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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 3 of 4 Next

I always felt like you couldn't have PlayStation without Japanese games. It doesn't mean that every game has to be Japanese, but it's not PlayStation without Japanese-developed games. There was something you said at Gamescom: We want to bring you the kind of games and experiences you remember from PlayStation. 

MC: Well, one of the themes of PlayStation has been the incredible variety of experiences on the platform. I'm sure there are better examples, but I always think back to PaRappa, Devil Dice, and I.Q. on the original PlayStation. 

As for whether having Japanese games adds variety, I agree that part of the diversity comes from people from many different cultures making games for PlayStation. I love that we have our heavy-duty, story-based game coming from Quantic Dream in France, and I love that we have our mascotty game coming out of the Japan Studio. 

If you look at the original PlayStation, it's hard to think of a system with a more diverse lineup, right? 

MC: A lot of that was that games were so much cheaper to make back then, that you weren't risking very much. For many of those games, the budgets were just a few hundred thousand dollars. Even Crash Bandicoot, which was a very expensive project by the standards of those days, cost less than $2 million to make. Now today, if you think about what you can do for a couple hundred thousand dollars or $2 million, it's not that much. 

Over the course of this project, did you feel that the developers there were able to adapt and understand the value of working in that way?

MC: I think, structurally speaking, it went very well. The project is the largest that the studio has created for a home console since, I believe, [2005's] Shadow of the Colossus, and it shipped on time. I think, as we go forward, the question becomes: How can we tap better into the creativity of the Japan Studio?

There's no doubt that Japanese game developers are very creative. What has been, I think, difficult has been keeping pace with technology and production, and also market taste, maybe.

MC: I agree completely. With Knack, because we decided to make "Crash Bandicoot for the 21st century," we were able to have a highly structured project. I now wonder what these same individuals can do with this new better set of production methodologies.

This is the first game you've directed, or have had main creative control over, in a long time. 

MC: It is the first game that I've directed. 


MC: Well, yes. We didn't have directors back in the day, because if you have a three-person project you don't worry about calling somebody a "director." And as team sizes got larger, I tended to be in a very secondary role supporting creative directors such as Ted Price or Jason Rubin. I was happy to do it, because they are brilliant. 

But were you happy, also, to take the reins?

MC: I took the reins on Knack not because I had a burning desire to be director but that I had come to the limits of how I could work as a consultant in video games. The team sizes grew dramatically over the years… 

Crash Bandicoot was created by a seven-person team, Crash Bandicoot 2 was closer to 20 people, and by the time when I was working on Killzone or Uncharted the teams were well over 100 people in size, and I was still this part-time consultant. What can I even do with that time slice? 

So with Knack I had the idea that if it was a smaller title -- "Crash Bandicoot for the 21st century," for example -- and if I restricted my role to, say, being a producer, that I could still do something with that smaller time slice and add a lot of value to the game. 

Now what happened is [laughs] I ended up being director rather than producer, and the game stopped being a very small title, both of which dramatically increased the amount of time I need to spend on the game. 

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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.