With the release of Shakedown: Hawaii coming tomorrow, Vblank Entertainment frontman Brian Provinciano took time out of his busy schedule to answer a few questions from OnlySP.
For anyone having yet to hear about Shakedown, it is the successor to Retro City Rampage and builds on several of the concepts that made it so successful. Many are calling the game a “GTA-like,” but Vblank Entertainment hopes Shakedown creates a name of its own with its 2D, open-world style.
OnlySP: The story behind Shakedown: Hawaii seems like a hilarious and satirical spin on white-collar crime. Since we know Retro City Rampage also took a humorous approach, do you feel that this is a core value of Vblank as a developer?
Provinciano: I seem to always be drawn to comedy. Even the projects I start as serious or gritty seem to always morph into comedies. I suppose part of it is self-awareness. If anything in the story evokes a genre cliché, I’m compelled to break the wall and just poke fun at that fact.
In the case of Shakedown: Hawaii specifically, comedy was critical and something I spent years refining to hit the right mark. It was important to me that the game came across and playful and tongue-in-cheek because the subject matter could so easily wind up in a darker direction. I set many guidelines for myself, to ensure none of the satire came across as a PSA, a rant, or expositional, because it wasn’t trying to be any of those things but could easily come across as any or all, if not carefully crafted. In the end, there are some parts where the satire is ultimately very subtle, to the degree where some players might blink and miss it. However, it was more important to veer towards subtle than beat the player over the head with something.
OnlySP: Vblank titles seem to have an unintentional way of evoking games of the past through both naming convention and theme. You have said that Retro City Rampage is not meant to be a reference to River City Ransom, and that is surprising. Many eager fans have also started making first-impression comparisons between the look and feel of Shakedown: Hawaii and Hotline Miami. Are there any games that helped inspire Shakedown: Hawaii?
Provinciano: No, I wouldn’t say so. Years of playing and enjoying open-world games are in my DNA, but I didn’t reference and wasn’t inspired by any in its creation. I approached Shakedown as a blank canvas. As I wrote the story satirizing consumer life, the characters and missions simply evolved from there. As I played in the world, ideas for gameplay grew organically. For example, “Wow, shooting a flamethrower from a go-kart is fun! I should try to build a mission around this!”
Grand Theft Auto III‘s impact on the open-world genre and video game industry as a whole can’t be understated. It planted the genre firmly into new territory, and I’d say that GTA III influenced the modern era of gaming as much as Super Mario Bros. influenced the 8- and 16-bit eras. However, at this point, I just see the open-world genre as a medium to build a story and game on top of.
These days, every single top-down 2D game is compared to Hotline, because that’s probably the first top-down game that person played. Retro City Rampage was compared to Hotline as well, but many forget RCR predated it. Similarly, people compare anything with a synth to Hotline, but there are countless subgenres, and the synth in Shakedown is nothing like the synth in Hotline. Much of Shakedown uses FM-style instruments of the 16-bit era, for example.
“I approached Shakedown as a blank canvas. As I wrote the story satirizing consumer life, the characters and missions simply evolved from there.”
OnlySP: Sony stopped making games for the PlayStation Vita in 2015 and ended the production of it entirely just last month. As some might find it ambitious, what made Vblank decide that it was important to release on this handheld?
Provinciano: As a player, I love the Vita. The Vita Slim refined it, and it’s the perfect form-factor to me. I hope to continue supporting it as long as there’s still an audience. The advantage of being a multi-platform developer is that my games can cover their development costs on more viable ones, then just need to cover porting costs when it comes to the other passion ports.
OnlySP: Open-world games are known for providing players with hours of gameplay through exploration and content “on the side.” However, as a 16-bit adventure, did Vblank find it challenging to develop this type of experience?
Provinciano: The main challenge was time. As many years as Shakedown: Hawaii‘s been in development, I could’ve kept working on it forever. There’s so much I’d love to add to the game world, and even though it’s already wrapped, I’m already working on future updates.
The story mode took a large amount of the development time, but I put a lot of effort into the world as well. The hope is that during and even after the story is completed, players will still want to spend countless hours just exploring the world and playing in the sandbox of it all.
OnlySP: If you could give players one piece of advice on how to approach or best enjoy Shakedown: Hawaii come May 7, what would it be?
Provinciano: I’d recommend checking out the gameplay overview trailer to get a quick rundown on the game and everything packed in.
Look out for the release of Shakedown: Hawaii on Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, and PlayStation Vita on May 7. A release for the Nintendo 3DS will follow at a later date.