Interview: WayForward’s Matt Bozon talks Shantae

September 30, 2013


WayForward’s Shantae: Half-Genie Hero Kickstarter campaign comes to a close this week, having already reached its needed total and heading toward stretch goals. We talked to Matt Bozon, series creator and WayForward’s creative director, about the origins of the franchise and where it’s going today.

Snackbar Games: What was the original inspiration behind Shantae? What was the impetus behind the use of Metroidvania mechanics?

Matt Bozon: My wife Erin designed the character – a hair-whipping belly dancing genie – and I created the world around her. At the time (1994), Super Metroid had just appeared on the scene, and the Castlevania series had only Simon’s Quest in terms of an exploration-style approach. So even though many of the mechanics (hair-whipping, sub-items, day and night) were inspired by Castlevania, the feel of the world and the quest were more like Metroid or Zelda: A Link to the Past. This has become more formulaic as of late, but back then there were very few examples of how to make a game like this. We looked at Goonies 2, Rygar and even Gargoyle’s Quest as examples.

SBG: Shantae is known for being one of the last games released on the Game Boy Color. How do you think starting life on a dying system affected the game’s development, and the series as a whole?

MB: The original Shantae jumped from SNES to PC to PS1 and then back to black and white Game Boy, before finally hitting its stride on Game Boy Color. The experience taught us to focus on the core gameplay components, and not to be locked into the tech or visual style. I think it was a good exercise, if a bit frustrating.


SBG: Can you tell us about any interesting stories about Shantae‘s development?

MB: The day Doom 2 for PC released, our president, Voldi Way, suggested that we might see 3D games sticking around. It gave me a bit of concern that 2D sidescrollers might lose their spot at the top of the video game food chain. But clearly I was overreacting. After all, who’s going to run around with a shotgun taped under their nose when they can watch a belly dancer transform into a chimpanzee? No one, that’s who.

SBG: Risky’s Revenge‘s DSiWare launch followed a long public hiatus for the series. With the commercial troubles of the first game causing retail channels to hesitate to support the series, what did this and other downloadable services offer to allow a Shantae revival? Do you think Shantae will ever return to store shelves?

MB: In 2002, retailers ordered a certain number of products, and that was it. Unless there was a runaway success, there was no need to put in a second order. At that time, Shantae was a sort of last hurrah for anyone who hadn’t moved on the Game Boy Advance. This is one of the reasons I like digital so much. Nintendo DSi somewhat mirrored the Game Boy Color in terms of being a stop-gap. But this time, Shantae didn’t lose her entire potential audience. Players can boot up a Nintendo 3DS right now and grab the game. So, my preference is for digital, even though I get fidgety without a box to hold in my hands.

SBG: With both Pirate’s Curse and Half-Genie Hero, that’ll be three Shantae titles in four years. Along with accelerating releases in the Mighty series, is WayForward trying to give itself a stronger presence in original IP?

MB: Absolutely. This is a major company focus right now.


SBG: Speaking of Pirate’s Curse, it will be releasing within a year of Half-Genie Hero, if all goes as planned. Given that the HGH has received the lion’s share of media attention as of late, are you worried that Pirate’s Curse will languish in its sequel’s shadow? What will it offer that Half-Genie Hero doesn’t?

MB: I’m not worried, since Pirate’s Curse is such a different game overall. It features the Shantae world, but you’re playing with pistols and other gadgets… it’s got a style all its own. I’m sure that players will love it, but will be ready for a more traditional Shantae game by the time Half-Genie Hero arrives.

SBG: Half-Genie Hero will be launching on a wide array of current platforms. How has such a broad release plan affected development?

MB: We’re not in development yet, so it’s difficult to say.  We’ve delivered a lot of multi-platform games in the past, and one of the toughest parts is getting them all to release at the same time. I imagine that will be one of the tougher challenges. I don’t believe any one platform will become the gold standard. Our engine tech handles multi-platform games very well.

SBG: Since Half-Genie Hero will be released on Windows, might it also eventually see a release on OS X and Linux?

MB: Possibly. We’ve had that conversation dozens of times since starting the Kickstarter, and it’s something we feel we can do. But we don’t want to promise it until we can be sure that it fits within the budget we’ll have.


SBG: Half-Genie Hero is WayForward’s first foray into Kickstarter-funded projects. What differences in approach have you encountered between this method and working with traditional publishers?

MB: Usually we keep everything very secretive, and that’s a huge motivator: to finally “reveal” the game to the public in hopes of astonishing them. We’ve been careful to give just enough information to help our backers make good decisions without spoiling the game for them. Our fans have been very understanding and supportive in this regard.

SBG: What kinds of gameplay mechanics are you considering incorporating into Half-Genie Hero that you haven’t been able to previously? As the first Shantae game not designed for handhelds, is there anything you feel can be done more effectively on HD platforms?

MB: We’re comfortable doing just about anything on handhelds, but we would not have selected this visual style for say, the Nintendo 3DS. HD screens are a vast canvas, and the overall feel can be very different. This is the main reason for the new art style. And now that we can store quite a bit more information, it looks like there will be room-a-plenty for Risky Boots Mode, in which you’ll play as the villain… assuming we hit that stretch goal in the next few days.

The Half-Genie Hero campaign closes October 4, and Pirate’s Curse is set for a Winter release. You can catch up with the series with the GBC original on 3DS Virtual Console, and Risky’s Revenge on DSiWare and iOS.