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February 22, 2020
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Shovel Knight: King of Cards Hearts

by David D'Angelo on 01/08/20 10:18:00 am   Expert Blogs   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.

 

Hey, heartthrobs! Today we thought it might be fun to talk about a very specific design consideration for King Knight. Notice anything particularly different about the health in King Knight’s game versus the previous games?

As you can see above, King Knight’s health is visually represented by hearts! In Shovel of Hope, Plague of Shadows, and Specter of Torment, health was always represented by “bubbles”. But for King Knight, we made this visual change because…

…King Knight always loses a full notch of health when he gets hit. The other characters only lose 1/2 a bubble. So, what’s the deal with that? Why is King Knight’s health like this?

Shorter Stages = Less Health

With King Knight’s adventure, we wanted to differentiate the level design from the meaty levels of Shovel, Plague, and Specter. We instead focused the game on shorter, quick-to-complete courses more akin to ones you might encounter in a Mario game.

One difficulty was that the core idea of Shovel Knight’s health system has always been built with a large stage in mind. Shovel Knight essentially has 20 hits, which works great when you’re adventuring through 30 screens of level, but Since King of Cards’ stages are much shorter, we decided it would be best to reduce the player’s overall health amount…by half! With only a few hit points for every stage, players must approach the game knowing full well that every notch of damage taken and every bit of health picked up really matters.

The drastic difference in health pool led us to decide that we should represent health differently in King of Cards’ HUD. Then, the player could understand more intuitively that health would work much differently in this game!

Enemy Hearts

As you might expect, halving the player’s health amount has huge implications. How would we provide health pickups in small enough increments to make things challenging? How do we make the traditional longer pacing and difficulty of a boss fight work when a boss usually takes 20 hits of damage? Having such low health would make a tough fight way too impossible, but lowering the boss’ health would make the fight too short.

Our solution was born out of a similar idea from Specter of Torment’s darkness system. In that game, enemies emit some Darkness when defeated. We decided that when battling tough enemies and bosses in King of Cards, every 3rd hit on an enemy should emit a heart!

As you can see in this fight against a large enemy like the Dozedrake, every 3rd hit yields a heart. This helps account for the fact that you may be taking more damage than you otherwise might in one of our other campaigns. Most of the simple enemies in King of Cards only take one or two hits, so these larger enemies now could be strategically placed in stages to help you refill your health (or to provide an added challenge).

Turn Your Heart Away

Once implemented, these easy-to-grab heart drops felt uninteresting to us. It was too simple to pick up – almost makes you wonder…why bother dropping the heart at all and not just give you 1hp back? To spice this interaction up, we decided that most enemies would release their hearts on the opposite side of where you dealt damage. Then, you’d have to cross sides to get your reward.

Take a look at the battle with King Pridemoor above. Adding some distance between the heart drop and King Knight’s position encourages the player to use their wits and reflexes in successfully retrieving health. This created some very tense (and thrilling!) risk vs. reward scenarios. You could go for the heart, but at the risk of potentially losing one too ! It felt perfect for King Knight’s bash and spin gameplay. The location of the heart drop creates a natural point of tension. Players are encouraged to stop bouncing, navigate to a safe landing place near their heart, then get their bearings to find an opening for another well-placed bash. It really brought all the mechanics together!

Thematic Considerations

So- we talked about why we reduced the health pool and why it works in the game… but why use hearts? Using hearts as symbols was a natural fit for a few reasons:

Even in the Shovel Knight deck, King Knight is not a king.

  • Hearts are a card suit and are historically card-related. Kings, cards, and hearts all go together!
  • King Knight’s game is about metaphorically capturing people’s hearts and using them for himself.
  • King Knight throws his weight around and knocks things out of people, so knocking hearts out feels right!

New Game Plus

How can I win with only 4 hearts?? Wahhh!

For King of Cards’ new game plus mode, unlocked after the game is completed, we wanted to amp up the risk. Your maximum number of hearts is further reduced in this mode! Additionally, some of your gems are knocked out of you when you take damage. This makes you pay attention to your health and increases the tension of collecting hearts from bosses.

Lessons Taken to Heart

We hope you enjoyed this little heart-to-heart, and the hearts system in King of Cards! As you can see, we wanted to concentrate and shorten the loop of platforming and combat gameplay. This desire led us to reduce the length of stages, which eventually led to the implementation of our heart health system. We think the back-and-forth of the reduced health pool gives King of Cards both a more deliberate and frenetic flavor. Check it out for yourself and see what you think!


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