Mitch Gitelman: You’re okay.
Intellectual properties are a fickle thing, especially when it comes to fans of said franchises. Fans can be sent into a panic over the slightest transitions, be it a new company picking up the rights for it, a director or a writer making radical changes to established canon, or the whispers of the dreaded “reboot.”
It doesn’t matter what fandom you follow; each one has its own particular idiom and temperament, some more volatile than others. Anime fans have their trend and cosplay snobs, Tolkien purists won’t stop “quoting the man himself,” Ghostbusters fans won’t accept you unless you constructed all of your props accurately and by hand, and steampunk…well, there’s a good chunk of the steampunk community that are nigh-quixotic in their delusion of the Victorian lifestyle. Granted, these are all extreme examples, but the fact remains that fans can get ugly.
Fans are their ugliest for the people they perceive to be “enemies of their fandom.” Each franchise has it’s public enemy #1; that one person that everyone agrees should stay as far away from their beloved fandom as humanly possible. For Resident Evil, it would be Paul W.S. Anderson, Some would argue George Lucas for Star Wars, and director Uwe Boll for…I guess everything.
I don’t really blame fans that much. Snobishness aside, it’s hard to see something you love ruined. I’ve felt the sting of betrayal being part of a fandom that basically packed up and left, or was taken over by someone who I thought was drunk at the wheel, only to get my favorite IP wrecked at the side of the road after having done millions in property damage and taken lives in the process.
I think I got my ugliest for the Shadowrun franchise. Any reader of this blog knows that Shadowrun is one of my favorite (at least top 3) Role-Playing game franchises of all time, and it has a wealth of history and material. From 1989 to today, Shadowrun boasts a nearly quarter-century of tabletop game materials, fiction, merchandise, video games, and board games. It has changed hands a few times, but the core of Shadowrun has remained relatively unchanged throughout those 20+ years. Not many fandoms can claim that.
So, when an announcement of a new Shadowrun game comes during one of the “dry” periods of Shadowrun history, I was excited as hell to see Shadowrun back in the spotlight, coming to the next-gen systems. I have fond memories of the Sega Genesis Shadowrun, and I also enjoyed the Super Nintendo Shadowrun. The thought of a brand new RPG for the XBox 360 was had me crawling the walls in anticipation…
…but that flame of hope for a good Shadowrun game was quickly extinguished. The reason? Three words: FIRST. PERSON. SHOOTER. Yep, instead of making the role-playing game into a role-playing game, Shadowrun was shoehorned into the “default X-Box genre” that I’ve become extremely sick of. I suppose I could go on for another six paragraphs about how much I thought the game failed, but I think it’s track record speaks for itself. Hell, even Catalyst Game Labs decided to distance itself from the XBox game by saying that it was “loosely based on Shadowrun.”
My point is, that I encapsulated all of my hatred for what many thought was a systematic dismantling of the Shadowrun franchise in a single man; the project leader for Shadowrun for the XBox:
I hated Mitch Gitelman. He was the Uwe Boll of Shadowrun. Was my hatred irrational? Yes, it was, but behaviors on both fan and developers’ sides of the fence didn’t really help matters any.
A few years back I was part of a small group that had made an attempt at the Shadowrun MMO long before Cliffhanger Studios swept in. to be honest, however, Cliffhanger is doing something BETTER than what we had planned…we were on our way to making another re-skinned World of Warcraft. We were a small group, but our heart was in the right place. I was working on a few things; art design, mage/shaman design, and story-writing. We did not have a vital advantage, however; that of having the legal rights to the Shadowrun I.P. That’s a big thing to NOT have. However, the team left worrying about that detail to our project leader. He assured us that we had permission to produce a “proof of concept demo” that we may show to Microsoft in hopes of getting approval. Well, either we were lied to, or our mention on media sites pissed someone off, because the day after the leak, we got slapped with a Cease & Desist order. Upset as we were over the issue, I have a suspicion that the project workers weren’t getting the whole story about the debacle. With that, several weeks of my life and the work I put into it was confiscated as property of Microsoft. Our little group dissolved quickly after.
Needless to say, this did not help my opinion of Mitch, as I saw him and Microsoft as a singular, Borg-like entity.
On Mitch’s end though, I saw rant after puerile rant about how no one is being fair to him and his design team, raging against people for very valid complaints about the game (price point, lack of single-player support, derivation from Shadowrun lore, etc.), insulting online reviewers by saying that they’re not really journalists, but “fans who learned to type.” (as if their opinion is any less valid) Then, he went so far as to outright insult long-time Shadowrun fans on podcasts. I can’t recall the title of the OXM podcast, but one quote of Mitch’s stuck with me for a VERY long time: He tells us that his kid asked him why people hate him, to which he answered, “Because I killed their inner 12-year olds.”
