Howdy athletic aficionados! Creating King Knight’s mobility set was one of the most scrapped and reworked designs we’ve ever done! He went through a lot of stages to get to his glorious landing, and we thought it’d be fun to discuss his royal journey- similar to how we did with Plague Knight and Specter Knight! Be sure to check out those past articles, as there are lots of tiny decisions we won’t be discussing that might be covered in our previous writing.
King Knight’s mobility design was initially done in tandem with Specter Knight’s design. For Specter Knight, we had a more clear vision of where we wanted to take the character. With King Knight, we mostly had thematic ideas, and we originally planned on Specter of Torment and King of Cards to play through a similar set of stages, much like Shovel of Hope and Plague of Shadows. So we focused on Specter Knight first, and our King Knight decisions were based on core principles for the character:
- King Knight should feel like a big man!
- King Knight should be a little silly and brash.
- King Knight should be simpler than Plague Knight, but maybe add a twist compared to Specter Knight. (like maybe we could attempt a charge attack again, just not one that requires you to balance it with multiple jumps mid-air)
- King Knight’s moveset should feel similar to his boss battle when possible.
- King Knight should be able to make it through Specter Knight’s stages without massive level changes.
With Shovel Knight mobility, we were going for classic NES feel. Plague Knight was more about creating setups and doing wild acrobatics. Specter Knight we really focused on creating something that felt ‘cool’ by exploring a context sensitive action. For King Knight, we were thinking a lot about how to make King Knight really feel like he was throwing his weight around…like a king! We thought it might be cool for him to have more of an effect on the environment than the other characters. Maybe he’d slam the wall and the ground would shift, or he’d knock something off a shelf and you’d use it.
Wario quickly became something we were referencing a lot. Wario feels like a big, strong, bulky guy that’s a little out of control and plays with the environment in a fun way. He’s got some of the same silly spirit that King Knight has. We felt the core interesting mechanic that could work for us was Wario’s Bash. We could simplify it and combine it with more King Knight signature moves to make King Knight really stand out as a unique design.
Landing on something we were all happy with wasn’t easy…it was by far our most iterative process- we went through 3 entire mobility sets before we finally found a direction that made sense.
Charge, Attack, Spin!
We started with the bash, since we knew it was key. We went with a distance we thought would make the move feel weighty, while also making it possible to use as a component of the platforming.
From there, we had a few main thoughts 1) we need to include more elements from his stage/boss battle 2) the bash feels like it needs to have weight in its actions. 3) After Plague Knight, we wanted to provide more options to save you from a pit. So we tried a few options:
A propeller rat that could help catch you from falling in a pit.
A slow fall to help you more easily land a jump and line up a mid-air bash…and use that dang cape for something!
A downthrust attack to include a main feature of his battle and include something a little closer to Shovel Knight where you would bounce on enemies.
Finally a double jump…we’re always hesitant to do double jumps, but with Specter’s contextual platforming, we thought King Knight might need to more easily navigate vertically since the bash gave him that option horizontally.
Then when all the actions were combined, you could see how the weight of the bash’s momentum interplayed nicely with the other attacks.
At this point, everything worked together well, but things weren’t sitting right with us. It felt like making level designs would be very challenging. Like Plague Knight, King Knight had such enormous ability to get across the screen and could solve most problems of a stage’s design; we felt his mobility compared to Specter’s in the same stages would end up feeling flat. We were also worried we were treading the same ground as Plague Knight with such complexity…we didn’t think this should be a fun, unique, complicated mobility to master like Plague’s…we should try something new! And that meant switching gears.
Aligning with Specter!
Okay, we knew the bash was key, but how would it work? We started to worry that it might be too powerful as a core action and connecting it to mobility might make it too hard for a player to control. Also, what is stopping the player from always bashing! That might lead to a tiring way to play the game.
So we decided King Knight needed a normal, core attack. We started with the swing he uses in his battle.
The next step was putting the bash on a charge- this would make it something you had to commit to more.
Finally, we were coming to the realization that the context sensitive nature of Specter Knight’s mobility really required a similar solution for King Knight. Specter Knight would be slashing through lanterns and wall climbing through areas made specifically for his unique move set. How could we possibly get that height and context sensitive actions to make sense with a character that had none of those features? The only solution that made sense to us was having King Knight bounce off the wall to get height if he hit objects/enemies or hit a wall. Thus entered the spin attack.
Why the spin is important became a running theme. The only time you’d do bounce type damage is when you’re spinning, so ‘how do I get into my spin’ would become a fun thing to think about. And as you might have noticed, it’s pretty fast! We wanted it to be clearly differentiated from his normal running, so it was more obviously a good idea to be in a spin state. We also made it feel quite weighty in its momentum. We didn’t want to lose that feeling of being a ‘big man’ from the first revision. We added that similar idea to the bash too:
We felt spinning every time you hit something would become cumbersome. So we worked off of Specter Knight’s Dash slash rules where if an enemy dies from your blow, you would bash through it, but if they simply took damage, you would spin. We also could let certain objects always behave one way or the other.
Finally, the card game was just coming online, and we were thinking a lot about the interplay between the cards and the mobility. We thought for sure there should be some interaction! Maybe the complexity of the old mobility was cool, but only if it’s gradually presented to you, and something you’re slotting in to your comfort level. So we ended up with what we called the crown abilities:
You would slot cards into your crown that would grant you bonuses to different categories of your character. You’d only have certain cards so you’d have to mix and match to get a workable mobility set. That seemed fun! Additionally, this would be great for ideas like the rat saver or slow fall that were more towards the helping end of the spectrum …solutions like these we usually slot into armors and items. Here we could just have one unifying system for upgrading your character- it’d feel totally new and different and card focused- so cool!
