Hi I’m Mark Brown, and this is Game Maker’sToolkit.
Platforming heroes often have a signaturemove.
A single action that defines their character, and is used for much of the gameplay.
I’m talking about stuff like Mario’s hatthrow in Odyssey, Madeline’s dash move in Celeste, flipping gravity in VVVVVV, and thespin in Crash Bandicoot.
But one developer has had to work harder thanalmost anyone else to create amazing signature moves, and that’s Shovel Knight maker YachtClub games.
Since 2014, it has updated the game with threenew characters and each one has a unique, well-developed, and imaginative move at theheart of their mobility design – from Plague Knight’s explosive leap to King Knight’sbash and spin combo.
I wanted to find out how these moves cameto be, so I called up the game’s designer and director Sean Velasco, and its lead programmerDavid D’Angelo, to find out how they made each character’s special move.
Starting, of course, with Shovel Knight.
So Shovel Knight himself has the shovel drop.
Hit down whenever you’re in mid-air andyou’ll swing your shovel downwards – ready to crush anything below you.
Which, in turn, will send Shovel Knight intoa big springy bounce.
It was based on one of Sean’s favouritemoves from the NES era: the downward thrust in Zelda 2.
In that game it’s an under-used and under-developedattack, so the team at Yacht Club decided to borrow it and build an entire game aroundit.
With a bit of extra inspiration from the pogo-jumpin DuckTales and the ground-pound in the Mario games.
To make it work, they had to make some usabilitytweaks – for example, unlike Zelda 2, you don’t have to hold the down button, whichfrees your thumb up to easily move horizontally in mid-air.
And the collision detection on the shovelis pretty wide, to give you a better chance of hitting your target.
And then, while Link only bobs up a tiny amountwhen he does the thrust, Shovel Knight flies high into the air – at different heights, depending on what he hit.
The resulting bounce makes it as much of aplatforming tool as a combat one – happily unifying the two sides of Shovel Knight’sgameplay, with a single mechanic.
This also takes Zelda 2’s high and low combatstyle and turns it into side-on and top-down, making it more dynamic, and blowing it outto fill the whole screen in the process.
VELASCO: “That’s why you have Gold Armorwho blocks up front and then when you go above he blocks up here.
It's very similar to Iron Knuckle in ZeldaII where no matter which vector you're attacking from he's blocking you in some way and yougotta be quick to get around and get a couple hits in“.
And ultimately, a huge number of enemies andlevel elements in Shovel Knight’s campaign are built around the Shovel Drop – includingthese magic books, floating bushes, sea snakes, giant gears, floating jellyfish, massive cannonballs, this angry angler fish, and this bouncy beetle.
It certainly makes it fun to play as ShovelKnight, but it gave Yacht Club a big problem to solve when designing the next character:Plague Knight.
Here's the thing: the boss characters were originallyintended to work like the robot masters in Mega Man: Powered Up or Richter Mode in Symphonyof the Night: the same levels, but with slightly different mechanics.
And so the game’s first new character, PlagueKnight, uses almost the exact same level layouts as Shovel Knight: bar a few extra routes hereand there, and some challenge coins.
And because you’ve already interacted withthe stage elements, Yacht Club had to figure out how to make it fun to traverse throughthe same levels all over again.
The answer: mastering the main character’smobility.
VELASCO: “The complexity of the characteris where the fun comes from as opposed to the complexity of the environment, which wasalready a known quantity”.
And so we get the bomb burst.
Here, you can charge up by holding down theattack button – then let go to trigger an explosive blast that sends Plague Knight rocketinghalfway across the screen.
Chain in double jumps and secondary burststo sail through stages.
There’s some light inspiration from thevolatile leap of ‘Splosion Man and Samus’s screw attack in the Metroid games, but themain idea came from Plague Knight’s boss battle in Shovel Knight’s campaign.
How do you turn a bonkers, explosive, chaoticentity into a playable character? The resulting action comes with a steep, sharplearning curve – not dissimilar to learning how to bomb jump in Metroid or chain hat throwsin Odyssey.
It’s strikingly easy to chuck yourself intoa pit or into the path of an oncoming enemy – and Plague Knight has a much higher knock-backthan Shovel Knight, just to make things harder.
Plus, holding the charge while simultaneouslyjumping can be tricky for those who aren’t used to bending their thumb to manipulatetwo different buttons.
And figuring out how to chain together jumps, bursts, and double jumps is a serious challenge.
It’s not fair to say that Plague Knightis completely uncontrollable, though, and Yacht Club did lots to help you out.
The exact trajectory of Plague Knight’sburst is the same every single time, so it’s entirely possible to learn just how far you’llbe flung.
You also regain control towards the end ofthe burst, allowing you to make adjustments to your landing.
You can cancel the burst entirely with a neutraljump – which is a jump without any directional input.
And you can slow your descent by throwingbombs, which also gives you a slight lift, and can be useful for scrambling up ledgesat the last minute.
