Shank Interview


posted 8/9/2010 by Tina Amini
other articles by Tina Amini
One Page Platforms: 360
There were certain segments within some of the screen shots and video that were distributed that showcased the game in silhouettes. The shadow aesthetic is something that has become really popular with games like Limbo and a couple of other titles that have come out recently. Was that something that was appealing to you from a design standpoint?
Jeff Agala: Part of our main objective here artistically for Shank was to was to get movie-style moments in there – cinematic moments – where it’s not the same old tactical game constantly. So we threw in moments like that and made the silhouette on the bridge just to vary up the visuals and to give stand-up cool moments. I think they do one of those in Kill Bill, where it pops into a silhouette for a second and that brings your eye to that moment.

Jamie Cheng: From a game player’s perspective, it was great because the way that they animated it was really about the clothing. You could really see the characters in the silhouette clearly even though, again, it was a silhouette. So, that worked out really well, I think. The visuals do enhance the gameplay, and that showed it right there.

Gaming Nexus: There are a lot of games that use the cartoon and 2D aesthetic, but what makes Shank different?

Jeff Agala: When it comes to other games in the cartoony style, I think Shank differentiates itself because it is a little bit more mature, and a little bit more detailed and gritty. I was doing a lot of children’s properties for awhile including Atomic Betty, so I wanted to stray away from the typical children’s cartoon. Knowing that Shank would be a very violent game, we wanted to avoid the super cartoony look. We took it to a point where it has a lot of detail. It’s almost reaching that point of graphic novel artwork and animation, and that was our ultimate goal.

What are some of the advantages and disadvantages to making a downloadable title versus doing a full disc game?

Jeff Agala: For us as an independent company, an individual developer, we were going to keep it smaller so we can keep it pure to the vision that was all killer, and not a filler type of game. We wanted it to be a nice, neat presentation that you package, and I feel like if we did a larger game there would be a lot more reasons to add more filler. So, we were allowed to keep it nice and tight.

Jamie Cheng: In terms of digital – Shank would have never had happened if we made a retail game because of a lot of different reasons. Not the least of which was that we funded most of it before we ever signed on a publisher, and that was because we felt confident that even if nobody picked it up we would be able to still publish, which we’ve done before. It really allows us to be all out creative, so we created the product before we actually shipped it out and it was what it was.

Being that the game is downloadable and the scope is a little bit smaller, how many different enemy variations are there and can you talk about some of them?

Jamie Cheng: When it comes to behaviors, I don’t know what the final count is but there’s a lot.

Jeff Agala: There’s a lot of different enemies, different behaviors and looks, etc. We both find a lot of different environments in the game, and each environment has a different set of types of enemies, and each one has multiple bosses as well.

Jamie Cheng: I think that it was interesting because we were really looking at how to vary the different enemies. From a design standpoint, it is very counter-intuitive because too many varieties means that the player can’t understand what the character is doing; they’re always surprised. So you actually want a consistent feel of: “these guys do these things and those guys do those things,” so that you can counter it properly and have a great experience.

There is definitely a balance between those two things. From a visual standpoint, Jeff was mentioning that characters would fit the visuals of each environment. That’s how we approached it, and as he said we didn’t actually count the differences. But there’s a fair amount, and at the same time we had to balance the player experience.

What types of enemies specifically?

Jamie Cheng: For example the ranged guys (we call some of them scrapers), there are the close up guys, the normal goons that just come up to you and smack you around. Then there are the more intelligent type of goons, and we actually leveled the goons depending on how smart they are. As you go through the game they get smarter, they dodge more, they block more. There are bums in our game which pounce on you and grab you. There are large guys, there are chargers.

Jeff Agala: And that’s just the regular enemy goons. There are also the large range of bosses.

Gaming Nexus: What was the trickiest part of implementing co-op in the game? Jamie Cheng mentioned on the PlayStation blog that: “...we went back and designed specific boss battles that can only be won with a second player at hand.” Could you be more specific?
Jamie Cheng: In terms of the difficulties with co-op: we tried putting in two characters into a single player mission. We found it was very difficult to tune it because it becomes a different game when you have two characters in it. When we have one character, it is a lot more deliberate.

With one character, you can see where all the other guys are. It’s not chaos. You can be quite tactical in terms of how you are fighting the enemies, and we can play around with the camera quite nicely to have these really nice moments. But once you add a second player, the camera has to track both people. You don’t know exactly where people are; you have to take into account what happens if one person moves and the other person doesn’t.

There are also more enemies, because you need more guys to fight. So it becomes a different kind of experience. Then what really pushed me over the edge was the fact that we couldn’t actually build anything that was co-op specific. So specifically about the bosses, we couldn’t build a boss where you needed to grapple him once with one character and then grapple him again with a different character, because you couldn’t be sure that there are two characters there.

So, in the end, when we split it into two missions - rather, two campaigns - it was super clear that this was the better solution for us anyway. We could focus on a co-op campaign where if a boss was a big butcher who is throwing barrels at you, you both have to be shooting the barrels at the same time. You have to cooperatively shoot the barrel and if you don’t, it doesn’t blow up in time. Here we’re able to get people to start talking to each other. When he’s stunned you have to grapple him once, drag him over to the other player and then the other player grapples him again to to do the finishing move. Those are the kind of examples we have in co-op where we can design it specifically for co-op gameplay.

Gaming Nexus: Do you guys have a favorite weapon?

Jamie Cheng: We do, but we’re not allowed to talk about it because it has not been announced. We’ll talk about it after the game launches. It is interesting though because everybody does have a different favorite weapon, which really pleases me because that’s how I knew the weapons were different enough.

Jeff Agala: For me, one of the coolest weapons of the game is the different ways to use the grenade. Grenades add a lot to the game.

Would you guys consider making a bigger disc-based sequel, or has that ever come to mind?

Jeff Agala: It’s not the first time we’ve been asked whether or not we’re going to do retail. As a studio, we’ve always thought about what’s best for the game we’re making, so really we think about the game first and then whether it fits the platform after. If it comes to the point where Shank can fit that kind of environment, then that makes sense, but honestly I think that this kind of game - the tight 2D beat em up kind of game - fits a lot better on digital distribution for us.

We'd like to thank Hiro Ito from fortyseven communications for organizing and moderating the discussion, and Jamie Cheng and Jeff Agala for their time and insight into the 2D side-scrolling action game, Shank.

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