Shakedown: Hawaii Interview — Vblank Entertainment Discusses New Direction, 3DS and PS Vita Ports, and Hawaii Setting
DualShockers recently talked with Vblank Entertainment's Brian Provinciano to learn more about Shakedown: Hawaii, which is out today.
Over two years after its original intended release date, Vblank Entertainment is finally launching Shakedown: Hawaii on several platforms, including the PS Vita, today. While Shakedown: Hawaii is technically a successor to Retro City Rampage, it has clearly carved its own identity by being less focused on pop culture references and more so on fun open-world gameplay.
Just ahead of the game’s launch, DualShockers talked to Vblank Entertainment’s Brian Provinciano in order to learn more about Shakedown: Hawaii. Over the course of our interview, Brain discussed why he went in a new direction with this game, why it isn’t releasing on Xbox One, how the game has evolved during development, and more.
Tomas: Shakedown: Hawaii seems to focus more on a dynamic GTA-esque open world than the pop culture references that Retro City Rampage was packed to the brim with. What sparked this change in premise, focus, and tone?
Brian Provinciano: Each game has its own heart and core. Retro City Rampage was a love letter to my childhood and thus became filled with pop culture references of the ‘80s and ‘90s. Shakedown: Hawaii on the other hand, revolves around poking fun at the frustrating business practices that annoy the heck out of us! All those times we discover yet another hidden server fee on our bill, or encounter misleading ads, or questionable fine print, all that’s just reached that boiling point of being comically egregious, and it’s ripe for parody.
I wanted to do something different the second time around, rather than just a sequel. I experimented with many ideas, and in the end, Shakedown: Hawaii became a combination of the ones that filled me with the most passion. Since Shakedown: Hawaii’s theme is so completely different; it didn’t make sense to call it Retro City Rampage 2. It felt necessary to make it clearly distinct.
T: How much has Shakedown: Hawaii changed or evolved since its conception?
BP: The game’s changed a lot. It’s been an incredibly organic process. Once all of the initial pieces were there and I had, in a sense, a “complete game” I went into polishing it, adding connective tissue: a cutscene here, a mission there. Once it felt right, it was at least twice the size, if not more. Everything needed to tie together. The story, the characters, the gameplay, the theme. The comedy needed to hit the right tone.
It couldn’t have too many action missions in a row, or story heavy, or puzzle, or platforming. It couldn’t go too long without catching up with each protagonist, or encountering each antagonist. Missions should end near where the next began to reduce driving. Story beats should naturally tie together and build upon each other. It was like a 12-dimensional jigsaw puzzle, and I built a massive spreadsheet to help figure it all out.
In addition to the business satire, Shakedown’s story also revolves around an older-than-usual protagonist, dealing with aging, and back pain, doctor visits, things like that. As a writer, we pull from what we know, and having dealt with back pain and the like for a long time, I liked the idea of making the protagonist more human and dealing with real world life such as that too. Early on, the protagonist was going to be an older version of Retro City Rampage’s Player.
However, as the story organically evolved, this CEO character’s motivations were a 180 from that of Retro City Rampage’s player and it just didn’t make sense for them to be the same person. In addition to that, because Shakedown doesn’t contain references like Retro City Rampage did, I again felt the need to more clearly separate it, and having the same protagonist would’ve been too confusing.
T: Shakedown: Hawaii seems to take a lot of inspiration from titles like Grand Theft Auto: Vice City. On that note, are there any other less obvious titles that Vblank has pulled elements from or been inspired by when making Shakedown: Hawaii?
BP: I wouldst actually say it does. Well, years of playing and enjoying open world games is in my DNA, but at this point I just look at the open world genre as a canvas to build a game on top of. For sure, I’m a huge fan of Vice City, and Grand Theft Auto 3’s impact on the open world genre and video game industry as a whole can’t be understated. Grand Theft Auto 3 planted the genre firmly into new territory, and I’d say that it 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. I didn’t reference any other games during its development. I approached Shakedown with a blank canvas. As I wrote the story, satirizing consumer life, the characters and missions simply evolved from there. As I played around in the world, gameplay ideas came to me.
I think many see the shift to palm trees and make that connection, but early on, it actually began set in the pacific north west. I ultimately shifted it to Hawaii as it felt more vibrant and just felt like a better choice for the overall game, and worked with the story’s core. Perhaps I’ll circle back to the pacific north west for a different game.
