The Developer Spotlight series is fast becoming a favorite among Xbox Enthusiasts. In this program we reach out to developers of all levels, from the smallest Indie studio to AAA game creators. Among those creators is an Indie studio that has experienced AAA success with their release of the spectacular Shovel Knight. Enter Yacht Club Games.
Yacht Club Games was founded in 2011 by Sean Velasco. Three years after the studio’s inception the team produced a hit title in the form of Shovel Knight. The critically well received Shovel Knight took the gaming community by storm with its retro theme visuals and old-school play style. Shovel Knight called forth feelings of nostalgia for many while new fans found an accessible platformer where gameplay allowed difficulty to be determined by the player.
Shovel Knight has found a home on every major platform, including handhelds and most recently Amazon platforms. Among those platforms of course is the Xbox One. Launching with exclusive Battletoads content back in April, the rave reviews and Kickstarter stretch goals has players demanding more. Yacht Club Games has produced free DLC release in the form of Shovel Knight: Plague of Shadows. Sean Velasco graciously took the time to tell us more about Yacht Club Games and Plague of Shadows. Thank you for joining us Sean!
Luke Lohr: Shovel Knight is a special game, one that is clearly created with a lot of passion and creativity. Since the initial launch of the game in 2014, it has made its way to a number of other platforms and received rave reviews. Why is this game so successful?
Sean Velasco: “I think Shovel Knight is popular because it’s simple and easy to understand at first, but it builds up in a really natural way. The gameplay and story both ramp a lot, which maybe takes players by surprise. By the end of the game, you are bouncing on foes and battling like a pro, and you might even care about the characters and their plights! It makes for a satisfying experience.”
LL: Plague of Shadows. It’s a full size game unto itself and yet you all decided to release it for free as DLC on all systems. This is an incredible decision; what was the logic here?
Velasco: “Shovel Knight: Plague of Shadows was originally unlocked as a Kickstarter stretch goal: an alternate campaign featuring a boss knight. We decided to make it so full-featured to try and extend the life of Shovel Knight through quality additions to the game, instead of slashing the price or charging for DLC.”
“This is a similar approach to Minecraft: make a great game and charge a fair price, and people will continue to buy it.”
LL: The fundamental gameplay is the same as in Shovel Knight, but there are a number of tweaks that allow Plague of Shadows to feel unique unto itself. How difficult was it to strike this balance between old and new?
Velasco: “It was really hard to strap a new campaign onto the back of an already-existing one… maybe even harder than making a new game from scratch! Plague Knight had to be able to navigate Shovel Knight’s levels, and his story had to be told using the same structure and beat points as Shovel Knight’s. We spent a lot of time trying to massage it all and make it feel natural, but I think the result has been worth it.”
LL: Shovel Knight proper has a number of incredible bosses, what about Plague Knight made him your choice of protagonist?
Velasco: “Plague Knight was voted to be a playable character by fans! During the Kickstarter, fans also voted for Specter Knight and King Knight campaigns, so those will be coming down the pipe too!”
LL: Why the decision to create a full DLC package as oppose to say, a sequel?
Velasco: “We still had plenty of free DLC Kickstarter stretch goals to undertake. Two more playable boss campaigns, body swap mode, and battle mode. There is a lot of work to do before thinking about a sequel!”
LL: Shovel Knight first hit Xbox One back in April. How has the Xbox community reacted to the game since its launch and now again with Plague of Shadows release?
Velasco: “We were really fortunate to have the backing of Rare and Microsoft to include a cameo from the Battletoads in the Xbox One version of Shovel Knight. This really helped the game’s visibility on the Xbone, and Battletoads fans loved it. Since Plague of Shadows has come out, we are continuing to see the same great reactions from fans- it’s very humbling, and never expected. Shovel Knight fans are really the best!”
LL: Our friends at Nintendo Enthusiast are rather excited by their Amiibo unlocked co-op mode. Is there any chance of this coming to other platforms? Might we suggest Xbox?
Velasco: “Co-op mode is a Nintendo and Amiibo exclusive and there are no plans to change that. However, as with everything, I’d never say never.”
LL: Yacht Club Games has worked on Shovel Knight across so many platforms. How has developing on Xbox differed from other systems?
Velasco: “We had developed games on Xbox 360 at our previous jobs, so it was fun to jump back into the Xbox environment and add in things like achievements and wallpapers. Shovel Knight was always developed to be cross-platform, so there weren’t any huge issues bringing the game to Xbox. The best part was working on new stuff for the Battletoads content!”
LL: Now that Plague of Shadows is out, what’s next for all of you at Yacht Club? Is there a new IP to be created? A numbered sequel? An expansion to explore more of the Shovel Knight universe?
Velasco: “Next year, expect to see all of our Kickstarter stretch goals completed! Specter Knight will most likely be up next as far as campaigns go. As for new IP or sequels? We throw around ideas all the time, but nothing to report… yet!”
LL: Apart from plenty of Shovel Knight work, what are you all playing in the office for fun? How does the team unwind?
Velasco: “We have been playing a lot of Minecraft on our personal server, as well as tons of matches of Smash Bros., and hunting cooperatively in Monster Hunter. And recently we’ve been having a lot of discussions about Metal Gear Solid V. And as far as unwinding? What is that? We are working like crazy people all the time… help!!”
LL: Can you treat us to any office inside jokes or fun analytics our audience might enjoy?
Velasco: “Hanging in our office is a framed portrait of George Lucas clad in military regalia. He acts as our patron saint of shilling! Whenever we do a business deal, we place our hands over our hearts and salute Mr. Lucas.”
It’s hard not to love the approach Yacht Club Games is taking in their content production. Evident to anyone paying attention is the sheer passion that the developers here exude in their products. Shovel Knight’s expansion content in Plague of Shadows is only the first of several in the works. Their profile perhaps describes them best in saying: “We want to both tug at your heartstrings and delight you with levity and charm. We want to make games that you play together with friends and family. Most of all, we want to give everyone the same collective types of game experiences that have defined our generation.”
Between the incredible critical reception of Shovel Knight and Plague of Shadows we have every reason to expect the same level of quality from future campaigns released. Keep an eye on Yacht Club Games. There’s so much more coming from them.