Book Breakdown: "Shovel Knight"

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Posted by David on October 23, 2018


Welcome to another book breakdown, a blog in which I discuss the process of writing a particular draft of one of my books and give an overview of content. SHOVEL KNIGHT published by Boss Fight Books released last week in digital and paperback editions. To celebrate, I rounded up coverage in an earlier blog and posted a Twitter thread sharing some behind-the-scenes tidbits from the book's writing and editing phases.

You can read that Twitter thread here, or read the postmortem (what I call my book breakdowns) below. The blog version features a few new morsels of info. Happy reading!


SHOVEL KNIGHT from Boss Fight Books released earlier this week! To celebrate, here’s a lengthy thread that shares some behind-the-scenes info about writing the book, and some of trivia about Yacht Club Games and their masterpiece platformer. (Link to book: )


All stats come from Microsoft Word 2016, 1.5-spacing, Times New Roman, 12pt font.

Gameplay Per Square Inch (original draft pre-Boss Fight Books, Sept. 2016)

  • 48 pages
  • 18,625 words

SHOVEL KNIGHT (first draft sent to Boss Fight Books in June 2017)
  • 186 pages
  • 58,912 words

SHOVEL KNIGHT (final draft published in Oct. 2018)
  • 131 pages
  • 41,195 words


Structure and Content

The first YCG developer I interviewed was David D’Angelo, studio co-founder and programmer. The rest of the team was knee-deep in preparation for SK’s first expansion, Plague of Shadows. SHOVEL KNIGHT’s original title was GAMEPLAY PER SQUARE INCH, a term D’Angelo used to describe how YCG approached populating every square inch of Shovel Knight’s screen with things to do. GAMEPLAY PER SQUARE INCH was written based on ~3 hours of interviews w/ D’Angelo and my research.

Before I could publish it as a standalone, Kindle Single-sized book, YCG reached out: The team was free and able to do interviews, if I’d consider expanding my work. YCG loved Boss Fight Books, and I happened to have reached out to founding editor @GabeDurham with a pitch earlier that summer, 2016. (He kindly turned me down.) I sent Gabe a copy of GAMEPLAY PER SQUARE INCH and YCG’s interest. (He kindly said yes.) I preserved SHOVEL KNIGHT’s original title by naming Chapter 5 “Gameplay Per Square Inch.” Other chapter titles from the original manuscript include “The Nintendo Generation,” “The Way Forward,” “NES Hard,” and “Cheating a Tiny, Tiny Bit.”

I’m a firm believer that the purpose of any first draft is to get words down on paper. That means throwing every thought in my head at my screen. Consequently, Chapter 1 probably went through the most revisions of any other chapter. Chapter 1 corrections include: a 1-page scene describing the final contest in The Wizard, my attempt to firmly plant the reader in the shoes of YCG’s co-founders, who were NES fanatics growing up; and a lengthier history (1-1.5 pages) of Nintendo, trimmed b/c most was well-known. Gabe Durham and Mike Williams, BFB’s editors, are two of the best editors I’ve ever worked with. I’m a big believer in listening to editors, whose job is to shape writers into lean, mean, storytelling machines. Their cuts to Chapter 1 (and every other section) served the book well.

My favorite chapter to write was Chapter 7, “Partners.” I had no idea Shield Knight has started as another damsel character. Credit to YCG, who decided she was capable of more and evolved her into Shovel Knight’s equal, a partner w/o whom he stood no chance of victory.  Chapter 7, “Partners,” was originally titled “Damsels in Equality.” I believe BFB editor and CHRONO TRIGGER author Mike Williams didn’t care for the name, so I came up w/ the much more succinct and powerful “Partners.”

I had so much fun learning about YCG’s design process. So much of what I learned was left on the cutting-room floor due to concerns over page count and redundancy. I never throw away writing, so I salvaged these bits and pieces by repurposing them as blogs and articles. You can find a chapter on speedrunning, based on interviews w/ Shovel Knight pros "Smaugy" and "MunchaKoopasSK," on Shacknews. Other salvaged material survived on my Gamasutra blog. Over three posts, I wrote about YCG’s approach to designing Mole Knight, Specter Knight, Plague Knight, Baz, Propeller Knight, and more. I haven't thrown away any of my writing in 14 years, because one never knows when a scrapped piece of material could come in handy.

SHOVEL KNIGHT focuses on the making of the original game, released in 2014. Yacht Club's developers were up for talking about the two currently available expansion packs, Plague of Shadows and Specter of Torment, but I chose to concentrate on the core game for a couple of reasons: It was their first release, making the story of its development the most interesting since the co-founders were learning how to do everything--not just making a game, but learning the ins and outs of business and marketing--themselves; and to keep the scope of the book tight and focused.

Gabe and Mike did a great job helping me hone in on the right story to tell. I originally wrote about the design of every single stage and boss fight, but all that info would have bloated the narrative and possibly increased the book's cost. Cutting extraneous (but no less interesting) material and setting it aside for promotion made sense, and resulted in a better book.

In every nonfiction, gaming history-related book I’ve written (STAY AWHILE AND LISTEN, DUNGEON HACKS, SHOVEL KNIGHT, etc.) I make a point to include “final thoughts” from developers when the narrative reaches the release of their game: What they were feeling, thinking, etc. Some of my favorites about Shovel Knight (the game): “Shovel Knight, the production itself, put us together and made us work and see ourselves as a real company. It's nice to have a place that you founded with people you respect.” -Nick Wozniak.

“I felt pretty good about where we landed on everything: what's going on in levels, how new players were playing it, how family members and friends were playing it, and how much I enjoyed playing it myself.” -Ian Flood

“I've had some people talk to me and become overwhelmed with emotion when they're talking about the story. I've had people cry when they've talked to me about Shovel Knight. That's a crazy thing, right? That's a really crazy thing.” -Sean Velasco

As for my thoughts, see the book’s intro: “Shovel Knight is more than a great retro-inspired platformer. [It’s] a classic all its own, one that stands on the shoulders of giants but, from there, soars to new heights under its own momentum.”

That’ll do it! Thanks for threading with me. I hope you enjoy reading SHOVEL KNIGHT (the book) as much as I enjoyed writing it.


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