T: How in-depth will property management be in Shakedown: Hawaii? Will you have to constantly keep paying attention to all the properties you own, or will they just add to the players’ income after being acquired?
BP: The aim is for it to be something that you can sink your teeth into, but simultaneously won’t get in your way if you just want to play Shakedown as an action game. If you’re like me and want to own the entire city, it’s all at your fingertips. However, if you just want open world action, how much of the island you choose to takeover is all up to you.
Purchased properties have various benefits. For example, acquiring residential ones will create a housing shortage, and acquiring gun shops will unlock more weapons. Most properties can generate revenue, and that revenue can be boosted by adding multipliers such as “convenience” fees, unnecessary best before dates, store credit cards, and lobbyists.
T: Hawaii isn’t a setting seen all too often in games. Why did Vblank Entertainment decide to set the game there, and has the setting opened up any unique opportunities in terms of world design?
BP: It fit hand in hand with the story of an absent CEO who’s at the beach while his company runs itself into the ground. Secondly, I wanted to pick something different, avoid the typical big cities that most games and movies seem to use over and over. And simply put, I just love Hawaii. It’s a beautiful place, and it’s vibrant, colorful.
Shakedown’s story revolves around a feeble-minded CEO whose laziness leads him to believe that his company could probably just run itself so he takes off to go live the rest of his life relaxing on the beach. But, once he’s gone, the company instead plummets into the ground, and thus, he must scramble to turn things around, though he’s still doing his best to do so from the comfort of his couch and vacation island.
T: Shakedown: Hawaii will be releasing on Nintendo 3DS and PS Vita in 2019. Many developers are ceasing support for those 7+ year old systems now, so why has Vblank decided to still bring Shakedown: Hawaii to those platforms?
BP: I’m a big fan of the platforms and want to support them — plus I enjoy optimizing code. Retro City Rampage thrived on handheld systems, and I feel it’s an excellent way to experience Shakedown: Hawaii as well.
Will the 3DS and PS Vita versions of the game feature any significant downgrades or have any content removed due to their weaker hardware?
I’m quite committed to feature parity between platforms. The Vita version’s the full console experience, and the 3DS really only differs in regards to the screen size and that some elements are shifted to bottom screen.
How smoothly has development of Shakedown: Hawaii gone on Nintendo Switch? As a developer, is the platform as friendly to indies as people perceive?
The Switch is a very easy platform to develop for, and the submission process for certification’s also been vastly improved since previous generations, which is very welcome.
T: Xbox One is clearly missing from Shakedown: Hawaii’s current platform lineup. Will Vblank Entertainment consider bringing the game to that platform in the future? If not, why is it being omitted?
BP: It’s possible in the future, but I don’t have Xbox one devkits or a port. When Retro City Rampage launched, I had to spend so much time on porting, paperwork and certification submissions, that it detracted from the game itself, its content, and the time available to polish it. This time around, I’m simply releasing on platforms that I’ve already released on, which eliminates much of that time sink and lets me use that time to continue polishing the game.
T: Finally, When dealing in a retro-inspired art style, how do you improve on that original graphical style while still maintaining an old school look?
BP: It’s funny because while Retro City Rampage was done with strict 8-bit limitations (albeit, some were bent later on for user experience sake), this time around I went in with the intent of having zero limitations at all, yet it still wound up feeling quite authentic too. I’m actually working on a short making-of video to discuss this in particular! In short, the initial aim was to produce a 16-bit style game from the 32-bit era. The only limitation being that it was pixel art.
The game could boast as many frames of animation as the artists could produce, the world could be as large as it needed to be, literally everything in the background could be interactive an animate if I wanted it to. However, although many people make beautiful pixel art games these days, few adhere to some core aspects of the era and wind up looking more like modern art than authentic. This is because many mix pixel sizes instead of sticking to a fixed low resolution, rotate pixels on a non-pixel grid, use too many colors, add lighting and particle effects, or simply sport a new art style that doesn’t evoke any parallels of the 16-bit era.
A lot of it comes down to the art style, the strictly enforced pixel grid, and how many/which colors are used. Even though any colors could be used, the game still uses hand crafted palettes that contain only around five shades of each color.
DualShockers would like to thank Brian Provinciano for taking the time to do this interview. Shakedown: Hawaii is available now on PC, PS Vita, PS4, and Nintendo Switch, and is set to come to 3DS soon as well.