The careful design considerations behind Shovel Knight's alternate-gender sprites
"The female cast in [Mega Man and Super Mario 3] consists of either token additions or damsels in distress. We wanted to do something to better address this oversight..."
- Yacht Club Games details how the era of games that inspired Shovel Knight also inspired the decision to design per-character gender options.
One of the stretch goals for Shovel Knight’s initial Kickstarter campaign way back in 2013 stated that creator Yacht Club Games would eventually include both male and female versions of major characters found within the game.
In a recent blog, the developer detailed the different considerations taken by the team while drafting the sprites and features for what they called body swap mode. The full read over at Polygon contains some solid lessons for developers on what to keep in mind when redesigning or even initially creating the look of male and female characters within a game.
In Yacht Club Games’ case, some of the challenges faced were creating designs that avoided tropes, stayed true to each character’s personality, and matched the hitbox of the original sprite.
The team also tried its best to keep inclusivity in mind by allowing for players to individually select a masculine or feminine appearance, and separately assign pronouns to each character. To a similar tune, the feature was originally pitched as a gender swap, but was renamed body swap during development.
The full post over at Polygon runs through the design process for alternate versions of King Knight, Shovel Knight, Shield Knight, Black Knight, and Enchantress and contains both production art and further explanations the self-imposed rules Yacht Club Games kept in mind when workshopping each redesign.