Digging into Shovel Knight’s legacy with Yacht Club Games’ David D’Angelo

Shovel Knight Legacy David D'Angelo

It’s hard to believe how much traction Shovel Knight has gotten over the years. After a successful KickStarter campaign wrapped up back in 2013, the game has received huge critical, commercial, and fan reception across a number of platforms, including the Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, and PlayStation 4.

It’s easy to see why it’s so appealing. Shovel Knight caters to the classic 8-bit platforming crowd, but with new gameplay nuances that are their own. You play as the heroic shovel-carrying hero as he makes his way across various levels, challenging bosses and picking up as much loot as he can. The game has been a big hit on the streaming front, and managed to sell and has sold over 2 million copies as of April 2018 — no small feat for an indie game.

On the development side, it’s been a long and difficult journey, but one that’s paid off. The game has earned several accolades since its release, including Best Independent Game at The Game Awards in 2014. Its success is also partly thanks to the main game’s many spin-off adventures. These include Plague of Shadows (featuring a new “hero” Plague Knight); Spectre of Torment (starring the mischievous but skillful Spectre Knight) and the recently released King of Cards, starring King Knight and introducing a new card game, Joustus); and Shovel Knight Showdown, a multiplayer Smash Bros.-esque brawling game for multiple players. Success was further driven by some of the guest stars seen along the way, including the likes of Kratos from God of War on PlayStation platforms and the Battletoads on Xbox One.

Now, with the final release of Shovel Knight: Treasure Trove, complete with all the content above, Yacht Club Games has come full circle from where it started. With that, we sat down with one of the game’s developers at Yacht Club Games, David D’Angelo, to reflect on the game’s legacy—and to hear what could be coming next.

Digging In

Shovel Knight’s success over the years has surprised nearly everyone, and when asked if it was at all expected: “Definitely not!” D’Angelo said. “We hoped and dreamed it would be, but it still seems crazy that an 8-bit-style game could turn the attention of so many people. We couldn’t be happier and more honored.”

The game has become a top favorite over the past few years, never one losing any amount of its steam since its release. It continues to be a streaming favorite in the community, as well as a selection during the bi-annual Games Done Quick marathons.

As far as the challenges that came with the game’s development, D’Angelo explained that most of that came from establishing Yacht Club Games itself.

“The biggest challenge for us was figuring out how to run a company,” he said. “We had tons of experience making games, but we never had to really engage in the business side. Now we’re much more practiced at screwing everything up there, so hopefully for our next game, our company will run way smoother.”

D’Angelo serves as a member of the development team, as well as Shovel Knight‘s programmer. He was on board for a good while during Yacht Club Games’ establishment, which first came around in 2011 with Sean Velasco, who previously worked as director for the team at WayForward. Obviously, those indie roots carried pretty well into this project.

Shovel Knight

On Guest Appearances, and If Anything Anything Was Missing

The Shovel Knight character has proven he’s leaving a legacy beyond the game itself, including appearances in other titles like Yooka-Laylee, Azure Striker Gunvolt, and even Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, as an assist Trophy.

“We feel so lucky that we created a character developers love enough to want to include in their worlds,” D’Angelo said. “It’s fun for us to see Shovel Knight show up in all kinds of places.”

As for Shovel Knight making an appearance in other up-and-coming games like the ones mentioned above, D’Angelo added the team was thrilled that his character managed to give them exposure. The team is “so happy that we can provide some smaller, cool games attention, so players might notice them and see how fun they are.”

And what’s more, nothing apparently got lost on the cutting room floor during the game’s development. “We pretty much crammed every little thing we could imagine into all of these games,” he said. “If there’s anything we didn’t, it’ll likely find its way into a future game.”

Shovel Knight

The End of the Beginning, and What’s To Come

When asked about what stands out the most for Shovel Knight after all this time, D’Angelo noted that “it’s hard to say. We hope we’ve made a fun game, and hopefully a fun game is fun to everyone, forever.”

But he does know where the team is going next: working alongside Mechanical Head Studios on the retro ninja action game Cyber Shadow, which is due for release sometime this year. You can see the trailer for this 8-bit style adventure (fitting for the studio) below.

“We reached out to (game designer) Aarne (Hunziker) as we thought the game looked really cool,” D’Angelo said about the project. “We wanted to see if he needed help making the game shine, and turns out he was open to the idea of collaborating with us. It’s turned out to be a really great match.”

We do know that a new game, Shovel Knight Dig, a new console/PC adventure coming from the developers at Nitrome, who previously worked on the indie platforming adventure Bomb Chicken. It’s set to arrive sometime in 2021; but where the hero goes following that, it’s hard to tell, according to D’Angelo.

“We’re on to the next thing—stay tuned!” he said, not hinting at whether “the next thing” was Dig or something entirely new. “There are more fun games to come.”

If you haven’t, ahem, dug in yet, Shovel Knight: Treasure Trove is available now for Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, and PC.