Tuesday, August 5, 2014

SPC Interviews: Sean Velasco (Yacht Club Games)

EDIT: Forgive my dyslexia for having Sean's name as Valesco instead of how it should be "Velasco."

Hey guys. Phil here for a special treat to kick off the day for everyone. Shovel Knight recently released on the Wii U and Nintendo 3DS eShop marketplaces as well as on Steam. Not only did I give the game a glowing review, but it was also SuperPhillip Central's Game of the Month for July.

Anyhow, I had the opportunity to run some questions by the team at Yacht Club Games, makers of Shovel Knight. Director Sean Velasco, a name that might be familiar with many of you (if that name escapes you, this interview will help with that), put aside some of his time to answer my questions. Such subjects include how Yacht Club Games came to be, Shovel Knight's origins, what the team is most proud of concerning the game, favorite bosses from the game, and future prospects. Let's get started, shall we?

Phil Stortzum (PS): First of all, would you please introduce yourself and your position with Yacht Club Games?

Sean Velasco (SV): I'm Sean Velasco, one of the developers at Yacht Club Games. I am the designer and director of Shovel Knight, but we all do a lot of jobs here.

PS: How did Yacht Club Games come into fruition?

SV: We all used to work at WayForward, a company that makes mostly licensed games and is known for making great 2D sidescrollers. Our team wanted to stick together and make original games in a collaborative way. So, we decided to break off and form Yacht Club Games!

PS: What have the various team members worked on and worked with prior to Shovel Knight?

SV: We worked on games like Contra 4, A Boy and His blob, Batman: The Brave and the Bold, BloodRayne: Betrayal, Double Dragon Neon, and a lot more. We got to work on reboots of classic game franchises, which was really fun and also really applicable to making a game like Shovel Knight!

PS: What led to the development of Shovel Knight? Why go with retro-style game in the first place?

SV: We've wanted to make an NES game for a long time; a game based around one mechanic! Shovel Knight grew out of a desire to build a character-based action game centered around a downthrust mechanic, similar to the down thrust in Zelda II: The Adventure of Link or even a Mario jump. We wanted a game that was fun to play, easy to get into, and had a little levity and heart, so we decided our hero would be able to use his implement to fight foes, stab dirt, and dig! The rest of the game grew from these general concepts.

PS: What retro games inspired the development of Shovel Knight?

SV: Mega Man, Zelda II, Castlevania, and a bunch more. We pretty much tried to use what worked from all our favorite NES games, but try to use that gameplay as a starting point and iterate on it.

PS: How did you approach Mega Man composer Manami Matsumae to contribute to the soundtrack of Shovel Knight?

SV: She approached us! Or should I say her business partner, Mohammed Taher. They're part of an outfit called Brave Wave (formerly Koopa Soundworks) that is all about great chiptune composers and music. They both thought it would be a great opportunity to collaborate, and we delightedly agreed! It's been a dream come true to work with Manami, and we also feel like it gives us some street cred too.

PS: What was/were the most difficult problem(s) that occurred during development of Shovel Knight?

SV: Our dedication to quality meant that we took longer to develop the game, which blew out our schedule and budget. We went without pay for a quite some time, and the schedule was grueling. But it's been worth it!

PS: Were there any features or anything of that sort that you guys wish you could have included in Shovel Knight that you were unable due to time, budget, resources, etc?

SV: We wish we could have had the European localization and ratings finished at the same time as the US version. In the future, this will be something we really try and align more.

PS: What do you think helped the Shovel Knight project get off the ground? Why do you think your project was backed so heavily compared to other Kickstarter projects?

SV: I think people have been wanting a game like this for a long time; I know I have! We tried really hard to focus on being as authentic as possible, and not pandering to nostalgia for nostalgia alone. We tried to make a game like our NES favorites; something fun to play, that is based on solid mechanics, and that doesn't take itself too seriously. Being a retro NES style game helped bring the nostalgia, but I think that people saw our commitment to quality, even from the early trailers.

We also put a lot of effort into marketing our game and building hype. By going to PAX and giving a demo to YouTubers, we stoked the fires early, which definitely helped the campaign.

PS: What advice do you have for fellow indie developers about getting a Kickstarter project successfully backed and/or funded?

SV: Make sure to market yourself properly, and have a great demo and video! This means that it's probably best to build out your game as a proof of concept before you take it to Kickstarter.

PS: What was the feeling inside Yacht Club Games prior to Shovel Knight releasing to the public? What are you guys feeling like now that the game has been released and sites have begun reviewing it?

SV: Before the launch, we were very nervous. Our livelihoods were depending on the success of the game. Our beta tester friends had really liked it, but we couldn't be sure about reviews or sales. Now that the game is out, everything is crazy. The reviews have been almost unanimously glowing, people are loving the game, and it's selling well too. That means we can keep our studio going and making more games!

PS: Which bosses in Shovel Knight are the team’s absolute favorites? (Editor's note: Not all team members were able to share their picks.)

SV: Plague Knight because he's a weirdo like me and I love his boss music and background art. I'd also love to see Baz and Reize team up!

Nick Wozniak, Pixel Art: Specter Knight, because his animations were a lot of fun to do! Lots of cloth + bad ass poses + giant flying weapon = good times.

David D'Angelo, Programming: Polar Knight cause of how impossible it was to get a fat slow guy to not be instantly killable haha!

Ian Flood, Programming: Normal Black Knight. While all the other bosses may have tricks, advanced states, and fancy attacks, squaring off against regular Black Knight keeps it simple. If you had two human players dueling with the same characters, the battle would turn out much the same. Lots of running, juking, and random shovel drops!

Morgan Guyer, Pixel Art: As far as design goes, I'm fond of Plague Knight. He has a simplistic, yet chic/ornate look to him. I also adore old world medicine stuff. As for an actual boss fight? It would have to go to Tinker Knight. He's pathetic and cute, and you can kill him in one shot with the Mobile Gear. His final form also reminds me of the final boss battle from Mega Man 9.

Erin Pellon (Concept / Illustration): Mole Knight, because he wears rings on all his fingers and tries really hard to be better.

PS: What is the team most proud of regarding Shovel Knight?

SV: We are most happy with how much gameplay we managed to pack into the game; our 'gameplay per square inch'. We still enjoy watching and playing the game! We didn't bite off too much more than we could chew, and we iterated on the design until we were happy with it.

PS: If you could give players one message or word of advice before starting Shovel Knight, what would it be?

SV: Make sure to buy health upgrades and also to buy relics and use them! The Phase Locket and Flare Wand are particularly good for beginners. Don't give up!

PS: What kind of game ideas do you have for the future now that Shovel Knight is finished and released? Will you be continuing the retro theme?

SV: I would love to make a 3D Shovel Knight platformer, a direct NES sequel, and any number of other Shovel Knight things. We have a lot of weird ideas all the time, like making a pinball game where you use beetles as pinballs. Beetle Pinball - that's currently what I'm most excited for- unless we could get the Bubsy license! Seriously though Shovel Knight 3D. Or maybe a multiplayer game with lots of yelling. Or maybe a card game like Triple Triad!

PS: Is there anything else that you'd like to tell our readers?

SV: Thank you so much for all the love and support! Shovel Knight fans are the best fans ever!


I'd like to personally thank the team at Yacht Club Games, particularly Sean Velasco and Ian Flood, for their taking the time out of their hectic schedules to provide me with answers to my questions. Here's hoping everyone who comes upon this interview enjoys it, and be sure to pick up Shovel Knight, if you're able to! You'll "dig" it!

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