Klei Entertainment's Agala Gives Gamers the "Shank"

While much of the gaming press focuses on the big retail releases each year, some of the most innovative games are being released and generating significant buzz in the downloadable arena. Since being announced last year, "Shank" is one of those games that people can't stop talking about. An old-school brawler featuring an animation style that would be at home on Adult Swim, "Shank" is a bloody revenge story told in the vein of a Tarantino film. The game has been winning critical praise at conventions and events throughout the year and it's due to arrive later this month for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360.

Klei Entertainment is the developer behind "Shank," and this week CBR spoke with Creative Director Jeff Agala about the development of "Shank," the fan base that's already sprung up around it and how EA ended up publishing the game.

CBR News: Jeff, Klei Entertainment was founded on experience in a variety of mediums. Can you tell us a little about the history of the company?

Jeff Agala: Jamie Cheng started the company in 2005 after leaving Relic where he was an AI programmer. He built the first Klei game, "Eets," out of his basement. My background was in traditional animation and I worked on various animated TV shows before joining up with Klei. We signed a development deal for "Sugar Rush" with Nexon and built the company from there. Nexon shut down their office in Vancouver in early 2009 and that is when we started "Shank." Before I joined Klei, I worked on Disney's "Stanley," "Ying Yang Yo," "Total Drama Island," "Wayside," "Captain Flamingo" and I directed "Atomic Betty."

"Shank" is being published under the EA Partners banner. How did you end up working with EA and what has that experience been like?

After we showed the first "Shank" demo at PAX 2009 in Seattle we received a lot of attention from different publishers. EA Partners contacted us soon after, and we worked on a deal that both companies were happy with. They have been great partners to work with. They did not micro manage us or alter the game. EA believed in the product we wanted to make and helped us get to the end goal.

"Shank" looks like a gore-filled brawler. What can you tell us about the combat system and the ways Shank will have to eviscerate enemies in the game?

We centered the combat around weapon combos, so the player has the liberty to eviscerate enemies with a wide range of moves incorporating many different weapons in the process. Shank also has combo-enders, including throwing people off buildings and, my favorite, shoving a grenade in someone's mouth then punching it, blowing them away.

At what point did "God of War" writer Marianne Krawczyk become involved with "Shank" and what made her the right fit for the game?

I was - and still am - a big fan of the "God of War" series and I loved the way she was able to tell a great story around the gameplay. Marianne came in right before we started full production. We knew we wanted to tell a story with "Shank," so we needed a script before we started creating levels. She fit well because she believed in the direction we wanted to go with that game and she knew how to craft a story that worked for the game format.

Without giving too much away, of course, what can you tell us about "Shank's" story?

The single player campaign covers Shank's return home to take revenge on the gang that tried to kill him. The co-op campaign covers Shank's backstory and his relationship with the key bosses from the single player campaign before they turn on him.

How did the separate co-op campaign come about and what can players expect from that?

We wanted to have co-op from the beginning, but figuring out the right way to do it was the hard part. We knew how we wanted the single player campaign to look and feel, with dynamic cameras and specialized cut scenes. Two players added many presentation difficulties, so by separating the modes, we were able to tailor make levels to work better for two players. We then added co-op specific events and bosses that made it an even better multiplayer experience.

Our entire art team at Klei has traditional animation training and experience working in the TV industry. We've used what we've learned from TV and applied it to games with the added benefit of using and creating new tools and software to make our jobs easier. Our team has a passion for good 2D animation, and it shows in their work.

Was there a particular inspiration for the look of "Shank"? How did you settle on the visual style for the game?

From working on kid shows for many years, I wanted to get away from the cutesy cartoon look and have something that looked more like a graphic novel. I drew inspiration from comic book great Jack Kirby and comics from the golden age to set the overall look. Frank Miller's "Sin City" was also a big influence.

Was "Shank" envisioned as a downloadable game from the start, as opposed to a retail release?

"Shank" was conceived as a download game for the consoles. Being a small company, we wanted to approach a scope we knew we could execute on.

Finally, you've already got over 2000 fans on "Shank's" Facebook page. How have you been building community and interacting with people interested in "Shank" leading up to the game's release?

Building a community and going to conferences were the only ways to get noticed as an indie developer. We started a developer blog pretty early in production, where we could share our art and progress with the community. Getting feedback from the press and fans helped us focus on what we should work on and also helped motivate us to produce a high quality product.

"Shank" will be available for download through the PlayStation Network on August 24th and Xbox Live on August 25.

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