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Popzara Interviews: Madfinger Games’ Marak Rabas
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Popzara Interviews: Madfinger Games’ Marak Rabas

Our fully-engaged chat with president of Madfinger Games Marak Rabas on Shadowngun, the Unity Engine, and more!

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With a resume that includes titles like Mafia, Mafia 2, Rush’N Attack Ex-Patriot, Samurai: Way of the Warrior, and several others, we’re pleased as punch to sit down with president and co-founder of Madfinger Games, Marak Rabas. A programmer himself, Rabas knows what it takes to survive in a rapidly changing environment where anything can happen, and often does, as his career includes working with such notable development studios like 2K Czech, Kuju Entertainment, and platforms that span bleeding-edge home consoles to the emerging mobile markets.

But it’s been Madfinger and Rabas’ dramatic shift to mobile gaming and their highly-anticipated release of the cover-shooter Shadowngun that’s been grabbing headlines for its high-quality visuals and console-style gameplay, that brings him to us today. From shrugging off comparisons to Epic Games’ blockbuster, to the growing field of Czech Republic game development, to his thoughts on Engine Engine vs. Unity Engine in the mobile arena, there’s plenty to talk about and Rabas is more than willing to spill the details.

Check out our official review of Madfinger Games’ Shadowgun for iOS devices right HERE!

You’ve openly said that it’s Madfinger Games’ intention to bring console quality titles to mobile devices and their fans. I’ve read that your staff includes talent with plenty of real experience in the high-definition console world crafting titles like Mafia, Mafia 2, and many others. With games like Samurai II: Vengeance and now Shadowgun, it seems that you guys have definitely met that challenge.

What’s it like transitioning from big-budgeted home console games to the smaller world of mobile development? Apart from the rapidly-diminishing technical aspects, what has it been like transitioning from one platform to the next?

First, we love it working on mobile games. We wanted to leave console development and have fun developing games again. I think you will notice that more and more developers from “big” games are switching to mobiles now. However, there are a lot of pros and few cons. The “pros” are that you are working with small team and short development time. Also, you don’t have to deal with publishers and you are working on own IPs, etc. These are all things that we really love. The “cons” are that you are working with limited budget and limited technology. On the business-side, revenues for mobile games are significantly lower than consoles, and you have to work really hard to sell your game and garner attention.

There’s a great amount of game development coming out of the Czech Republic these days, especially with Amanita Design (Machinarium), Vatra Games (Rush’n Attack: Ex-Patriot, Silent Hil: Downpour), the recently-formed Warhorse Studios, and, of course, Madfinger Games leading the charge. Are we seeing the beginning of a real phenomenon in a field that’s traditionally been the domain of mostly Anglo/Japanese developers?

With so much activity there, any chance we’ll see region produce the next generation of talented developers that would make the great Alexey Pajitnov proud?

Game development is still very young here in the Czech Republic. We just completed what might be considered a “first era,” where talented developers were motivated and worked very hard to create “nice” games and were doing what they love. On the other hand, we had big problems in producing games, because of management issues. Every project took several years and with long “crunch” periods. Also, with only a few companies here it was a challenge to find jobs at other game companies.

What happened was that people left game business or simply burned-out due the long hours that were required. Now what we are seeing is that talented developers, who survived the “first era,” are mature and experienced and setting up their own studios. While we are now in the new phase of game development in the Czech Republic, everyone here must remember that challenging times and past struggles, so that we can try to do things better moving forwards.

With its behind-the-shoulder perspective and emphasis on cover mechanics, many have pegged Shadowgun as more than a little inspired by Epic Games’ Gears of War franchise, which itself was heavily inspired by Capcom’s Resident Evil 4. For me, this actually puts the game in some very good company, as most critics have been favorable in their direct comparisons between the games.

