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INTERVIEW
Stacy Davidson

Stacy Davidson & Salsa Shark Productions pay homage to GCE's Dark Tower,
a 3D adventure game originally designed for the Vectrex home console
system in 1984, by creating Shadow of the Lost Citadel, an unofficial sequel.

MT> Please tell us about Salsa Shark Productions. What is your role?
SD>I have personally been designing games for about fifteen years, though they Were not always as pretty as Shadow (hey, I had to start somewhere.) But in 1997, after spending a year or so contributing to an ultimately doomed game project with a loose group of programmers, I decided to put together a real studio with a couple of friends: Mat Nastos, a professional artist (comic pencil/ink and film/TV storyboards), and Matt Brownlie who, aside from being a brilliant musician and composer, also had the distinction of being the only person I ever met who actually won Infocom's Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy! So Salsa Shark Productions was born, and together we were all co-designing an animated adventure game. Nastos had concept art and a few scenes inked, I had a loose script, design treatment and some mock-up screens, and Brownlie had composed some incredible soundtrack music. The only flaw was, this project hinged on acquiring capital to hire a couple of animators and programmers. So when our sole investor fell through, the whole project was down the toilet.

That's when I moved to Austin and landed a job at Origin, where I did Q.A. on Sid Mier's Alpha Centauri, Ultima Online, Ultima Ascension, Jane's F/A-18, and a few others. Working for Origin gave me the amazing opportunity of learning the ropes of the professional game development industry from one of the oldest and greatest studios around! I got to chat endlessly about design philosophy with some of the most brilliant minds of game design, like the Ultima Online 2 guys, plus the Origin Q.A. guys were just awesome to work with. Good times (yo Bink!)

After a year or so, I moved back to Houston and picked up Salsa Shark Productions where I had left off. I had a game called Necrophobia I had been slowly developing over the last couple of years, and I had this little spark of an idea for an enhanced PC port of one of my favorite classic games: Dark Tower! Nastos and Brownlie had gotten quite busy in my absence, so after re-evaluating my goals and current abilities as a loner, I put together a new business plan that saw Necrophobia going on the back burner for a while, allowing me to develop Shadow Of The Lost Citadel over the last six months. This has worked extremely well, and now I finally have Salsa Shark Productions headed where I want it to be. The current plan is to resume work on Necrophobia as soon as Shadow is completed. I just recruited a great artist named Ben Yu to work on concept designs for Necro and I think it's going to be really special when its complete.

I've learned a lot from past endeavors. This time around, Salsa Shark's business plans do not require the search for large investments or any other such gambles, so I definitely see a bright future ahead for the Shark!


MT> Salsa Shark Productions has resurrected a 16-year-old rarely seen Vectrex game - why?
SD> Good question! And man, do I have a great answer.

Dark Tower was created for a small home game system in 1984, and featured rich adventure gameplay with a 3rd-person 3D interface. I think most people didn't even consider the technology of the eighties capable of such a thing. Now, 16 years later, guess what? 3rd-person 3D adventure games are all the rage!

Trouble is, Dark Tower was not only rarely seen, there is only one original copy of it known to exist as the game was never even released! And the only way anyone has been able to play it at all has been through the hard work of dedicated classic game enthusiasts who have passed around copies to keep it alive. Were it not for them, this gem would surely have disappeared entirely and we wouldn't be having this conversation. By producing a re-make and trying to get some attention for this oldie, I'm posing the question to the gaming community: what would the evolution of 3D and adventure games be like had Dark Tower actually hit the shelves?

MT> Shadow of the Lost Citadel (SOTLC) will be released in 2 formats: "Classic Mode" and a Registered "Enhanced Mode" version. What differentiates the two?
SD> The shareware version will include the Classic Mode only. Gameplay wise, this mode is 100% faithful to the original game (or as close as I can get). When you register SOTLC, you will also have access to the Enhanced Mode, which will differ in many ways:

1) I've added a magical orb that can be charged with energy crystals and, when full, used to temporarily transport you to your home village from time to time, where you may chat with the denizens who will give you valuable advice to help you on your quest. You will also be able to buy better armor and weapons in the village, as well as receive healing and even rest at the inn. You may also pick up new supporting party members in the village tavern, which will include the classic healers and scouts, as well as a few new helpful classes (what classes? You'll just have to wait and see.. wuuhahaha!)

2) expanded dungeon sequences (see below). And

3) an extended ending where you enter the Lost Citadel and climb it's floors searching for your ultimate goal, the Chalice of Bromingham. This will end with a final confrontation with the guardian of the chalice!

MT> Salsa Shark Productions has added a compass for directional help within SOTLC. The original Dark Tower did not have such an item. Are there other tools or objects that we can look forward to enhance the gameplay?
SD> Actually the original game did have a compass, but no one ever notices it. In the upper-right corner of the screen, there were one or two letters: N, NE, E, SE, S, etc. This represented the direction you were going. For SOTLC I have replaced this directional text with a physical compass that spins around showing you which way you are pointed in a more visual manor.

