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An Interview with Yacht Club Games (<i>Shovel Knight</i>)

cudpug: (cudpug-deleteme[at]-deleteme-direman [dot] com) 2013-04-26 10:14:04

An Interview with Yacht Club Games (Shovel Knight)

Lots of people are excited for Yacht Club Games' retro adventure, Shovel Knight (PC/Wii U/3DS). Almost 15,000 people, in fact, are eagerly awaiting the game, having collectively funded it with over $300,000 on Kickstarter. Having raised enough to reach all of the campaign stretch goals, the final product will include a 4-player battle mode as well as myriad other features that are certain to delight gamers in need of a retro fix. I spoke to Nick Wozniak, self-confessed 'Artmancer' on the project, to find out what we can expect from Shovel Knight:

Alex Phillimore: Hi, Nick. Firstly, could you tell us a bit about how the idea for Shovel Knight and the eponymous character's weapon of choice, the ShovelBlade, came about?

Nick Wozniak: Hello! The formation of Shovel Knight is something that we approached much in the same way that some of the greatest game designers of the past have: mechanics first. Specifically, Shovel Knight as an idea was born from a lunch conversation that we had over whether or not a game could be made completely around the Zelda II downthrust.That mechanic is something that really seems to resonate with each of us as uniquely satisfying so our discussion then led to pondering what that game would actually look like. The player would probably be flipping enemies over to attack their soft underbellies, bouncing across great distances on the heads of their enemies, or maybe even digging through a bunch of dirt. When we took a step back to look at what we were describing, the idea of a shovel wielding hero naturally formed. Thus was born our eponymous hero, Shovel Knight: the shoveling knight.

AP: Shovel Knight looks to be a great example of retro platforming, complete with those lovely, NES-inspired graphics. Why did you decide to make Shovel Knight to this aesthetic?

NW: Nintendo games make up a lot of each of our childhood experiences and doing something that harkens back to that era in each our lives has always been something we've been interested in doing. As we conceived of the game in a very traditional way, it seemed natural that we'd do the same with the art. What the NES-style graphics bring to the table, besides their inherent visual appeal, is the ability to rapidly iterate on gameplay without the art holding us back. It's really great to conceive of and implement an enemy in just a day or two!

AP: What games would you list as influences in the creative process behind Shovel Knight?

NW: The crew over here draws from many sources of influence but the games that have specifically left their mark on Shovel Knight are Mega Man, Zelda 2, Castlevania, and a little bit of Dark Souls. It's pretty easy to see the NES legacy in Shovel Knight but Dark Souls, at first glance, seems a little out of place. However, after playing it, Dark Souls has left an indelible impression on us as developers; especially regarding how player experiences death, loss, and how the game sets up a value system based on those 2 concepts.

AP: The 3DS is already home to some great retro platforming games, such as Renegade Kid's Mutant Mudds. Now that the Kickstarter for Shovel Knight has been funded, how does it feel to know that your game is coming to the 3DS and Wii U?

NW: It feels great to know that we'll be on the platforms for the company that inspired us as kids so long ago. The idea that we could be inspiring the game developers of the future in the same way that we were inspired by games on the NES and SNES brings a smile to our face and tear to our eye.

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AP: In addition to the work of Jake Kaufman, well done for getting Manami Matsumae, the composer for Mega Man and many other excellent games, to compose two tracks for Shovel Knight! How does it feel to have such influential composers working on your game and how did these relationships come about?

NW: Working with a living legend like Manami Matsumae is something that none of us anticipated. We were contacted by Mohammed Taher from Koopa Soundworks ( www.Koopa.tv ) as he was working on a chip-tune collaboration album with her and many other well known musicians. He had the unique ability to support Shovel Knight by putting us in touch with Matsumae-san and we jumped at the chance. Jake is very close to the team and is probably the most excited out of all of us to get such a rare opportunity to work with someone of her caliber!

AP: Shovel Knight has a great collection of villains bubbling with personality: The Order of No Quarter. Could you explain the creative process behind their design?

NW: All of the designs for the Order started as a brainstorm of concepts and words. Once we figured out the general theming and names of each knight Erin started working on the visual concepts for each one. When a sketch was obtained that everyone seemed to like, the pixel model was created by Woz. After the pixel model fit the game world and felt NES-y enough, a large illustration was made by Erin to finalize the knight's look. It's a long process but every step of the way has helped build the exciting cadre of villains you see now!

AP: On the Kickstarter page you describe Shovel Knight as 'a hot mashup of new and old'. Could you tell us a bit about some of the features in the game that could be considered 'new' and some that could be considered 'old'?