You can even do a second burst, which canbe used to save you from disaster – but with the charge taking almost an entire secondto warm up, you’ll probably be off the bottom of the screen by the time it’s ready.
So it is entirely possible to feel cool andfluid – you’ll just need a lot of practice.
Pair up a speed run between Shovel Knightand Plague Knight and you’ll see the latter character elegantly sail through stages inhalf the time it takes steady ol’ Shovel Knight.
But for its next character, Yacht Club wantedto give players that feeling of fluidity from the word go.
Enter: Specter Knight.
I asked Yacht Club whether Specter Knight’sdesign was, in part, a response to the feedback they got from some players about Plague Knightbeing uncontrollable.
D’ANGELO: “Oh yeah, that's definitelywhere it started.
” VELASCO: “Every game is an answer to theprevious one.
” D’ANGELO: “So where Plague Knight was‘we're gonna put the mastery in the controls versus the environment’.
I think Specter Knight was like ‘we wantto make it really easy to be cool as opposed to really hard to be cool as Plague Knight’.
” The resulting action is Specter Knight’sdash slash.
Whenever he gets near objects and enemieshe can slice through them with a single strike – sending him diagonally up or down, dependingon his initial position.
The funny thing is, Plague Knight’s bombburst and Specter Knight’s dash slash move their respective heroes roughly the same distanceacross the screen, and fully take away your control for roughly the same amount of time.
And yet, no one ever calls Specter Knightuncontrollable.
How did Yacht Club do that? Well, for one, Specter’s dash slash is contextsensitive.
While Plague Knight can bomb burst anywhere, at any time, Specter Knight can only perform his move when in range of specific objects, like enemies and projectiles.
It limits your options, but it does make it easierto understand where it should be used.
Then, the trajectory of the move is shownto you.
When you get close to a slash-able object, this line appears – diagonally upwards if you’re below the object, or diagonally downwardsif you’re above it.
It’s not only a handy indicator, lettingyou know that the slash is available – but it shows you roughly where you’ll end upafter the move ends.
Specter Knight’s basic movement is alsoquite different to Plague Knight’s.
He’s got a long hang time on his jump, givingyou a chance to move in mid-air and get in range.
And he falls slowly after dashing, lettingyou manoeuvre into a good landing spot.
Whereas Plague Knight absolutely plummetsto the ground following his burst.
He does have a double jump though, but onlyif you saved it until after using the bomb burst.
We’ve got to note Specter’s wall run, too.
It’s generally used to gain height – hecan’t jump as high as Shovel Knight, meaning that you’ll need to use the environmentto get up to enemies, rather than simply leaping on them.
But this secondary move can also be used toscramble up a ledge if you just miss the landing after your dash slash.
And unlike Plague Knight’s second, life-savingburst, the wall run is entirely automatic.
And then there’s big one.
The level design.
While Plague Knight re-used Shovel Knight’slevels, Specter Knight has radically different stages with new mechanics that suit his mobilityset and – most crucially of all – new layouts that lead you through the level.
VELASCO: “Everything’s really designedaround Specter Knight as well.
Because those levels were all done it waseasy to set up a cadence for people so you see ‘oh here’s three enemies in a row, I know what I’m supposed to do.
I’m supposed to… *swooshing noises*.
You can see it all laid out for you.
And then you just need to execute on it.
But with Plague Knight it was like ‘okaythere's a big gap… D’ANGELO: “You figure it out!” VELASCO: “‘What do I do? Where do I land?’ There are so many platforms in Plague Knightthat Shovel Knight has to land on but you don't even need to land on.
You could just fly through the air for threequarters of the screen.
When you put a platform somewhere people goto stand on it.
” Now, Yacht Club Games rationalised the workit would take to build all new level layouts, by telling themselves that they could re-usethem for the fourth character.
Just like how Shovel Knight and Plague Knightshare levels, so too would Specter Knight and our last hero – King Knight.
That, actually, didn’t end up happening.
King Knight has an entirely new set of stages, once again.
But that initial desire to recycle SpecterKnight’s levels did impact on King Knight’s design.
The team had to make a character who couldinteract with walls.
And then another move for bouncing off objects.
So King Knight can use the shoulder bash tocrash into enemies or walls, which sends him shooting in the air, and transitions the decadentdandy into a pirouette.
If you land on something during this spin, you get your bash back so you can continue your combo.
The shoulder bash is straight out of Wario's playbook, and the spin is borrowed from Super Mario World.
In fact, lots of King Knight’s design comesfrom Mario – like the shorter courses and secret exits.
And for a while, the team even experimentedwith giving King Knight some Mario-like momentum.
VELASCO: “We've done so many games thatdidn't have momentum like Mario, and we're like ‘this is going to be like the Mario.
It's gonna have shorter courses.
It's gonna have a world map.
It's gonna have a Wario bash.
