IGF Factor 2010: Shank

By Kieron Gillen on February 26th, 2010 at 1:30 pm.

You were excited when John brought this up last week. As is only right. Shank is one of the most visceral games in this year’s IGF, and picked up a nomination for Visual Excellence for its efforts. We took time to talk to Jamie Cheng of Klei to find out about the origins of this love-letter to the idea of classic brawlers.

RPS: Firstly, a brief intro to those who may not know you. Who are you and your team? What’s your background? Why get into games? Why get into indie games?

Jamie Cheng: I’m Jamie Cheng, founder of Klei. My background is in AI programming, previously working at Relic Entertainment on projects like Dawn of War.

People at Klei are intensely passionate about games as a medium and independent development allows us to create our own authentic experiences. I love creating games and there certainly isn’t anything I’d rather be doing.

RPS: And… Shank. Tell us about it. What were its origins? What are you trying to accomplish with it? What are you most pleased about it? What nags?

Jamie Cheng: Jeff (Agala, Creative Director) and I created the concept while working on our previous game. Right from the outset, we wanted to bring some old school gameplay but also make sure it was supported with the best animation and visuals we could muster.

The story that comes to mind is one that came up again and again at PAX. People would tell me they loved the way the game looks — and then they started playing, and realized they had a ton of control over Shank’s moves. The animation worked so well it looked canned. Those were by far the most satisfying comments.

The pacing of the game is hugely important to us, and I think we all agreed the pacing of the enemy encounters was the weakest portion of our demo. This is something we’ve been addressing, and so far we’re quite pleased with the results. I can’t wait to get more hands on this game…

RPS: You’ve often described Shank as a 2D cinematic brawler, hearkening back to the good old days of Double Dragon and similar titles. Is ‘nostalgia gaming’ a trend you’ve been seeing recently? What are you doing to update/expand the genre? Is there something that makes this game distinctly Klei’s brainchild, separating it from any other entry in the category of brawlers?

Jamie Cheng: People have great memories of older games, but when they actually play them, it usually doesn’t live up to your imagination. In a lot of ways, Shank fills that gap and gives players what they remember, so players can enjoy, as you say, “nostalgia gaming”. But on top of that, we integrated a story, visuals, and feel that hasn’t been done before. At least not to this level, and hence the phrase “cinematic brawler”.

RPS: What are your feelings on the IGF this year – pleased to be nominated? Do you have particular love, bemusement or hate for any of the other entries? Is there anything you think is missing?

Jamie Cheng: The IGF and I have a long history. Even before I started Klei, Eets was submitted as an entrant in 2004. I love what the IGF represents, and because of that I volunteered as a judge last year. So, finally being nominated this year is both an amazing testament to our team and also a point of personal achievement.

I have to admit I haven’t been paying much attention to the other entries this year, though. My mind has been completely occupied with Shank, and making it the best experience possible.

RPS: How do you feel about the indie scene generally this year? Some people have been relatively downbeat about 2009, after 2008 being so obviously incendiary. What are the themes from the last few years, in your eyes? Is there something that you think people are missing?

Jamie Cheng: From my point of view every year has been better than the last for independents creating original content. There are more distribution channels, improved awareness, and increased sales. Sure, there were some pretty big waves in 2008-2009, but this was more due to a changing industry rather than a shrinking one. And in my opinion, it’s changing for the better.

RPS: How does the future look for you? What do you think is in store for the industry and indie games in 2010? Is there anything else you’re working on that you’d like to share?

Jamie Cheng: I’m amazed at the depth of the indie community, and it’s only going to get stronger. The quality of games keeps increasing, and the distribution is growing apace. An more developers get recognition for their work, I think it’ll improve the industry as a whole because players will make purchasing decisions based on the talent, allowing developers to take more risks.

I’m trying not to think too much beyond Shank, but 2010 is shaping up to be a most fantastic year. Just being able to work on projects we love is reason enough to celebrate.