Class act, Mitch.
Eventually, FASA folded 4 months after the game’s release, and Shadowrun now sits at the bottom of the bargain games bin, where I begrudgingly picked it up and forked over the ten dollars to get it purely out of Shadowrun brand loyalty. I played it, and my opinion hasn’t changed. Is it a pretty game? Sure! Is it a GOOD game? Well…no. I have often wondered how friggin’ cool it would have been if Deux Ex: Human Revolution had been a Shadowrun game; just add in magic and metahumans. That’s neither here nor there, however. Shadowrun had a larger destiny ahead.
Fast Forward to 2012. A little company-that-could called Harebrained Schemes utilized the Kickstarter program to fund a humble little project called Shadowrun Returns. I watched the Kickstarter video, and was floored when I saw the face of Jordan Weisman smiling back at me. You might have heard of this guy; he’s only the CREATOR OF THE SHADOWRUN UNIVERSE! I watched on and got a little clip in the video that made me laugh my ass off: Mitch Gitelman getting pegged with random thrown objects while holding up a sign reading “SORRY!” I thought this was a joke at first, and I thought, “he does resemble Mitch Gitelman.” When I checked out the actual Harebrained Schemes website, my heart sank when I saw that Mitch was actually the co-founder of the company itself.
“Oh Lord,” I thought, “this is going to suck.”
Over the next month or two, I read everything I could on the game, and saw the game’s first art assets. I fell in love. I flashed back to those halcyon days of my early teens and my first discovery of Shadowrun, ironically enough for this article, through video games. I was playing Shadowrun again on the Genesis and SNES. I was excitedly telling my friends I just found out that the Genesis game we love is an actual RPG. I was reliving the days of my friends and I spending every waking moment of the weekends playing the RPG. I was back in that sixth world for the very first time…again.
Shadowrun Returns thus far has encapsulated everything I love about Shadowrun. I felt like a kid in love again, like this whole project was a love letter addressed specifically to me (Yes, I KNOW it isn’t, but lemme dream, dammit!). This game is a perfect storm; gorgeous art, nostalgic music given a modern facelift, the freedom of development of a class-less/level-less system, and best of all, that “soul” of Shadowrun that made it a hit in the first place. Top that sundae off with the promise of official expansions and user-created content, and you’re looking at the primary reason this project met it’s goal within TWO DAYS! Not only that, but it got over four times what it asked for!
Then, I started to have some misgivings…but not about the game.
I started to watch Mitch’s movements on the board, reading the things that he’s written. I also paid close attention to the Q & A videos with Jordan Weisman. I was seeing and hearing a very different person than I remembered. Was this really Mitch, or was this some bizzaro pod person? I see a humble Mitch Gitelman, able to laugh at his own foibles, addressing fan concerns, wise to all the things that make a great Shadowrun game.
Now, here I am, a couple weeks after the turn of the new year; the Year of Shadowrun. The New Year is supposed to be all about new beginnings. We resolve ourselves to make changes for the better. We choose to forgive those we believe have wronged us, and we try to be a little more understanding.
I feel like it’s time I put this whole thing with Mitch to rest.
To say “I forgive him” would be arrogant on my part. He hasn’t done anything specifically to wrong me. To say that “I’m sorry” would be to reverse my opinion on the 2007 game, and to say that I had no right to be upset at some of the things said by Mitch. The fact remains, though, that Shadowrun Returns is turning out to be nothing short of amazing, and being that he’s the co-founder of Harebrained Schemes, he is at least half to “blame” for this amazing project.
There was a very recent interview which really shined a new light on Mitch:
Here’s the quote that inspired this article:
“Although they’re an easy target for many, I will not vilify Microsoft. My bosses made plenty of mistakes but so did I. There’s plenty of blame to go around. But the thing for fans to understand is that the deviation from Shadowrun fiction was not the result of Microsoft’s creative interference. It was a byproduct of a bad situation. But that’s in the past and I’m working hard to correct it with Shadowrun Returns.”
Indeed you have, Mitch. You’ve taken that bad situation, and you have most definitely corrected it. I’m actually pleased to see Mitch’s metamorphosis from villain of the Shadowrun franchise to one of it’s saviors. What’s even more important, is this: If Mitch Gitelman can change, grow, and move on, then so can I.
Mitch Gitelman, you’re okay.
You’ve completely changed my opinion of you. to me, you’re the poster boy for “People who deserve a second chance.” If I ever meet you in person (at GenCon or the like), your next Soycaf’s on my Nuyen!
These boys said it best: