Thursday, May 22, 2014

Shovel Knight Interview Ian Flood and Nick Wozniak

The shovel swinging knight with bull-horns and eyes you can't see will soon be digging his way into your heart--so gross an analogy for such a delightful neo old-school platformer. Shovel Knight, starring the hero whose name is the game's title was Kickstarted by fans of a bygone era where NES dominated the home and people could watch MTV for music. The game has you on a quest to save your beloved from the likes of eight worthy enemies all with other names before knight. You're also in it to dig up some treasure, luckily you wield the Shovelblade, useful for digging and dispatching enemies with.

The game is still waiting for a release date for PC/Mac/Linux and Steam as this interview goes up. The game will be also coming to Wii U and 3DS with no date given as of now.

Two members of the developing team from Yacht Club Games took to time to answer TTDILA's questions on the the epic title that brings back the love of digging up something and hoping it won't be a dead body. Ian Flood (Programmer) and Nick Wozniak (Artist) took the effort and time to answer about special integration on Nintendo's systems and if possible you could purchase your own Shovelblade.

IF: Ian Flood (Programmer)
NW: Nick Wozniak (Pixel Art Guy)

You're all coming off of some extra time to perfect the game before its release. Was there some controversy between you and your backers? What exactly did you polish? That shovel best sparkle.
IF: And sparkle it does! I can confirm, for a fact, that we added additional sparkles with some of the extra time. As you might expect, we originally decided on the end of March as a release date after planning out all of the remaining work left to be done on the game. We knew we had a certain number of levels left to do and that levels usually consist of this many enemies, this many gameplay objects, a boss, etc. It was a little on the aggressive side but we wanted to do everything we could to pull it off and get the game into everyone’s hands! A few weeks before we reached the deadline, we took a step back to evaluate the game as a whole. While we did manage to get all of the content completed (at that point, we had all of the levels, all of the enemies, all of the objects, and all of the bosses!) we realized that some of these features needed a little more work to be the best they could be. Some elements needed to be simplified or built upon more! Some art needed to be re-done! And some objects could be made many times better after a few more passes of iteration. Rather than just release it, as a completable game with some pretty cool stuff in it, we instead agreed as a team that we would take the time needed to make the game shine by iterating, removing, and reworking the game until we were all satisfied.
    We’ve remained in contact with fans and supporters every step of the way and so we’ve read our share of responses on the matter. Some people were understandably not pleased with how the situation rolled out, but others rang in to show their support for taking a little more time. I really do appreciate people on both sides voicing their opinion -- and I hope that Shovel Knight’s imminent release will make it all worth while.

Have fans controlled any part of the game? I hope they physically don't come to where you work and berate you or anything. Perhaps at night they come in and work on the game and you wonder whose been doing the coding. Has their interaction changed your mind on anything or has it always been what you've wanted, it is your game.

IF: This project has been more open than any we’ve been a part of in the past, to be sure! However, it was crucial that we maintained a core idea for the kind of game that wanted to make and then build out from that with suggestions and ideas from everyone around us. We’ve talked a great number of people at conventions, in comments sections, and on livestreams who have same level of enthusiasm that we have for Shovel Knight! There’s been many times where a comment or two stuck in our heads and eventually snowballed into a real feature within the game! This is also pretty much how our design process works as a team too.
    We also had a “Director For a Day” reward tier, which means that people got to stop in and work with us to construct a Shovel Knight boss fight from top top to bottom! Some characters turned out to be cool and menacing while others are off the wall oddballs. They all lend a touch of unexpected fun when exploring the game’s world.

Shovel Knight looks like his mother was a bull and his father was Boba Fett, where did his design come from?
NW: Shovel Knight’s design came mostly from us trying to create a simple looking, iconic knight character. We looked to inspiration from games like the Zelda Series, Wizards and Warriors, and even real suits of armor from the past! Basically, without wanting to rip off any current designs, we sought to make Shovel Knight iconic and unique while also familiar and relatable.
    One of the more difficult aspects of his design was that he looks like an enemy! Just a still frame of Shovel Knight might lead you to think that he is trying to prevent the progress of some other hero rather than have his own adventure! He has horns, no face and no apparent personality when just standing still. To fix this, we made sure that all of his animations were over-the-top, almost flamboyant in their posing. Now when he moves, you really get the sense of personality of someone exited to go on an adventure and, if we’ve done our job well, someone that the player enjoys playing as.

How did some of the other boss Knights come about, could you please go over your favorite and why?
NW: All of the bosses in Shovel Knight started as simple archetypes of characters that we wanted to make. We assembled a big list of ideas for what the bosses would be; sometimes it was themed to what they looked like ( short and fat ) or what their “power” was ( a water themed knight ). That list was eventually paired down to a short list that was 8 knights long. From there Some quick whiteboard sketches were made that formed the basis of the concept art for each of the knights. Throughout the whole process, it was most important to maintain personality in their designs so they stood out as individuals but also worked well as a group.
    After all the work put into the knights, it’s really hard to say which is my favorite, but I, coming from the perspective of an animator, I would have to say Specter Knight was my favorite. He’s all flowing cloth and too-cool-for-school attitude and I had a lot of fun getting that into the character’s movement.

