everything from the art design to the audio draws players deeper into the game world.

"Audio has been a personal interest of mine since I got into game development in the late 90's, so I was in charge of directing our music composer and VO actors, and creating SFX myself for The Shadow Sun," Miranda continues.

"My opinion is that audio makes up a big chunk of the experience for players - part of what they retain as the flavour of the world - so it deserves a lot of thought and work to do it right."

With all of this detail in mind, it shouldn't come as a surprise that Miranda never considered giving The Shadow Sun away for free.

"Based on the quality of The Shadow Sun, we always felt the game was a premium one. We never considered alternate pricing strategies, such as freemium or pay-to-play, as it goes counter to our own philosophy of what makes a great game."

But that isn't to say there aren't aspects of the game's development that Miranda would have changed.

Namely, he would have liked to have "a shorter development time" - but he concedes that this "would have been easier to make a game with a smaller scope instead of the large-scale RPG we had envisioned."

Now, after thirty six months of work, The Shadow Sun sits high in the sky and currently enjoys an 8.1 score on Quality Index - but Miranda's not done with The Shadow Sun just yet.

"We intend to continue making games that build upon The Shadow Sun world," he tells us. "Details will be released down the road - and this time it won't take us four years."

US Correspondent

Representing the former colonies, Matt keeps the Pocket Gamer news feed updated when sleepy Europeans are sleeping. As a frustrated journalist, diehard gamer and recovering MMO addict, this is pretty much his dream job.

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