Shantae Half-Genie Hero is the fourth game in WayForward’s platforming adventure series and the first to be released on home consoles. We spoke to Matt Bozon, Creative Director and creator of the Shantae series, about the developing game and the challenges of using Kickstarter to fund its development.
Thumbsticks: You have been working on the Shantae series for over a decade. Are you excited to see the series on the TV screen and does the larger canvas allow you expand the scope of the game?
Matt: The first game was intended to be on Super Nintendo, so we’ve come full circle in that regard! The series has lived entirely on handheld up till now, so it’s important to think about this game with fresh eyes. We want Half-Genie Hero to be modern, and really use the strength of these new consoles, but still be built on a classic-gaming foundation. We need visuals and audio that fills the room, and detail that the player and anyone watching will want to drink in. It should be fun to watch as well as to play.
What made you decide to go down the crowd funding route, and what are the benefits over traditional funding models?
It’s huge. Without Kickstarter, it’s a fair guess that a Shantae game of this size would take longer to develop than a typical console’s life expectancy – if funded bit by bit internally. It might sound like an exaggeration, but that’s exactly what happened to the Game Boy Advance Shantae. By getting help from KS Backers, we can put a dedicated team on it and treat it just like a work contract. The team stays on, the deadlines are locked, and the release date is assured. Our internal games have never had that advantage, which is why the’ve always been our “night job” or passion projects.
You have forged a striking artistic collaboration on this project with Inti Creates, how did that relationship develop?
It was because of KOU, an artist at Inti Creates. We found this amazing fan art on his site and contacted him. He thought we might want to talk to his boss, who turned out to be Takuya Aizu, the president and CEO of Inti Creates. We discussed working together on Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse, and everyone was into it. That was back in 2011, and we’re still going strong. Every time artwork arrives it’s like opening a Christmas present! They’re super awesome.
How important is the contribution of composer Jake Kaufman? Do you value the audio side of your games as much as the visual?
I think of a game as 3 equal parts: gameplay, visuals, and audio. Jake helped to give Shantae a musical identity with the original game, so I would not want to do this without him. There are many times where he’ll write music for Shantae, and I will design entire sections of the game to match what I’m hearing. Often the music comes after the game is built, but I prefer to listen only to the soundtrack for months while I work. I show Jake some imagery before we begin… but yeah, we just jive really well.
Having fans of the series being so close to the development process must bring its own set of pressures, what are they and how do you handle them?
It’s hard to commit to ideas publicly. One of my biggest motivators as a game developer — but really as an entertainer – is the moment of the “big reveal”. I work faster and faster the more I think about the audience’s reaction… I tune and tear down, and really like to sculpt the experience. It drives the people I work with nuts I think. But I’m looking forward that moment of astonishment when the player sees the game for the first time. Kickstarter has been a real balancing act, because we need to show enough to help Backers make a pledge and feel included, but not enough to spoil the game for them. After all, they’re who we’re making this game for.
With Kickstarter you have to be much more open about the the content of the game, will there still be plenty of surprises?
Ha ha, well yes. Even though we revealed a lot (maybe too much) in our reveal of Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse in Nintendo Power last year, so many things change during the course of development that it doesn’t really matter in the end. The original germ of an idea is still in there though. That’s how I predict it will be with the Kickstarter project too. Backers will get a good idea of how games are made from watching the project evolve and take shape. But they won’t have the true experience until we release the Beta to backers at that reward tier… and ultimately to the public.