RPS: Thanks for your time.

You can follow Shank’s development on its own blog.

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24 Comments »

  1. Gareth says:

    I love the visual style of Shank so much. Really beautiful in motion, it looks quite different to anything I’ve seen before. Gameplay is nice and retro, bit of a throwback, although as Jamie said, the pacing on the demo they showed off wasn’t great and it seemed potentially a bit repetitive.

  2. ShaunCG says:

    This looks like wonderful fun. Is there any word on the possibility of multiplayer? As it looks strictly 2D I’m hazarding a guess that it’s single-player only. Eagerly awaiting a demo, either way.

    Re. repetition: eh, Streets of Rage 2 can still captivate me for hours, especially if playing with a friend, and this looks a lot more varied and responsive (not to mention pretty) than that old classic.

  3. Gareth says:

    ShaunCG said:
    Re. repetition: eh, Streets of Rage 2 can still captivate me for hours, especially if playing with a friend, and this looks a lot more varied and responsive (not to mention pretty) than that old classic.

    That was more a worry looking at the gameplay demo that was shown a while back, when it was first revealed. Think it was probably just me.

  4. pimorte says:

    Looks visually appealing and dead empty for gameplay.
    ENEMIES SHOULD NOT WAIT THEIR TURN.

    • Mr_Day says:

      Seconded. I was wondering if all the baddies would back off as you wailed on their friends, or just the ones that wanted to make sure they had your full attention as you applied a chainsaw to their face.

      EDIT: Though they do have plenty of time to change it, no doubt.

    • MarkN says:

      Enemies should wait their turn if it plays better when enemies wait their turn. Simple as.

      It doesn’t matter a jot what anyone thinks should happen, it’s what plays best that matters.

    • Mario Figueiredo says:

      Enemies should act exactly as the game creator wants them to act. No less.

      Players are meant to play. Programmers and designers are meant to code their games. This “I’m a player, I know better” and “I’m a designer, I should listen to what players say” is becoming rubbish. If programmers pay less attention to the 10 million ideas a 10 million crowd has about their game, and instead do as they (the creators) want, games will become better. Because they are exactly as the creator wanted them to be. No less.

    • Mr_Day says:

      @MarkN

      You make a good point, I just find it odd to imagine someone would leave you to your gruesome work at the point you are most vulnerable to a counter attack.

      Going back and playing the old Streets of Rage or Golden Axe, even they had enemies that backed off – it just seemed to make more sense, as it was usually when you were at your most ready for them – you are not dealing with someone else, you are physically facing the oppoenent.

      I must be stuck in me ways.

  5. unaco says:

    I think some sort of tie-in with the Venture Bros, and making the lead character Brock Samson would have been in order here… that blond-haired buttercream frosted murder cake would have been perfect in this sort of game. But that’s maybe just me

    Looks pretty good as it is though. Reminds me alot of Streets of Rage, along with Double Dragon.

  6. deuterium. says:

    Metal Slug with knives?

  7. Gareth says:

    deuterium. said:
    Metal Slug with knives?

    Metal Slug has knives. Just saying.

  8. Bremze says:

    I’m in love with single plane brawlers so this will probably be a day one purchase for me if the combat is as fluid as it looks.

  9. Brulleks says:

    @ Unaco “I think some sort of tie-in with the Venture Bros, and making the lead character Brock Samson would have been in order here…”

    Oh yes, yes, yes, yes, yes. YES!

    Someone has to set up a meeting between Publick Jackson and these guys right now.

  10. Wulf says:

    I like him. He’s a positive thinker to the point where his brain is almost shining, and I’d bet he’s a bit of a creative thinker thanks to that, too. I’m very interesting in seeing what becomes of Shank, now. I was interested in it before, du to the art style, but even more so now that I’ve read the words of one of the people behind it.

