In this short interview Nintendo Life features contributor Alan Lopez caught up with David D'Angelo of Yacht Club Games, who spoke on behalf of the entire Shovel Knight creative team.
Shovel Knight is a download-only 8-bit platformer. Alone, these qualifiers hardly separate it from many games in the indie game stratosphere, good or bad. Yet Yacht Club Games' creation has held up to become one of the most endearing downloadable titles in recent history. We caught up with the team at Yacht Club Games on the eve of their new DLC release "Shovel Knight: Plague of Shadows", to discuss how they managed to separate their game from all the competition, what it's like to develop in retrograde, and what they have up their sleeves next.
Recently going back to my file of Shovel Knight, the novelty of playing a retro-styled game really has taken a back seat to a gameplay experience that ultimately feels all its own. How did the team split the difference between homage and parody? Was it conscious at all?
We actually avoided parody at all costs! We wanted the game to be inspired by game designs, stories, art, etc from the NES era, but we wanted the game to live as something that could have been created in that era. To be something that could stand on its own, it meant Shovel Knight had to be devoid of references and parody. We wanted any person who picked up Shovel Knight to be able to enjoy every aspect of it, even if they had never touched an NES game before.
Would you attribute any of Shovel Knight's success to, perhaps, superior elaboration on what made the 8-bit generation so compelling?
I definitely think Shovel Knight's success is due to the brilliant designs of the 8-bit generation. Those games were fun, impacting, emotional, joyous, and much more. A lot of the feelings and enjoyment found in those game designs have been lost in today's age. I think having those elements be present again brought back great memories to a lot of people who experienced those games. And those who didn't play 8-bit games, Shovel Knight introduced that 8-bit gameplay in a way that was more approachable than booting up an NES game.
What comes first – level design or art design?
Whatever idea we can get on paper the fastest! Typically we lead by game design, but some times a brilliant art idea starts it off! Or we'll concept art ideas to try to establish gameplay possibilities.
As a child, I was always bemused at some of the grand artwork featured inside of my NES instruction booklets, only to see the actual characters in the games sometimes appeared so fleeting in comparison. To the team members who draw that beautiful artwork: What's it like seeing your fully realized drawings turned into blocky 8-bit caricatures? Does it ever happen the other way around?
It's a tough process! Typically, we actually do the process both ways. First we create a concept that is then turned into an 8 bit drawing. From the 8-bit sprite, the fully realized, final illustration is created. Squeezing a fully fleshed out illustration into a pixel model is a long, arduous process. We do it knowing some elements and magic will be lost in the process. But in other ways, the 8-bit sprites can bring out or emphasize parts of the illustration that overall make the concept much better.
From a group of developers making an indie game to a downloadable title winning national, end-of-year awards: When did you realize Shovel Knight really had "made it"?
Still haven't realized it! Ha! It's pretty tough to grasp just how many people have played and enjoyed this game. It's truly overwhelming, and we feel lucky every day that people have found so much fun in the game.
When can we expect Plague of Shadows?
We haven't figured out a date yet, but we're working every day to make it as soon as possible!
Yacht team members have written about their experience "breaking" the NES architecture to implement, in some cases, very subtle improvements. Is anyone on the team up on their architecture for, say, the Super Nintendo?
Oh definitely! Wouldn't something like Super Shovel Knight be incredible! We'd love to take the franchise through the ages. It'd be amazing to make Shovel Knight 64!
Our thanks for David D'Angelo and the team's time.