Interestingly, Shadowgun became available the same week that Microsoft released Gears of War 3. Was the game’s production and release date coordinated to take advantage of such a heavily anticipated release, if for no other reason than to demonstrate that mobile gaming can be more than just bird flicking and Flash-style platformers?

No, definitely no. We did not want to be compared with GoW, we simply wanted to use a cover system and do a scifi shooting game. Shadowgun was originally scheduled to launch on June 1, but when we found that project was a lot bigger than we had anticipated, so we had to delay it. In some respects, launching at the same to as GoW was bad for us, because media started comparing the two games, which I think its totally unfair. You have to remember, Shadowgun is mobile game created by an indie studio. GoW 3 is a third sequel, that was created with a budget that was probably 200 times bigger than that for Shadowgun. The GoW franchise has also been around for many years and has a loyal fan base. How you can anyone fairly compare these projects ? Anyway, we are very happy with Shadowgun and it’s another great step for our company.

There’s talk that Shadowgun is set to receive a burst of additional content in the form of multiplayer. What can fans expect from that?

We want to continue with our goal to “bring console quality titles to mobile devices.” We hope to support DM and TDM modes first, and we also want to improve the game mechanics and do multi-platform (iOS and Android) multiplayer…

While the game seems to have been designed and programmed under tech that powers iOS and Android devices, we hear there’s an enhanced version that supports NVIDIA’s Project Kal-El, the next Tegra quad-core processor. Will that version be just as ‘super’ as its name implies and what can fans of the next-generation processor look forward to?

While I can not comment about that right now, trust me, you will be surprised what is possible do on tablets 😉

Speaking of other versions, is there any chance that we’ll be seeing Shadowgun appear on Amazon’s recently-announced Kindle Fire tablet? As people are touting the Fire as a real competitor in the market, a better question might be if such a technically-advanced game is even possible on Amazon’s Android-powered hardware. I’m curious what your thoughts on this are, and whether there’s room for a lowered-powered option alongside bleeding-edge alternatives?

This is something that we do not know at this time, as the Kindle Fire is such a new device and we have not had the opportunity to use any development units, or obviously use the commercial version because it is not yet on sale.

When Epic announced they’d be bringing their Unreal Engine to mobile developers many thought we’d see a surge in high-powered gaming using their famous middleware. But it’s been the Unity Engine that’s really been in the headlines these days, especially with titles like Shadowgun and Luma Arcade’s upcoming futuristic-western Bladeslinger pushing such high-quality, console quality visuals. Was it a conscious decision to go with Unity over Unreal’s option, and are there advantages to using one over the other?

We started to use Unity when UDK wasn’t available on iOS. When we began developing games on mobiles in 2009 there wasn’t any better technology available. We don’t want to create our own tech, because we want concentrate on games and not on developing an engine or tools. We did have some experience with Unreal from past work, but we and know that Unity 3D is still the best solution for us.

Apart from its amazing visuals, one of Shadowgun’s most popular traits are the funny quips and dialogue between characters John and S.A.R.A., which help give it a sense of intimacy and depth not usually found in mobile gaming. I was surprised to read that you actually hired award-winning author Micah Nathan (Gods of Aberdeen/Losing Graceland) as an “executive creative consultant” for the project. To what extent was his involvement in Shadowgun, and were those hilarious one-liners really all his?

Yes he wrote all dialogs and text for us. Micah contacted us after Samurai II: Vengeance and we started working together. We are Czechs and recognize that our English is far from perfect – maybe people remember our first dialogs for Samurai: Way of the Warrior 😉

Thanks for taking the time to answer a few questions with us today, and best of luck with Shadowgun and all of Madfinger Games’ future releases. Speaking of that, what should we be on the lookout for from you guys, and can we ever expect to see a game with anything less than blistering next-generation tech?

We have a lot of plans. Every one of our games is better than our previous titles, and I hope we will continue with this pattern. Everybody on the team loves this work and that is what we need to fulfill our goals.

About the Author: Nathan Evans