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.