It didn’t take long after its launch last month for the crew over at Yacht Club Games to realize they had a hit on their hands with Shovel Knight. To the delight of its backers and critics alike, the game more than delivered on its Kickstarter promise as a gorgeously authentic love letter to the long gone (but not forgotten) NES era.
BagoGames: First off, congratulations on making such a kick-ass game. I had a lot of fun reviewing it.
Yacht Club Games: Thank you so much.
BG: I need to ask. Why a shovel-wielding knight?
YCG: Well, it actually originally came from a gameplay idea. We were brainstorming what we wanted our next project to be as a team and we were hovering around platformers. But, flipping enemies with an attack and then finishing them with a down-thrust attack was a core mechanic we were talking about. So we were thinking about what weapon would work in a situation like that and we realized that using a shovel was a very natural motion for that. Then we embellished a little bit more and thought “What if a shovel could be used as combat weapon?” Then we designed a character that could walk around using a shovel.
BG: Who came up with the idea for the Troupple?
YCG: Actually, the Troupple was an idea that came around before Shovel Knight was even conceived of. It was based on a crate of apples. This was a real thing! There was a trout that was being used to advertise fruit. So it was a big picture of a fish on the side of a cardboard box containing apples. Why would you use a fish to advertise apples? So, we were laughing about it and someone made a drawing on a post-it note that was a trout-apple and it said “Troupple” and it just stuck on the fridge for a long time and it was like “Man, this needs to go in Shovel Knight!” We knew we wanted to have an unstoppable dance and the Troupple King seemed like a natural choice.
BG: I assume that all of you guys, if not most of you, grew up playing NES games, am I right?
YCG: Yeah, but there are slightly different age gaps between us. I had an NES, but I received it probably a few years after it was out of its prime. But it was still like a good portion of my early game playing career.
Same here. The games that Shovel Knight represents are very much part of our gaming DNA. All of the mechanics-based platformers on the NES that focused on gameplay and aesthetics and being intuitive; it’s less the individual games and more the zeitgeist of that time period.
BG: What was it that set those classic games we all remember and love, like the ones that obviously influenced Shovel Knight, apart from the rest of 800+ NES titles that weren’t as great?
YCG: Understanding it is a big part. A lot of those games suffer because they throw you in the deep end right at the beginning. Or, they were too obtuse for players to understand why they were supposed to be fun. But, the games that we talk about have a strict presentation. Like I understand what Mega Man is about. It’s about not falling into pits and shooting robots. But some of the weirder games aren’t remembered because the mechanics just didn’t click with players.
The ones that we remember are the ones that were well designed. I think a lot of the developers were making licensed games but there was no gold standard to fall back on. The gold standard hadn’t been invented yet. Everyone was just trying everything out. Some stuff stuck and some didn’t.
BG: A lot of games that Shovel Knight draws inspiration from are obvious, like Super Mario Bros. 3, Zelda I & II, Ducktales, etc. Are there any games that had a more subtle influence on Shovel Knight that many people may not realize?
YCG: It’s tough to say because a lot of subtle influences probably had a subtle result. A good example would be the map. We used U.N. Squadron as an example of how the map can be revealed and how the fog of war could lift and more stages could be shown, but you’d still have a navigable world the whole time.
BG: What made you guys decide to forgo lives and continues for more a of Dark Souls type punishment upon death?
YCG: Well we knew early on that there is a lot of anger and hatred towards the old NES lives system. So, it seemed like an opportunity to try something different. Plus, there’s been a lot of other games coming out recently, beyond Dark Souls, that have been tuning the idea of what player death means.
I’ve never really made a game that had lives. I think “lives” is just an outdated, arbitrary way to make you go back and do it again.
BG: Some parts of Shovel Knight are REALLY tough. Was that a purposeful design choice and was there ever a point during development where you guys had to turn down the difficulty?
YCG: Turning down the difficulty was all we did! That was the prevailing idea behind every time we looked at the levels or talked about gameplay concepts. It wasn’t turning the screws on the player, but how we could provide the player a few more tools to get through a situation. In the beginning, what we ask of the player is so, so much less than what we ask of them at the end. I hate to fall back on this, but like the only difference between the first mission I do in Assassin’s Creed and the last is the setting, you know? I still need to use the exact same mechanics, and probably not even in a more complex way. We wanted to make it so that instead of the character getting better by the end, the player got better by the end, which isn’t to say we don’t have some things that make the character better, like upgrades, but they’re more like tools that some people may like to use while others do not.
