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Meet Mark Cerny: PS4 System Architect, Knack Creator, Busiest Man in Gaming

Fred Dutton's Avatar + Posted by Fred Dutton on Jun 26, 2013 // SCEE Blog Manager

For most mortals, designing a brand new cutting edge gaming system from the ground up would be a full time job, and then some. However, for none-more-diligent PS4 system architect Mark Cerny, that wasn’t quite enough responsibility, so he set about crafting a launch title for the new platform at the same time.

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Said title, Knack, is a lovely counterpoint to the bulging biceps of Killzone: Shadow Fall and the steely realism of #DRIVECLUB. Harking back to classic action platformers of yore, such as Spyro the Dragon, Crash Bandicoot, Jak & Daxter and so on, it’s a bold, bright and hugely enjoyable romp that injects the PS4 launch line-up with a pleasing splash of color.

The day after the physical form of PS4 was finally unveiled at E3, I sat down with the hardest working man in the business to find out more about his twin endeavors.

Mark Cerny Headshot

PlayStation.Blog: So, Mark, we didn’t see you on stage this time…
Mark Cerny: I was on stage talking about the system architecture back in New York in February, but this time the focus was on the games.

PSB: Were you happy to sit this one out?
Mark Cerny: I was in the nosebleed seats with the rest of the audience! It was a lot of fun. To be honest, it was the first time I saw the console. They offered to show it to me but I wanted to see it at the same time as the rest of the world. I had intentionally not seen it until the big reveal.

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PSB: I thought you personally crafted it with your own hands!
MC: I could tell you how big it was because I know what the power consumption is – but my responsibility was the inside of the system. We have a great design centre to create the look for it.

PSB: And what’s your verdict?
MC: I think it’s beautiful.

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PSB: As well as serving as system architect you’re also creating Knack. PlayStation consoles have a long heritage of launching with a colorful character-based action/platformer. How important do you think it is to have such a title ready at release?
MC: As system architect I knew there would be quality core games for launch for the core gamer. I just wanted to make sure there was something for the rest of the family to enjoy as well.

PSB: What was the original seed of the idea for Knack?
MC: The seed of the idea was that we have a character who could pick up items from the environment and incorporate them into his body, but that turns out to be very hard to make a game around! Our initial concept was that Knack would maybe break down a building or a wall, and he’d incorporate the resulting bricks into his body, but when we prototyped this we ended up with a giant amorphous blob of a character.

It took a year and a half to figure out that the secret was to design the character more intensively. The character is made from ‘relics’ – these are left over from some long lost civilisation, if you dig down deep into the earth you find them. They’re a power source, and the doctor has managed to imbue them with consciousness. With that storyline we were able to then design relics in specific shapes and build various versions of Knack out of them.

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PSB: What does the PS4 hardware allow you to do in this game that hasn’t been possible in similar action titles up until now?
MC: The big thing for us on PS4 is that development has been faster it’s saved us a year. Implementing an idea like “hey, let’s have a character that has 5,000 objects driven by a custom physics simulation” has just been a heck of a lot easier than it was on prior platforms. I think we’re going to see much richer titles as a result of that.

PSB: What element of Knack do you think players will be most surprised by?
MC: Each level is a different variation on the theme of “Here’s this character who has this ‘knack’ that lets him grow and transform.” In some levels he’ll slowly grow, and in other levels he get big really fast – by picking up icicles for example — but then if he goes out into the sun he’ll melt down quickly.

The way I look at it – there’s a bit of Crash Bandicoot in there, a bit of Katamari Damacy, which is a game I love and must have bought three of four times over the years. And there’s a bit of God of War too. You can see that game’s influence on Knack – especially in the control set, where the right stick is the dodge. Actually God of War 3 was one of my consulting projects!

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PSB: How hard has it been juggling your role as PS4 system architect with that of game designer?
MC: I have to be in Tokyo every month anyway for the hardware work, so spending time with the Knack team is not that difficult. It’s just across the street.

