Hol­low Knight

Team Cherry Games

Hyper - - FEATURE -

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 e–ort 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.

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