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Shovel Knight Interview: Sailing the PAX East Seas With Sean Velasco
Sean Velasco knows retro games. As the former Director of WayForward Technologies, he was the driving force behind Contra 4, A Boy and His Blob, and Double Dragon: Neon. And as the “Captain” of Yacht Club Games, Velasco is sailing off into the uncharted waters of an original property, Shovel Knight.
You can read all about Shovel Knight in our PAX East playthrough, which will be posted later today (UPDATE: Here it is!). But for now, let Captain Velasco guide you through his love of classic games, his thoughts on Kickstarter, Shovel Knight’s future, and the possibility of a PSN/XBLA version of the game.
John Scalzo, Warp Zoned Editor-In-Chief: What made you want to leave WayForward to start your own team?
Sean Velasco: Well, this is a team that is just really super-great. More than anything, we just wanted to make original IPs and just kind of do our own thing and break off on our own. WayForward has also become a very large developer and we wanted to be a group that can be really small and really agile and just make games we want on our own terms. That’s what Yacht Club is all about. We just wanted to make really awesome retro/modern fusion games and just put them out for people to enjoy.
WZ – John: I haven’t looked in a few days, how’s the Kickstarter going?
Velasco: At the beginning of today, I think we were at [$45,000] of [$75,000], so more than halfway. We’re over the hump! [Ed. Note: It’s now up to $60,000]. And we’ve got about 20 days left. So I am confident we’re going to fund, but it’s still fingernail biting and making sure it’s going to go OK.
We’re really excited, especially for the PAX people. Seeing everybody come here and playing the game, really enjoying it. It just gets us right here. These are the games that we love to play as kids and these are games that we want to make. It’s been tremendously gratifying to see people enjoying it.
WZ – John: What made you choose PC, Wii U, and 3DS over, say, PSN and XBLA?
Velasco: First of all, it’s a very Nintendo-esque game. It’s an 8-bit style game, so we thought this would be perfect on a Nintendo system. We really wanted to make a game for the Wii U. We love the Wii U. We’ve had so much fun playing the freakin’ Animal Crossing game [in Nintendo Land], that’s just been ridiculous. As far as the PC goes, that’s just the platform we were developing on first and it’s just open to everybody, so we thought we could put out DRM free PC copies and then hopefully get on Steam also and reach that market.
Anthony Amato, Warp Zoned Contributor: You guys are on Greenlight, right?
Velasco: We’re on Greenlight right now. We’re trying to get the votes for it. But the way Greenlight’s working is a little bit weird now. Gabe Newell himself said that he was going to shut it down eventually, so I’m not sure if it’s still going. We’re on there anyway.
WZ – Anthony: Every indie team I’ve talked to so far has been like, “Yeah, we’re on Greenlight…. we don’t really know what’s going on.”
Velasco: Exactly. We don’t really know what’s going on, it’s true. We don’t have the metrics or anything to know exactly where we’re at, so it’s a little confusing. But yeah, hopefully we get in on Steam. The other thing is we want to do XBLA and PSN. We’d love to do a Vita version. We want to do a Mac and Linux version.
We’ve shipped on a lot of those platforms before, but we’re such a small dev team that we have to put our focus somewhere. Hopefully we’ll be able to put it on every platform in the universe, but it’ll take time.
WZ – Anthony: Sega cartridge!
WZ – John: No, NES cartridge!
Velasco: The soundtrack actually compiles into an NSF [NES Sound Format]. So it’s a real Nintendo sound library. If you had a cartridge burner, then you would be able to put the soundtrack on it and put it in your Nintendo and it would play. So it’s super-authentic.
WZ – John: I’ve been following the comments on the Kickstarter and everybody’s asking for the PC version of the game to come in an NES cartridge box. Will you do that? Will you please do that?
Velasco: Everyone is asking for it…
WZ – John: I will raise my Kickstarter amount. That is my personal pledge.
Velasco: I think what we’re going to look into doing is, if we can, we’re going to do a printed box. We’d send it to you flat and you could fold it up. At the very, very least, we could do a PDF version you could print out yourself. But a lot of people are asking for a lot of different things, but we’re going to look into it.
We want to have merch and stuff available for everyone. On the Kickstarter, we have an NES-style instruction manual that’s super-authentic. We’re going to get it printed from a friend of ours who really knows his stuff and it’s going to have the single staple and we’re even going to get it to smell right. It’s just going to be perfect. We want to do the same thing with everything we put out.
WZ – Anthony: If you put out a box, it’s gotta have cover art that doesn’t match the game at all.
Velasco: Totally. We were thinking we could get a weird freelance artist to do like acrylic painting of Shovel Knight that’s very odd.
WZ – Anthony: It’s gotta be like the Mega Man cover where they got an American artist to do something for a Japanese game. You should go to Japan and get some weird Japanese artist to do some completely outlandish cover for it.
Velasco: Right, right. We’re going to do an art book that has the whole story of the development of the game. And it’ll have printed out maps and all that old stuff you would just thumb through and just love it. That’s what we want to do, we want to make stuff that goes around the entire game. But we want to make it easy for you to be a fan of it and enjoy all the stuff that goes along with it. So that’s where you have buttons and stickers and posters and we just want to do more and have more for people to enjoy.
WZ – John: There’s a big Mega Man influence… obviously. But when you defeat members of The Order of No Quarter, will you gain their powers?
Velasco: No, no. It’s not exactly like that. We’re drawing inspiration from a lot of different places.
WZ – John: I saw a lot of Metroid in there.