It’s a very talented studio. For example, the lead background artist from Shadow of the Colossus is on Knack, he designed the very soft look of our world. There’s also quite a few members of the team that made Ape Escape, that was my game director and producer’s first project. In fact they were both artists on the game – it’s a very talented artistic team.

PSB: So we’ve got a team who’s worked on Shadow of the Colossus, Ape Escape, God of War 3 – that’s quite a disparate set of influences…
MC: Well, I worked on Killzone 3 as well, but I wouldn’t say that had an influence on this title! That’s just our past history.

PSB: Knack is being made at Japan Studio, but it doesn’t have a particularly Japanese feel. At the same time it doesn’t feel ‘Western’ either. Was a universal approach intentional?
MC: It’s intentional. The original concept was “let’s make an international title”. The problem is that if you have a mascot, that mascot is going to be immediately identifiable as a Japanese mascot, or a US mascot, or whatever. Our way to get around that was to make the character an effect, so the first question was ‘what sort of effect should he be?’ We came up with the idea that he would pick up things in the environment and get bigger, and a year or so later Knack was born.

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PSB: What’s the scope of Knack? Exactly how big is it?
MC: It’s not apparent from the E3 demo, but it is a very story driven adventure. The first time through should take about ten hours, and then we have included a lot of features that make it interesting to play again.

For example, there are hundreds of secret rooms and many contain treasure chests. Some of those are part of gadgets that will help Knack in his quest – you need to collect all the parts before you can build the gadget. Others are crystal relics where if you collect enough of them you can unlock a variation on the Knack character you can use in a subsequent play-through. There are also a couple of additional features that we’re not talking about at this point.

PSB: Clearly Knack is aimed at a younger crowd, but will there be something in there for my generation of gamers, who grew up on Crash, Spyro et al?
MC: Oh, we are definitely speaking to the nostalgia that people feel for the play experiences of the past. If you play this game on the hard difficulty setting it will definitely challenge you. And the control scheme is on the simpler side but you’ll need really think about how best to use it. So, yes, I think many people will go to the store and get, say, Watch Dogs or Killzone or the like for themselves and they’ll get Knack for another member of the family, but I also think a lot of core gamers will end up getting Knack for that old school – with a twist – feel.

//Add Your Own

66 Comments

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1

+ snakeeyes211 on June 26th, 2013 at 9:06 am said:

I’m very excited to get my PS4 and play this game sounds very fun :-)


2

+ CyPhErLoUs on June 26th, 2013 at 9:07 am said:

You da man, Mark! My first game purchase with the PS4 on day one planned is Knack!


3

+ OneMoreVillain on June 26th, 2013 at 9:10 am said:

Epic. This and Killzone Shadowfall are both Day 1′s for me. I hope more games come over like this, if not I got a Nintendo Wii U but I should not be dependent on that one system for a style of game.


4

+ aro52 on June 26th, 2013 at 9:13 am said:

Everything about this game looks interesting to me, but the one bummer is the GoW-style locked camera angles. Having a free-moving manual camera on the right stick might have improved some of the lackluster first impressions it’s been getting. It just feels dated. Then again, I understand the need for being “approachable”, and camera control is probably one of the bigger things new gamers have issues with.


5

+ Xcaligamer1 on June 26th, 2013 at 9:19 am said:

cant wait! pre-ordering ps4 and replacing my stolen vita on my bday next week


6

+ Liamario on June 26th, 2013 at 9:24 am said:

Was excited for this game until I heard it was running at 30fps and really looks like a current gen game. You’ve designed a wonderful system, but this game isn’t going to do well.


7

+ NYPUNK88 on June 26th, 2013 at 9:25 am said:

The savior of the PS platform! All hail Mark Cerny! :3 I pre-ordered mah PS4 seconds after amazon made it available…day 1 baby! :)


8

+ CV_4496 on June 26th, 2013 at 9:26 am said:

I must confess I wasn’t that excited about knack up until now. After reading it’ll be like spyro and crash it just bought me!


