Archives by Day

June 2024

Shantae Advance: Risky Revolution

Platform(s): Game Boy Advance, Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5
Genre: Action/Adventure
Release Date: October 2024


As an Amazon Associate, we earn commission from qualifying purchases.

'Shantae Advance: Risky Revolution' Developer Interview - Part 1

by Adam Pavlacka on April 4, 2024 @ 12:00 a.m. PDT

In this hair-whipping, belly-dancing action-adventure, Shantae's nemesis, the nefarious pirate Risky Boots, has a "groundbreaking" new scheme that will leave Sequin Land spinning.

The GBA version of Risky Revolution is only available via pre-order until April 7, 2024.

Finishing a 20-year-old Game Boy Advance Game in 2024

I recently had a chance to go hands-on with an early build of Shantae Advance: Risky Revolution for the Game Boy Advance. After demoing the game, I sat down with Erin Bozon, the creator of Shantae at WayForward; Matt Bozon, chief creative officer at WayForward and the director of the Shantae series; and Alena Alambeigi, VP of marketing and digital publishing at Limited Run Games.

Erin, Matt and Alena chatted with me about the history of the series, what it's like to revive a project that's been in storage for roughly 20 years, and how Shantae has become a family affair for Erin and Matt. Read on to learn more about how Risky Revolution is making the journey from a canceled project to a full-fledged physical release for Game Boy Advance in 2024.

This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.

WorthPlaying: We just spent some time playing a new Shantae game on a real Game Boy Advance SP and, here it is, 2024. Tell us a little about how it came to be. Is this a brand-new game that you just decided, "Hey, we're going to go create a new game for actual Game Boy hardware," or is this an old project that you dug out of the treasure trove and fired up again?

Erin Bozon: Well, like 20 years ago we started working on it, and then we had to stop production. So it's about 50% done, and we've just kept it in a drawer. Then recently we were trying to figure out, "How could we get another Shantae game produced?" Usually they take a couple of years to get going. We're like, "Well maybe that one we could get done in a year, and we really want to give the fans something, another Shantae game right away, and retro stuff is really popular right now!" We thought, "Let's go ahead and try to see if we could get someone to partner with us," and we found out Michael Stragey, who was the programmer, was available. We talked to Limited Run Games, and they were so hyped and on board. We're always so thankful because otherwise, the game would never come to fruition if someone doesn't come on board and partner with us. So all those things lined up; it was meant to be. We're able to go back and finish the game and get another Shantae game out within a year.

WP: We've all heard stories about companies who lose source code — the fact that you have that is amazing — but what was the challenge in getting a proper Game Boy Advance development environment set up again? I'm assuming back 20 years ago, what we were running was Windows XP and such. How long did it take, and what was the challenge in just getting it all into a usable state so you had something to start from?

Matt Bozon: I can probably answer that. So we're in the same source code. The engine is one Michael wrote, like Erin mentioned. Mike has been doing completely different things. We haven't worked together since back then, so the fact that he was between projects and was willing to kind of put his life on hold for a year was great.

On both sides, the initial challenge was finding those files. We both had copies of things. We're like, "Well when is yours from?" You know we're comparing files, "Well what does your date say? When you play it, what's working, what's not?" and we figured out who had the most up-to-date versions. Of course, I had the most up-to-date art. He had the most up-to-date code. I had the whole project, but I didn't have those. I'm not the programmer, right? So we had our stuff, we had animations, levels, things we had made. The first moments were, "All right, well, let's open this up. Let's open up the tool again." It's like, "Hey, open the tool." Not compatible with Windows. Right. We're like, "All right, well let's put it in Windows 95 mode." Then you get to, oh wait, the whole tool runs back when all work environments were running at like 640x480 resolution monitors, or if you're lucky, 1024x768.

When we were making this game in the early 2000s, we had only started to transition over to some of the mid-'90s art tools, but we'd been working for years and years on Game Boy, and so we were used to tools that were from 1985. Because, you remember, Game Boy tech was old, so like, that's part of the whole reason it was kind of inexpensive. It was 20 years old. So back then, we would use 20-year-old art tools. So anyway, some of these files were DOS-based. We had to actually keep working in DOS, didn't have the benefit of Windows, and its limited restrictive palettes. Mike did have to adjust the tool a little bit, just to fill a modern-day monitor so we could even see right.

Erin: And there's no undo!

Matt: No undo! Undo doesn't exist! Undo is a concept where you can store two instances of a thing in RAM. Am I saying this right? You can store two instances of it, [and] you could revert to another one. You could get a single undo. I mean now, everything has like a billion undos and a cloud storage thing, but back then, it's like, "No, we can't support undo. That would mean the game's basically running twice. That's not possible." So no, if you make a mistake, and this even all the way through development, all the way till right now, till the game right now is in QA and basically done. If you ever did anything where you broke something, you rebuild it. It's like, "Oh no! I accidentally clicked! I mis-clicked on one of these rooms! I guess I'm going to rebuild the room from scratch, or I'm going to go back to an archive and reload it, but if I do that, I lose everything else I did for the last few hours since I committed to an archive." So that's how you do it. Everything is handled that way, so music, color palettes, you can't just pick whatever color you want.

WP: Just like games have gotten quality-of-life improvements, development has also gotten quality-of-life improvements from over the years?

