Ian Bennett, aka @bmn, is head of Team Infinity, currently in the process of making the 'Shadow Returns' Fan Game. Gave us a ton of stuff up for grabs in our recent SAGE Compo too. Kudos to him.
TSS: Ian Bennett, my man, glad to finally catch up to you.
IB: Great to see you again too, Dread.
TSS: For those who don't know, what is your Fan Game all about?
IB: Shadow Returns is the first game designed by Team Infinity (or 'TISoft' for short). Basically, it's a possible sequel to Sonic Adventure 2, where Eggman rescues Shadow and brings him back to life. He also wipes his memory of helping Sonic and gives him super strength, expecting Shadow to work for him. Except Shadow can't be controlled and escapes, and decides to take over the world, starting with Sonic!
When we first got the plot from new member Ashura Knuckles it wasn't a good plot, but we've worked it into something really original!
TSS: When did you get the idea for your game?
IB: Well for me it all started in June last year when I stumbled across the SFGHQ, I wanted to sequence midis for a team at the time, but when that didn't work I got a copy of TGF (The Game Factory) and started on QTEzone, which sucked
As for Shadow Returns, like I said the premise came from A.K. who'd just joined the team as a level designer. That was about 2 and a half months ago.
TSS: I've noticed your latest title - Shadow Returns. Accompanied with the information for the game was the fact that Team Infinity was to make a flagship series, with this game being the first episode. Is this part of a series of Fan Games with different storylines, or will they all be based on Shadow? I reckon you may run outta ideas if that's the case...
IB: Originally, we were going to have all separate games, starting with Sonic Light, a game designed by myself. However, SL never got past the engine test stage, so we started to concentrate on a game thought up by Cinos called Cinos Hai!, which was taken from the name of his sprite comic series Sonic Hai!
Then we got the idea for SR, Sonic Hai! was going nowhere, so we scrapped it for that, and got the idea for Mobius - The Next Revolution. Cinos Hai is being redone as the second game, Enter Cinos, which will involve the Sonic characters meeting the characters from TIsoft (Cinos was always one for furry games :P).
TSS: What kind of feel are you guys trying to create with Shadow Returns?
IB: One word - speed. We're trying to make it so players are confident to go blasting through the levels at top speed. Many people complain about the 320x240 resolution not having enough space to see enemies before you hit them, so I designed a camera script that lets you see further in front of you, just enough time for you to react to seeing something.
Instead of trying to fix the never-slowing rolling, we set it to make you go even faster than running, while making you destroy any enemies you hit. The plan is to make you react rather than think, which is what Sonic, at least in the Mega Drive (Genesis for all you Yanks) days, was all about.
TSS: What special features are there that make Team Infinity's Fan Game stand out from the rest of the games on show at SAGE?
IB: There's the new moves I mentioned, such as the Speedup Spin I explained earlier, and the fact you can turn into Super Shadow in the first level! I'm pleased with the way players can set themselves little challenges, like trying to 'Cancel' (a skid which lets you go through enemies) through every enemy you see for example. We may add a bonus for doing it, since I find it very rewarding to do it successfully.
Another thing we (well... I) think very highly of is the music. Being a MIDI sequencer and composer myself, I try to find music that works best. I've avoided Sonic-related themes, and have instead looked to Playstation RPGs, Street Fighter games and even racing games on Mega CD for themes I edit myself to suit the game.
Next off, we're in the initial stages of developing online features! We won't be doing something like Sonic Online, but we may have turn-based stuff over the net, or maybe Chao races and Chao swapping!
Finally, and probably most obviously, is that there are SIX levels in the demo - which dwarfs most other demos' counts - while still maintaining a high quality in the stages!
TSS: How long has development taken so far on Shadow Returns?
IB: We started work on the first demo about two months ago. Production has been very quick considering how much we've got done.
TSS: Can you reveal exclusively to The Sonic Stadium roughly when SR may be complete ready for the public?
IB: I plan to release SR at SAGE this September, and most of the team agree. It may be earlier, it may be later!
TSS: Any major hitches that you have encountered? What has been your biggest development problem up until this year's SAGE?
IB: Hehe... major hitches... *sweatdrops* Well, it's been annoying having to play through the whole demo all the time since the lives get screwed up any other way... we've also had problems with the player sticking in the walls, and sometimes indefinitely after being hit, and that you can't go up steep hills, stopping abruptly on normal ones when going fast.
The dynamic menus were also a pain to make, and we had trouble finding music for Emerald Coast too, even looking through thousands of midis!
However, by far the biggest problem as been the limitations of TGF. TGF has an active object limit of about 180, which we're maxing out in every level, regularly corrupting levels and having to keep regular backups. It also means we can't make the game as flashy as we might like.
We were trying to put the game into Multimedia Fusion (which has a limit of tens of thousands), but the whole game screwed up then, so we've been forced to make the whole thing in TGF.
TSS: How well do you think Shadow Returns is progressing?
IB: Right now, it's going like a dream. I'd planned 2 levels for the demo, but AK, Cinos, Alex Prower and I have been working our asses off. We're planning about 5 zones for each character (5 characters in the game), so level-wise we're about 8% through, but as a whole we're about 20% done, what with the engine and everything.
Right now AK and I are working on a patch for the demo which ties up most of the loose ends and bugs in it, once that's released only the patched version and the patch itself will be available.
TSS: How do you see your chances winning the booth polling at the end of SAGE, against other games you've seen on the show so far?
IB: There's a booth polling?! O.O lol... Well, many of the top name games have been no-shows demo/full game-wise here, such as Sonic SV2-TT, Sonic: Dark Horizon and Sonic: Time Attacked etc, which gives us more of a chance.
But, we still have a long way to go with games such as Bladerunners SX by TGF Team, Sonic Epoch, and especially Sonic Team Jr's new site layout coinciding with the start of SAGE.
TSS: Can you let slip the next chapter in Team Infinity's flagship series? How about your next Fan Game if you guys haven't thought that far ahead...
IB: Well, I've already mentioned Mobius - The Next Revolution: Enter Cinos haven't I? Well, our next fangame is in production by another team member, Azuriyuu, it's a small arcade game called B'man Coin Killer. It was going to be released at SAGE, but he didn't get it ready for me to tidy up and upload, so it's not released yet.
TSS: Finally, out of all the Fan Games on show at SAGE, what seems the most promising to you?
IB: ShenSonic, without a doubt. It's a great idea - put Shenmue into a Sonic game! It's funny (like Knuckles playing Tom at the hotdog stand), it has great music, it has the capsule machines and arcade games, and it works!
I personally didn't expect SimSonic to be able to make such an advanced game on his own, but I'm glad he has. He also put the QTE howto I made for him to good use! *winks*
TSS: Ian Bennett, head of Team Infinity and developer of Shadow Returns, thank you for your time.
IB: No problemo Dread, nice to see ya again! Oh yeah, and we'll be releasing a patch fixing up a load of loose ends in the very near future!