Feature: A Year in Development - Yacht Club Games on Digging In With Shovel Knight

"We couldn't feel more honored that people still care about Shovel Knight"

In this series of features we invite 'Nindies' to share thoughts on their experiences in 2016. In this entry we chat to David D'Angelo of Yacht Club Games; we discuss another year of evolution for Shovel Knight, including its retail release in Japan and ongoing free updates.

It's the end of another year and Shovel Knight is still making headlines; first of all, did you expect to still be talking about shovelry at the end of 2016?

Definitely not! We couldn't feel more honored that people still care deeply about Shovel Knight and all of the new content!

It's been a year of brand building, in a sense, with Shovel Knight making cameos in Mutant Mudds Super Challenge, Azure Striker Gunvolt 2 and Yooka-Laylee. Can you talk about how these appearances came together, and perhaps some of the quirks of bringing the character into these games (and their diverse art styles)?

Typically with our cameos the developers have reached out to us as they were excited about the possibilities of having Shovel Knight in their worlds. It's really thrilling for us to see Shovel Knight in new environments, so we're happy to be a part of the fun. Honestly, we usually don't have to do much from our end as all the developers we've worked with have been top notch and very respectful of the IP. Yooka-Laylee was an especially fun one though as we created the 3D model in-house. It was enjoyable to leave the second dimension for a bit! Gunvolt was incredible - it was amazing to work with Masaya Suzuki to design the Shovel Knight sprite. What a legend!

Typically with our cameos the developers have reached out to us as they were excited about the possibilities of having Shovel Knight in their worlds.

A major moment came, of course, with Nintendo helping to bring Shovel Knight to physical retail Japan. First of all, how did that process and release differ most notably from your experiences in Western markets?

It was great! It's a ton of work for the team here to handle submissions, create box art, do marketing activities, etc, and it's especially tough for us in territories we aren't living in! Having a partner we trust to handle those bits was quite a relief. We have to mention that 8-4, our localization partner, was key in working with Nintendo to make it happen!

The game seemed to review well in Famitsu, for example; was the reaction from Japanese players everything you hoped it would be?

We were definitely happy with the game's reception. Famitsu even sent us an award! It was super cool! The game didn't sell as many units as our wildest dreams, but it did have a solid showing. To think that the game creators and players that inspired us in the NES era could now experience the game...well, it felt very special to say the least.

Was that Japanese launch a success, from your perspective?

Yes! We were really happy with the localization and the game release in general. We hope Shovel Knight is a continued success in Japan for many years to come! Hopefully it paves the way for more indie games too!

In December you revealed Specter of Torment as a 'prequel' at The Game Awards; is the target to release that on all platforms (including Wii U and 3DS) at the same time? Also, will the amiibo unlock anything extra with that prequel?

We're still figuring out our release plan as it's a massive undertaking given the number of platforms, languages, and regions we currently support. We're also trying to figure out how to let everyone understand just how new, expansive, and special Specter of Torment is to play. So stay tuned!

Once again it's another free update, which is great for players but must be an interesting scenario for you as a business. When we spoke with you last year you highlighted that sales were still accumulating despite updates being free. Has momentum remained solid in 2016, and have you ever considered charging for these extras (perhaps with the exception of Kickstarter backers)?

We've definitely lost some momentum this year, but given we didn't release anything new, we're still shocked at how well it's selling. Of course, we have considered charging for the additional updates, but we are adamant about sticking to our promises!

As a company, we have the inability to put out something we don't think will surprise, delight, and defy people's expectations.

You also told us last year your goal was "to completely finish Shovel Knight in 2016". Are there any particular factors that have prevented you from reaching that goal?

Our ambitions, ha! As a company, we have the inability to put out something we don't think will surprise, delight, and defy people's expectations. Unfortunately, that tends to mean our content takes a long time! Hopefully our players think it's worth the wait!

Is there still yet more to come after Specter Knight, such as King Knight / Battle Mode / Gender Swap?

Yep! Everything is still planned to be released! There is a lot more awesome content in the pipe; we can't wait to blow everyone away in 2017!

Overall, in a snapshot, how would you summarise 2016 for Yacht Club Games and Shovel Knight?

For us it felt like a quiet year! We're looking forward to all the cool content we've been working hard on finally seeing the light of day next year.

Finally, what's your biggest goal for 2017?

Complete Shovel Knight! Deliver some great final updates to the game, and wow everyone! We hope everyone looks forward to everything we're making. It's going to be a big year for fans of Yacht Club Games!