9

+ Jaded_Dragon on June 26th, 2013 at 9:27 am said:

Game looks excellent.
It’s nice to have a “throwback” style game, that can still incorporate new things. It’s easily the game I’m most interested to see on PS4


10

+ starky547 on June 26th, 2013 at 9:31 am said:

Can’t wait. Knack and Infamous Second Son are going to be my first games for PS4.


11

+ Firelogic on June 26th, 2013 at 9:44 am said:

Mark Cerny is a genius! Look at this list of games he’s worked on:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mark_Cerny#Significant_games


12

+ Veridis_Quo on June 26th, 2013 at 9:48 am said:

I’ll be honest I was a little hesitant to get this game at launch, but this article convinced me that this game could be great. I applaud Sony and Cerny for bringing back the old school, while at the same time, letting recent games influence the gameplay. Killzone Shadow Fall, Infamous: Second Son, and now Knack are my day 1 purchases.


13

+ ERC1980 on June 26th, 2013 at 9:51 am said:

Hey Fred

2 questions

based on the fact that Mark says their will multiple reasons for replaying the sp campaign, will that mean Knack will have a new game+ mode?

and aside from the dodging mechanic inspired by GOW, will square be light attack and triangle be a heavy attack?


14

+ FearMonkey on June 26th, 2013 at 9:54 am said:

Can’t wait for this. When I pre-ordered my PS4 (ten minutes after the E3 conference was over) I also pre-ordered Knack and Watch_Dogs. So, like I said, I’m really looking forward to this. :)


15

+ FearMonkey on June 26th, 2013 at 9:55 am said:

@12 – During the playthrough on Jimmy Fallon I think it was mentioned that Circle was for the super attack or something.


16

+ Zezzler on June 26th, 2013 at 9:55 am said:

Lots of unlockables and secrets are two of the biggest things that I miss from modern game design. It makes me feel like a kid again thinking about playing through the game just to unlock a character so that I may play through the game again as that said character! I’ll be definitely picking up Knack at launch!


17

+ erapago on June 26th, 2013 at 10:02 am said:

I think I’ll buy this day one. It’s been a long while since a game made last me feel child-like joy, and I hope this is the cure.


18

+ IZO-KHAN on June 26th, 2013 at 10:06 am said:

My people, sons and daughters of sony, this much I vow. The history of these days will be written online. By crushing the armies of microsoft, by seizing the gamers they thought to turn againts us, it is now they who are fighting for their very existence. But if there are those who wish to deny us our $399. price tag, deny us our place in the gaming universe, then, we will unleash such terrible vengeance, that gamers yet unborn, will know nothing but the letters PS.

ROCK ON MARK CERNY…Awesome job


19

+ Elvick_ on June 26th, 2013 at 10:07 am said:

Really looking forward to this. Mark Cerny is awesome.

Also… Ape Escape… DO MORE APE ESCAPE SONY PLEASE (and preferably not spin-offs like that Move game… a real Ape Escape… I’d even settle for a Vita game)

@4: It’s more in the vein of Crash Bandicoot.


20

+ Rezolution77 on June 26th, 2013 at 10:08 am said:

Looks like story time,
has been working out,
and got some serious cosmetic surgery.

Nice.


21

+ saintaqua on June 26th, 2013 at 10:10 am said:

This sounds wonderful, I hope it doesn’t disappoint! Please continue giving us games that everyone can play!
In a market over saturated by first person shooters, any new games like this are a breath of fresh air!
I hope we also see some amazing new RPGs on PS4.


22

+ togue on June 26th, 2013 at 10:36 am said:

day 1


23

+ vongruetz on June 26th, 2013 at 10:41 am said:

This was the game I preordered as well because it looks fun and challenging at the same time. It’s also a game I can play with my daughter in the room (without worrying about the swearing) and one that she could play as well.
I’m also really happy to see him say it’s about a ten hour game. For me that usually translates into 18. I’m not sure if I play to slow or what. And there is going to be replay value because you can unlock different forms of Knack (like vampire Knack) and play again with different abilities. I can’t wait.