Erin: Oh yeah, the first Shantae, we only had a color palette of 256 colors. It was very, very limited.

Matt: Oh, and of those colors, you could only run three — well, depending on what mode you're in — three or four colors at a time per tile. So now at least with Game Boy Advance, there's more than that. You can run 15 colors within a tile basically, but you're still limited. You can only get so many sprites in a row before they'll start disappearing — you remember your Super Nintendo — yeah, you'll get sprite flicker, or you'll get weird things, but you had the cool new advantages of things that probably don't sound as cool these days, but my gosh, this game celebrates them. You could make a sprite translucent! You could rotate a sprite! You could scale it! You know, it's like, "Oh my gosh, my pixels are scaling!" So, there's cool stuff you could do.

WP: You've released modern Shantae games on modern consoles. Aside from the technical challenges, what design challenges did you face, going back to finish a 20-year-old game?

Erin: I was just thinking, something positive is that we're able to bring in modern — it's not really a challenge, it's more like a benefit — is that we can bring in modern pictures and have them slide in like the newer games did. We really did get to beef up this game, compared to what it was like 20 years ago.

Matt: Effectively, we're kind of better at the art, maybe because of skill, though, not because of the tech so much, but yeah, your question was like challenges ....

WP: Yes, just going back to the Game Boy Advance, a more limited platform, versus something more modern. Like you were saying with RAM, if you're on a PlayStation 5 or Xbox Series, you have more options.

Matt: I think there's something unique that maybe is worth mentioning. If we were making a new Game Boy Advance game in 2024, I actually think it would be easier than making a half-complete game from 2002 and then finishing it, because there's all these decisions that are already made for you. It's like, "Oh well let's put some bad guys in." It's like, "Oh we built a structure that only allows bad guys to be put in a specific way. Are we going to throw this out and try to rewrite something new?" but then we're throwing away half of the game. Now we're not preserving the game anymore. Now it's all a modern game. It starts seeming like it's disingenuous.

So we kept everything about the old game that could possibly be kept, which is to say nearly all of it. Basically, you're in a constant battle with your own inexperience because we like to grow and move on and get better. If you had to go back and work with decisions that you made 20 years ago, and you kind of have this rule that you're supposed to leave them alone — certain things shouldn't have been left alone, they needed to get improved — but a lot of things were like OK, just a simple one, the art style.

So the art style of this game is, if you know Game Boy Advance very well, you know there was a period of time where it was like say Wario, what would have been Wario Land 4, and then eventually you kind of get into this art style shift where it goes Minish Cap. Zelda Minish Cap, it has a more hand-drawn look. It's very different. Something like Boktai: The Sun is in Your Hand, very different. The early Game Boy Advance games were still completely in the Super Nintendo era of "How do tiles work?" You can see the tiles. They kind of look like Mario or Kirby games.

This game, its art style was set back then, and you couldn't really change it. It's going to still need to look like the same game, so that's one where it's like, yeah, choices of the past locked in. The animation style. The art style. Some gameplay choices. Not all, but some. So yeah, there's a lot of challenges is what I'm getting at.

WP: One of the other things that happened over the past 20 years, you mentioned while we were doing the demo, is that you had some kids. You've not only gone back to the game, but you've brought some new help on board. Do you want to tell us how Shantae became more of a family affair?

Erin: Well back on the first game, when we were completing it, I was pregnant with our first child, our daughter. She ended up becoming an animator and working on the last game, Seven Sirens. When the first game came out, and we were kind of starting to work on the second game, I was pregnant with our son, and I remember after delivering him, they brought in the —

Matt: In the delivery room!

Erin: All the WayForward guys —

Matt: They brought the Game Boy Advance prototype because they were like, "We got our Game Boy Advance prototype dev kit! You gotta see it!" I'm like, "Oh." We're like, "Yeah."

Erin: So we celebrated the birth of our son and the birth of Shantae!

Matt: The baby was awesome, but also, "Look! There's a Game Boy Advance! Now I can actually see what that's like." So that was a good day.

Erin: Now 21 years later, he got to animate on this game.

Matt: Yeah, he did a lot of the animation on this game.

Erin: He's a pixel animator, and our daughter's a traditional animator.

Matt: So we basically put the game on hold, uh, made a person ...

Erin: Two people!

Matt: Grew them into animators and then put them to work.

Erin: The first game I was actually working on, so that we could make Shantae, I was working on Sabrina one and two, like for the whole pregnancy up until I delivered. Then I was also working on Shantae and having a baby, so I was working on like three games and having a baby.

Matt: Yep, it was Shantae one, Sabrina the Teenage Witch one and two, which was, uh, Zapped and Spooked is what they were called, and then Wendy the Witch. Wendy: Every Witch Way was at the end; Shantae was almost done when we did that game.

Erin: Wasn't Wendy before that?

Matt: Wendy was the tail end.

Erin: OK yeah, that was a really good game. If you haven't played it, Wendy: Every Witch Way is very good.

Matt: But after you pre-order this game and spend your money on it! You can remove that if you want. (laughing) You can't get it anymore.

Erin: You'd have to find an old copy.

Matt: Good luck with that one.

Editor's Note: Be sure to check out the second half of the developer interview for Shantae Advance: Risky Revolution.

More articles about Shantae Advance: Risky Revolution
blog comments powered by Disqus