Yacht Club Games struck Kickstarter pay dirt with Shovel Knight, an NES throwback that combines the sensibilities of Capcom's best platformers with all the fun of digging in the dirt. The finished product is every bit as good as we hoped, and we couldn't help ourselves from geeking out over the terrific game with its creators. For this post-mortem piece we chat with Yacht Club Games' Sean Velasco and Nick Wozniak about the idea of making Shield Knight a co-op buddy, the inspiration behind the unique checkpoint system, and what's next for the studio.

Where did the idea for a game about a knight with a shovel come from?
Nick Wozniak: The inception of the idea last January happened sort of as a joke conversation over lunch that kind of got too serious. It's a serious conversion in terms that we were putting actual thought forth, but it wasn't like "Let's spend the next year and a half of our lives making a shovel game."

Sean Velasco [pictured below]: We went into lunch talking about this NES game we knew we were going to be doing. It was going to be 8-bit and sort of simple and based around one mechanic. That's all we knew.

Wozniak: We were thinking about what kind of mechanics we like a lot and the down-thrust in Zelda II came up. As far as combat goes in that game, it's very satisfying.

Velasco: It's like the quintessential attack. It's like a Mario jump, it's a stab, and also in Zelda II it's a great sword fighting maneuver.

Wozniak: That spawned the conversation of 'If you're hitting the guys from above then you're also digging through blocks and you're also maybe flipping guys over to hit their underbellies.' That motion of what we were describing didn't really fit with the theme of a sword. Eventually someone said to make it a knight with a shovel and that spawned the discussion of 'I guess if he's a shovel guy then he's like Plummet Knight or maybe he's Shovel Knight, the Shoveling Knight'.

Where did the idea for the story of Shovel Knight his lost Shield Knight partner come from?
Velasco: When we started development of the game, Shield Knight wasn't much of a character. She was a McGuffin. She was just a thing that [players] went after, but she wasn't really a thing in and of herself. In fact, she was called Princess McGuffin for a while.

Wozniak: We hadn't really thought about that part of the game other than 'We want to make a game about a knight and he runs around'.

Velasco: It was supposed to be like he has a shovel and at the end you have to bury your wife. It was like 'That's the story'. How could we make that happen? [laughs] Obviously it's changed a lot from that, but the idea of making something that was a little bit heartwarming, but a little bit sad, and a little bit melancholy sometimes. That was kind of in our brains from the beginning.

Where did the idea for the bonfire dream sequences come from?
Velasco: I don't want to say it was Dark Souls. It wasn't like 'There's a bonfire in Dark Souls, so we'll put it in this game'.

Wozniak: It's almost like a breathing time, a time to relax after the level, because after the level there's this big, intense battle.

Velasco: Another thing is in our game, and NES games in general, you have to be able to say something without saying anything. So it's like what has more charged meaning in it than a solitary knight at his campfire either reliving something that happened or just having a little moment of respite after a big battle? That was one of the key images that anchored the home game. Because before there was Shovel Knight gameplay there was Shovel Knight at the campfire.

Wozniak: So the thought to incorporate that into the story of him constantly reliving trying to save Shield Knight came about.

Velasco: The idea is that he would be reliving a nightmare over and over again. And it would be something that's playable to you as the player to get you more invested in it. So instead of watching Shovel Knight being freaked out and trying to catch Shield Knight and having these recurring nightmares, you're actually experiencing it as it happens. And also just a like a real nightmare after the stage is done you don't know what's going to happen necessarily. Am I just going to fight some guys? Am I not going to have a dream at all? We talked about Mother 3 in our Kickstarter as something we wanted to try to emotionally engage the player in some way like the way that Mother 3 does. To hear that people have had experiences with this story and have gotten a little misty eyed at the ending is really nice. We put a lot of effort into making sure the story worked and that it was everything that a big adventure should be. I'm glad that it wasn't a mess, because the stories in our other games are often a big mess. [laughs]

Is trying to make a game that sticks close to NES design conventions harder or easier than just making a modern side-scroller?
Velasco: I'd say it's a mix of both when you have a limitation like that. We never had to ask ourselves which colors we should use. Well, of course we had to ask ourselves that, but we didn't have to ask ourselves because [the NES only had] a palette with 54 usable colors.

Wozniak: Creating the palette is actually a big part of creating a game.

Velasco: On the other hand, if we had these really stringent rules those are limiting. We wanted to break out of them and we did in some cases. It was really a balance.

Wozniack: It was a balance where you sometimes struggle against it, but sometimes it also helps you get through certain areas. I wouldn't say it was necessarily harder than other games, but it was something that was constantly on our minds throughout development.

Velasco: The challenges were different. I would never say that a game that I've worked on before like 'That one just looks too animated.' [laughs]

Wozniak: Yeah, that's a phrase that never happens.

Velasco: Like for example, [Nick Wozniak] did a six-frame [animation] for that flying dragon. I just pulled half the frames out.

Wozniak: That's right...

Velasco: Sorry. But on the other hand, Spectre Knight has extremely elaborate animation with his cloak and everything, but that still looks and feels totally natural. It was really walking a line, and it was tough sometimes. If something didn't look like NES, we asked ourselves how we could make it look more like the NES. Or parts of some dumb NES conventions are just not working, like how the HUD draws over the player or vice versa. Or how enemies would respawn or not respawn when you enter the room. We had to think a lot about taking that kind of stuff into account.