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Shank is Klei’s perspective on what a 2D brawler can be. The game tries to combine a great sense of control, graphic novel art direction, and high-quality animation to provide a cinematic experience. [From IGF info page]
Interview with Jamie Cheng
Who are you and how are you involved with Shank?
I’m Jamie Cheng, founder of Klei.
How did you become interested in game development?
Ever since I can remember? I grew up in Hong Kong playing Japanese video games, then moved back to Canada where I studied Computing Science. I tried several times to create a full game, and finally cobbled together what became Eets with a group of friends.
My first professional game dev job was at Relic Entertainment where I was an AI programmer. Writing the AI for the original Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War was a hugely defining experience for me. It was a fantastic time.
How and when did the concept for Shank originate?
Jeff (Agala, Creative Director) and I thought up the concept while working on our previous game, Sugar Rush. We were talking about creating experiences for the player, and we got terribly excited when we realized that with the crew and technology that we had, we could create a fantastically cinematic game but still keep it grounded in great gameplay.
So we decided to just go for it, and in January 2009, our whole team jumped on the idea of creating a new defining Double Dragon experience.
Over the course of development, what was Shank’s most serious issue and how was it resolved?
When we started development, we had no pipeline to build the huge levels that Shank needed. There’s just a ton of content needed to bring a level in Shank together, and this was hard on both the artists and the programmers.
For example, Chris Costa spent months listening to designers and artists’ feedback about the level creation pipeline, and working with the other programmers to allow the game to read giant amounts of data. Without that effort, we just wouldn’t have been able to create this game.
What’s one thing you did wrong (individually or as a team) that you feel could have been avoided? How?
With a brand new pipeline and a game with way more content than we had handled before, we definitely had some problems with defining the stages of creation. It’s hard to say what we could have done to avoid it because we didn’t really understand the problem space.
Again, level creation suffered from this, but now that we’ve been through it, our tools and process have evolved so that the steps of how to design a level, how to create the art, what the steps are for iteration, and the final polish points are all a lot more defined and less rework has to happen.
This is true for all the content in the game, and the learning and improvements is going to translate into creating a more solid process for content creation in future games, and ultimately a happier development team and a games. Shank is actually our smoothest production yet with the least amount of overall overtime, but there’s still lots to be improved.
If there was one thing you could look back on during development and say “that was really cool” – what was it and why?
When you build a game, there’s always the stage where everything looks like crap, and then seemingly all of a sudden everything works. For us that was about a week before we demoed at PAX2009.
We saw all the choices that we had made become a cohesive package, and seeing other players smile and laugh maniacally as they tried it out was intensely satisfying.
How long has Shank been in development? How much development time remains?
We started in January 2009. We’re shipping in the Summer, so it’s definitely looming!
What was used to make the game and what tools aided in development?
From the technical side: Visual Studio, Lua, Fmod, Scaleform, Hudson CI, various other tools, and most importantly, our own homegrown tools and pipeline.
From the artistic side: Flash, Photoshop, and various other programs.
What’s the main thing you think makes your game fun?
I would argue that all the details matter, and we built the game so all the elements support our vision of a cinematic brawler. But if you broke it down, we value the sense of control that blends with the animation. We spent the first few months iterating on just moving around, and then later on how Shank beats his enemies to a pulp, and it’s definitely where we get the most comments.
Besides the IGF, what else have you done to get your game before players? What’s worked the best?
No question about it – our showing at PAX 2009 was the best thing we’ve ever done to bring attention to the game. It was sort of a coming out party, to show the players and press what we’ve been working on and get some honest feedback.
Is there anything about Shank that you would like to reveal to other developers?
Shank is the biggest risk Klei has taken since we started the company, and we’ve grown as a team because of it. We were able to take the time to create the right tools, and building an authentic experience without politics.
What’s next for you?
Players, us included, are expecting a lot out of Shank so we’re just set on making it the best experience we can. After that, we’re going to continue to explore ways to improve the way we present our stories.
We’ve been very fortunate to be able to create our own vision, and we’re going to keep refining our creative and production process to let us keep doing so.