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Years Later, Why Klei Returned to Shank

How the action game's portrayal of sensitive subjects didn't sit well with the studio, so they went back.

Klei Entertainment shipped Shank in August 2010 on Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, followed by a PC release in October. Few took notice when the developer returned to Shank in October 2012--yes, more than two years later--to patch a few gameplay tweaks and implement some story changes, as well.

People are touchy about their stories. Just look at any discussion about George Lucas's decision to mess with the original Star Wars movies, or how quickly Steven Spielberg backed away from returning to his own classics, following an avalanche of criticism regarding E.T.’s “updates.”

Shank was a violent, adult game with a cartoonish visual style.

“The newly refined cutscenes are much tighter, with improved audio and visuals,” read a detailed patch note on Klei’s forums, describing the PC and Mac-only update. “We made these changes based on internal discussions about keeping the purpose and essence of the story, and editing to make the character motivations more in line with what we feel is right as creators.”

Klei did not disclose what the studio had decided to change, only that it changed some cutscenes. Only one person in that thread took note, months later, and he wasn’t very happy.

“To be honest, I still do not understand, why you need to cut custscenes for no reason ?” said user JohnSmirnov. “Seriously, instead of making it more interesting and etc, you just made a lot of plot holes. I think in this case, PS3 and Xbox360 owners are the luckiest, cause they got full and interesting cutscenes. While PC owners got it cut and believe me, I am not the only one who thinks that this is stupid and pointless and etc. Seriously guys, no offense, but you made it worse, not better.”

And that was that.

So far as I can tell, it was a dead issue. Klei made its changes, and the world moved on, even if there wasn’t a public discourse about what prompted Klei to make them. We were talking Shank 2 at that point.

But like most of the world, I browse Reddit occasionally, one of many places I visit to see what people are talking about at the moment, and last week raised my eyebrow at one thread, which specified the changes.

“[Spoilers] Steam version of Shank has been heavily edited, kind of "censored". Is this acceptable?”

The user who started the thread, FLD108, outlined one of the cutscene that underwent post-release revision:

“More than half the opening cutscene is missing. Originally, Shank walks into a bar, speaks briefly to the bartender and we see a flashback before the bartender orders some goons to attack Shank. Shank disarms and kills a bunch of them, acquiring his trademark dual pistols and chainsaw in the process. But if you were to play the Steam version of the game now, that last part would be gone entirely. The conversation is shortened, the flashback is essentially gone and so is the entire fight scene.

Now, I can't help but wonder why this happened. And here's the part where it doesn't quite make sense. The flashback, I have an easier time imagining why they would remove it. The character in it outright states that he's going to rape Shank's girlfriend. I guess I can see how they might regret including something like that in retrospect. But why remove the entire fight scene that follows? It's certainly not because of the violence and blood because the game is still full of it. But if it's not about the violence, then this next bit doesn't really make sense either.”

That's not just a small tweak.

I shot an email to Klei founder Jamie Cheng, and he was immediately honest about the studio's motivations.

“The game was…[pause]…what came out, in the end, was our first pass,” said Cheng. “That's what Shank [was] when you played it. I'm proud of it. It's a decent game, and all sorts of things. But there were flaws. What we did was that we went back and we improved the controls and we also thought about how the story was, and we listened to feedback. I get why some people call it censorship. I think that's a negative connotation word, and so I wouldn't use it that way because I don't see it as that. I see it as we took feedback, and we agreed to it. It was not ‘oh my god, people are hating on us, so we must change it.’ We took feedback, said ‘oay, I understand what you're talking about, I've thought it through, and I've decided that, yes, you have a good point, and we're going to make some edits, based on that feedback.’”

Sensitive to the accusations of censorship, Cheng promised an option for Steam owners to sync the original cutscenes, should they wish to do so. There is no timetable on when that might be available but it'll happen.

When Shank shipped, the studio was completely wiped.

