Shank Interview


posted 8/9/2010 by Tina Amini
other articles by Tina Amini
One Page Platforms: 360
Shank, the 2D beat ‘em up game developed by Klei Entertainment and glamorized by both its many E3 2010 awards as well as its star writer - Marianne Krawczyk (aka God of War co-creator) - is planned for release on the PlayStation Network and Xbox Live Arcade on August 24th and 25th, respectively. Before its release, however, we sat down with Jamie Cheng - co-founder and designer on Shank - and Jeff Agala - creative director on the game - for a roundtable discussion of the development and inspiration behind Shank. 

In terms of look and story-telling, were there any specific films or projects that you drew inspiration from?

Jeff Agala: We were trying to develop a more mature feel of Shank, so I went back to my roots to all of the comics I used to read as a kid. Jack Kirby, the creator of X-Men and the Hulk, was a big inspiration for the look of Shank. He was our main source or beginning that makes a mature feel. As for movies, we definitely referenced a lot of the old Pulp movies of the seventies, especially the new stuff that Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez have been doing, including some of Dusk til Dawn, etc. We loved the element of violence and playfulness those movies have.

The graphic style is a little bit reminiscent of Venture Brothers. Were you guys fans of the work, and were you familiar with it going into this project?

Jeff Agala: The Venture Brothers style dates back to that same style of drama quest and that's the same era as Jack Kirby. So they're coming off the same source material, and I've been a big fan of Venture Brothers for a while. The way they handle their comedy is awesome.

It's nice to see an original 2D game. What makes the gameplay still relevant to you in an age of 3D graphics and even 3D stereoscopic gaming?

Jeff Agala: When it comes to the gameplay, I think the one thing that a lot of people miss and are getting into with mobile games and all these reconfigurations of 2D games, is the simplicity in the control. You know exactly where you're going, you know how to move. It's all very intuitive. I find there are a lot of games out there, especially with the open walled areas where you can easily get lost and the controls aren’t as intuitive or aren't as easily learnable.

How did the visual style affect the way the characters were programmed? Were there challenges associated with getting a lot of your more diverse 2D characters working in the game program?

Jeff Agala: Yeah, they're basically for the animation. We wanted to get a beautiful traditional animation style in there, so we basically created a new pipeline to get it into the engine to run on the console. We had to do a lot of intricate transition because our animation isn't based off bones like a lot of the 3D animation. These days we have to actually animate every little transition from one pose to the next, so there's a lot of painstaking work on the animators to get that. We built a lot of custom tools to make all that stuff work out and make it work in the game.

Jamie Cheng: Just adding to the gameplay: we spent a lot of time making sure that the animation wouldn't come at the expense of gameplay, so even the first few months of development was basically just moving the guy around to make sure that it both looked great and played great. In the end it was something that we were adamant that both would compliment each other rather than function as a trade off. And as Jeff said, it was all about the transitions and painstakingly animating every single little thing so that it works.

Gaming Nexus: Were there any particular characters that were hard to design? Any characters that were left on the drawing table?

Jeff Agala: Actually, the big boss everyone saw at the PAX Expo in 2009. That was one of our first go at a giant boss battle. He was kind of a challenge to design because he had a lot more detail on him. The animators on our team were very hesitant to attach that much detail on a character and fully animate him. So, from an artistic standpoint, it was a very hard character to do. But, there’s no characters that we left on the drawing board just because of the difficultly. We challenged ourselves and we pushed the art capabilities further through the project.

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