Developer Interview: Yacht Club Games On Shovel Knight And Loving Nintendo
Posted by Damien McFerran
"We grew up playing Nintendo games on the NES and SNES"
Yesterday we reported that Yacht Club Games' Kickstarter campaign for Shovel Knight had hit its funding target with two weeks to spare. Fresh from this success, studio founder Sean Velasco kindly took some time out of his busy schedule to speak to us about the split from WayForward Technologies, development of Shovel Knight and plans for the future.
Nintendo Life: Congratulations on hitting your funding goal! Before we speak about Shovel Knight, can you give us a bit of background on why you left WayForward to form Yacht Club Games?
Sean Velasco: The game industry has grown a lot over the years. WayForward has grown with it, from a company of 20 people when I started, to something like 90, last time I was told. The team at Yacht Club Games was eager to develop original games in a small, close-knit team setting. As time went by, it became clear we needed to break, so we set sail for new horizons as Yacht Club Games!
NL: What's the set-up like at Yacht Club Games? How many people do you currently have at the studio?
SV: We have a pretty flat structure at The Yacht Club, which is currently about half a dozen people. We work with agile development methods, and each member has many different roles, as you would expect with a studio of this size. We get together, make a plan, and have a blast making fun stuff! After we receive our Kickstarter cash we'll be establishing a single office space. For now, we are both telecommuting and working together from home.
NL: Shovel Knight clearly owes a big debt to 8-bit NES platformers — which retro games would you say have provided the most inspiration?
SV: We mention Castlevania and Mega Man in the Kickstarter, but Zelda II, Super Mario Bros.3 and many more games gave us inspiration. The down thrust from Zelda II was a particular mechanic we enjoy a ton. While we are taking lessons from these titles, we're also making Shovel Knight a creatively unique experience on its own merits.
NL: Which modern titles have influenced the design of the game? Dark Souls was mentioned on the Kickstarter page...
SV: Clearly, 20 years of game design evolution have led to some great conclusions. We plan on using plenty of modern designs in Shovel Knight. With regards to Dark Souls, we love the weighty, metered approach to combat. We also like the way that Dark Souls deals with death, failure and level progression. We want to do something more than the typical "3 lives" for Shovel Knight, so expect some interesting developments on those fronts.
SV: I was not involved in WayForward's DuckTales reboot, although I peered over my cube wall to watch the luscious visuals occasionally. I'm happy to see DuckTales, both as a fan and as a former WayForward guy. It looks awesome!
NL: Will the Wii U and 3DS versions be identical, or do you intend to exploit the unique features of each platform?
SV: We definitely want to have off-screen play for the Wii U version, and the 3DS will have eye-popping stereoscopic visuals. The touch screen / GamePad screen will likely serve similar functions, although we aren't sure about that functionality yet. Finally, one of our Kickstarter stretch goals is a 4 player couch-play battle mode, which would not be available on 3DS. We want to take advantage of whatever each platform may offer, while still offering the same core experience.
NL: Roughly how much play time will the game feature?
SV: While we hope that the best players will be able to speed run the game in an hour or so, I would expect a first time playthrough to be much longer, maybe along the 5 to 8 hour mark. Think something like Super Metroid, where the initial playthrough does a lot of teaching.
NL: You've said that Shovel Knight belongs on a Nintendo system. Are you big fans of the company at Yacht Club Games?
SV: While we love all of our platforms, we grew up playing Nintendo games on the NES and SNES. Nintendo has a long history of making the best-designed games on the planet, and without them, many of us at the Yacht Club wouldn't be in this industry. For Shovel Knight, a game rooted in our love of this era, being on Nintendo platforms made lots of sense!
NL: Why did you decide to use Kickstarter to fund this project?
SV: Kickstarter lets us focus on community interaction and also allows us to make a game on our own terms. It's a great platform for creative endeavors, and we're really glad it's around. Without Kickstarter, Shovel Knight probably wouldn't have seen the light of day!
NL: What plans do you have for the future? Will we see more projects for the Wii U eShop and 3DS?
SV: Right now, more projects seem like a long time away, as we're very focused on Shovel Knight and the Kickstarter. That said, our minds have often wandered onto follow-ups like Super Shovel Knight, or maybe even Shovel Knight 64! We also have ideas for totally different games, including a couple of projects we already have art and designs for. Recently, the Wii U and 3DS have captured our attention, so I would not be surprised if we ended up with another game on one or the other!
NL: What's it like developing on Nintendo's hardware?
SV: Programmer Ian Flood can field this one:
Developing on Nintendo platforms, especially the more recent generations, is a lot of fun! Nintendo has their own way of solving problems and so it's always interesting to get into their mindset. The features of the system itself also comes with unique implementation questions like "How can the secondary screen best be used?", "How will this title use 3D?", or "What kind of data should we send with StreetPass?" meaning that we always get to add a little extra Nintendo flavor even when a game is on multiple platforms. Thankfully, the unique Nintendo console features are always neatly wrapped up and a joy to work with.
NL: What kind of contact have you had with Nintendo so far? Has the company been pleasant to work with?
SV: From what we have seen, Nintendo seems to be creating a fertile environment for indies, easing their requirements for development kits and making the eShop process more streamlined. We have a Nintendo contact that has really helped us a ton, and we are grateful for that. So yes, so far so good!
NL: Will Yacht Club Games remain exclusively in the digital download arena, or are you open to working with boxed products as well, within the traditional publishing model?
SV: The future is wide open for Yacht Club Games. We'd be happy to do a boxed game, or a game with a larger scope, in the future. But let us make sure we can finish Shovel Knight first!
Thanks to Sean for taking the time to speak with us! Thanks to Crowsmack for the main image used for this feature.