“We were so burnt out on Shank--so burnt out,” said Cheng.

Klei had moved onto its next projects, but months later, Shank was still on its mind. Some player feedback about the story hadn’t sat well, and unlike future games like Mark of the Ninja, Klei didn't widely playtest for Shank. Klei had hoped Shank’s story would provide proper motivation for the player, a reason to slay his enemies. Instead, for many, it was the total opposite, and Shank was not the likable character Klei envisioned. Though Cheng describes Shank as grindhouse, that didn't excuse what he saw as a mistake.

“When you have a story, you're trying to say something. If I say apple and you heard orange, then I'd be like 'hey, maybe I should have said apple in a better way.'"

“Now, the scenes [that] were there, pushed it in a direction [that], to a lot of people, actually made the protagonist less likable,” he said. “It actually made Shank less likable, and they didn't connect with him because of that. It did the opposite of what we wanted to do, and so what I'm saying is that you can write it better, we can actually do a better job in that genre.”

To Klei, crafting a story for a game is no less iterative than refining gameplay.

“When you have a story, you're trying to say something,” he said. “If it says something completely different to two different people, then you've kind of failed because you're trying to say something. [laughs] If I say apple and you heard orange, then I'd be like 'hey, maybe I should have said apple in a better way.'"

Even though assigning developers to make new changes to Shank was a financial burden on the developer without much obvious upside, Cheng saw it as the right thing to do. It’s the same reason he took the accusations of censorship to heart, and will provide users with an option to flip the switch on the cutscenes at their discretion. He doesn't want to bury Shank's past. To him, it’s all about listening to the audience.

“I see it all as a journey,” he said. “Our game making is a journey. We are all better game developers now for that experience. We tried to put some of that back in, but I can't change Shank entirely. So it's not really a done project, you know what I mean? If I build Shank again now, it would be a totally different project. Completely different.“

Patrick Klepek on Google+
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Posted by shatteringlast

I was super into the Shanks.

Posted by slndr

Great story. This is why I love GB.

Posted by mrfluke

great piece.

i though shank 1 was pretty cool, had no issue with the game, and i was connected to shank's motivations enough in the first game.

never played the 2nd one after the bad reviews.

Posted by Demoskinos

Interesting. I've got this steam version I haven't fired up in forever. Almost tempted to boot it up to see the changes for myself. Good on Klei for doing what they felt is right but also for them adding in the option to leave the original content in. Well, ya know in the future when they get around to it.

Posted by joshwent

I haven't played either game, but I wonder how their sentiment was worked into Shank 2. Seems like a sequel is the perfect way to address their issues and make what they're saying with the game more clear, rather than altering the original.

Posted by chocolaterhinovampire

I played the first one for a bit but it was really one note. Great art, but boring mechanics

Posted by CommonReason

Interesting article Patrick, thanks. I never made it through all of Shank. I would agree that he is not that likable of a character. The gameplay was not bad though, but also not terribly different than what you can get elsewhere. I think this is mostly a case of the internet going after devs without all the facts as we see so often these days.

Edited by Veektarius

I didn't play Shank, but from what I saw of it, I would expect that what that character needed to be sympathetic was more characterization and not less violence. Interesting article though.

Edited by Yodasdarkside

I was sold on the art-style and animation quality, but the game just didn't stack up. It was too hard and started to feel pointless towards the end. Why the developer would spend time fixing issues on a game no-one is playing is beyond me.

Edited by Clonedzero

Change all the weapons in shank to walky talkies too! Wouldn't want to offend anyone!

Posted by Rolyatkcinmai

I love Klei. Fast becoming one of the best indie devs out there.

Edited by MildMolasses

I love Klei. Fast becoming one of the best indie devs out there.

They've been around long enough that I think you can say they have already arrived at that point

Posted by probablytuna

Huh, didn't even know Shank had been edited until this article came out. Not that I would've known anyway, since I don't own/played it.

