I was excited to hear Boss Fight Books would be covering Shovel Knight. It’s rare to be able to get an inside look into what it takes to make a successful indie game.
Boss Fight Books publish a series of documentary-style books focusing on classic video games, telling stories on game development, game design, narrative and even personal gaming experiences. While previous books mostly focus on mainstream and retro games, one of their most interesting books was on the indie hit Spelunky, written by the game creator Derek Yu. Derek provided an insightful look into what it took to make a game by himself and his journey to finish his game. I was anticipating David Craddock would deliver a similar experience, and much like Shovel Knight the game, my expectations were exceeded.
Shovel Knight was always an intriguing game to me, it was released in 2014 and got great reviews and had wide media coverage and even has an Amiibo I wish I had bought. I still think it’s strange that they released free expansions to owners of the game. When mainstream games have a season pass milking players for money and mobile gaming is filled with predatory in-game purchases, Shovel Knight was a breath of fresh air. Drawing inspiration from great 8-bit classics like Duck Tales, Castlevania and Mega Man, games that focused on game play. I was interested to find out more about who had made this game, what they had done to make it so successful…and why a knight with a shovel?
Yacht Club Games clearly had a passion and went to great lengths to make a game that evokes nostalgia but still holds up as a great modern gaming experience today. David L. Craddock explains how Yacht Club Games was formed, the difficulties they faced and goes into great detail on game design decisions and story elements.
I found it amusing that the in the chapter on the Kickstarter campaign they made it a point not to include the Yacht Club Games team but yet this book was focusing on them.
Craddock’s explanation of design decisions and game theory made me appreciate the work of Yacht Club Games even more. A key part of Shovel Knight is the checkpoint system, it was interesting to learn about the iterative process of designing this feature, how it was eventually implemented to reward risk rather than punish players.
I also enjoyed reading about the process of tuning the story around Shield Knight, during the NES era of games the goal of the game was often to rescue a helpless Princess. Yacht Club Games designed the character and created the story of Shield Knight to empower her rather than just be a helpless damsel called “Beloved”.
This book is a great read and as cliché as it is, I couldn’t put it down. If you are a fan of Shovel Knight or indie game development you should read it.
After finishing the Shovel Knight book I’m now excited to go back and replay the game, after all…the only thing more fun than reading about the game is playing it!
A review copy was provided by the publisher.