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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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+ ultimatepunchrod on June 26th, 2013 at 4:52 pm said:

I think Knack is going to be the first PS4 game I buy. I’m looking forward to it.


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+ BlindMango on June 26th, 2013 at 5:10 pm said:

@4 – I agree with that


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+ pablofsi08 on June 26th, 2013 at 5:16 pm said:

PS4 still has time to implement retrocompatibility through software emulation with PS3 games, PS2 games and PSX digital games through software emulation (which they already have in their Gaikai milk-off-more-money-from-players system) and decline Plus being mandatory to play online maintaining online playing free for everyone. I want my PS3 digital purchases through the PSN Store to be playable and DON’T WANT TO BUY IT AGAIN WITH THAT CHINESE SCAM SERVICE CALLED GAIKAI. If they don’t, I will give the thumbs down to PS4, use my PS Plus account to “buy” free PS4 games (no paid games) and only buy it after it has dropped it’s price dramatically or they add compatibility with PS3 in any way they want to and they decide to keep as valid my games collection. I encourage everyone that bought over 190 digital PS3 games supporting this company to do the same. RESPECT TO MY PS3 GAMES COLLECTION!


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+ Zbadrawy on June 26th, 2013 at 5:54 pm said:

If it wasn’t for my brother who is sitting very high on his high horse in his opinions of what are and aren’t “real games”, I would’ve pre-ordered the PS4 Knack bundle first but since We needed games BOTH of us would play, I am afraid I’ll be late in getting this. I apologize to Mark Cerny and every person who worked on this game and is getting this game day one :(


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+ SOviET__EFFecTZ on June 26th, 2013 at 6:18 pm said:

The ps4 is looking AMAZING…great work Mark!


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+ Mattsta001 on June 26th, 2013 at 6:47 pm said:

Not really enamored with Knack. It’s an ugly looking character and fixed camera is last, last gen. Unfortunately I doubt they can change the character before release. Would much prefer a 3D LBP with a creation tool set so I hope that is in the works.


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+ m_Madruguinha08 on June 26th, 2013 at 8:46 pm said:

Congrats to Cerny and all involved in the ps4 production! You guys keep gaming alive, colorful, and fun the way it is meant to be.

Knack is definitely in my list, especially because I don’t see any possibility for a new Ratchet & Clank or Crash Bandicoot. So Knack is the next step for great sony platformers, and it looks like it is shaping up to be Epic. Can’t wait for it.


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+ FireCage on June 26th, 2013 at 9:38 pm said:

Knack looks very fun, can’t wait =)


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+ Vidarcr on June 26th, 2013 at 10:27 pm said:

I haven’t preordered this game yet, because I’m planning to get it Day 1digital, this is a keeper!


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+ MKPACK on June 27th, 2013 at 2:51 pm said:

Multiplayer?

Will there be local or on-line multiplayer options?


61

+ purse317 on June 27th, 2013 at 4:11 pm said:

Answering these prepared questions did nothing for me. How about letting us ask the question and you guys respond next time.


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+ Jun_Gu_Ler on June 27th, 2013 at 10:10 pm said:

this guy is awesome
can’t wait to get my hand on that epic ps4 and knack


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+ shmeedy24685 on June 28th, 2013 at 3:02 am said:

I’m really looking forward to this game, even more so than Killzone.


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+ PrinceofXIII on June 28th, 2013 at 8:21 am said:

PS4!!!!


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+ thezenguy on June 30th, 2013 at 1:06 pm said:

i wonder whats the official launch date, of the ps4, hope is in october i can get myself a nice birthday present :D


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+ thewindowsguy on July 15th, 2013 at 12:18 pm said:

Mark seems like a really awesome designer. We have some things in common. Sure wish I could meet or talk to him some day. The PS4 looks great. I can’t wait to play it.


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