"A lot of these decisions we're making, a lot of the scale and the rooms we build, all of it's built around this sense of discovery. Exploration and discovery."
- Ari Gibson, Team Cherry co-director, speaking to PCGamer about the development of Hollow Knight's map.
How do you map out your game in a way that feels authentic to players, but still offers them an intriguing mix of challenges and surprises?
Hollow Knight developers Ari Gibson and William Pellen recently talked through that process with PCGamer, and the result is a really interesting article if you're at all curious about maps.
Hollow Knight appears much akin to the sort of game you might call "Metroidvania", but the pair tell PCG that they tried to stop themselves from letting that perception influence the way they mapped out the game.
"Do you let a genre dictate decisions in your own game? Do you make a conscious decision that you're making something that is a Metroidvania, and build off the conventions of that? I don't think we ever did anything like that," Gibson said. "We just said we're going to make an adventure in this big world, and let's build an interesting world with lots of things to discover and see, and hopefully keep people engaged throughout."
The pair point out that while they initially conceived of the game (born from a game jam) as being short and replayable, with a map structure that was somewhat randomly generated, they wound up shying away ("it was a headache") in favor of a more deliberate, planned map. However, Pellen cautioned that it wasn't too planned.
"It was mainly intuition. We've never put together something like this before, and I kind of didn't have a great sense of, when people do make it, is it like a mathematical thing, in some way? Even something simple like laying out a small room with platforms, how much of it is iteration? X tiles is the optimum, blah blah blah." he said.
"We didn't do any of that. Ari kind of said it. We started with the idea of the world, and that was the first thing, rather than an analytical 'what's the path going to be.' We started putting the world together in ways we thought were interesting, and made sense, and just built on it from there."
You can (and should) read the full article over on PCGamer for a full walkthrough of how the game's map came together, replete with a progression of map sketches and prototypes.