['A Game Collector's Melancholy' is a bi-weekly column by Jeffrey Fleming that follows the subtle pleasures and gnawing anxieties of video game collecting. This week let’s datajack the Matrix and see what we can find on Shadowrun.]

srcover4th.jpgVideo games and role playing have always been close allies. Just as Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson attempted to extend Tolkien’s world into pencil and paper games, programmers have labored to model the ritual theater of tabletop role playing sessions in software. Personal computer RPGs have seen a steady path of development over the years, from the early days of Richard Garriott’s Akalabeth to the latest visual dream in Bethesda’s Elder Scrolls series. However, in the West, console RPG efforts have been largely abandoned, surrendered to the Japanese, whose role playing aesthetics follow distinctly divergent lines. For an early snapshot of this evolution consider the three video games based on the Shadowrun license.

Shadowrun began life in 1989 as a set of tabletop role playing rules published by the FASA Corporation. The world of Shadowrun was weird mix of fantasy and sci-fi in which Tolkien-esque characters such as elves, orks, and dragons were given a serrated edge by dropping them into a near future, tech noir landscape. Magic existed alongside neural implants as “deckers” and shamanists hacked into computer networks to battle sinister transnational corporations. Life was cheap in Shadowrun and death often came quickly, whether it was by tempered steel, a 9mm Hydra-Shok, or a bolt of summoned lightning. Avoiding a potentially goofy and derivative premise, the Shadowrun game was elevated by the fevered intensity of its vicious world.

FASA was always adept at licensing its properties (in fact, the original company currently exists only as licensing rights manager, leaving the publishing and distribution of its properties to other companies) and soon enhanced the Shadowrun brand with tie-in novels and a series of unique video games, each produced by a different developer.

Brain Burnt

srsnescover.jpgThe first Shadowrun video game was created by the Australian developer Beam Software (who later changed its name to Melbourne House) and published by Data East in 1993 for SNES. The game followed amnesiac Jake Armitage, recently deceased but resurrected thanks to late 21st century medical technology, as he struggled to find his killers before they could finish the job. It was surprisingly faithful to the source material’s dark and amoral setting, particularly considering Nintendo’s strict approval process. The city of Seattle was portrayed in the game as a sort of Bosnian War era Sarajevo with hidden snipers raining death on scurrying refugees and teeming black markets where almost anything could be had for a price.

Shadowrun for the SNES is well worth seeking out and can be found with a little searching complete with manual and folded poster for around $35. As with most SNES games, loose cartridges are very easy to find but do not pay more than $10.

Geeked

srsegacover.jpgIn 1994 the Genesis received a Shadowrun game published by Sega. Developed by BlueSky Software, the game followed the exploits of a shadowrunner named Joshua as he unraveled the mystery of his brother’s death. While there was a interesting narrative to follow, BlueSky allowed players a tremendous amount of freedom within the game to explore and develop their character as they saw fit. There was a multitude of jobs to take on, from data hacker to meat shield, and variety of criminal gangs to associate with or run from. The game world was large and exploring its numerous nooks and crannies provided a great sense of accomplishment.

A key title for Genesis collectors, look to pay around $25 for a complete version of Shadowrun. A loose cartridge should not be worth more than $8.

Shinu

srmegacdcover.jpgSeveral years later, Japan received their own Shadowrun game, this time for the fading Mega CD. Published by Compile in 1996, the Mega CD version of Shadowrun was created by Group SNE, a Japanese developer with deep tabletop role playing game credentials. In the late 80’s the company had helped to kick start the Nippon gaming scene with their Sword World rule books and later created the much beloved Record of Lodoss War. Adapting the material to fit Japanese tastes, Group SNE’s Shadowrun went in a very different direction from the previous Western designed games. For their version, the developer created a complex point-and-click adventure with lush, anime graphics. While the previous two Shadowrun games handled combat in real-time, Shadowrun for the Mega CD employed a turn-based tactical system in the style of Shining Force or Arc the Lad with combat results decided by animated rolling dice.

Unfortunately for importers, Shadowrun for the Mega CD is heavy with text and those without fairly high level Japanese language skills will have a hard time progressing through the game. Still, if you must have it, search online and expect to pay about $65.

Although the FASA Corporation has ceased operation as a game publisher, Shadowrun lives on. The tabletop rules are now in their 4th edition and are being published by FanPro . Roc (an imprint of New American Library, which is part of the Penguin Group) is also publishing a new set of tie-in novels. Microsoft owns FASA Interactive (now called FASA Studio) and is currently preparing a multiplayer, first-person shooter set in the Shadowrun universe for the Xbox 360 and Vista to be released later this year.

Further Reading: Playing Catch Up: Shadowrun’s Paul Kid interview by Alistair Wallis, Gamasutra, November 2, 2006

Images: (C) 2001-2006 WizKids Inc./Fantasy Productions All Rights Reserved

[Jeffrey Fleming is an East Bay writer. To read more, please visit Tales of the Future.]