Jeffrey Agala is an animator best known for his work directing the Canadian series Atomic Betty, but his new project ‘ the upcoming video game Shank ‘ is a far cry from the kid-friendly charm of his previous work.
‘We were trying to develop a more mature feel for Shank, so I kind of went back to my roots, I went back to all the comic books I used to read as a kid,’ says Agala. ‘And Jack Kirby, the creator of X-Men and the Hulk, he was a big inspiration for the look of Shank. He was our main kind of source for kind of getting that nice, mature feel.’
Shank definitely evokes an animated look and feel. It’s also quite violent, as players maneuver the lead character through an old-fashioned 2D side-scroll fighter in which blood flies and bones crunch in a stylized fashion.
Here’s a look at the game, which will be released for download Aug. 24 on Playstation Network, Aug. 25 on Xbox Live Arcade, and later this fall for PC. For reasons about to become obvious, it’s rated Mature by the ESRB.
Agala says that in addition to Kirby’s unique brand of brawny, stylized action, he looked as creative director on Shank to the pulp movies of the 1970s and the more recent attempts by directors Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez to replicate their unusual charms.
‘We definitely looked at that stuff and loved the level of violence and playfulness that those movies have,’ he says.
Some of the look of the game evokes a feel similar to the hit Adult Swim series The Venture Bros., which Agala says comes from both sharing similar influences. ‘Their style harks back to that same old Jonny Quest stuff, and that’s the same era as Jack Kirby,’ he says. ‘I’m a big fan of The Venture Bros. and the way they handle their comedy is awesome.’
Agala says quality animation was important to the game, which has been getting rave write-ups in the game press. ‘We wanted to get a really full traditional animation style in there, so basically created a new pipeline to get it into an engine that runs on the console,’ Agala says. ‘We have to actually animate every single little transition from one pose to the next. So there is a lot of really painstaking work on the animators end to get that. We built a lot of custom tools to get all that stuff worked out and to get it in the game.
Jamie Cheng, CEO of Klei Entertainment, agrees that the look was of equal importance to the game play on Shank. ‘We spent a lot of time making sure that the animation wouldn’t come at the expense of game play. So even the first few months of development was just moving the guy around to make sure that it both looked great and played great,’ he says. ‘And in the end it was something where they both complement each other, rather than a trade off.’
Agala says he thinks the mix of mature content with simple controls, old-fashioned game play and unique look will stand out. ‘When it comes to other games with a cartoony style, I think Shank differentiates itself because it’s a little more mature, a little more detailed and gritty,’ he says. ‘It’s almost reaching that point of graphic novel artwork except animated. That was our ultimate goal.’