4cr Interview – Sean Velasco of Yacht Club Games

by Antonio Garcia

We here at 4cr definitely love Shovel Knight. If you think our double review or site-wide chime-in didn’t show that, then we’ve got one more trick up our sleeve that should really convince you. I got a chance to talk with Sean Velasco at Yacht Club Games about the game and do a bit of a post-mortem on their Kickstarter campaign!

4cr: Welcome! Can you introduce yourself to anyone in our audience who might not be aware of Shovel Knight and how rad it is?

Hi! I’m Sean Velasco, a game designer and director at Yacht Club Games. Our first game as a company is Shovel Knight! We’ve been making games together for many years though. Before the Yacht Club, I worked at WayForward as a director on games like Contra 4, A Boy and His Blob, Mighty Milky Way, Mighty Switch Force 2, BloodRayne: Betrayal, and Double Dragon Neon, among others. We’re all about combining retro and modern game sensibilities, as you can probably gather from our resume.

4cr: Now that Shovel Knight has finally been released, it’s time to look back and talk about the Kickstarter campaign. What did you think went right and where did you completely drop the ball during the campaign itself?

Looking back on our campaign, it gives the impression that we were buttoned up and knew exactly what to do. The truth is, we were often flying by the seat of our pants! We had no idea that Shovel Knight would become popular, and it certainly didn’t seem like a sure thing at the time. But knew that we loved the idea of a modern-day NES game, and perhaps we could get others excited for it too.

We tried to hedge our bets by getting the word out as much as possible. We had a great little demo we put together, which we sent to media people, Youtube content creators, and anyone else we thought might enjoy it. We also pooled our money to buy booth space and equipment to show at PAX Prime, which we hoped would amplify our visibility and get the game into the hands of players. This plan worked out great! Tons of high-profile articles, videos, and hands-on impressions came from these sources, and sent the popularity of Shovel Knight skyrocketing! Average players were able to get their hands on the game during PAX, and their word of mouth helped a ton too.

As far as missteps, we had a few. We mistakenly thought that we had to pay for Steam codes, but that turned out to be false. Our reward structure could have also been much better; although we had over 15000 backers, their average pledge amount was lower than many other popular Kickstarters, and we think maybe it’s because some of our rewards were too expensive and not compelling enough. Finally, our expanded scope resulted in numerous delays. The game turned out great, though, and we couldn’t be happier with the results.

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4cr: Speaking of the delays, it’s June 2014 and not September 2013. What happened?

Well, first off, the September 2013 date on our Kickstarter was not a date we intended to hit. When creating a Kickstarter, you need put a date in in order to initiate the process. During the Kickstarter, the scope of the game changed significantly. We couldn’t adjust the date after the Kickstarter went live, so it stayed as September. If we could have changed it, we would have said Winter. Of course… we missed that too! We really thought we’d be able to hit our March 31 date, but once again we held it back.

There are several reasons that Shovel Knight faced numerous delays, but the biggest reason was to ensure the quality. Our beta date came along and although we didn’t want to delay the game, we felt that the extra polish time would be worth it. We’re perfectionists in that way, and because we were independent, we had the power to make that call. We thank everyone for their patience!

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4cr: With the extra time from the pair of delays, were many things changed or improved for Shovel Knight? Did you work on extra content?

The extra time was used specifically for a few things. We polished the back half of the level design for the game, worked on the villages and side content, got the script perfected, and worked on balance overall. If we hadn’t delayed the game, it would have been similar in scope, but less polished and fun. Trust us, there were some parts that you’ll be very glad we fixed!

4cr: Since you got joint custody of Virt after creating Yacht Club games, we’re very happy that he got to work on the soundtrack for Shovel Knight since it really brings back the NES vibe. Did all tracks from Virt make it into the game, or will there be some extra tracks we can listen to on the game’s OST release?

We were incredibly lucky to have a brilliant pair of musicians contributing to Shovel Knight: Jake Kaufman and guest composer Manami Matsumae. Manami wrote 2 tracks, and we had to physically refrain Jake from writing any more after he hit 46 or so! It is a huge volume of music, a truly incredible body of chiptune work; i think it definitely among Jake’s best. All of these tracks will be making it into the game, but that doesn’t mean that your ears won’t be getting something extra in the OST release.

We’ve collected some great arrangements from amazing musicians and artists, collected into an album called Strike the Earth: Shovel Knight Arranged. There are some really special tracks on this that take the music in a totally different direction, and it really varied stylistically. Both of these albums are available with a pay what you want business model on Jake’s Bandcamp site.

Shovel Knight Soundtrack

4cr: With the Wii U and 3DS versions out the door, are you considering bringing the experience to PS4, Vita and XBO later in the year?

I would say other platforms are definitely in the cards. Many people have asked about a Vita port, and we agree that Shovel Knight would look awesome on that screen. I’ve been playing a ton of great indie titles on that platform and it seems like a natural choice. And well… if we do one Sony version, we may as well do all Sony consoles. And if we do Sony… we’ll also likely support Microsoft as well! One thing I’d want to ensure is that any ports would make use of the fun and unique features of their respective platforms. Like the back touch on the Vita; that’s such a weird feature that I’m sure we could do something fun with. When I think of platforms like PSN and XBLA i also think of leader boards and competition; so maybe something having to do with that, too. There isn’t anything concrete to announce yet, but the gears are definitely turning.

4r: Would everyone be up for doing another Kickstarter campaign for the next Yacth Club release? If so, what would you do differently for round 2?

We were very happy with how Shovel Knight turned out, but the constant pressure and crunch took an enormous toll on our lives, bodies, and sanity. After being completely drained by this project, we’ll be taking a much more balanced approach at the future. A lot of indie devs kill themselves with long hours and end up burning out, but we’d like to make games for a long time. The best way to do that is to not go overboard!

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4cr: And now it looks like our time is up. Do you want to add anything else before we sign off?

Since Shovel Knight’s release, we’ve gotten many messages and emails from players everywhere expressing great praise and joy. We want to say thank you so much for playing Shovel Knight, sending these messages our way, and also for simply playing and participating and enjoying! We’re reading the Miiverse messages, appreciating beautiful posts and fan art, and scouring message boards with the rest of you. Finally, we’re also working hard on patches, international versions, and more… so stay tuned for lots of cool stuff in the future!

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