In 2014 a retro-themed NES-style platformer launched onto Wii U, 3DS and PC.
The game was called Shovel Knight, a title funded via Kickstarter and made by a team of veterans of California-based developer WayForward Technologies.
The first time they all worked together was on old-school fighting game Double Dragon Neon, and when the title was finished they were going to be sent to work on different projects. Not wishing to be separated, the team left and formed Yacht Club Games.
But their time at WayForward producing old-school games was formative, and the team decided to produce an original ‘retro’ title.
We were looking at the games that were coming out at the time. They were so unbelievably complicated, not necessarily in a bad way,” says Yacht Club Games designer David D’Angelo.
In GTA there are all these modes of transportation and they all control differently. Going back to a game that has one mechanic and two buttons, and building the complexity through that was appealing to us.”
The team was rather strict with trying to recreate the feel of old NES games. Yacht Club stuck to the NES’ colour palette – apart from four extra colours the team snuck in – and music from that console’s era – but the audio is emulated to sound like advanced Konami games, rather than the standard NES audio chip.
We tried to stick to NES limitations as much as possible just because they forced us to be more creative,” D’Angelo explains.
It was really important that this was a game built on simple mechanics and is similar in style to NES games. If we broke those rules, it wouldn’t feel like that kind of game anymore.”
And the game struck a chord with a large audience. In its first month – when 3DS and Wii U versions were only out in America – it sold 75,000 units on top of its 15,685 backers over Kickstarter and PayPal. It was critically lauded and nominated for several Game of the Year awards.
There’s a lot of stuff in those NES games – and Shovel Knight – that people haven’t seen in a long time,” D’Angelo says.
When we first announced our Kickstarter in 2013, that was around the time the last Mega Man game got cancelled. We filled that gap in the market.”
The firm’s Kickstarter was a huge success, too. The team reached its goal of $75,000 in just one month, and went on to raise $311,502. But it wasn’t all about the money.
We were building a new company. Funding the game and not being beholden to publishers was great,” D’Angelo explains.
Being beholden to our fans was great. And we wanted a way to build a community. One of my frustrations working for WayForward was that it was working for a publisher, and it was them who spoke to the community.
It was frustrating to spend so much time working on a game, and then basically not being able to talk to our audience about it. Kickstarter was the easiest way to build a community.”
Being open with its fans has become normal for Yacht Club. The firm is transparent about everything from sales figures to design documents so that its fans understands game development from the prespective of the studio.
We’ve been open since the beginning so why would we close them off now? Our backers supported us. They’re the reason it’s selling so well. We want to celebrate our sales success with them,” D’Angelo explains.
We’re also writing design articles, and explaining our process to the world. We’re trying to show everything that goes into a game and what to expect saleswise.
Publishers won’t allow you to release sales figures, so people largely have no idea how well games sell. We want to show what a budget is for a game, why budgets are of a certain size what goes into it and what to expect sales-wise. Are people making millions upon millions of dollars from games? No. Having people understand that was important to us. Especially if someone is trying to figure out if they should make games.”
D’Angelo concludes: We want people to understand the process because we want better releases and a better understanding of what goes into making a game.”