For 18 years now, WayForward has been taking people on new adventures with Shantae, a half-genie heroine folks can be proud of. One of the Shantae creators, Matt Bozon, has been there every step of the way. Most recently, he’s been there as both the director and designer on Shantae and the Seven Sirens. Siliconera caught up with him to talk about this installment, past entries, possibilities for future games, and how it is time for some sort of Shantae anime adaptation.
Jenni Lada, Siliconera: Shantae’s nature and her being a half-genie has always been something that makes her “special.” How did WayForward decide to move forward with a game where there are multiple heroines just like her? How does that influence her growth and the plot?
Matt Bozon: This being the fifth game, it felt like the right time to move away from Shantae’s home of Sequin Land and explore some more of the larger “Half-Genie” concept. Since all the way back in the first Shantae game, the story suggests that every town has a Half-Genie serving as a magical guardian. These magical beings are the offspring of a genie mother and a human father. Even though this is a core idea in past Shantae games, we’ve never actually seen one of these other Half-Genies. So this story gave us a chance to meet a few, and put names and faces to Shantae’s Half-Genie allies. Shantae gets to make new friends, and learn new magic in the process—and that directly impacts the player’s objectives and abilities throughout the game.
WayForward moved forward with an interesting distribution method for Shantae and the Seven Sirens, where it was released in parts via Apple Arcade ahead of its launch on other platforms. How did this arrangement come about? What did you learn as a studio as a result of it?
Bozon: We really wanted to bring something special to the launch of Apple Arcade. The original plan was to launch the Apple Arcade version alongside the console releases. But, development ran long, and we’d already committed to Apple’s launch date. So, we opted to deliver the game in two parts on Apple Arcade platforms.
Of course, now the game is complete and doesn’t exist in the original two-part format anymore. Players can enjoy the game on Apple Arcade as a complete product, or on consoles or PC as with previous Shantae games. Breaking the game in two required some careful planning and creative problem solving. Happily the game ended up being all the better for it, since it allowed more time to create a quality experience.
Since Shantae and the Seven Sirens was out on iOS devices before consoles, how did that influence development? Did it result in different design decisions than past games?
Bozon: Not really. The game started as a console game, and was following the same development path as the previous game, Half-Genie Hero. That game was also developed in WayForward Engine, which had been previously ported over to iOS for Ducktales Remastered.
For Seven Sirens, our plan was to update the engine to support newer iOS devices and well as newer Apple TVs, Mac, and iPadOS, while at the same time building the
game. The only real impacts on development were introducing the many languages that Apple supports–more than double our usual ones–and the expanded canvas, or screen size, of iPad and iPhone X. On those devices, you can see some additional height or width, even though the rooms are identical.
Other than that, Apple Arcade was treated more or less like a console SKU.
How heavily did past Shantae games influence this most recent release?
Bozon: They were a huge influence on gameplay. We’ve seen a lot of streams and let’s plays of past games, and carefully consider what players like and don’t like about past games. We brought all of the best elements together for this one!
A common criticism for Shantae games suggests players often struggle with getting around, specifically as a result of the map layouts. Has there been a hesitation to put too much detail in the maps? How is this addressed in Shantae and the Seven Sirens?
Bozon: With this game, we put an overabundance of information on the map, and then started to slowly peel it away until we found a good balance between free, organic exploration and handholding. It is still possible for players to get lost… at least for a little while. This is so that every discovery is their own. From our observations, this really pays off and makes the game feel satisfying.
Of course, for players who would rather be told where to go, the villagers in each town will have increasingly specific hints over time to get the player where they need to go. We’ll be keeping a close watch to see if this approach is working for players.
How do you determine which transformations make it into each game? Were there any you wanted in Shantae and the Seven Sirens that didn’t end up being a good fit?
Bozon: Forms are designed based on gameplay function, and then the animal is assigned to it afterwards. We wanted to theme all of the transformations on aquatic creatures. Some animals were matched to their function in somewhat nonsensical ways. For example, the turtle is the fastest form, and the frog can swim in saltwater. At first we had a crab as the digging creature, but that seemed odd since Shantae’s crab transformation was already shown functioning differently in Half-Genie Hero. So we went with the Gastro Drill. We also had a shark as the final form, but that changed to something else. I won’t spoil it! But, just like a shark, it is a sea creature with natural flying abilities. Make sense?