Edited by mnzy
Posted by GunslingerPanda

They should probably focus less on editing cutscenes and more on making fun gameplay, something they just can't seem to get right.

Posted by falserelic

This reminds me that I still need to finish Shank 2. I remember hating the fucked up checkpoint system, but I was playing the game on hard and getting annoyed by it.

Edited by Pudge

That's pretty terrifying to me tbh. A digital copy of the game being censored and there is almost no recourse and no way to get back the original version. Sure, they say they're going to include an option, but this went unnoticed for months beforehand. Something like this really shouldn't be allowed, or if it is, the option to roll back changes for a single player game should be standard.

Posted by JJWeatherman

Neat story. I really should get around to playing these games.

Posted by NeoCalypso

@gunslingerpanda: You're talking about the people who made Eets, N+, Mark of the Ninja, and Don't Starve. Shank is in the extremely small minority when it comes to un-fun Klei games.

Edited by Fearbeard

Interesting, I had no idea they changed things. I'm all for them revising the story in a way they like, but not including an option to play it as it originally was is shitty. Hopefully they get that in. I want guns in my E.T. I don't want Hayden Christensen in my Return of the Jedi (though Ryan Davis is ok) and I'll take my original hyperviolent Shank.

Posted by BooDoug187

So they took a money hit to make changes on a years old game then wonder why people would be mad at them?

I mean was there some major online petition to make the changes?

Also the part where they said "No one liked the character, so we wanted to change that..." I remember someone from the company saying before the game came out that Shank was a grindhouse anti-hero, he was a bad man doing bad things. You can't sit back and make someone like that then be upset later they you cant make cute and cuddley versions of the character.

I kinda liked the first one on the PS3 even though i never beat the final boss and maybe if the balance patch came out for the PS3 version maybe i will check it out, and try to beat it.

Posted by Bub

Cool story.

Posted by GunslingerPanda
Edited by jakob187

Did they ever fix the problem where Shank was easier to play the higher you bumped up the difficulty level? It was a fucking atrocity that the normal difficulty level was tougher than the hardest difficulty.

The game was okay. It wasn't anything special. I do with they would just stop it with that IP and just keep trucking with their two vastly superior IPs: Mark of the Ninja and Don't Starve.

Edited by ArbitraryWater

Why? Did anyone ask for them to go back and look at Shank again? This is like when the Hydrophobia guys released no less than two (2) retweaked versions of the game... and it still wasn't anything to write home about. Move forward and make a better game, don't try to fix a middling one.

Posted by apoloimagod

Great article. Never played this, but this got me interested in doing so.

Posted by Jonny_Anonymous

Not really a fan of censorship at all, even if I find it offensive.

Posted by BaconGames

Even if it does more harm than good sometimes if you're in a position where you feel like you need to do it, you do it and that's that. It's to our benefit I suppose that they decided to tinker with their "first pass" game that was okay and got some fans but didn't set the world on fire.

I think it would have been more tactful for them to make the game a "director's cut" version obvious on the page but by default and give you an option in the menu to revert it back to the "theatrical cut." I guess lesson learned if you want to just sneak out a past edit to your game's story.

Posted by KingSalo

nice read... i should visit reddit more often^^

Posted by Gordy

So they took a money hit to make changes on a years old game then wonder why people would be mad at them?

I mean was there some major online petition to make the changes?

But that's what makes it anything but censorship. The creators of the game went back and did this of their own volition, because they agreed with the critiques of the games' story. They weren't doing this at the behest of the ESRB, or consumers, or the government, or whoever.

Posted by Hailinel

@gordy: But they also did it under the radar without explicitly stating that they were editing the cutscenes in a clear fashion.

Posted by Robopengy

I read that article twice and I'm still a bit confused what happened.

