Interview: Matt Bozon of WayForward

October 22nd, 2014 -

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With the release of Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse upon us (you can read our review here), it seemed fitting to do an interview with the mastermind behind the series. Mr. Bozon answered not only our questions, but those of the fans that reached out to us for this interview! A huge thank you to Matt for taking the time to answer all our questions with as much depth as he did.

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How would you describe Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse to someone who has never heard of Shantae?

MATT: It’s a top view action/adventure game turned on its side. There aren’t many of this kind of game these days, though they were fairly popular during the NES and SNES era. I guess you could call it a side-view Zelda, or something of a mix of Mega Man and Metroid. I think that’s why Capcom published the original game back in 2001. We haven’t strayed much from Shantae’s side view adventure game roots for this installment, but we do use a much more modern pace and presentation. It’s a fast paced game considering that it’s also fairly long!

What is the inspiration behind the story?

MATT: It’s a different spin on the Arabian Nights stories. In Shantae’s world, Genies are a race of creature that is pure magic. The girls born of genies and humans are kind of these magical misfits. With her parents out of the picture, Shantae has taken up post as her town’s protector, repelling monsters and pirates and the like. In the previous games she makes an enemy of the Queen of the Seven Seas, Risky Boots. Risky plots against Shantae to steal her magic and change her into a weakling human. And that’s where this new story begins. Shantae wants to save the day, but is no longer able to use her magic in Sequin Land’s darkest hour. So, she’s got to combine forces with her mortal enemy to get the job done.

What do you want people to experience when they play Pirate’s Curse?

MATT: More than anything I want them to be entertained. To laugh, have fun, and soak up the great puzzles, animations, and combat, and maybe overcome a few stiff challenges along the way and earn their rewards. I want them to be satisfied and put a big smile on their faces!

Currently it’s set to release on the Nintendo e-shop exclusively. Is there a possibility for other platforms, or are there elements only the 3DS and Wii U can handle?

MATT: Pirate’s Curse was designed to be a dual screen experience, and was intended to be 3DS only at first, which is why we put such a tremendous effort towards the stereoscopic visuals. Then we decided to bring it to Wii U as well, mostly because the engine was portable and fans showed interest. Sure, we want to get our games into the most hands possible, so we’ll eventually port Pirate’s Curse to other places. I’m hopeful that we can move more quickly on Pirate’s Curse than on Risky’s Revenge… which is still making its way to new territories and platforms (recently Steam) as we speak.

Risky’s Revenge included the platforming element of changing to the foreground and background – does Pirate’s Curse include this mechanic? Does it bring something else new to the table that other games have yet to do?

MATT: No, that’s a very distinguishing factor of Risky’s Revenge, and we didn’t want to duplicate the same idea twice. This time we’ve broken the world into islands, each with a labyrinth, and some with smaller sub-areas to explore. By using Risky’s pirate ship, players can “warp” from island to island with ease.

You’ve been at WayForward for a LONG time – how have things changed, and do you miss anything from the past?

MATT: Wow, it’s been almost 25 years since Voldi Way opened the doors! I remember when the company fit on a couch! I miss the chemistry of having the whole company within ear shot, especially in the days before email. It had a very game club feel. Now that we average 80 – 100 people, you still get that, but in smaller groups. I still really enjoy small teams of around a dozen people, but there’s something special about working in groups of 2 or 3. I also miss the steady sound of pencil sharpeners and animation paper being flipped by hand.

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Does WayForward still have the same struggle getting devkits for gaming platforms? Or was that a specifically odd problem with Nintendo in the early days?

MATT: It’s been less of a challenge these days, but we are sometimes limited by how many pieces of hardware we can get, especially when a system is new and not yet released. Going way back, my Game Boy kit was in Japanese so I had to randomly click buttons and write down the results until I got the hang of which did what. We also kept bowls of ice on hand to slide into our computers to keep them running, since overheating PC towers in southern California was a huge problem back then! But Nintendo – they’ve always treated us extremely well.

How different is it developing a game series like Shantae now, compared to the industry back in the Game Boy Color days? Easier? Harder?

MATT: It is much more complex today. Back then 2 developers could make a game that was pretty competitive in quality to other games of its type. Now it takes a great deal more time, money, and tech to remain competitive! The perceived gap between an indie game and a AAA first party product is much larger. But it doesn’t mean that more money and a bigger team equals more fun. I think that’s why the indie scene is getting so much praise lately… fun is fun!

I’ve read your art style is influenced by Miyazaki Hayao (among others); what are your top three Ghibli (or Miyazaki pre-Ghibli) movies and why?

