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Making Knack: An interview with Mark Cerny

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Making Knack: An interview with Mark Cerny

December 20, 2013 Article Start Previous Page 2 of 4 Next

I notice that when you're talking about the game, it seems that the difference between easy and normal is quite big, in terms of challenge. It seems that how you're going after multiple audiences. We're perhaps more used to there being a gradation. It sounds like quite a difference. It sounds like you were more confident to tune the normal difficulty for enthusiasts.

MC: Well, we have a lot of experience with tuning a game for gamers. I've found that it's easy to make a game harder, but it's very hard to make a game easier and keep it fun -- so for the specific case of Knack that did mean that we needed to focus on the non-gamers in the early stages of the project.

Do you think it's important to represent that audience on the PS4? We all know who's going to rush out and buy it immediately, but I think taking the longer view...

MC: Well, I think the gamer audience is very well represented by the launch and launch window lineup on PlayStation 4. We have 30-odd titles and most of them are core titles. I just thought it would be nice to have something that would be for the rest of the family. That doesn't mean that Knack is only for the rest of the family -- we developed the game with the dual targets of that lighter, "beginner" player and the "nostalgia core player." I wanted to make something that would work for both.

I find it interesting the approach the game took in terms of progression. It's almost more, by way of analogy, like Uncharted. You have to make it from checkpoint to checkpoint and give it your all between checkpoints. Whereas most Japanese character action games are still in the level-style progression, with a long life bar.

MC: It's very quick. You play some segment of gameplay, and if you fail, you get reset not particularly far back. But the challenges are tough enough at times that you will see yourself giving it five or 10 tries to get past them. In terms of death counts, which I track, I've seen our core gamer playtesters dying anywhere between 200 and 400 times during a full playthrough of the game. 

What you are describing tuning by feel, right? You're trying to find an experience and finding that experience as you create it. 

MC: Absolutely. When you start making a game, you don't know what it will become. And that's why we don't make long game design documents, because we've determined that they are, in fact, worthless.

At the same time, because you are spending other people's money, you do have to have some idea of the scale of what you're creating. And you need to be very sure that the assets you're creating are usually things that you will be able to keep in the final game. 

With asset creation being such an expensive part of game development... 

MC: Ideally, you are throwing out some things, but you aren't throwing out much. If you're not throwing out anything, that means that you aren't course-correcting as you make your game. 

Now, you've worked with Western game development teams and you've worked with Japanese game development teams. Have you found that you are cross-pollinating practices as you move back and forth? How are people responding? 

MC: A lot of our production methodologies for Knack came from Sony Santa Monica. I'd had a chance to work with them on God of War III and wow, do they know how to structure and execute on a project. 

Japan Studio has some very talented individuals, but is a group that had been unable to make a million-selling PlayStation 3 title during the entire hardware cycle. I thought that taking a more structured approach would allow the talent to come forward, so we tried to think a bit about how Sony Santa Monica would approach the development of this kind of game. 

Ironically, during the middle of the project, Allan Becker -- who founded the Sony Santa Monica studio -- came over to Tokyo and became the head of the Japan Studio. 

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Jarod Smiley
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Just make sure you make a Knack 2 Mark! My wife loved this game!

I think reviews would have been a lot more favorable as well if the title was priced lower than the standard next-gen game. Users generally loved it, while critics were very critical, I think a $40 or $30 tag would have made everyone just play it for what it is and not be so critical of what it doesn't accomplish.

The core is there for some very interesting concepts though, I hope it sells enough to fund a sequel!

Luke Baker
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I second the other commenter. I absolutely loved Knack. It is essentially, to me, a harder Crash Bandicoot that is more open. I don't know what reviewers were expecting.

Many people who actually own the game like it a lot.

It is one of my favorite games on the PS4 now.

The game is like an old-school platformer. I dig it and would buy a sequel someday too.

Jonathan Murphy
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Game was blah. Take More Risks!

Cid Newman
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I thought the games visuals were absolutely beautiful, the controls felt great, but the gameplay did get a little bit boring after awhile. It felt like one or two levels worth of gameplay stretched out to fill an entire game. Still, overall I enjoyed it.

Mike Smith
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Poor frame rate and long load times and mediocre game play. I was very disappointed.

Theresa Catalano
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It's a bit shocking how under-designed the gameplay is in Knack. It's almost as if it's not meant to have good gameplay, as if it's meant to be as simplistic and mind numbing as possible. Maybe they think the way to design a game for kids is to dumb it down as much as possible, and just have cartoons playing to distract you. In any case, Knack is certainly one of the big failures of the year.

Merc Hoffner
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I haven't played it yet, but this may go some way as to an explanation of what they were going for:

Unfortunately it sounds like the all inclusive approach hasn't assembled into a breakout product. I think this is probably a common facet of launch games, afflicted by a punishing schedule and fractured across appealing to early adopters, selling the machine's power, and selling the image of a machine for all demographics. This is too many task masters to create something simultaneously coherent and exceptional. The clearest exception to the launch problem in my mind is Mario 64 - and that was only achieved by delaying the whole machine. As powerful as he is, Mark Cerny could never hope for that kind of leeway, and we're evidently the poorer for it.