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State of the Art: The Elegiac Beauty Of Hollow Knight

Burrowing into the artwork

Hollow Knight [official site] was a Kickstarter project I remember being captivated by because of the art style. It's all bluey greys and underground exploration to solve a mystery - kinda elegiac. There's a beta awaiting further exploration in my Steam library but I've only been able to dip in for small chunks of time thanks to a set of trips and other distractions. HOWEVER that didn't stop me emailing the game devs about the artwork. As a result artistic lead, Ari Gibson, has opened his sketchbooks (at one point literally) for RPS.

Here is a whole bouquet of concept art along with Ari's own comments and explanation.

N.B. Clicking the sketchbook images takes you to a slightly larger version but otherwise what you'll see when you click through is the same picture, but it turns them into a clickable slideshow which can be a nicer way to look at concept art as it greys out the rest of the page and lets you concentrate :)

First Impressions

"Hollow Knight began from the game jam Ludum Dare 29. The theme for the jam was 'Beneath the Surface.' This rather abstract image was the first one produced and it still represents the game quite well, with a small town above and the player spelunking through dark caverns below. The game's ambition quickly exceeded what was possible in 72hrs, but this the core concept has remained through to its final form."

"These in-game sprites show the Hollow Knight alongside some of the other friends you'll encounter. I'd originally designed and animated the main character for an earlier jam we'd attended, Ludum Dare 27. For this game, we just dragged his sprite-sheet across and gave him a jump animation (the previous game was top-down)."

Between Two Jams

"In the interim between the two jams, I produced the four images above, exploring further ideas for the character. These images formed the basis for the new game's aesthetic, though looking at them now, they're quite a bit darker than the game ended up being. In these images the character wasn't so much a knight, just a strange traveller embarking across a surreal wasteland. It was all very arty and vague. I really like the evolution the character's had from here."

"Here's the art I produced for the first night of the jam. The town above is almost identical to that seen in the final (much larger) game, though the cavern art has seen significant enhancement."

To Kickstarter

"Taking the game to Kickstarter necessitated new promotional art be made. This is some of the only key art created for the game. It helped solidify the new look, with simple graphic characters and the blue palette. I tried to illustrate the adventurous tone we wanted in the game, something the previous artwork was devoid of. Post Kickstarter, almost all art is final game assets or sketch thumbnails."

The Enemies Of The Hollow Knight

"A selection of enemy sprites from the game. Many of these I concept on the fly or with a single sketch (though I'm hoping that's not too apparent). Being 2D animated, each enemy takes a while for me to produce and I can't afford to use up that time iterating on a design."

Retail Therapy/Detail Therapy

"A few of the shops the Hollow Knight can frequent. These room interiors are some of my favourite things to create. All those little details!"


"The tiny scribble of an overgrown beast (in the top right corner of the page), can be seen in it's final form in one of the screenshots below."

"Sketches like these, while seriously crude, form the basis for most of the game. To date, I've filled 3 sketchbooks for Hollow Knight. Almost everything within makes its way into the final game. Very little is wasted. Most of these sketches are produced on Thursday nights at a cafe meet-up of local artists. The sketches produced during that event tend to cover about a weeks worth of final work."

Screenshots From The Game Itself

"Currently, my time is a mix of animating bosses, tiling out remaining areas and adding unique landmarks and discoveries. As players, we love exploration in games and in Hollow Knight we want to reward that urge. Even the most remote corners of the world are filled with strange creatures and bizarre sights."

Help Is Other People

"Lastly (and very importantly!), I should mention that a lot of the style of the game is conceived in collaboration with William [Pellen], who along with being a designer, is an artist and animator himself. Though William is busy constructing the game's systems, he does occasionally fit a few designs in. The concept above for Cornifer the Cartographer is one such example. Hollow Knight's look and feel is really a middle ground between his sensibility and mine. This extends even to the dialogue and lore, with us sharing the duties equally."

Pip note: Cornifer is one of the creatures I've actually encountered so for so as a bonus you can take a look at what he looks like now:

Hollow Knight doesn't have an exact release date but it's set for Q4 of this year - basically it should be out before the end of 2015. You can find out more on the Team Cherry website and there's a pre-order if you want to be part of the beta (that's an at your own risk thing as I've not had a chance to delve into it as a player).

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Hollow Knight

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About the Author

Philippa Warr

Former Staff Writer

Pip wrote for Rock Paper Shotgun between 2014-2017, covering everything from MOBAs, hero brawlers and indie curios. She also had a keen interest in the artistry of video game creation, and was very partial to keeping us informed of the latest developments in British TV show Casualty.