24

+ supermoc10 on June 26th, 2013 at 10:43 am said:

SONY, YOU GUYS HAVE TO RELEASE SOMETHING LIKE THIS FOR PS4: http://imgur.com/a/l5xkp


25

+ supermoc10 on June 26th, 2013 at 10:52 am said:

Knack sounds really cool and I have faith in Mark Cerny. I’ll be picking it up at launch alongside Killzone, AC4, Watch Dogs and BF4. The PS4′s launch lineup is looking awesome (I don’t there has ever been a better one).


26

+ KazeEternal on June 26th, 2013 at 11:02 am said:

3 Exclusive games on release…. Sold. KZSF, Knack, DC,… then a wait for Second Son. all you guys need to say now is “Exclusive Square Enix RPG running on Luminous” or “Insert JRPG name here” or “insert WRPG name here” and I won’t even give XBone another look.


27

+ FeddeCampo on June 26th, 2013 at 11:30 am said:

Day 1, another great game :) and we still counting :)


28

+ paulfiend on June 26th, 2013 at 11:36 am said:

PS4 day one with Knack. I miss these kind of games!


29

+ The-Kw3nji on June 26th, 2013 at 11:39 am said:

God ! I’m so impatient right now … Wanna try this :)


30

+ RewVitalize on June 26th, 2013 at 11:40 am said:

Really looking forward to Knack! I think it’ll be a great game, and I hope we see more games like this in the new console gen.


31

+ GameQuirks on June 26th, 2013 at 11:46 am said:

I will also buy this game along with PS4. I love crash bandicoot style games. And I hate FPS games (I tried playing FPS, but it is not for me).

My recommendation for PS4 games, please make multiple gameplay mechanics in a game. For example, you can switch between FPS, TPS, Turn base RPG style, Crash bandicoot style or whatever. It sounds weird but, you can get more audience in a game by making different style of gameplay. But, this would be impossible to happen as this would take alot of time to develop. Oh well, I just wish that more RPG games would come to PS4 just like the PS1/PS2 era (Xenogears, Final Fantasy, Wild Arms, Legend of Dragoon, Chrono Cross, Dragon Quest, Legend of Legaia and more). (FF VII remake please…)


32

+ GameQuirks on June 26th, 2013 at 11:47 am said:

Oh I also forgot to add crash bandicoot type of games. Not just the rpgs. So sick of FPS really


33

+ Welmosca on June 26th, 2013 at 12:20 pm said:

So Knack is being developed by JapanStudio…ha I didn’t know that…well now its explained the creativity….”a lot of core gamers will end up getting Knack for that old school”…well thats me…I’m really looking forward to Knack looks like a classic adventure game..just what we really need in this industry.Had a blast of nostalgia playing Sly Collection I really want that feel again whit Knack.

PS:What I really wanna know about Mark Cerny is:How long it took him to learn Japanese?


34

+ Draziac-Durst on June 26th, 2013 at 12:22 pm said:

Mark Cerny is a genius, given the title: Mr GDDR5 by many of his fans. I have preordered Knack for the simple fact that I’m a nostalgic type and grew up with the likes of Crash Bandicoot, Spyro and later evolving to Jak and Daxter and Ratchet & Clank, so Knack will be no exception to my needs of gaming nostalgia.


35

+ TUNA-EGG on June 26th, 2013 at 12:26 pm said:

When I get a PS4 (not yet sure when), I will definitely pick this up!


36

+ guitarded77 on June 26th, 2013 at 12:53 pm said:

The man… the legend. Hell of a brilliant mind.

QUESTIONS

1. Are we gonna see the friend cap raised for the PSN??? Much needed.

2. I know the PS Move and PS Pulse Elite Headset will work with PS4, but will the HORI Fighting Edge Arcade Stick? I really want to buy one, but can’t see dropping $200 on a fight stick if it doesn’t work for PS3 and PS4.


37

+ hardknock55 on June 26th, 2013 at 12:57 pm said:

This will be purchased day one along side my ps4 im very excited from what i’ve seen from knack.