As far as the difficulty goes, we wanted the players, when they finish the game, to feel a major sense of accomplishment.
BG: Speaking of difficult games, tell me about some of your worst rage quit moments.
YCG: I remember raging at Punch Out as a kid because that game is so difficult! I mean, my controller had bite marks in it as a kid. I’d just get super angry and I’d bite it!
I remember going to garage sales as a kid to get controllers multiple times and they’d have bite marks on them and I always thought “Oh they must have a dog they just can’t train!” It wasn’t until only a month ago that someone was telling me their NES story and they said they got so angry they bit the controller and I was like “Oh my god! All of those controllers had human bite marks all along!”
BG: Yeah, I’m not sure why, but I’ve bit many of my controllers.
YCG: (Laugh) Yeah, that’s such raw aggression!
BG: Now originally, Shovel Knight was slated for release on March 31st, but it was pushed just before launch. What was the reason for this?
YCG: The game wasn’t done! We needed a date to shoot for as a team, for trailers, marketing, everything. I believed that it was possible to happen and we made a lot of our designs with that date in mind. But when the date got closer, we realized that we were getting in all the stuff we wanted to get in, but it wasn’t connected. It wasn’t as thought out as we wanted it to be. We knew that if we had just a little bit more time we could balance things and make the levels float together so much better, so we decided “Well, that means the game isn’t done.” So, we realized it was better to delay the game and put more effort into it, rather than just release the game as it was.
We’ve worked on games before where we weren’t calling the shots, so when we still wanted to do stuff it was like “Too late, it’s out of your hands.” We always had to cut stuff. Sometimes that results in a more fine-tuned game, but it wasn’t a choice we wanted to make on this project.
By allowing ourselves the time to insure the quality, I think we all agree that the game was just leaps and bounds better than if we’d just shoved it out the door. Plus, our Kickstarter backers and most other people were understanding.
BG: When you guys sit down to play Shovel Knight, what is your platform of choice?
YCG: I love the 3DS version so much because of the stereoscopic depth and the StreetPass arena is a ton of fun.
I love the Wii U because I love the feel of the console and the gamepad jives with what I’m expecting. Also because the Miiverse messages that are displayed on screen is like a constant stream of funny fan art and weird puns. For me, I’ve been seeing the same game for a year and a half and to see new content piped in from the Internet when I’m playing is an exciting way to help me see it with a fresh set of eyes. Plus seeing it on a big flatscreen is really, really nice.
BG: The upcoming DLC were stretch goals, right?
YCG: That’s right. All the stretch goals that didn’t impact the main campaign of Shovel Knight.
Some of the stretch goals are actually already implemented into the game. The music player in the form of the bard is in there. New Game Plus is already in there. Achievements are in there across all platforms. But there’s a ton of really big content that we haven’t even really started on yet. We’ve got three extra, playable characters in addition to Shovel Knight so you’ll be able to play through the game with a slightly different story and totally different mobility. You’ll be able to play as King Knight, Specter Knight and Plague Knight.
This is kind of a way to break the game open and try some crazy things. On top of those characters, we’ll also have a challenge mode, which will be a series of short, but really challenging stages only one or two screens wide. There’s Gender Swap Mode which will replace all of the art for the main characters with that of the opposite sex, which will be a fun way to experiment with character design. There’s also Battle Mode, which is 4-player, single console brawl game. We wanted it to land somewhere between the original Super Mario Arcade game, and Smash Bros.
We’re going to be developing this stuff over the course of the next 9 months or something and all these updates are just going to pop up for free. On day you’re going to wake up and there will just be more Shovel Knight in your download queue, waiting for you.
BG: So all this DLC will roll out on every platform?
YCG: Yeah, the only exception is Battle Mode. Since it’s a single console 4-player mode, that can’t take place on a 3DS. So, we’ll have to see what lies in wait for the 3DS itself. Currently, Battle Mode is not planned for 3DS. We’re also planning on having a MAC and LINUX version and they’d stay up to date too.
BCG: Well thank you guys for taking the time to sit down for this interview!
YCG: Sure, thanks for covering it.
It was a lot of fun!
Shovel Knight is available now for digital download for the 3DS and Wii U in the Nintendo eShop, Humble Store, and Steam for $14.99.
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