David D’Angelo, a programmer for Yacht Club Games, spoke on March 18 at GDC’s Thursday AMA, discussing programming and the making of retro games. Gamasutra editor Alissa McAloon moderated the AMA, sourcing questions from the streams chat. This year GDC was held remotely, which opened up the game developers conference to the public to stream from home. The convention also hosted daily AMAs with developers from across the video game industry.
One of the main thrusts of the AMA was the cues that D’Angelo and the team at Yacht Club Games took from retro, side-scrolling platformers. D’Angelo describes the decision to develop retro games as digging up and revitalizing interesting gameplay concepts that have gone by the wayside.
“We wanted to say these are really cool things that people aren’t doing anymore and we want you to love them,” he said. Wanting to do more than just remind gamers of old mechanics, he described one of the goals as wanting to “make games that made people love games.”
When asked about his favorite NES games and how that has impacted the games that Yacht Club Games develops, D’Angelo pointed to Super Mario 3, saying it’s one of the best games ever made. To illustrate his point, he noted how markedly different Mario 3 is from the current open, busy task filled game design and how Mario 3 is constantly introducing new concepts to the player.
“What I think about the game the most is how many ideas are crammed into every part of the game,” D’Angelo said.
Another aspect of older games that D’Angelo and the team at Yacht Club draw inspiration from is the simple yet precise mathematics of moving on a 2-D plane. D’Angelo describes one of the core concepts of Shovel Knight and its structure being this mathematical precision of if essentially “you jump here you’ll land here.”
“A game feels right if it’s built to be just right, just like a building feels right if it’s built right,” he said. “We put all these numbers in stone and we know what the level feels like based [on] those numbers.”
Another aspect of older, sprite-based games that D’Angelo points to as inspiration for the developer is not being able to do much in terms of cut-scenes or grand storytelling but keeping the player’s attention through what their imagination can do to fill in the gaps. “Because of those restrictions we have to make you imagine something exciting,” he said.
By taking all this inspiration from retro, 2-D platformers, D’Angelo hopes that Shovel Knight and other games from Yacht Club provide a “bridge between those games” allowing older players to appreciate the classics and bring them to a new generation. For more write-ups on developer, AMAs check out the rest of our GDC coverage at stropse.com.