What elements might a player gloss over that took you time to develop, anything that stands out. Don't be shy, it can be about something minor like the sound an enemy makes or a loading screen you love.
IF: The stereoscopic 3D effect found on the 3DS version immediately comes to mind. To achieve this effect, the 3DS displays two images at once -- the left eye and the right eye! This means that the farther back something is in 3D depth, the more that the picture moves away for each “eye screen”. There’s no real depth in a 2D game, of course, so we had to go through and hand specify how much everything pops-out or pops-in across the game for every effect, enemy, and tile! In a game where every pixel is meticulously placed, this means we had to add extra tiles to levels and extra art to illustrations. The end effect is always impressive and so it was entirely worth it! Even if you are the type of player to turn it off at the start of the game, I do hope you at least watch the introduction!

Your helicopter rats are my favorite little enemies to bounce off so far. Where did they come from? Are there any other minor enemies that you like? Will there be toys?
IF: We were hard at work constructing our first level just days before heading out to PAX East to show the game publically for the first time! We had knights, wizards, bugs, and bubbling oil but we needed a flying enemy to antagonize Shovel Knight from above. We brainstormed some ideas that made sense but they were all trumped when Sean pulled out an index card and sketched a helpless rat harnessed into a propelle. I remember saying that there was no way to make it work within the pixel art confines of our game, but in less than thirty minutes we had an idle animation that looked just as amazing as the sketch. I don’t think we have made any changes since that very day, haha. It was just perfect. They were so popular that we made buttons of them for this year at PAX and so maybe a toy line makes sense too, haha. Although, maybe its time for a new enemy to take the center stage. Have you heard about Super Skeleton? He’s kind of cool!

Can you tell more about the Streetpass and Miiverse integration with the 3DS version of the game? Will there be other special features for its release on other systems?
IF: As a team we love to brainstorm how platform specific features can fit into our game. It’s an extra touch that makes the game feel right at home on that platform. I’m sure we’d follow the same way if Shovel Knight arrived on other platforms too!

We had a number of ideas for StreetPass on the 3DS including hiding treasures for other players to find or creating custom characters that could somehow help you on your adventure. In the end, all of these felt way too passive! David soon upped the ante and championed the idea of a competitive arena battle game against other players. The only problem was that StreetPass is, by its definition, a passive multiplayer mode where two players exchange game information in passing which can then be played later. The idea soon turned into what it is today: a blind, sudden death arena battle! You record multiple rounds of your Shovel Knight squaring off against an invisible opponent by either landing the first attack or collecting the most gems before time runs out. Once you StreetPass with another system, you can watch your Shovel Knight play against the opponent’s and see who really has the greatest strategy! Even after lot’s of playtesting, we continue to find surprising and hilarious battle combinations in the arena.

On the Wii U side Miiverse takes the spotlight by allowing you to leave and read posts from other players online! At any time during your adventure, you can bust out the stylus and leave a note for other players to see when they reach that same point in the game. Will you leave hints? Secets? Jokes? Sketches of King Knight where it doesn’t belong? The choice is yours!

I understand many of you worked formally at WayForward, why move on? Was it just for this game?
NW: As a group we had enjoyed a lot of success creating games together and working well as a team to make things happen inside a larger company structure. At the same time, we also pay close attention to the state of the industry as a whole, so we all knew things were becoming more and more open to smaller companies venturing forth and finding success. With this in the back of our minds, our lunch time conversations about games that we wanted to make for the company slowly shifted into games that we wanted to make on our own. Eventually the idea of Shovel Knight came up during a lunch conversation and we knew that the game would be worth pursuing and the timing wasn’t going to get any better. While we do have a lot of fond memories of working at Wayforward, none of us has regretted the decision of taking the plunge to try and make it on our own!

How hard has it been making the game on your own? How small is this team? I just read Pokemon Gold and Silver were from four developers.
IF: Well it’s never easy, haha. We’re about half a dozen or so people most of the time, and are also fortunate enough to have support from many great people around us. Everyone here plays many roles and fills gaps as we see them to make sure that the Yacht Club continues to sail onwards! Trying to use all of us on the development team as QA testers was particularly brutal as we were all doing nothing but playing and fixing Shovel Knight non-stop for the past couple of months. A developer can sometimes catch some pretty tricky bugs but great QA testers really are invaluable!

Is Shovel Knight in Super Smash Bros? If not, damn Nintendo for not realizing to do so.
IF: I’d wager that Shovel Knight fell out of the running early due to balance reasons. His shovel drop would be way too good as a meteor smash and his DigSlash has both range, combo, and launch versatility. Way too good! If you just overlook his speed that is...

What will be your presence at E3? Any special parties? Like a release party?
IF: We’ll certainly be attending E3 this year and hope we can bring Shovel Knight along! We’ll be more of a roaming band of Shovel Knight enthuasiasts this time around. Once the game is released proper, that’s when the big release parties can begin!

Your Kickstarter says your LA based, but aren't you further out? In either case, does Shovel Knight have any LA influence or LA connection?
IF: Most of us are located a little further up north in Valencia so we’re more LA County! This leaves us just a stone’s throw away from some of the great events in the area, such as E3 and Indiecade. Now that we’re emerging from out crunchtime, we hope we can participate in even more!

When will I be able to purchase my own Shovel Knight brand shovel?
NW: Quick, get Home Depot on the line! We need this now! Actually, you may be happy to know that while a real shovel isn’t happening yet, we do have a lot of merchandise in the works. We’ve been talking to lots of different companies about getting awesome Shovel Knight gear in everyone’s hands. We already have shirts you can get from Mighty Fine ( but the ultimate dream, for me, is to have Shovel Knight brand cereal complete with diamond shaped marshmallows and shovel spoon!

You can pre-order Shovel Knight for $15.00 here