The Challenges Behind Shank’s Co-Op Campaign

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Hey everyone! I’m Jamie, co-founder of Klei and I’d like to share our journey leading up to our decision to include a co-op campaign in our new title, Shank – and why we felt so strong about creating it as a separate mode altogether.

When Shank was shown at PAX 2009, there were two questions that I couldn’t answer which came up over and over again. The first was, “What platform is it coming out on?” The second “is there going to be co-op?”

I answered the first question, with my own question. I stuffed our dev kit into a ghetto cardboard box, labeled with a large question-mark and strung a handful of controllers (including Atari and Dreamcast ones) from underneath it for added effect. At the time, nobody had played Shank, and I didn’t have platform approval yet. Thankfully, the gaming community and our fans spoke up, and I got my wish — we were able to negotiate a deal to bring the game to the PlayStation Network.

The second, co-op question – proved to be much trickier.

On one hand, we felt strongly about the classic, couch-play beat-em-up genre; very much like Double Dragon – which is an awesome experience and one of our main influences – but, on the other hand, our single player campaign was something special and truly unique. Every camera is hand-crafted, ever scene and enemy is carefully placed, achieving our vision of the “cinematic brawler.” Moving or shifting one piece of the single-player puzzle, could easily spell disaster.

PlayStation Network: Shank Co-Op

Having two players in our orchestrated brawler tossed a huge wrench into our development plan. It’s challenging to keep both players on screen, so we can’t be sure how wide the camera will go. We also need enough enemies to keep both players busy, but the added chaos – while fun – introduces a different experience altogether. To make matters worse, building bosses that required two players, served no guarantee that the other player would be around to help. What we definitely didn’t want was to have a lame-o, tacked-on feature that just wasn’t very fun for the second player.

So we bit the bullet.

PlayStation Network: Shank Co-Op

We said, “we’re going to make a whole bonus co-op campaign, and in each separate campaign, we’re going to play to their strengths.” The solution was to design the single player experience to be far more cinematic, allowing you to really enjoy and savor each action packed moment. We then kept the co-op rooted to the good ol’ fashioned beat-em-up formula that encourages players to help each other, especially during our though boss battles – which we went back and designed specific boss battles that can only be won with a second player at hand. As a finishing touch, we used the co-op campaign to delve even deeper into each character and foe that will eventually mess Shank over, leading up to the events in his story.

At the end, it presented a long list of challenges and obstacles, but it proved to be well worth it when trying to achieve our unique vision that is Shank and it’s co-op experience.

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