We even got to the point where we implemented a fair amount of these abilities- King Knight really became quite crazy powerful when everything was maximized.
After this round…things still weren’t working. We didn’t like having a charge attack because again, it overlapped too much with Plague Knight, and we were worried about complexities adding up from having to maintain a held button. The weightiness of the player was neat, but it felt unwieldy and inconsistent between jumping and spinning. The crown abilities really got too wild and unwieldy…we felt like we’d never be able to finish and balance a game where we had to figure out when cards got distributed for managing the card game’s fun, while also distributed for the player to manage the difficulty or engagement in the level design of King Knight’s mobility. Managing a deck in the middle of gameplay felt really tedious- we had to make a split from cards being so integrated into King Knight’s design.
At this point, we were struggling to make something satisfying. Specter Knight’s mobility was going extremely well and building levels to match his design felt very natural. We came to the conclusion that we really didn’t want to build stages that worked for two characters again. It’d be more fun to give King Knight his own set of stages, and we could go back to the drawing board a bit with that knowledge.
Carrying the Momentum: Simplify and Unify!
Where do we go next?! We now knew we were making stages unique to King Knight, and we still believed the bash was a key component of the direction. The spin on enemies and walls felt like something no one had attempted before, while fundamentally being similar to Shovel Knight’s Downthrust, Specter’s context sensitivity, and Plague’s more puzzly nature of how to use the mobility to get to a place. It felt like a cool encapsulation and final send off for Treasure Trove. With that knowledge, we decided we’d keep only the bash and spin, and we’d unify the acceleration and weightyness of the character throughout all his states. Since King Knight was such a horizontal oriented character with his bash and had momentum in his movement, maybe we should build tiny stages similar to Mario Courses. That would really make King Knight’s campaign stand out from the rest!
We started with the bash again. His bash and general running and jumping would now be influenced by a consistent momentum factor.
The spin would have the same momentum, but we still thought it would be important to differentiate the state and keep the speed increase. With our new framework of small courses, we thought this fit alongside a momentum based platformer, like entering a run in Mario.
We got so far down this path that we even brought this version of the game to PAX West 2017! Unfortunately, after witnessing many issues from our fans struggling with the game, we felt we had a few major concerns.
1) The momentum unified now stuck out to us. It was odd to play it in comparison to the other 3 games. It was hard for players to handle the character with this new feature when they were expecting the old behavior.
2) Players found the Bash hard to handle. It launched players so fast that they often would be sent into a pits, having a hard time picturing how far it would carry them. We were worried about this problem ahead of time, so we made turning against the bash stop you immediately, but it wasn’t intuitive.
3) The fast spin was just too fast! Players had trouble understanding the movement of the spin bounce, and more often than not were missing the targets they were trying to land on.
4) It felt like there was no choice in the gameplay. Always bash! There isn’t another option!
5) Players found it confusing when a bash would lead to a spin or go through an object or bounce off it! With Specter Knight, the rules were easier to internalize for people and most often recoverable if a mistake was made, but the same wasn’t true for King Knight.
Oof, that’s a lot of issues… but it did feel like all those issues could maybe be resolved by one or two small-ish changes. No one at PAX was complaining- it was obvious players were enjoying the mobility’s core ideas, but we could observe from their short play-sessions that an 8 hour adventure would lead to greater issues.
Charge and Roll!
In the struggles with momentum, it seemed clear the answer was to take it out altogether. Removing the momentum would make the bash action more discrete. If you stopped on a dime during a jump, it would be more consistent with our other characters and consistent with the bash. So we tried putting it in!
We applied the same ideas to the spin. We removed the faster speed so King Knight remained consistent in your expected flow of his movement. The bounce off an enemy was simpler to handle as it worked exactly like your jump.
We made a revision to King Knight’s bash so that he would always enter his spin upon hitting a wall or enemy no matter what condition the object was in. Therefore, you knew exactly what to expect…no more confusion!
We knew this was the right direction, but it didn’t feel fun! The reason was pretty clear, coming to a complete halt every time you attacked was very start and stop! There was no way to build a nice flow when moving across the stage. We also were still stuck on our previous issue of the bash feeling like the only move you wanted to use! At the same time, we didn’t want to make the mobility more complex. If you only used the Bash throughout the entire game…that seemed okay! So what to do…enter King Knight’s roll:
We figured that during your bash, if you could use another action to keep your momentum going, we could have a nice flow to the gameplay. In addition, it provided another option for players… if the roll connects with an enemy or wall, you’d bounce off it, but the bash would always go to the spin. So you could choose what reaction would make the most sense for your situation, and it would solve the ‘always bashing’ problem! But the spin wasn’t required in any way for you to complete the adventure, it simply provided an avenue of the mobility to consider and master.
Now we were a bit worried about King Knight losing his weightiness feel. We resolved to solve that in our objects and other interactions. Bashing into a wall that doesn’t let you spin would shake the screen.
Or pounding against a Sumo Goldarmor would make King Knight really feel like a big man!
Hail to the King
This finalized, pared down move set worked well both for internal testers and PAX show goers who played the new demo version. The mobility also helped constrain the level design, allowing us to craft small, diverse, and interesting challenges for King Knight to overcome. King Knight’s Heirlooms, Armors, and other upgrades could now fill out other complexities of his character mobility.
The intersecting systems in King of Cards are a culmination of the many lessons learned from the play styles we had developed for previous Shovel Knight adventures. We’re proud of our King Knight mobility and we hope it’s a fitting sendoff for Shovel Knight: Treasure Trove. Now don your crown and have a blast bashing, spinning, and rolling your way through King of Cards!