Team Cherry Games
Hollow Knight is one of the postergames for the indie movement on Switch. Originally announced for the Wii U back in 2014 during the game’s Kickstarter campaign, Hollow Knight would eventually make its way to the Switch in June this year. During Nintendo’s opening E3 presentation, Reggie himself revealed that the game was now available to buy and play; within two weeks, the game would sell 250,000 copies. The Adelaide-developed game has been lauded as one of the best indie games of the last few years.
Put simply, it rules.
Ari Gibson and William Pellen, the co-directors and founders of Team Cherry, have been working on Hollow Knight for what seems like forever. When I caught up with them they were deep into development on the game’s third and final major free DLC, Gods and Glory, and will soon be moving on to implementing a new playable character (Hornet, who appears as a boss in the original campaign). Nintendo approached them, they tell me, about launching during E3 – usually a very risky move, but it can pay o if your game is a major part of a presentation like theirs was. “They pitched the idea to us well before E3”, Pellen says. “We were talking to them about when the release would work, and they had this idea.”
“And it worked out perfectly”, Gibson adds, “because our development timeline lined up exactly with when they wanted to release”.
Nintendo first reached out to Team Cherry shortly after its Kickstarter went live. “Nintendo approached us”, Gibson recalls, “and said ‘this would be a really good fit for our platform. We’d like you to consider it.’ We were thrilled.” A Wii U version was promised in a stretch goal that was comfortably met, but once the Switch was revealed it made sense to move the game to Nintendo’s new system. “It was just a very natural timing thing”, Gibson says. “By the time we were ready, the Nintendo fanbase had moved over to the Switch. When we announced it on the Kickstarter, it was unanimously enthusiastic.”
The Switch port was a joint eort between Team Cherry – which has still been developing new content pretty consistently since the game launched on Steam in February 2017 – and Sharkjump, a small Adelaide developer that mostly focuses on mobile games. “Those guys helped us out a lot”, Gibson says. “They did a lot of the integration features and helped us to optimise the whole build.” It’s an excellent port that runs well and looks beautiful on the portable screen. Although it’s taken over a year for the Switch version to release, the initial work to get a version of the game running didn’t take long at all – according to Pellen, it was “a matter of days” from getting the dev kit to getting the game running on the system. “We didn’t have to make any compromises”, Gibson assures me. “We just had to rethink a few of the things we did. One of the best things about doing optimisation for consoles is that we brought it all back to the PC version as well. Now the PC version runs better at lower settings.”
It’ll be a while before Team Cherry gets the chance to work on its next game, with Hollow Knight still receiving updates and tweaks from a very small team. With this Switch release, a new audience is discovering the game, and the team has seen an influx of fan art and activity on its Reddit and Discord channels.
Porting the game to Switch was a learning experience too – the pair admit that they made the game in “a few silly ways” due to a lack of development experience, and continuing to work on Hollow Knight has taught them good development practices. “Everything we’ve learned now we can bring forward into future games”, Pellen says. “Building the game so it’ll run on consoles has been of huge benefit to us.”
Hollow Knight walked a long road to arrive on Switch, but the wait seems to have been worth it for Team Cherry and its growing number of fans.