MT> Tell us about the new dungeon sequences?
SD>Dark Tower's dungeon sequences were the action portion of the game, where you would slide left and right dodging fireballs and attempting to shoot horned brigands hiding around the corners. For SOTLC I've kept this element un-touched in the Classic Mode but the Enhanced Mode just needed something more, so I've created eight different elaborate dungeons to explore. Also, rather than hiding the Citadel's four keys throughout the forest ala Classic Mode, I have upped it to eight keys in the Enhanced Mode and hidden each key in one of the eight dungeons. Also in Enhanced Mode, the dungeon entrances are no longer randomly placed in chests, but are actually giant obvious entrances spread throughout the land, so when you see one you'll know what it is! This creates a more traditional adventure game system, somewhat similar to Legend Of Zelda.

MT> The addition of multiple adventurers in the search party is intriguing. How do they play into the game? Are they controlled by the player? Do they assist the player directly or indirectly? Are they similar to the scouts and healers in the original Dark Tower?
SD> Again, I'm keeping this 100% faithful to the original. "Adding new adventurers" refers to gaining new replacement warriors (or lives, as some games would call it), as well as adding a healer or scout to your party. When you have a healer in your party, you cannot not be killed by the Plague. When you have a scout, you will be able to withstand the Fog without "getting lost", with the exception of the fog along the edge of the map (no adventurer may find his/her way out of Broodweed so easily!) But keep in mind, healers and scouts are finite, you may only use each one a few times before he/she abandons you! And again, I will be adding several other available supporting character classes to the Enhanced Mode.

MT> The original Dark Tower contains 5 types of forests: Pine, Elm, Maple, Dark, and Dead (Zone of Death). Does SOTLC follow the original setting of Dark Tower this closely, or are the comparisons loosely based?
SD> The map of SOTLC is identical to that of Dark Tower. The Pine, Elm, and Maple forests, and the Zone of Death, which I have re-dubbed the Valley of Death, are all in the original square configuration, including the dark area in the center where no trees grow (this is where the Citadel is hidden.. shhh!)

MT> The plague, fog, bags of gold, keys, chests, crystal crown - What's in, what's out?
SD> In, in ,in, in, in, and in. As far as the Classic Mode goes, there will be no element of Dark Tower left out and nothing will be added or changed that will effect the gameplay in any way. In some cases, some things have been reinterpreted a bit. For instance, there was a large crescent moon partially covered by a strip of clouds at the top of Dark Tower's Vectrex overlay design. So I have put a huge crescent moon up in the night sky, partially covered in clouds, but it is actually a part of the 3D environment rather than an overlay. Another thing I had to do was interpret the helmet worn by the warrior. I've decided to go with a roman styling, with a red mohok. Then there's the new compass, of course.

MT> So, approximately when will Shadow of the Lost Citadel be released? What format?
SD> The shareware version of Shadow should be in the beta test stage sometime in July. This means it will be fully playable with all elements of the game present and ready for beta testers. During the beta testing of Shadow-shareware, I will be finishing up the registered version and should have it ready for beta soon after. So I'm predicting a late summer release of the full product, perhaps by the end of August. The only format being developed right now is PC (Dos/Win95/98).
                                      
MT> You are also working on another project, Necrophobia: The McCrearry Manor Massacre. Tell us about this project?
SD>One thing I should point out is that, though Shadow is intended for family audiences, Necrophobia will be a seriously dark game meant for mature audiences only (I'm going for a TEEN or MATURE rating with the ESRB, but we'll see).

Necrophobia began as a fairly straight-forward action/adventure horror game. Resident Evil puzzles and suspense with The House Of The Dead action, all in first person perspective. But, a lot has changed since it's inception.


I have switched engines from a ray-tracer to a slick 6DOF engine with 3D characters, colored lighting and all the bells & whistles. I have also re-thought the game design quite a bit, taking a close look at the new standards being set in FPS adventure lately: Valve did some amazing things with in-game storytelling in Half-Life, Irrational Games re-defined the term "suspense" in System Shock 2, and Looking Glass's Thief series has demonstrated a great alternative to traditional "single-solution" puzzles with their flexible scenarios which let players decide how to utilize various tools and techniques to overcome various obstacles. These elements have greatly affected Necrophobia's design.

So currently, Ben Yu is working on concept art, about half the maps and a few character models have been created, and I am more excited than ever about Necrophobia! I believe that, used wisely, the current technology will allow me to present a truly bold spectacle of horror within an intensely fun gaming environment. It's going to be a hell of a ride, look for new updates on the site around August.


Praises to Stacy Davidson & Salsa Shark Productions for remembering and saluting a title that, had it been released, would certainly be recognized as a classic.

Have questions? E-mail Stacy
Visit the Salsa Shark Productions Webpage


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