It's gonna have momentum! But we just couldn’t…” D’ANGELO: “It didn’t work.
I think especially because we were doing thisbig bash it didn’t work.
You're already sending yourself a millionmiles and it's scary and to put bad momentum on top of that it's just like ‘Whoa! Calm down!” So the developers ended up with a characterwho is similar to Shovel Knight, but slightly more challenging to control.
Because to enter the pirouette – King’sversion of the shovel drop – you first need to bash, which is a high commitment actionthat can have disastrous results if you miss.
But when you do it right you have a wonderfulback-and-forth between horizontal and vertical actions.
A constant shift between the two axis of movement.
And that’s even more pronounced by the mechanicwhere if you hit something during your pirouette, you get an extra bash to use in mid-air.
However, that combo does make King Knightquite a complicated character to wrangle, and that’s because he has an awful lot ofstates.
Characters in games can be described as beingin different states like running, jumping, and falling – and each state has certain propertiesand abilities.
Shovel Knight is a character with very clearand distinct states – you can enter Shovel Drop anytime you’re airborne, and you cancancel out of it with an attack.
King Knight is a lot more complicated.
There are two different states depending onwhether you hit something with your bash or not.
And there’s a state where you’re spinning- but you can’t access your bash.
And a state where you’re spinning – butyou can access your bash.
And what’s even more challenging is thatthese two states have the exact same animation with nothing to indicate a change betweenthem.
This is something other games have done well:in Celeste, Madeline’s hair changes colour when you have access to her dash move.
And in Downwell, a flash goes over the characterwhen you land, to signify that your guns have reloaded and you’re ready to shoot.
Why doesn’t King Knight have something like this? I had to ask Yacht Club if it was somethingthey considered.
D’ANGELO: “We had a million discussionsabout it.
I think were we tried to land is trying tomake it so you could feel it more.
The same way like I don't I don't know howmany dashes I have in Mega Man X.
We were trying to land in a place where itfelt like you could intuit that information.
And if you couldn't intuit it that we wereleaning in your favour.
For example you only have one bash in theair but if you get hit we give you one automatically.
So making it something that's like, ‘wellhow do we use the rules of games that have double jumps or have a dash in them and theydon't sell that’ and how do we make it so it feels natural to intuit.
” So this is why Shovel Knight is such an interestingcase study for signature moves – there’s so much to glean from the design of thesefour different characters.
For one, all of these moves unify combat andplatforming in some way.
For Shovel, Specter, and King, their signaturemove is used to both defeat enemies and move around the level.
And for Plague Knight, you can damage enemieswhen you burst, but it’s more about using the burst to gain considerable height, andthen unleashing a torrent of bombs on the enemies down below.
These characters also show us how taking controlaway from the player is a surefire way to increase the learning curve.
Doing a bomb burst with Plague Knight or ashoulder bash with King Knight puts you into these committed animations that are hard toget out of, which means you really need to think ahead about what you’re going to donext.
As oppose to Shovel Knight where you havecomplete control over the character as he does the shovel drop.
He falls at the same speed when shovel droppingand jumping, after all.
Plus, you can easily cancel the attack.
We can also see how the clarity of the character’sdifferent states can help or hinder our understanding of what we can do.
Shovel Knight and Specter Knight have clear, delineated states with obvious animation changes and on-screen indicators to tell us what ourcharacter can do.
With King Knight, it’s not clear whetheryou have access to your bash move.
And with Plague Knight, you can’t be certainif you can double jump.
Learning to intuit that in your head is partof mastering the character, but that also steepens the learning curve.
It’s also interesting how some charactersgive you a chance to recover if you make a bad move.
If Shovel Knight is heading down a bottomlesspit, you’re pretty much screwed.
Plague Knight, however, can use his bombsto gain height, or do a burst to escape danger.
Specter can run up walls, and King can bashto recover himself.
And that’s before you start checking outthe relics.
And then there’s the big point about howcharacters can either find complexity through their interaction with the level layouts – orthrough their basic mobility.
Shovel Knight is simple to control but puthim in a blank room and he can barely do anything.
Just sort of jump around.
Plague Knight is way more expressive and cantouch almost every corner of a blank room – but he’s really tricky to manoeuvre.
Specter and Knight Knight show how using levellayouts can help players enter a sort of fluid movement style but it can also feel restrictive, prefabricated, and puzzle-like.
Perhaps games with more complex move-setslend themselves better to speedrunning and player mastery? That's a topic we can maybe backtrack to in the future.
For now, though, I want to end this videoby asking you a question: which character did you enjoy using the most? Shovel, Plague, Specter, or King? Ignore the story stuff, the card game, themap structure, and the secrets – just think about the mobility and the signature moves.
You can drop a comment down below, or usethe handy card up in the corner to answer a poll.
If you want to see my full, hour-long interviewwith Yacht Club Games, it’s now available for GMTK supporters over on Patreon.
Thanks so much for watching, and I’ll seeyou again soon.