Velasco: Yeah, definitely… And Castlevania… I’ve heard a lot of DuckTales… The fighting system is very reminiscent of Zelda II… I mean, we’re just trying to create this big mish-mosh. But we’re just trying to do our own thing. So while some of the elements may remind you of a lot of stuff, we want Shovel Knight to be a game that stands on its own that doesn’t just rely on nostalgia to be good.
WZ – John: Speaking of DuckTales… I hate to ask this, but what do you think of Capcom announcing the DuckTales remake, done by WayForward, a few hours ago?
Velasco: It’s wonderful. As a fan, I’m really, really super-excited.
WZ – John: It’s just an odd coincidence. Not 15 minutes after I played Shovel Knight for the first time, Capcom announced DuckTales. I couldn’t believe it.
Velasco: I’d love to go see it just as a fan. I would glance over as they’re working on it and be like, “Oh man, this is so cool!” So I’m just excited to go check it out. WayForward is so awesome, they do such amazing stuff. It’s cool to be on the outside now, looking in, because I get to be just another fan enjoying another company making great stuff.
WZ – Anthony: One of the things I’ve always loved about older games like Castlevania is unlocking different characters. Will we see a Hammer Knight or some other unlockable character?
Velasco: Maybe. What I would say is keep an eye on the Kickstarter for our stretch goals and maybe we could get something done on that front.
WZ – Anthony: Since it’s a PC game and it’s old school, so it’s got a very simple-to-understand thing going on, have you ever thought about doing level editors and opening it to the community for modding?
Velasco: That is absolutely something we’d like to do in the future. The level editor we’re using now isn’t something we could share with people. It’s not in a usable state. I mean, have you guys seen the Awesomenauts level editor? It’s the most intensely crazy thing I’ve ever seen in my life. The craziest thing is you can have someone editing the level and then it’s networked. So you can have someone else playing while it’s happening. So you can have five different people all editing the level at the same time and making changes to it…
WZ – Anthony: Competitive level editing. Sounds awesome.
Velasco: Yeah, it’s just fast iteration, it’s incredible. We would have to do a significant amount of work to do something like that, but it’s absolutely something that I want to do.
WZ – John: Speaking of getting the community involved… The leaderboard you set up for PAX East, is that going to be something that makes it into the final game?
Velasco: No, we put that in like yesterday. We were like, let’s have something where everyone can compete in a big environment, but we’ve had so much fun and people have responded so well to it that maybe we’ll integrate it into the game.
This game is only ten, maybe 15, percent complete. There’s a lot of room for iteration and changing things up.
WZ – John: I love that your score is cut in half when you die. That’s just a fantastic idea.
Velasco: I really want to have the weight of the combat when you’re fighting like in Dark Souls. I’d like interesting approaches to death and how you interact with your character as he’s leveling up. Dark Souls does so many unique and interesting things, we’d like to follow in their footsteps and take new approaches to those types of gameplay.
WZ – John: Can you give us any hints as to what the rest of The Order of No Quarter will look like?
Velasco: You can see all the silhouettes on the Kickstarter page and we have the Black Knight right here. The Black Knight is like Shovel Knight’s rival and you’ll fight him several times throughout the course of the game. But we’re going to be revealing The Order of No Quarter as we go through the Kickstarter and in the coming months. It’s going to be a slow drip. But we want to do a really good job and have each one’s personality show through and get a chance to showcase them all. Sorry, that’s as far as I can go for now.
WZ – Anthony: Did you restrain the colors to any system’s traditional color choices?
Velasco: Yes, this is an NES palette. We’ve taken great pains to try to match it as closely as possible. We had to write a shader to do palette cycling. The future is so weird. Like when you hit a guy and he flashes, that’s cycling through a palette. We’re trying to make it very, very authentic. We cheated in a couple of places and added color here and there. But that’s part of what the whole game is. There’s a ton of parallax in the background… like, you’re going through a forest and there are five or six layers of trees, that’s the kind of thing the NES could never do. We’re trying to stay true to the aesthetic and the feel of it, but push it to the next level.
WZ – John: Exactly. This is something I definitely would have played back in 1988.
Velasco: Yes, that’s what we wanted to make. But we wanted to update it with cool, new gamplay. And maybe not make it quite so “Nintendo Hard” and add in some elements of upgrades and make sure the theme and tone of the gameplay and story all go together.
WZ – Anthony: You’re trying not to make it so “Nintendo Hard,” but can I get a free controller I can break over my knee when it does get too hard?
WZ – John: Kickstarter reward! A breakable/repairable controller.
Velasco: A controller that’s scored in the middle so you can just snap! That’d be great!
WZ – John: Alright, I’ve got one more question. It’s about Double Dragon: Neon. Was that really you as the voice of Skullmageddon?
Velasco: Yes, that was really me. I sang the end theme too!
WZ – John: That was fantastic, by the way.
Velasco: It’s all Jake Kaufman, who’s also doing the soundtrack for this game. He is very responsible for making me sound good on that. So he gets the credit for that one.
WZ – John: Will you have a role in Shovel Knight? Obviously, it’s not the kind of game that includes voice acting…
Velasco: Yeah, we’re not gonna do voice acting for this. But I’d be open to doing it in the future.
WZ – Anthony: I love the old games that tried to do that… like the old Two Crude Dudes game that would start off, “EWW EWW DOO,” and you’re like, “What’d it just say?”
Velasco: Or Ikari Warriors is the one I always remember, “COMMALETSFIT!” and they’re actually saying, “Come on, let’s fight!” Ohhhhhh… OK.
WZ – John: You said it. Sean, thanks so much.
Don’t forget, Shovel Knight will be available this Fall for the PC, Wii U, and 3DS. The Kickstarter page is still open for your pledging pleasure.
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