    Plus, I miss Streets of Rage. Oh! I have a thought! People of Klei, if you’re listening: Playable Kangaroo! Playable Kangaroos make everything better. Well, that might not be true, but a playable Kangaroo did make Streets of Rage 3 better.

    I get the feeling from the screenshots though that, with the vibe of guns and post-apocalyptia, it’s probably going to remind me of Cadillacs & Dinosaurs more than anything. Ah, what a beautiful little thing that was in the arcades. A game based on a pulp fiction cartoon which was based on a pulp fiction comic. …and now I want to watch said cartoon again.

    If you’ll excuse me… *runs off to YouTube.*

  11. Howl says:

    Maybe I’m having a bad day but I’m getting wound up by this relentless obsession of the gaming industry with dangling delicious carrots at people years before they can actually have them. I just found out that Settlers 7 is going to be released next month and you know what? I’m super excited to the point of bursting. There’s almost no exposure of it anywhere apart from obscure German gaming sites. That’s so refreshing to get hyped up a month before I can buy it.

    Shank looks great fun. It looked amazing 6 months ago when the same first level video was released. It doesn’t even have a release date. I suspect there will be many, many Shank videos and developer blogs and blah, blah, blah. By the time I can play it I will be sick of the sight of it.

  12. fuggles says:

    Err…well sadly the AI in dawn of war was ridiculously bad, but maybe that’s why he’s now doing other things…

    Anyway, I’ve sent this to the collective before but with no result (boo!) – for those who love Streets of Rage (me!) then there is a remake free for PC wherein they have added Adam as a fully functioning character and essentially meshed all the stages from SoR1-3. Game’s at Beta 1.4 with 1.5 as the final release fairly imminent, which when produced should have 18 playable characters and 40 levels!

    Anyway, 1.4 has the 6 playable characters, all the moves and a lot of levels. Oh, and guns. And multiple endings. And motorbikes.

    http://www.bombergames.net/sorr_project/

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DJ0Isr3Aynw

    There’s a vista patch in the FAQ section and running it in compatibility mode as XP works just fine.

    • Vinraith says:

      Err…well sadly the AI in dawn of war was ridiculously bad

      Off topic, but whenever I see a comment like this I’m compelled to mention the Skirmish AI mod for DoW. It elevates DoW’s AI from subpar to one of the best in the genre.

  13. Hmm says:

    Soo… I guess a PC release is a given if RPS managed to conduct this interview?
    The game looks fantastic, I love the artistic style. Hoping for the release on Impulse.

  14. Magic H8 Ball says:

    Graphics look great, gameplay looks like a wet rag. Enemies are too tough and seem to not pose a challenge at all, and availability of ranged attacks(as crappy as they might be, hey guyz i herd shooting someone is less effective than punching) means you can just pewpew your way from one boss to another. Golden Axe and the other thing could be so slow because they allowed for movement in three directions, which meant you could be surrounded and had to watch where every enemies were was all the time. Shank is strictly 2D so it’s just a matter of making a mob and then beating the shit out of it. As such in needs to be much faster and go for quantity over quality.

  15. WZO says:

    I don’t have a problem with multiple enemies attacking with this game, you have dual wielding weapons after all. Just so long as it doesn’t interrupt the player as they are attacked, i.e. chainsawing one guy as another grabs your neck and then BAM! Shank em.

  16. Baw says:

    Yea, sod streets of rage.

    Final Fight is where it was AT!
    Haggar smell-my-pants-how-you-like-THAT-son piledriver > Zangief 360 for the win!

    That, and stuff like Aliens Vs Predator the sidescrolling beat-em-up.

    Haw yea.

    Props for making/trying to make more beat-em-up goodness.

  17. Pod says:

    I love brawlers.
    This looked great. It reminded me of Comix Zone. But hopefully this footage is on easy-of-easiest-easy mode.

    Also: it doesn’t even have a false Z dimension? Even Renegade had one of those!