How do you create a whole cursed crew (talking ghost ship included) full of characters with interesting designs, magical abilities and personalities?
Our artists and writers at Mimimi Games explain how they brought very unlikely heroes together and shaped an exciting pirate adventure around them.
Hey, I am Elena and I joined Mimimi Games last year as Communications Manager – you probably already read from me, if you visit this blog or our social media frequently. Now that the cat – or rather the parrot (arr!) – is out of the bag, I want to give our developers a chance to tell you about what it’s like to work on Shadow Gambit: The Cursed Crew and how their ideas and efforts shape the game.
A perfect opportunity to create a monthly dev diary blog! While you just sit back and relax, I ask them everything you could possibly want to know about the game – after exploring Why Shadow Gambit had to be a pirate game, it’s now time to take a closer look at the cursed pirates themselves and how they came to life.
So … how do you create a crew of undead cursed misfits and make them likeable and fun to play?
How magic (and gameplay) shaped the character design of Shadow Gambit
“The magical Red Marley and its ragtag ghost pirate crew are the main characters of the game. Each character wields a different magical power like the ability to teleport, dive into the ground as though it were water, or gaining control over an enemy by dissolving into a cloud of smoke and entering their lungs.
Most of the crew’s visuals are based first and foremost on the character’s abilities”, concept artist Lucas Reiner explains. “The design team first comes up with a fun skillset while completely disregarding what this character could possibly look like later, and the visuals are crafted to suit these mechanics accordingly. We also tried to assign each crew member a different role on the ship.”
“Take the ship doctor Suleidy for example, who uses her skull seeds to create concealing bushes for allies or makes enemies walk away from them with wander dust spores. The design team first prototyped a very bare-bones (pun intended) character who could manually place a hiding spot and make enemies move away from them with a thrown projectile.”
From Plague Doctor to Plant-Woman
“In step two we gathered ideas from the entire team for characters which fit these requirements. For Suleidy (or ‘bush spawner’, as she is still called internally) we had suggestions ranging from a plague doctor who throws a phial on the ground that emits a small vapor cloud, to a researcher/botanist who creates a fast-growing bush using scientific tools.
We then got together in a very small group and decided on which specific character idea is the most fitting, distinguished, magical, and fun-looking. After a some fleshing out (pun intended again) and countless sketches, Suleidy, the half-woman half-plant seed-throwing ship surgeon was born.”
But the gameplay wasn’t the only defining aspect of the design. Of course being undead, cursed and pirates mattered as well and inspired Lucas’ first sketches:
“During pre-production (before essentially anything about the project had been decided) I spent a few days sketching out about two dozen undead pirate character ideas I thought were interesting. The driving force behind their designs was their cause of death – a concept we have since moved away from, but still slightly remains in some finished characters to an extent.”
Why it’s important how you died
“For example one of these early ideas was a cannon-wielding skeleton missing half of its skull, who died after looking down the barrel of a loaded cannon when it suddenly went off. This idea became cannoness Gaëlle! She can use her magical cannon in game to shoot any (un)willing person to a more favorable position or knock anybody out who she is aiming at with it.”
“Another early sketch of a female pirate impaled with a handful of swords caused by a mutiny eventually became Afia, the navigator of the Red Marley, after reducing the number of swords to 1 and adding a magical time-skipping ability to her arsenal whenever she unsheathes the sword from her chest (Elena: You can read more about that in our character introduction blog!).”
“One of my favorites which didn’t make the cut for obvious reasons was a deckhand that simply died of seasickness who is now a zombie that can’t stop vomiting. This ‘power’ would help him create slippery puddles for enemies to fall and get knocked out over.”
That probably would have been a little too goofy – but Shadow Gambit: The Cursed Crew still doesn’t shy away from funny skills or designs. For example: Shipwright Mr. Mercury uses his undead pet fish Sir Reginald to distract enemies.
Our writers Martin Hamberger and Fridolin Kerner explain how they found the right balance between serious and humorous elements.
Characters can be goofy – and still very relatable
How to write a likeable crew
Martin (Elena: or “Hambo” as he prefers): “I think we actually did go overboard, but we have a world that can carry it. Everything’s larger than life, so our crew fits right in.
We also put each of them against normal human problems, so even if they’re a little out there, you can still relate. At some point, even the zaniest of them will have to face a few inner demons. That makes them more than fun cartoon characters.
Besides that, we wanted to have as much fun with them as we could. If there was an idea that would have sounded ridiculous in our previous games, we often said: ‘Why not?’ A ship cook who is also an undead skeleton pirate AND a ninja? Why not? If we can make it fit in our world and tell a cool story with him, then why the hell not?”
New freedom, new challenges
“Creatively, it was very liberating. Of course, you still have to make it all matter. Every character has facets that we scrapped. Motivations change, backstories get iterated. Visuals and game mechanics improve constantly, and you want to tie it all together with words.
When it works, it’s beautiful, but it can be a tough road to get there. I think we made some smart choices this time to make the journey a little easier.”
