Interview with Yacht Club Games: Learning about the Shovel Behind the Knight

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Making a game is difficult as it takes time and talent to make a quality piece of software. Many studios have accomplished this over the years but one should be noted. Yacht Club Games went from a band new studio making a Kickstarter project to into one of the many faces making up indie game development this current generation. With the heroic knight embarking on various adventures across many platforms, having a cameo or two and getting new content to dig into this year…..I felt it was a good idea to discuss with the shovels behind the knight.
Sean Velasco of Yacht Club Games was kind enough to answer a few questions I had about the studio, Shovel Knight and other interesting topics. It was a great honor to speak with him and you can find out more about Yacht Club Games by visiting their official website.

Below is the full interview I had with Velasco and I hope you all enjoy! It was a lot of fun speaking with him and we at 3WIREL will continue covering everything Shovel Knight as further information comes out.

RK: Can you introduce yourself?
Velasco: I’m Sean Velasco, a developer at Yacht Club Games! I specialize in game design and direction.
RK: It is a great honor to speak with you today! My first question would be what is the history behind Yacht Club Games?

Velasco: Yacht Club Games was founded in 2012 by former members of WayForward. Our first game is Shovel Knight!
RK: I remember hearing that you guys worked at WayForward in the past. Considering the type of game Shovel Knight is, I can tell many members of the studio are huge fans of old-school 2D platforming adventures. Can you describe some of platformers you as a team enjoyed the most? Were some of them inspirations behind Shovel Knight?
Velasco: We love classic NES games like Mario, Zelda II, Mega Man, Castlevania, and more! Those games, as well as more modern titles, were all inspirations for Shovel Knight.

RK: Love many of the games you listed, so it is great to see them as inspiration behind the project. When Yacht Club Games announced Shovel Knight as a Kickstarter, what was it like getting the support for the project? How did you feel about the feedback you got from backers on the title?
Velasco: We were an unknown developer, so we had to work really hard to get support. We went to conventions, sent the game to streamers and Youtubers, and did as much as we could! But once people saw our game, their reactions were really positive. It’s pretty amazing to see the support we have gotten- we really love our fans!
RK: Shovel Knight released on many platforms across Microsoft, Nintendo and Sony hardware. What was it like bringing the game to so many platforms and were there any challenges getting the game playable on it’s many versions?

Velasco: It’s always an undertaking to port a game, but we didn’t encounter too many problems. 3DS was tough because of its limited memory, but we always have fun taking advantage of whatever a new platform offers, like stereoscopic 3D!
RK: Great to see you taking advantage of the features each platform offers. It adds personality to every version of the game, like how the 3DS supports 3D and how the PS4 version has color-changing happening in the light-bar. Level design in Shovel Knight: Shovel Of Hope (the main campaign) offers a strong balance between fair and challenging level design. Can you describe the process of play-testing levels and/or designing them?
Velasco: We iterate a ton on levels! They are planned first in an image, thematically appropriate objects and enemies are designed, gameplay sections are created, and everything is tested hundreds and hundreds of times! We don’t stop until they are perfect, but they are a massive undertaking!

RK: That is a sign of great care being given to a project; consistently working to ensure it’s the best it can be. During the Kickstarter campaign, you announced a few addition story expansions for the game where you play as various Knights. The first of these expansions was Plague of Shadows, which offered a very unique gameplay style compared to Shovel Of Hope. Can you describe forming the gameplay for Plague Knight?
Velasco: We wanted to make a new character mobility that felt frenetic and fun, and give you the ability to experiment and concoct recipes like an alchemist would! We also wanted to make sure that Plague Knight could navigate Shovel Knight’s levels without too much adjustment. These inspirations led to the crazy bomb-bursting ways of Plague Knight.

RK: I greatly enjoyed Plague of Torment and felt it complemented the core game (Shovel of Hope) quite well. The second expansion coming to Shovel Knight and the one that is releasing very soon is called Specter of Torment. What inspired you to come up with Specter Knight’s gameplay and how challenging was it to come up with a move set for the character despite the fact that in the Shovel Of Hope campaign, Specter Knight can float in the air.
Velasco: Well, we first decided that he was not allowed to do that! Instead, we tried to give Specter Knight a fun and cool mobility that seems appropriate for him. His other abilities were given to him via curios, magical items that have more limited utility. That way we could have Specter Knight float around or summon skeleton armies, but only temporarily.
RK: From the footage I’ve seen thus far, I am eager to play as Specter Knight personally. His homing slash and wall jump seem to be great additions to the core gameplay systems of Shovel Knight. Can you describe working with Nintendo Switch hardware, as Specter of Torment in addition to the other Shovel Knight Campaigns will be releasing on that console. Was it easy to get the game up and running on Nintendo Switch?
Velasco: Like any platform, there was bit of a learning curve to get things working on the Switch, but nothing too tough! The hardest part of making a game for launch is that everyone is doing this for the first time, even Nintendo! So there are always some surprises.

RK: When working on bringing the game to PlayStation and Xbox platforms, you got extra bosses/content for those releases of the game. Examples include Kratos in the PlayStation versions and the Battletoads in the Xbox One version. What was it like talking with the IP holders in using those iconic characters in Shovel Knight?
Velasco: Everyone was really nice! We visited Sony Santa Monica for Kratos, and spoke with Rare for Battletoads. We were genuinely excited to create these cameos, so I think that enthusiasm helped to allay any fears. In the end, everyone had a couple of notes of feedback for us, but we were generally allowed to run wild with our ideas. We’re so honored to have these characters in Shovel Knight!

RK: That is great hearing you had a lot of freedom adding those icons into the game. What was it like collaborating with other indie companies such as Playtonic, Lab Zero and Inti Creates? Projects they created that used Shovel Knight have unique art styles different from the base game, so I’m wondering how you worked with them in nailing the ‘style’ and ‘charm’ of Shovel Knight in those releases.
Velasco: The developers you’ve named are so good at their craft, we didn’t have to give much feedback. They simply nailed it! When it comes to cameos, we are happy to give studios more creative license with our characters, and trust that they do something cool. We’ve have not been disappointed.

RK: With Shovel Knight being such a successful game both commercially and sales wise, how do you as a studio feel about the future of not only Shovel Knight as an IP, but for Yacht Club Games as a studio?
Velasco: We feel great! With Shovel Knight: Specter of Torment, Body Swap, and even more great content coming out, we hope the future will still be bright for Shovel Knight fans. Maybe one day we will even make a whole new game!
RK: Can you share any possible future plans you have in store for the rest of 2017 outside of Specter of Torment and Gender-Swap Mode?
Velasco: We are working on a Shovel Knight Battle Mode, and a whole new campaign starring King Knight!!
RK: My last question would be what games did you as a studio enjoy in 2016?
Velasco: I think our biggest game of last year was Overwatch!
RK: It was such an honor speaking with you today and thank you for having this interview with me.
Velasco: Thank you too!

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