What led to Studio Trigger working on the Shantae anime-inspired opening animation?
MATT: Erin [Bozon, Shantae co-creator] and I love Studio TRIGGER, and our dream was to somehow have them involved with the project. We’d had a brief introduction at Tokyo Game Show a few years back, and the conversation found new life via our friends at Lab Zero and Titmouse. As it turns out, TRIGGER had just finished production on their first feature film, Promare, and they had a small gap in their production schedule. We were so
happy that they agreed to create the opening animation for Seven Sirens! I’m in total awe of their work.
How do you feel about the still very-vocal group of fans that want Shantae in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate and how do you feel she would function if she was added to the game as a playable character?
Bozon: We love the enthusiasm! It was incredible to have her included as a Spirit, and I know that meant a lot to Shantae fans. If she ever becomes playable in Smash, it would be neat to see how hair-whipping, dancing, or transformations could play a part in her moveset.
How did Shantae end up as a Spirit in Super Smash Bros Ultimate and how much input did you have on it?
Bozon: We’ve been working with Nintendo for something like 25 years, and they know that we’re diehard fans. In this case we just sent over some artwork to be used at their discretion, on the off chance they could include her in some way. We didn’t know that she’d be a Spirit, or even what a Spirit was! We were shocked to see Shantae show up during a Smash Direct. It was awesome! Before that moment, we didn’t know any details. In cases like
that, our M.O. is to zip it and wait.
With remasters and remakes being so commonplace, could we ever see a renewed version of the original Shantae?
Bozon: That’s been a hot topic lately! I’d be down for doing that! Of course, we’re all very excited to make new games, too. We’ll need to think long and hard about what the next Shantae adventure will be–but a remake isn’t outside the realm of possibility!
Shantae has had quite a trajectory over the years. How would you say changes in the industry and market have affected the ways Shantae projects get made and get played?
Bozon: Shantae was created 25 years ago, and during that time we’ve made five games. Each game is a pretty good indicator of where the industry was at the time. The original game took many years to find a platform, and was pitched as SNES, PC, PSX, and Game Boy because the industry was built on publishing and distribution deals, and it was rare since it had a low run and appeared in few stores. That wasn’t due to poor planning. It was an expensive, unestablished property, and retailers would buy it boxed with Resident Evil Gaiden–or so I’ve heard.
If retail and distribution deals had come together more quickly for SNES, PSX, or PC, Shantae would have launched there. Later WayForward was able to become its own publisher with WiiWare and DSiWare, which gave us control. And, smaller file sizes, which led to Risky’s Revenge. Nintendo 3DS had a split delivery system, with fully priced digital games living alongside retail, which is why we have Pirate’s Curse. And finally we get to the HD platforms and a greater shift to digital, and physical collector’s editions. It’s been fun to watch new audiences discover Shantae with each new advancement!
We’ve seen Shantae figures from Funko and Volks. Have you ever explored other merchandise? Could we see a Shantae Nendoroid or Figma?
Bozon: Yes, we’ve been in discussion with several companies about new Shantae products, and we are big fans of Nenderoid and Figma! I’m surrounded by them right now! In addition to WayForward, Volks, and Funko, Erin and I also license Shantae to Limited Run, FanGamer, Udon, Level UP, and some other yet-to-be-announced partners. We’ll do our best to keep up!
What have you learned from pursuing your own IP for so long?
Bozon: Building a fanbase is critical. Shantae fans are awesome, and when we make content that is true to the brand–even the silly stuff–we’re doing right by them.
What’s left on the Shantae bucket list? How about the game director one?
Bozon: At this point, the fans have spoken—Shantae needs an anime. I don’t know how that will happen exactly, but the Studio TRIGGER opening animation had 4 million views when you include all of the mirror sites. I don’t know. Maybe one hungry fan watched it 4 million times. Either way, it’s encouraging.
For me directing games? I’d love to work on a Metroid, Mega Man, or a Guardian Legend remake someday! Or, we can keep letting Shantae run wild and we’ll try to keep up… I’d be down for that, too!
Shantae and the Seven Sirens is available for the Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC, and Apple iOS. Thanks to Matt Bozon for his time!