Shovel Knight Interview with Developer David D’Angelo

Yacht Club Games had a straightforward goal when it launched the Kickstarter for Shovel Knight: raise $75,000 in capital to create a game that captured the spirit of NES classics like Mega Man, Castlevania and Metroid.

Over $300,000 in Kickstarter donations later, a successful debut on the Nintendo Wii U, 3DS and PC and approaching the cross-buy release of Shovel Knight on PS3, Vita and PS4 Shovel Knight Kratosas well as the surprise inclusion of Battletoads with the Xbox One version and the studio has surpassed all of their original benchmarks for success.

I had a chance to speak with David D’Angelo, programmer and one of six developers part of Yacht Club Games, to discuss the positive fan reception and possible sequels of Shovel Knight.

D’Angelo remains humble despite the high review scores and fan support for Shovel Knight. When asked when did Yacht Club know they had a commercial and critical success on their hands he responds, “I don’t think we reached that point yet [laughs]. We knew going in that we wanted to make a game that we wanted to play, and hoped that others would enjoy it as well.”

“Back in 2013, we were looking at the games coming out and it was very complicated experiences. We wanted to make something simple and refreshing. Here’s a run and jump game with one mechanic – the shovel. We would build all the complexity out of that.”

Many players, not familiar with the unforgiving challenges of the NES era, would be hesitant to call Shovel Knight simple. D’Angelo expounds upon this concept, “When I say Shovel Knight Downward Thrustsimple, I don’t mean challenging. It’s simple in its mechanics. It takes about a second to learn all of Shovel Knight’s core ability and movements. Left, right jump and use the shovel. As compared to Assasin’s Creed or Grand Theft Auto where there are thousands of different controls that are constantly changing depending upon the context.”

“Our goal was to create simple beginnings and build from there challenging and rewarding experiences, as opposed to have complexity from the start.”

That challenge is at the core of NES styled games, which required rogue memorization or trial and error exploration, balancing these mechanics with modern sensibilities required unique approaches from D’Angelo and team.

“The difficulty in a retro title is way harder compared to today’s releases. In a modern game you don’t want the environments to be unfair, cheap or difficult. Finding the right balance, so it’s not NES hard but still rewarding, was the constant fight we were having, both, internally and externally. Through that tension is where a lot of the ideas came together, such as the destructible checkpoints. This rewarded players who liked that really hard gameplay but still provided a safety net for gamers that didn’t want to repeat sections of the level, it proved to be a perfect balance.”

With Shovel Knight releasing on PSN and introducing Kratos and Xbox One including Shovel Knight Overhead MapBattletoads the developer says that it was easier than you would expect to secure access to the beloved IPs. “We are trying to create something unique to every platform and felt at home for that release.”

“On Wii U we did Miiverse and the 3DS has Streetpass. What can we do on the Xbox One or PSN? There isn’t a feature we felt comfortable adding so we thought about doing a character inclusion. We asked if they would be willing and presented a couple ideas.” Sony and Microsoft both agreed to the first choices that Yacht Club Games laid out.

D’Angelo remains open regarding his design philosophy, which is to encourage new designers to just go out and create something regardless of how good it is, and the experience using Kickstarter. Yacht Club Games knows that Shovel Knight only exists because of the support of the community.

But would they do a Kickstarer campaign again, “There was tons of work we had to do because of the Kickstarter that doesn’t normally go into development: messaging the
community, managing expectations, coding an additional 200 faces for backers and mailing out 1,500 physical copies. These tasks can be time consuming for a six man team.”

“There are upsides and downsides [to Kickstarter]. Not sure if we would do another campaign though. We liked being with the community though, it was exciting to have people think what Shovel Knight would be but then blow their expectations; they got a lot more than the original $75,000 game proposed.”

“It would be amazing to build a game in secret then reveal it.” As to what that next game could be, “Right now we are making all our stretch goals: 3 playable bosses, challenge mode and gender swap mode. We created Shovel Knight with the intention of it being a franchise. Shovel Knight BattletoadsWe want to make Shovel Knight forever and ever and ever.”

“We want to go through the franchise eras, but most of all, we want to make Shovel Knight 64. But that’s a huge undertaking and we would need a bigger team. We need to figure out what type of game we want to make before jumping in. We shouldn’t decide the topic before the gameplay.”

At the mention of a possible Shovel Knight RPG, D’Angelo gets excited, “OMG, I want a Shovel Knight RPG so bad. I’d love to see a Shovel Knight RPG, Shovel Knight Sims or Shovel Knight Tower defense. I want every kind of Shovel Knight game possible, that fans want to play.”

Shovel Knight is available on the 3DS, Wii U, Mac and Windows. It will release on PS3, Vita and PS4 on April 21 and later this year on Xbox One.

Check out the full review of Shovel Knight.