J.K. Riki

Game and Art Thoughts: Hollow Knight

Today’s post falls into that category of “I want to talk about something, so here it is.” I try to keep the blog filled with useful stuff to you the reader, and maybe this will be useful to someone other than me, but if not forgive me for taking a week to ramble about some things related to games and art. Specifically we’re going to talk about Hollow Knight.

Hollow Knight is an Indie Game developed by Australian studio Team Cherry. It is a 2D action-adventure game with an incredibly stylish art style. One look at screen shots from this game draws you in and entices you to want more. They really nailed that aspect of the design, 100%.

I love the color choices and atmosphere of the game. The character designs are simple, but appealing. They make you curious. The old fellow on the right of the screen shot above, for example, has plain dots for eyes and no other facial features minus the overwhelming beard, yet he feels alive and interesting. That’s amazing and worth analyzing to learn from.

The enemy designs are also fantastic, with brilliant proportions and aspects that add such creativity. Look at the images above and imagine them without the crystals or the orange orb on the bat. Would they still be interesting and appealing? You bet! At the same time, those extra additions push the designs to new heights and make them not only memorable, but also feel more “dangerous” at just a glance. This has a lot to do with the contrast both in colors and shapes. Simply wonderful work!

Of course there are also things, as with all games, that could be improved.

Watching the trailer, one aspect bothered me. I had suspicions as to why, but I asked my fellow AnimatorIsland.com owner Ferdinand for his thoughts as well. Essentially due to the nature of the game the sprite sheet (animation frames) are limited, and as a result the character movement feels a bit more stiff and lacks some weight. As Ferdinand mentioned “The character here can jump up straight, go to the right in an almost horizontal line and almost completely back. Not a real jump at all. But might be interesting to control.”

There’s a decided lack of anticipation and easing. Which is actually quite normal for games of this type, so please don’t think I’m calling out Hollow Knight in particular! It has been received as a fantastic game with crazy high review scores both critically and from gamers. I just think looking at every aspect and analyzing it can only increase our own knowledge as artists.

Another issue is with the walk cycle, and beyond the jumping physics and animation it is this walk cycle that bothers me most. In some scenes in the trailer, if you go through one frame at a time, you’ll find that not only does the walk cycle slide (again, due to a limited sprite sheet) but also there are frames that should be grounded but the character is not on the ground at all:

In the image above, you can see the foot does not touch the ground. However that is the planted foot of the character! 100% of the weight should be on that foot, which means it NEEDS to be on the ground. One reason the walk cycle looks floaty and weightless is because of frames like that which are not grounded. (I believe, though I’m still early to game development, this could be solved with some tweaks to the hit boxes of the character and ground planes. In many other areas of the game it is not as much of an issue thanks to overlapping artwork.)

What’s useful to know is that consciously you’re not going to “see” that frame above. It goes by so quick that you have to literally look at each frame one at a time (as I did while analyzing this). However even with zero animation training, any viewer is going to “feel” that something is slightly off, because internally they know gravity exists and some part of their brain will be bothered. As artists our job is to either prevent this from happening, or make a conscious choice for some design purpose (example, if the character was a ghost, play up the fact that the planted feet don’t touch the ground! And perhaps Hollow Knight is indeed a ghost, I don’t know. However since he has weight at other points, it gets confusing if he doesn’t in frames like that one).

All in all I’m glad to have stumbled across the Hollow Knight trailer thanks to a friend pointing it out to me! It’s a beautifully crafted game that I am going to go check out in more detail now. (I also hear it’s coming to Switch, so huzzah for that!) I hope you’ve enjoyed this peak at some of the art-aspects of the animation and design. I love taking a closer look at things like this and trying to learn as much as I can from designers who have so much appeal and understanding of the creative process.

1 Comment

  1. Enrico

    Great analysis, I agree completely. It is one of the best looking games in years too.


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