Shadow Man

Shadow Man is a 3rd person action adventure game I worked on at Acclaim. It’s based on the Valiant/Acclaim comic book character of the same name. You take control of Michael LeRoi, the Shadow Man, a voodoo warrior who can jump between our world and the world of the dead. The forces of evil are getting together on deadside and building a giant engine to open a gateway to our world. If they succeed, they’ll go shopping, or bring about the apocalypse – either way, it’s bad news. Mike is the only guy who can do anything about it.

The game was released on PC, N64, Playstation-1 and Sega Dreamcast. When I began working on the project, I was mainly implementing gameplay elements. I received large maps on paper from the designers, covered in notes describing the various elements, together with collections of 3d objects from the artists. It was my job to tie them together – make the cable cars run, make doors open and close, make the great engine turn over, and generally implement the tricks, traps and puzzles that made up the game.

Once the PC version was complete, I was appointed as lead programmer on the Dreamcast conversion. This was a six month effort to push, munge and cajole the PC version of the game onto Sega’s console. The end result wasn’t too bad, either – 8.5/10 at IGN.  The game itself felt more like a console game than a PC game, and the Dreamcast had the extra space and power to replicate the look of the PC version, compared to the N64 and PS-1 versions.

The Dreamcast version was a little rushed at the end, however. There was a push to get the game done and published in time for Thanksgiving – that time towards the end of November when us folks in the UK studios had next to no luck getting any information out of the US offices. One small but somewhat important bit of information that was slow in getting back was that they’d gone ahead and published the game, while we were still submitting new revisions to the test dept. The version they initially launched had a fairly major bug in the sound system. We weren’t handling a failure case properly – a situation that might not present itself for a couple of hours of gameplay – but when it did occur, most of the sounds simply stopped playing, and those that did play were heavily distorted. We’d found and fixed the problem, and so were told that the fixed version would go out with the next disk pressing. Allegedly.

Shadow Man was a fairly violent and gory game. As gory goes with 1999 graphics, that is. The Columbine High School massacre took place late in the development of the game, and the press, politicians and concerned parents decided to use violent video games as a scapegoat. Right or wrong didn’t matter – the powers-that-be were suddenly concerned about some of the contents in Shadow Man, and we had to tone it down. This eventually led to one of the more obscure bugs I’ve had. The report said that the ceiling in a particular room bled when shot. Okaaay… so I tried it, and it did. This made no sense until I turned on wireframe rendering and discovered that there was a body pinned to the ceiling. In the rush to remove and hide content in the PC version, rather than remove the body object, the textures had been made completely transparent. But it was still there and bled when shot…

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