Posted by xbob42

@jonny_anonymous: Except it wasn't censorship in the slightest. They changed it to try to make the character of Shank more likeable and less like an insane megalomaniac. It looks like it didn't really work, but it sure as hell wasn't censorship.

Posted by bgdiner

Great piece.

Edited by BonzoPongo

Good on Klei.

It shows they are proud of their work if they are willing to revisit it at their own cost, two years after release because something didn't sit right with them.

Posted by hippocrit

Shows how much those at Klei love their work.

Posted by Zainyboy

Good to see them being honest about it and giving a reasonable explanation for the changes. Also its cool that they are still giving so much thought to Shank.

Posted by ThunderSlash

Han shot first guys!

Posted by ScreamingGhost

Wow had no idea they went back and tweaked the game, so they made changes for all the platforms huh? I guess I'll have to boot up Shank again.

Posted by Ravenlight

So they changed Shank from being a megalomaniac so the Klei founder could show off his megalomaniacal tendencies? Get over your bad self, man.

I enjoyed the fact that Shank was an unlikable character. Made what was a hyperviolent but still sort of bland beat-em-up a little bit interesting.

Posted by oopprraahh

Man this has me thinking about the Shank story way more than I did when I first played it. And yeah it was a fairly dark but I don't think it went beyond grindhouse style movies. I'd say it is probably as dark as Sin City and that movie is considered a grindhouse film, right?

Love the article and Love the work Klei does

Edited by tourgen

cool story. not surprised that what actually happened was more nuanced than a Reddit post title can communicate.

Posted by jred250

This is a cool article. It's always interesting to hear the reasons why developers make certain decisions.

Edited by AdmiralDolphin

Great article Patrick. I certainly like how you look at the motivations behind why klei changed things, and how story is an iterative process, but i do feel there is a missed opportunity here to discuss wether (as the reddit post ponders) it was okay to alter the content and story like that of someones game. I know the obvious answer is yeah, that's definitely ok; But I think it would be an interesting thing to look at what with the recent news over that COD reload time twitter kerfuffle and DRM as pertaining to digital games. Again, great article, but I think you should write a follow up piece looking at that side of things.

Posted by OurSin_360

Nice article, i don't get what the fuss is about I for one really loved the new scene with shank and jabba the hut.

Posted by development

Makes sense

Edited by bushpusherr

They should probably focus less on editing cutscenes and more on making fun gameplay, something they just can't seem to get right.

Mark of the Ninja played fantastic.

Posted by Sweep

Uh, Uh, Uh, Uh, Uh

Posted by popmasterruler

Klei it's cool if you want to update the controls(and the fact that you will give players the chance to watch the original cutscenes)but instead of spending money to change cutscenes how about adding online to the co-op?That would be a huge improvement and a welcome one for those of us who can't get a friend to join in for local co-op.

Also the part where they said "No one liked the character, so we wanted to change that..." I remember someone from the company saying before the game came out that Shank was a grindhouse anti-hero, he was a bad man doing bad things. You can't sit back and make someone like that then be upset later they you cant make cute and cuddley versions of the character.

Agreed,Shank was a character that did really bad things and it eventually came back to bite him in the ass.While he's not doing it for selfless reasons he is trying to make up for it and avenge his girlfriend's death(who was pregnant with his child no less).I don't particularly see how he's an unlikeable character.As a comparison while I love the God Of War games Kratos can actually be an unlikeable character.Kratos was tricked into killing his wife and child but in one scene he'll act like he's a victim and that we should feel sorry for him but in the next he's getting into threesomes with two other women and killed innocent people just because their presence made his journey for revenge a little inconvenient and shows no remorse for it later on.Shank did none of that.He did bad things,which he recognizes and wants to make up for it.He doesn't sleep with other women and he doesn't hurt others who haven't wronged him,he's a man out for revenge and that's that.

Posted by Gordy

@hailinel: So? The owners went back and did this of their own volition, not at the behest of anyone else. That, by definition, is not at all censorship.

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