The maps for Super Metroid and the many games that followed it have a definite 'ant farm' quality to them. They capture complex worlds in two dimensions, whether squeezed between glass or put on a screen. Hollow Knight is no different—Hallownest makes that ant farm comparison almost literal, its bug-themed world expanded by industrious insects like Myla, the tragic miner bug who sings while she works. (You can read all about how Hollow Knight's maps were created here.)
Hollow Knight's creators, Australian indie studio Team Cherry, have likewise continued burrowing into the walls of Hallownest since their game's release, adding new areas and characters and so on. Some of these updates fulfill promises made during their Kickstarter campaign, and a couple were even unmet stretch goals they decided to go ahead and make anyway. Others are ideas they had late in development and held onto for the sake of not overstuffing the initial release.
"We're already making a massive game," says animator and co-director William Pellen, "It's better for people to experience this massive game, then get something a little extra along the way to keep it fresh."
Hollow Knight's other co-director, designer Ari Gibson adds, "It's a nice space to play in for us. It's a world with a style that we like working in, it's very free for us to conceive whatever weird characters we want. We can cram them into this 'buggy' theme and they fit quite well."
That's buggy meaning insectoid, of course. Only one of Hollow Knight's major updates, Lifeblood, was focused on patching and optimization. It's overall quite a solid and stable game (although if you're experiencing input lag then turn off V-sync, you're welcome). Hollow Knight was designed in a way that makes these modular add-ons possible, like a house built with renovation in mind, only when you knock down a wall in Hallownest you don't get a bigger living room, you find an entire society of bees.
The next of Hollow Knight's free updates will be called Godmaster, though initially it was announced as 'Gods and Glory'. "Someone else owns the name Gods and Glory," Pellen explains. (As they wrote in the announcement, "not only is the new name 100 times cooler, more distinct, more 'Hollow Knight', it also doesn't conflict with the title of a certain mobile game, made by a very large, very powerful video game company!") "We had to do a quick shift on that one, which is fine. Fortunately we're a tiny company so we can make name changes without it being too much of a hassle. We're learning all about trademarks as we go."
Godmaster will include a few new bosses and areas, a new variety of charms called Glorified Charms, and an NPC called the Godseeker who acts as a questgiver and perhaps romance interest. When asked about the theme of this update, Gibson just shouts, "Gods!" Pellen expands on that a little. "The great figures of Hallownest, which are the great figures that you faced and some new ones, challenging them and ascending beyond is the theme."
After that there's one more update, which will add a new playable character: Hornet, the second boss you fight in the base game. "That will be the completion of everything we promised in the Kickstarter," Gibson says. "And Hornet will incorporate some backer content as well," Pellen adds, "some backer dungeons and backer bosses that are still to come."
While a bunch of the updates have been about keeping promises made during the Kickstarter campaign, others have been inspired by player feedback or Team Cherry's own desire to continue tinkering with the thing they're fixated on. "We just enjoy making the game," says Gibson. "We enjoyed making the base game so I think we just wanted to continue making it and this was our way to do that."
The continuing string of bonus stuff hasn't hurt sales either, which see a bump with each update. (Updates are typically accompanied by a discount, which helps.) "Even though there is a bump around those updates," says Gibson, "there's more of a long-term view to say, 'This is a living product and this is a living world and if you jump in you're going to continue to receive these extra free things and see it evolve and change'."
"It's like the community gets all these exciting bits," Pellen adds, "they speculate about what's coming up and anticipate it and then it comes out and get to dig through and find the stuff."
"And they also get to know that any game we produce that they buy will receive long-term support," says Gibson, "which we think is part of our values when we're making a product and delivering it."
Seeing the community react to each addition is another inspiration to keep up the pace of free DLC. Those discussions include some very in-depth videos and essays about the deep setting details and backstory of Hallownest, which is communicated in pretty opaque ways within the game itself. Gibson admits it's "somewhat mysterious", which is an understatement. Hollow Knight's dialogue is minimal, and there's a lot of things to read between the lines, or correlate by connecting things different characters say, or spot in the background of scenes or the relation between spaces. Pellen's read and watched a few of the fan theories, but Gibson tries to avoid them.
"Sometimes you feel like, as a creator, if you start reading too much on the internet you'll start to be influenced in strange ways by what people are focusing on and perhaps not what you originally intended to pursue. You don't want to get so immersed in that feedback that you end up doing 'Yoda with lightsabers', going down a strange path."
Pellen agrees. He says they try to avoid "responding too much to specific questions people are asking or their theories." Gibson adds, "I think that's something those players will value as well, that it has an integrity and a throughline to it all."
There's definitely a strong sense of structure to Hollow Knight. Its aesthetic, which they jokingly call "the bug thing", has let the create an instantly recognizable universe of characters: creepy spiders, bees in their hive, tough stag beetles and annoying mosquitoes. "The bug thing is a very loose framework," Gibson says with a laugh, "so it hasn't restricted us, which is the important thing. We just need to make sure that the games we make after this have that same flexibility that allows us to easily come up with an idea and jam it in in an interesting way."
Pellen says they've yet to feel like they've run out of ideas for Hallownest, or things to say with it. But they are looking ahead to a day when they outgrow it, busting out of this cocoon. "I think we're interested in having a game that is not Hollow Knight, even if that's a way off," Gibson says, "just so people can see what Team Cherry is rather than just what Hollow Knight is."