Sometimes characters are even perceived differently by the team as Fridolin explains – that changed how Mr. Mercury’s personality evolved:
“Initially, I envisioned Mr. Mercury as a suffering old man burdened by the anchor on his back and the events in his life that lead to him owning that anchor. However, unbeknownst to me, our animation lead Cem and the rest of our awesome art department had a different interpretation of the character.
They imagined Mr. Mercury to have a quirky, springy personality and developed a saluting animation where he stands on his anchor for a second, salutes, and then vanishes to the Below.
I distinctly remember seeing that animation during a random playtest and thinking ‘oh my god that’s him’. Everything after that just fell into place by itself.”
How to design a likeable crew full of interesting characters
Lucas also made sure that design and writing for each character goes together nicely. It can be a little more cartoonish as for Mr. Mercury or more on the serious side, when the team wants to explore a more serious background like for the lookout Teresa who tries to leave her dark past behind:
“Mr. Mercury, the shipwright, is probably the most light-hearted and humorous of the bunch, and this is reflected in his visuals; an old kilt-wearing scot covered in corals and barnacles, carrying a huge anchor. Even his eyepatch is a seashell, underneath which is a large fisheye, granting Mr. Mercury underwater vision when he dives into the shadow seas!
On the other hand Teresa, the ship’s lookout, is one of the more sincere characters. Her past as a tortured, mutilated ex-inquisition sniper is told in a more heartfelt tone. In early sketches of Teresa I tried giving her a cape made of dark feathers resembling wings and a crow beak, symbolising her being an outcast in a more exaggerated way.” Lucas continues.
“Although pretty cool looking, this was ultimately too cartoonish and did not fit her tone, so we mostly stuck to her inquisition outfit, with a subtle crow-shaped pegleg and a small crow skull on her hat. Each character’s ratio of funny to serious differs slightly in visuals as well as backstory, but overall it evens out to a very likeable crew.”
How to get to know the characters
But of course, to like the crew you have to get to know them first – which can be a little complicated if you can take any character with you on missions. Our writing team explains how you will still be able to bond with them:
“In our previous Stealth Strategy games, Shadow Tactics and Desperados 3, the storytelling was linear and character choices were predetermined. However, in Shadow Gambit, players have more freedom to choose which character to bring on missions and which missions to play next. This posed a challenge, so we’ve equipped ourselves with two tools to address it.”
Meet the characters on the Hub
“Firstly, between missions, the crew returns to the Marley where we track progress and inject main story and side quests into the daily lives of the soul pirates. This allows for organic interactions between the crew members, providing more depth to the story.
Secondly, we’ve given the Marley powers to communicate with the crew while they are on missions, ensuring at least one character on every mission is certain. This allows for more impactful and intentional storytelling, even with multiple islands and characters. There will also be dedicated character missions for each crewmember fleshing them out even more.
Overall, we’ve designed Shadow Gambit’s storytelling to be immersive and flexible, allowing players to explore the rich world and characters while still experiencing a compelling narrative.”
For each character there will be missions allowing you to explore their past as well as Hub quests where you help them with little tasks on the deck of the Marley, helping the writers to flesh out each crewmember more:
“All our character missions are possibilities to give one of our crewmates the lead in a couple of missions and allow them to shine. Next to our Crew Tales on the Marley they really get into the nitty gritty of each character’s motivations and from a gameplay perspective force you to explore a character that you haven’t played with before.”
“Character missions are a vital component of our game, as they allow players to delve deeper into the unique motivations and personalities of each of our crewmates.
Additionally, these mission add not only to the overall narrative and world-building, but it also provides players with a chance to play as each crewmember at least for once or twice and experience their playstyle and abilities firsthand. Of course there is also a main story reason for all these character missions which we won’t spoil here.”
But they can talk a little bit more about the Crew Tales, where you interact with the crewmembers on the deck of the Marley. You find out more about their personality, as well as their little quirks:
“Hub Stories (Elena: Short optional quests on the deck of the Marley where you return after each mission), or Crew Tales as we call them, are storylines that delve into the daily lives of the crew members on the Red Marley, a soul-energy infused pirate ship that talks and is one of the main protagonists as well.
These storylines revolve around everyday challenges, such as motivating the literal skeleton crew or helping Suleidy, the ship doctor, to clear the deck of a magic sickness called soul rot.”
“Our aim with these stories is to give players the opportunity to get to know our crew on a more personal level, without the ‘constraints’ that a mission with an objective poses. To be honest these started out as fairly ‘vanilla’ ideas and ended up getting ‘a bit out of hand’ in terms of ludicrousness. We do very much hope that you’ll enjoy these as much as we enjoyed writing them.”
JOIN OUR CREW
If you can’t wait to learn more about the crew of Shadow Gambit and want to discuss the game with us and our growing Mimimi community, join our Discord.
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We are going to share a lot more exciting stuff with you over the next few months!
Stay tuned for more trailers, dev diary blogs, streams and other amazing insights on Shadow Gambit: The Cursed Crew.
See you soon on the high seas!