The first question that pops up when looking at Shadow Fight 3 is undoubtedly: “Alright, it’s a fighting game. But where are the shadows?” A good question, behind which stands a long history of development, therefore let’s figure this out step-by-step.
The process of game design is evolutionary -- every successful series of a game lives through a constant evolution and a huge amount of changes during development. For our series, everything started with the original Shadow Fight 0, a game created by Evgeniy Dyabin, who was inspired the Matrix movie. The shadow silhouettes were chosen for simplicity reasons, but soon became the business card of the series, and, in the end, of the company.
Fast forward ten years, and the idea was implemented as Shadow Fight, a social game that is now popular among tens of millions of players throughout the world. The turning point in the game’s development became the introduction of weapons, based on requests from the players. The idea was successfully implemented into the game and formed the basis for all following games in the series.
Expanding the game’s reach to the growing mobile market, Nekki released Shadow Fight 2 for iOS and Android. Currently the main title of the series, Shadow Fight 2 provided the company with the inspiration and the resources to create a third title, now in production.
Shadow Fight 2 grew with certain game design elements making it unique among mobile fighting games: full equipment and player progress systems, a deep storyline, etc. These all lead to loyality amongst players, and many of them could not wait for the story to be continued.
Because of the specifics of the mobile market, the social aspect disappeared almost completely, so, after some time, we decided to bring it back with the so-called “Raid” fights -- a special PvE-mode of the game in which players can cooperate with one another to defeat powerful bosses.
Nonetheless, Shadow Fight 2, as the first game of the series on mobile platforms, did have some gameplay problems. We understood that we have to get rid of a linear gameplay process, and incorporate the ideas of free choice into the fundamental design of Shadow Fight 3. Aside from that, we noticed that collectibles gained more and more popularity, so we decided to use them in our equipment system.
Evolution of the series
So, what are we aiming to give the players in Shadow Fight 3? We want to build on old ideas, solve problems that came up in previous versions of the game, and become more “grown up” by presenting the game as more of a serious project -- even with a possible port to consoles in the future. The most important thing for us became the transition to 3D. This was exactly the reason why we abandoned the shadow silhouettes: they didn’t allow us to show the detailed models of the characters.
But the question became, how could we make a fighting game about shadows without any shadows? After much consideration, the “Shadow Form” was introduced, a key element of the gameplay in the third title. As well as serving some of our gameplay needs, the “Shadow Form” also allowed us to show contrast between correctly animated, physical-based reality and the otherwordly nature of Shadow Energy, that bends the laws of physics. This was a lucky decision from the point of view of visuals, as well as from the point of view of gameplay.
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The look of the shadow form
It turned out soon that completely darkened characters didn’t make the same impression of 3D ones. Therefore it was decided to introduce a second color to accentuate some of the character contures. As a result, the color cyan appeared in the game, which can also be noticed in the interface and visual effects.
The big investment in terms of gameplay became variety. From the very beginning, we had a vision of an ideal fighting game, where the user can not only pick a character, but also create his very own fighting style. This is reflected by our slogan: “Your fight. Your style.” To expand the possibilities of fighting style customization, we decided to make three base fractions, which will only serve as a basis for future player builds. This was how the fractions Legion, Dynasty, and Heralds were created. Of course, we wanted to emphasize the visual difference between the fractions -- this demanded a specific guideline to visually seperate the fractions. In the process of many iterations when working out the style, we transformed initial cartoonish style into a rather realistic one, which can be seen on the following screenshots:
We at Nekki believe that for a good project to stand out, every part of it has to emphasize and support other components. From the point of view of balancing, none of the styles should be more powerful than any other. This concept found its way into the storyline, which tells the story of a struggle between three fractions. Each of them has a different view on the problem of the Shadow Energy in the game world. As the story unfolds, the main hero realizes that the truth, as usually, lies somewhere in between. This scenaristic idea complements the fact that the player can freely switch between different fractions and even combine the equipment and skills of different fractions at the same time.
From the point of view of a game designer, this variety of fighting styles did make the process of setting up the balance significantly harder, in comparison to the previous title. We invest a lot of time in balance; the results can be seen in our PvP builds, which we happily let people play at conferences and even organize tournaments. These demonstrations help us to notice if there’s any problems within the game, while also showing our future players that the balance is honest.
Aside from the balance within the fight, there is also an “external” balance, wich represents the roleplay component of the game. Shadow Fight is a game about items and upgrades -- those RPG elements pop up between fights, when the player carefully hones his equipment and skill set, preparing for the next fight. With the goal of making the game process more interesting, we introduced a lot of randomly generated content.
The user will see a lot of item variations, generated by the game on the fly. Every time the user gets an item, he has a chance to get something rare or even legendary. We expect that this will assure the rotation of the user’s equipment. For us it’s important to show different interesting content, therefore the game will regularly give players items of different styles -- although it’s still possible to proceed playing with your favourite style by putting in some extra effort.
The main source of items in the game are obviously the quests. We decided to avoid boring game sessions with the system of generated quests; at any location that is not part of the main storyline at the time, there might appear a quest that carries some additional story-related aspect, telling a seperate story and expanding the world in one way or another.
In the end, it makes sense to mention the process of decision making in our team. During the creation of a game, it’s easy to get distracted and to start developing things with questionable gameplay value. Therefore it makes sense to sometimes take a look at all things that are being done and eliminate anything that is unnecessary. Many of our problems were solved by simplifying overly difficult mechanics. Of course, a big headache was caused by our attempt to create a comfortable and intuitive interface; it had to be maximally easy, to simplify the interaction with game mechanics. Sometimes, the interface forces us to simplify and sublimate game aspects -- from which the game often only benefits. If you can squeeze an interesting mechanic to an intuitive easiness, and accompany it with a good tutorial, then you’ll get what any game designer should strive for: depth instead of excessive complexity.
At the moment, the core part of the game is almost finished, but we have many more iterations ahead. When creating an installment from a series of a game, the main thing is to preserve the core gameplay that attracted so many of your players in the sequel. With Shadow Fight 3, we hope to deliver a unique mobile fighting game, where seemingly different elements will be combined: online-mode, collecting items, fighting, an interesting storyline, and a roleplay system with great selection of choice and customization.
Release for Shadow Fight 3 is planned in Fall 2017.