NW: There are a lot of things that the past 20+ years in gaming has taught us both as players and as game developers. With Shovel Knight we are trying to create a game that fits in with the modern game-space as something unique and new while also staying true to its roots. A good example of this is how we are re-thinking death and loss and the value system created when the two work in harmony. Another is the way in which we tell a story; with 20+ years of story telling in video games to look back on, the way that seems the most exciting to us is when the world the player lives in tells most of the story. Remember in Super Metroid when you came across the dead space marine outside of the door on your way to fight Kraid? Why was he/she there? How did they fail? What could have killed someone seemingly armed as well as I am? What's going to happen on the other side of this door? As soon as you see that, you are aware that something serious is about to happen and your mind is swirling with questions and ideas. The player, in this instance, is engaged in the narrative of the world without a single spoken word or break in the gameplay. By combining gameplay and visuals, we hope to inform the player of the world that they've stepped into while playing Shovel Knight!

AP: At this point in development, can you comment on how many stages or levels there will roughly be in the game?

NW: Each boss will have their own themed stage seemingly custom made for their personalities along with a set of levels that make up the final stronghold of the Enchantress. Beyond that, the world map will be dense with optional areas to visit, like towns, shops, or even special challenge areas.

AP: On your Kickstarter page, you make a comparison between Shovel Knight and Dark Souls. Can we expect Shovel Knight to have a high difficulty level?

NW: The difficulty in Dark Souls and Demon Souls is something that we all really enjoy because it is something that can be learned and tackled. I would hesitate to say that the difficulty will be Dark/Demon's Souls level, but the best way we've found to describe the challenge level of Shovel Knight would be to say that the game will be harder than Mega Man II on "Normal" but easier than Mega Man II on "Hard".

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AP: How did you determine the original $75,000 goal for the Kickstarter?

NW: 75K was a number we reached after a lot of deliberation and discussion. There's a lot of factors to weigh when determining the cost of any development like how many people are going to be working full-time on it, what other expenses will need to be addressed, the cost of the rewards, how much is Kickstarter's cut, oh hey, there's this additional fee that amazon payments takes...etc. There are other factors to consider too! Are we going to get an office as a result, are we seeking just the bare minimum, will people think that 75K is too much, how much comfort buffer do we add in for a contingency fund? After a lot of talking about it, we came to the decision that our most basic expenses should be our initial goal and anything on top of that will be what we use to enhance the working environment and living situation.

AP: Now that you have exceeded this amount, what will these extra resources go towards?

NW: We hit 4 times our initial goal! The level of the generosity of our fans is truly stunning and with those extra resources, we'll be able to hit a lot of the stretch goals that we announced ( like 4 player battle mode! ). Also, now that we are funded to that extent we can provide things like health insurance, office space and more job security beyond the initial release of the game. That extra money isn't just for Shovel Knight, it's helping start Yacht Club Games as a company that will hopefully live for years into the future and we could not be more excited!!!!

AP: Several backers have donated $1,000 to Shovel Knight. How does it feel knowing that over 14,700 people are eager to play your game, and how does this motivate you to deliver a great product?

NW: It's a lot of pressure!!! But more than anything it's vindication and a beacon of hope to know that there are already almost 15 thousand people eagerly awaiting the game's release. Some of them are so sold on the game and us as a company, that they are willing to give us $1000 and that just blows our minds!

AP: What do you feel are the benefits to Kickstarter as a platform for independent game development?

NW: There's a lot of really great benefits we've seen that Kickstarter, and crowd-funding in general, allows that are invaluable tools for us. By running this campaign, we've been able to generate a fanbase and a community that is actively interested in seeing us succeed and is making sure we know about it. There are few things as encouraging in this world than that! One of the other benefits we've found is the complete autonomy available by funding our game via Kickstarter. We've had a lot of experience in the past working with publishers and even though some publishers will allow you to act with a certain level of freedom, the complete discretion over 100% of the development of a game is something we've always wanted. Now that we have that freedom, we have all kinds of exciting ideas swirling around for where we want to take Shovel Knight, and we have only our fans to answer to!

AP: Any additional comments you would like to make.

We read all of our mail! So please don't hesitate to shoot us any questions/comments/fanart you might have over to support@yachtclubgames.com! If you want the latest updates in REAL-TIME for all things Yacht Club, follow our Twitter, check out our Facebook page and since we are constantly live streaming us doing pixel art, playing video games and generally being professional man-children, follow our Twitch channel. The future is bright for Shovel Knight and Yacht Club Games and it's only because of our fans that we are able to do anything! We are eternally grateful and hope your enthusiasm and commitment are richly rewarded when Shovel Knight comes out later this year!

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