38

+ remanutd5 on June 26th, 2013 at 1:11 pm said:

I totally loved the fact that Knack was the first announced ps4 game and sir (Mark Cerny) you brought totally awesome memories from my childhood ( Crash), dont tell me Knack doesnt look like Crash? He does and thats totally awesome, i love platformer games and i have 2 copies of Knack, 1 Killzone and 2 PS4s pre ordered them already.

Greatness Awaits indeed.


39

+ ElektroDragon on June 26th, 2013 at 1:13 pm said:

The younger guy in the screen shots looks like Mark Cerny! They put him the game!

Already pre-ordered this game. For me, this game is a system seller based on principle and that precedent it sets alone. Not to mention the boldness in a world of gray realistic multiplayer obsessed military games. *cough* Titanfall *cough*


40

+ plaztiksyke on June 26th, 2013 at 1:13 pm said:

One question: Are there any non-white people in the game? It doesn’t seem very inclusive for a modern family game :/

I don’t mind 30fps, but even in the screenshots there are environmental textures that really need work in terms of quality, maps, and shaders.

If all of these games are 1080p native and support 3D, that’s very interesting to me. I’d love to see Knack’s pieces swirling into and out of my television set. Proper HD audio support would also really help, with each piece swirling around in the surround speakers!

Sounds like there’s a lot of exploration in the gameplay, but how linear is the game? Are there any branching choices that reveal different story/characters layers?


41

+ Stealth_sneak on June 26th, 2013 at 1:15 pm said:

I want this so bad, only thing I see as a con is 10 hours of gameplay..I don’t replay many single player story games.


42

+ ElektroDragon on June 26th, 2013 at 1:22 pm said:

@38 You’re kidding right? There are NO white people in this game! Everyone is a light brown like someone from Southeast Asia. Leave your racist talk out of my games.

And can’t you tell the old guy and the young guy have different skin tones? Didn’t you read the interview about the “international” intentions?!

I swear, people bend over backwards to cater to you “racism” complainers, and you STILL whine about it.


43

+ Wozman23 on June 26th, 2013 at 1:23 pm said:

After the February presser, I quickly developed a man crush on Mark.

As a “core” gamer, Knack is easily my most anticipated PS4 title. Puppeteer holds that title for PS3. Before that, it was Sly. Making something for “core” gamers or a family friendly game isn’t a mutually exclusive choice. There are still plenty of us who grew up with the older consoles that still prefer cartoony, colorful games over gritty, blood-and-guts, profanity-laden shooters.

P.S. Mark should secure the rights to Kid Chameleon and make a sequel. The “hats on crack” approach is why I’m really looking forward to Puppeteer.


44

+ tusunami on June 26th, 2013 at 1:24 pm said:

I’m interested in this game because the concept & because it has a wealth of variety.


45

+ KidCommando on June 26th, 2013 at 1:42 pm said:

Been pimpin’ since been pimpin’, since been pimpin’.

Mark Cerny has been in this game forever, a true OG.


46

+ GeoDarky on June 26th, 2013 at 3:33 pm said:

such great talent


47

+ Rin_Nohara on June 26th, 2013 at 3:35 pm said:

Got the Knack PS4 launch bundle from Amazon pre-ordered. Can’t wait to play. ^_^


48

+ TwinDad on June 26th, 2013 at 3:36 pm said:

Great interview Fred.

I’m looking forward to this game, not because of Mark’s ideas, but Japan Studios past track record on good game play.


49

+ sekaniy on June 26th, 2013 at 3:50 pm said:

Good job. There are a lot of us out here that still enjoy platform games 3D action/adventure games. This isn’t just a kids game. We need more. Main reason why I still like PS variety of games. Not just M rated FPS games.


50

+ Ghostwize on June 26th, 2013 at 3:51 pm said:

So glad Mark Cerny is a major player at Sony going into the next gen. I think his influence will bring some of the greater games overseas to the US. Specifically JRPGs that this generation has been sorely lacking. This guy is a fountain of knowledge when it comes to the video game market in Japan and the US. Show us your goods! :P


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