WayForward is a company that seems to have two very different representations of itself. There's the contracting company that takes on projects for third-parties, some of which are excellent, crowd-pleasing projects and other movie spin-offs that perhaps aren't, and then there's WayForward the developer of its own popular, download-only IPs. The latter is ultimately the more powerful identity, and while the Mighty games have plenty of fans, it's the Shantae franchise that seems to have the most dedicated and vocal of the company's fan-bases.
3DS owners can look forward to Shantae And The Pirate's Curse later this year, but the company made headlines recently when it launched a Kickstarter campaign for Shantae: Half-Genie Hero. This'll be the first time that the iconic character will be stepping off portable devices and onto TVs, with the Wii U eShop included in its list of platforms; it's well on track to reach its funding goal, sitting on over $260,000 of its $400,000 target with 21 days to go at the time of writing.
Keen to learn more about how this project came about, we caught up with Matt Bozon, WayForward's Creative Director, to talk over the new HD project.
Nintendo Life: Firstly, can you explain the beginnings and processes that kicked off the Shantae: Half-Genie Hero project?
Matt Bozon: I’m looking back at concept art and creative documents — the initial germ of the project...
It looks like we started in October of 2011. We wanted to have a new HD Shantae for the launch of the Wii U, but as we drew closer it became clear that we should shift gears. We put Half-Genie Hero on low burn, and focused instead on Mighty Switch Force! Hyper Drive Edition. During that time, I kept tweaking the Shantae design and adding concept artwork here and there. We didn’t get a full team on the proof-of-concept demo (the Kickstarter video) until around E3 of this year.
We considered remaking Shantae (Game Boy Color) in HD, but finally landed on a new game that would run parallel to our current tech efforts.
NL: Kickstarter has been around for a little while now and has seen successes and failures alike. How is the WayForward team approaching crowdfunding?
MB: We were cautious. We had team meetings for several months to consider how we’d approach it, or even if we should. Eventually we began a proposal… kind of a dry run (also in 2011) for Sigma Star Saga “2” for 3DS. The design team learned everything we could about Kickstarter, funded some, watched the idea gain popularity, and ultimately decided to scrap it and start over. We considered remaking Shantae (Game Boy Color) in HD, but finally landed on a new game that would run parallel to our current tech efforts.
NL: Is there any concern about the additional pressures that Kickstarter can bring, such as managing backer’s expectations and hitting targets?
MB: Our backers have been really enthusiastic, we’re really looking forward to working with them throughout the entire process. It may require more detailed explanations than we're used to, but we're eager to help educate everyone on the development process. I think it’s going to be fun!
NL: It’s been described as a project beyond a typical independent game budget for WayForward. Can you expand on that?
MB: Yes, it helps to think of WayForward as a contractor with a day job, which is making games for other publishers. This is how we earn our keep. By night (often literally) we work on our pet projects. In a typical year we’ll have 6 or more projects running in parallel, and if we run things efficiently, we can put maybe 5% of our savings into an original game. For example, by making Silent Hill BOM, Happy Feet 2, Adventure Time Hey Ice King, iCarly Groovy Foodie, Build-a-Bear, Double Dragon Neon, Lalaloopsy, and Hotel Transylvania (phew) we were able to sock away enough funds to create Mighty Switch Force! 2. To make a multi-console game, we’d need to save up for more than a few years. To partner with a publisher would mean giving up the rights to our creation. To get our audience more games, or bigger games, crowdfunding makes a lot of sense.
NL: With so many platforms being supported, does that multi-platform approach — at least to that degree — pose new challenges for the studio?
MB: Not really, it just requires a larger team these days. Ducktales: Remastered and Smurfs 2 helped to widen our pipeline.
NL: Shantae has always been a portable series. Knowing that people will be playing on a TV this time around, are any design philosophies being tweaked?
MB: Definitely. We’re only scratching the surface of that subject. The demo video plays it very “safe” by showing things that have always worked before. To make it feel right for consoles some of the handheld sensibilities will need to change. If our handheld Shantaes could be compared to Simon’s Quest, then Half-Genie Hero could become our Symphony of the Night.
NL: How about bringing this particular franchise to HD? Can you tell us about adopting a new visual style to suit these platforms?
MB: I hoped that by creating a new look for the series; it would help everyone to jump in at the same time. This game won’t release at least 10 months after “Pirate’s Curse”, so anyone who feels that they skipped the Shantae series won’t have any reason to pass on this one since we’re all starting fresh. It’s a happier, more playful style than has appeared on consoles for a while. This should be a feel-good adventure with elements of danger and mystery, some humor, and a lot of playful animation and big moments. We wanted a visual style that would elevate the charm and playfulness.
NL: Does your experience to date with the Wii U help with that version, and can you tell us if it’ll have any unique features to utilise the GamePad?
MB: Yes, it’s good to have a couple of Wii U titles under us. Our plan currently is to have inventory on the touch screen, with the option for players to use off-TV play.
NL: Assuming the core chapters will be part of the initial project (and not episodic), will the stretch goal chapters, if unlocked, arrive with the main game, delay release or be additional DLC?
This game won’t release at least 10 months after “Pirate’s Curse”, so anyone who feels that they skipped the Shantae series won’t have any reason to pass on this one since we’re all starting fresh.
MB: No, if those goals are reached they’ll be woven seamlessly into the game. To hearken back to my Symphony of the Night comparison, not meeting the stretch goal might be like not having the Catacombs locations, boss, and creatures that lurk in that area. It would still be a great game, but it would have one less area to explore.
NL: At this stage, how confident are you of hitting your initial and stretch goals?
MB: We’re only a week in, and are nearly 2/3 funded. So, it’s looking pretty good for reaching those stretch goals.
NL: What can you tell us about Jake Kaufman’s soundtrack? Will an album be released?
MB: Most likely. Jake is juggling both the Pirate’s Curse and Half-Genie Hero soundtracks, and both will sound very different. Music is a third of every game in my mind… this is an incredibly important element, so I’m hoping people will be able to enjoy the music even after they’ve conquered the game. Heck, I’m listening to the Castlevania: the Adventure (Game Boy) soundtrack in my car right now. I think this music will stick with people.
NL: WayForward has two flagship properties — the Mighty series and the Shantae series — that star women as the main protagonists. What’s the inspiration for this?
MB: Our heroes (er… heroines) are designed to characterize our gameplay, and both Shantae and Patricia do that very well. Patricia is confident, decisive, and aggressive just like her play mechanics. Shantae is inexperienced, curious, hot-headed and alluring and wanting to grow and adapt — just like her gameplay.
NL: Is there a particular message for fans and potential backers of this project that you’d like to share?
MB: Yes! Thank you for believing in our work. We’re really glad you enjoy our games, and we are working like crazy to increase the number of original WayForward games out in the world. We really want to improve our average of 1 original game for every 10-20 “for hire” games. To do that we need help from our fans! If you haven’t funded Shantae Half-Genie Hero yet, please head over to Kickstater (http://kck.st/1e7PwHu) and do it!
We'd like to thank Matt Bozon for his time.