Team Cherry made a big name for itself with its atmospheric yet adorable Metroidvania platformer Hollow Knight when it realised on Steam in February last year. The game has since generated a huge amount of publicity, not only since its initial Switch reveal, but also since its delay and unfortunate absence at the March Nindies Showcase.
While making a guest appearance at this year's Bitsummit indie games event in Kyoto, Japan, we took the chance to sit down and chat to William Pellen and Ari Gibson from Team Cherry about Hollow Knight on Nintendo Switch.
Nintendo Life: How’s Hollow Knight coming along?
Team Cherry: Really well, it’s taken a lot of effort, but it is running nicely and it looks really nice on the screen. There’s just a few final things to clean up. We’ve taken our time to make sure it’s as good as it can be which is really important to us, and it’s our first game so there was a lot of stuff do and stuff that to be remade in certain ways, but the last thing we would ever want is for the Switch version is to be ‘less’ in any way, especially given demand there has been on that platform. It’s the game's console debut, and it’s the perfect fit.
Did you feel much pressure with the transition from PC to console?
Actually, we almost felt the opposite of pressure. It has been really exciting. People are really loving the Switch and we are really lucky about the timing of the Switch coming out when it did. We love it as well as players but as also as a platform as a developer.
What’s been happening in the time leading up to release?
Nintendo has been really helpful. We feel that we share their internal development process philosophy and the quality of the games they put out so hopefully we are just learning from them.
The refining has been ongoing and the extra content for the release we did in the meantime. All the content packs that have been released so far will be in the Switch version at launch. Also a lot of it was refactoring technical stuff, breaking it down and redoing it a bit more cleverly, but while we were doing that we had the chance to make some creative tweaks and refine a bunch of other little things. We haven’t got to the point of rebranding it as a new addition, but it’s certainly a fuller experience.
Some of that creative stuff (during the porting process) is so we don’t go crazy with all the technical stuff and fixes. It honestly keeps us alive that we can improve more creative elements of the game. It’s kinda nice to go back over things a few more times, and go back to all those niggling little things and clean up as well as we can do, so that something could just be better.
But we recognise that we could do that clean up forever, and we aren’t dragging our heels, but it terms of getting it ready on console, you get that chance of taking the time and doing that final sweep with the last few bugs and issues.
As your first game, it must be difficult to definitively say when it’s finished.
I think we are pretty good at saying that this is the point where we are happy to release it. Maybe games are a bit different now with things like streaming culture, so now for us as developers, we can see from the outside a lot more and we can obviously see things breaking. You can watch someone on YouTube or on Twitch literally breaking the game because in the past you could sell the game to people and they would tell you about bugs but it’s only when you see the gameplay and see things go wrong, you think ‘we really should fix that! Even people just playing it in different ways or people trying to break it, and find lots of stuff for us to work on.
So how does it look in handheld mode?
We think it looks great and it suits the game, because we were wondering how everything would look when it was scaled down, but it works really nicely. We hit a really good balance of character scale and the scale of everything generally that works really well on both the large and small screen. There might even be a thematic thing there that works - it’s a kingdom of bugs! So when you put it on the handheld screen, this is its true scale! You look at something like Breath of the Wild which looks great on the small screen, but the vastness of the game sometimes belongs on a big screen and it’s really impressive.
How has the momentum been from the community since release and the anticipation for the Switch version?
It really has kept up and we are constantly seeing a wide array of art, but not solely visual art. Some people do arrangements of the music and even original songs, taking poetry about the game and making lyrics which is really cool or videos of people playing the game and talking about it.
Obviously, the community is doing all of this themselves and really running with it but the fact that we are also actively working on the game at the same time and it is still evolving in small ways keeps it a bit more alive and keeps players constantly engaged.
The accessibility of updating games has changed the way people release games quite significantly. Our philosophy ideally is to still take the Nintendo approach of taking time and releasing something that is of that high quality straight out of the gate and people can play that through and have a complete experience.
Is there any plans for a physical release?
Absolutely, and it’s something that a lot of fans have requested. I think it’s something that we’d love to see ourselves and we are certainly having those discussions right now, but once we have something to announce officially we will. We are doing everything in our power to make that happen. We are looking at things besides just solely a physical copy of the game, and we are super mindful. We want to look at it as something to be preserved, as an object that has value.
What are your thoughts about documenting the creative process?
We have a bit of a funny process in that we tend to use everything that we make in the game so there is at a lot of concept stuff, but we try and keep the distance between concept and execution as short as we can so as we have the idea and sketched roughly and then within a pretty short space of time it’s on its way to being made.
There was a Kickstarter, with a manual and a comic that really expands the world of the game, which is really nice and the comic is a cool idea to pursue in the future, but collating some of that process and making a tangible product is something we think a lot of fans would enjoy.
It seems like both an advantageous and daunting position due to the sheer volume of fan art and support out there.
Yeah, it would just have to be a very large book! It’s a wonderful thing as well because we are about to approach this new Switch audience and hopefully some of them would join that existing community. The Switch release is super exciting for us because of the new influx, and the players make their art work because they’ve felt a connection to the characters from playing and spending a lot of time with the game.
Various Switch releases have introduced a new wave or ‘generation’ of fans to a title over a range of time periods...
Yeah, keeping it alive has been good by releasing those content packs but now with the Switch launch it gives even people who have already played it a chance to look forward to a new bunch of people to talk to about it with and it keeps the community going strong.
We intend to keep it alive in the future as well to an extent, we also don’t want to be the company that makes Hollow Knight forever. We need to be Team Cherry that makes several video games but for now, we are really enjoying the act of supporting this one and seeing it grow and getting it out to an audience.
Do you have any ideas for future projects right now?
That is something that sort of just happens. We have at least ten years worth of games we could make (!) but that might only turn out to be two games because by the time we’ve spent years developing and supporting the game (which is something we really want to continue to do - follow the Hollow Knight template), it could just turn into two or three. There is some overlap but not a lot, as there’s only a couple of us, but we’ve started looking at a couple of projects.
So, the ultimate question is when...?!
Soon... All we can say it that it’s very soon... And we know that we have made people wait but we do think the quality of the product is worth it. The time that we’ve put into it has made the Switch version the perfect version of Hollow Knight and it really was worth the time we have taken. Nintendo has a philosophy and we’ve spoken to them a lot. The one thing is that there’s never been any pressure regarding dates, there’s been nothing but support.
We are really happy with the fact that the excitement hasn’t died down in that gap between PC and Switch. We are at the finish line but can’t say anything conclusive regarding timing, so until things are rock solid, we have to wait but we know exactly what’s going to happen.
We would like to thank William and Ari for their time. Hollow Knight will be heading to Switch at a later date. Share your thoughts on this upcoming port with the rest of the Nintendo Life community...