MATT: Ha ha! Well, Castle of Cagliostro is my favorite movie of his. Which is funny since it was a property licensed from Monkey Punch and not something that Miyazaki created on his own. But every time I watch the movie I notice something new, and there is something so compelling about those characters. I’ve also learned that many of my other favorite movies including Raiders of the Lost Ark were inspired by Lupin, which was apparently inspired by Spy vs Spy and other cold war comics. The black spy/white spy cross/doublecross is huge in Raiders and Lupin (I promise you, Indiana Jones wore a black coat in the first movie). I also love Castle in the Sky, Totoro, Kiki, and Spirited Away. Top three is impossible!

Jake Kaufman has been composing for WayForward for quite a while now – what’s working with him like? Do you give direction for the scores, or does he have free reign?

MATT: We’ve been working together for so long that we work by osmosis. I have a musical background, which helps with communicating ideas. But really he just turns out these amazing compositions with little more than a description of what the player will be seeing and feeling to go off of. Many times I’ll change elements of the game or storyline based on what I’m hearing in his music. We never just hit the play button. This is why I get fussy when asked to support custom tracks in certain games.

Shantae was a creation of yours and your wife’s from what I’ve read. Do either of you have any other characters/concepts you’ve yet to develop into a game?

MATT: Too many to count! Shantae was one game we wanted to try as sort of a test before making a “really big” game with a fuller cast of characters, but then it evolved into something much more. I still have that old “really big” game on the shelf. I’ve got lots of other backburner “series” that may or may not ever see the light of day. I guess time will tell! Maybe they belong in comics.

What is your favorite Shantae transformation and why?

MATT: I like the Monkey Transformation. Erin animated the monkey, and we still use her base animations for everything the monkey does. I really like the motion, and as a playable form it’s extremely useful.

Does the advent of Steam have any bearing on a potential 3D Shantae title or a different direction in the 2D platformer style for WayForward?

MATT: In a way… Half-Genie Hero will be the first Shantae game that isn’t designed for a specific gaming platform. The game engine is PC based, so the Steam version will be every bit as much the definitive version as say, the PS4 version. I’m not sure what’s next for Shantae following Half-Genie Hero, but we often talk about doing a free-roaming 3D game or a spline-scroller. Who knows?

Did the black and white game concept for the Wii – the one you and Matt Casamassina would discuss back in the Nintendo Voice Chat days – ever get anywhere further than a design document? At one point you mentioned pitching it.

MATT: Ha ha! Ok, I know what you’re talking about, but that’s my brother Mark. Mark Bozon and Matt Casamassina were both editors at IGN several years back, and had a hugely popular internet presence. I think the combination of Matt and Bozon often get smooshed together to make me (Matt Bozon). Trust me, happens all the time.

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Who are your developer heroes and idols?

MATT: I was raised on Atari 2600, but I fell in love with the NES. The designers who inspired me to make games were Shigeru Miyamoto (creator of Mario & Link) and Gunpei Yokoi (creator of Metroid and Game Boy). But since I was an animator first and foremost, my more direct influences were Glen Keane (Little Mermaid) and my mentor Bob Winquist (designer of the Coke stripe, and self-proclaimed creator of Santa Claus). It’s a long story. Bob got me to focus on the iconic appeal of characters. There were others too. Walt Disney is, in the end, the biggest hero of mine. He founded CalArts to pass on the trade, which really gave me a purpose and a means to learn from all of these influential people… plus he, his brother Roy, and wife Lilly took an active part in the school and gave aid to students like myself.

What are your favorite games – currently and of all time?

MATT: My favorite game of all time is Zelda: A Link to the Past. Then Super Metroid, Symphony of the Night, Mega Man 2, and in the last several years Luigi’s Mansion, Shadow of the Colossus, and Resident Evil 4. Last year’s Animal Crossing was fantastic, and so was a Link Between Worlds. This year if I had to choose a favorite game, it’s probably the Strider remake. I also play Quake Live on occasion so’s I can blow stuff up. I didn’t mention Mario, but I play pretty much every Nintendo first party game I can get my hands on. It’s play time but it’s also learning time :)

Do you like sandwiches? With or without bacon?

MATT: I would not make bacon just to put it on a sandwich. But if someone served me a sandwich or burger with bacon on it, I’m going to leave it there and enjoy it to the fullest. Someone worked hard to make that sandwich, and they felt that the bacon was important. So I’m going to eat it and enjoy it to the fullest. This is not a metaphor for something else. Just bacon.

Is there anything you’d like the public to know that we haven’t discussed?

MATT: Yes. Bacon is hogs.

 

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