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Making The Mark of Kri, Coming to PSN Tuesday

Jonathan Beard's Avatar + Posted by Jonathan Beard on Sep 20, 2013 // Executive Producer, The Mark of Kri

Editor’s Note: Beloved PS2 Classic The Mark of Kri will be available on PS3 via PlayStation Store next Tuesday, so we reached out to the game’s Executive Producer, Jonathan Beard, to ask for some stories and insights from its development. He responded in kind, with one of the most detailed write-ups in PlayStation.Blog history, and a bevy of heretofore unseen concept art. Enjoy.

The Mark of Kri PS2 Classic

Click here to see the full gallery


In the early 2000′s, I had taken over the role of studio director at SCEA San Diego, and moved from Foster City with some key members of the Blasto team. Tim Neveu who was the lead artist on Blasto was given the chance to produce his first game. Tim and I had known each other for a while and shared a lot of the same interests. We often discussed classic games and were alligned on the kind of game we wanted to make – a “fantasy” game – big guy and a sword, maybe an axe.

We were both fans of the original C64 “Barbarian” game, and loved how satisfying it was (even on an 8 bit system) to decapitate your foe. We wanted to make a game that had very real reactions to being hit with a heavy peice of sharpened steel. Animated gratuitous violence, and no blue sparkles for blood.

We were big fans of John Milius’ original Conan the Barbarian movie and liked the idea of what we called “plausable fantasy”. This was pre Lord of the Rings trilogy, so Conan was one of the only great fantasy movies – in our opinion everything else was pretty much pure cheese.

We wanted to make a game in the fantasy genre that didn’t smack of Dungeons and Dragons influences. Something like the original Conan movie – clearly fantasy, but with some plausibility to it. No lizard people, no flaming swords.

These elements were the starting point for The Mark of Kri, or as it was originally called: Barbarian.

Unfortunately, after a year or so of PS1 development the game was struggling. This was in part because we were pushing the limits of the hardware; but there was also something missing – it was like we had a few nice chords, maybe even a riff, but no song…

The Mark of Kri PS2 Classic

Around this time, Shuhei took over development at PlayStation and became interested in the game. Despite its problems, Shu and I agreed that it had potential. So we decided to keep working on it – but to shift development over to the yet-to-be-released PS2. This was all done with the understanding that I would become more actively involved in the game’s design and production.

One of the first issues that I had with the game was its combat. We were frustrated with other established combat systems and wanted to radically change how combat could work in a game. We referred to these old systems as “focal attack systems” – where the player was required to aim his character in order to attack. We felt that when the player was required to physically “steer” his character to attack something, it created slow, frustrating battles, and in no way simulated dexterous combat – kind of like doing a three-point turn to hit the guy behind you.
In The Mark of Kri, we aimed for a combat system where the player could hit multiple enemies from all directions with the dexterity and fluidity normally seen in Kung-fu movies. We felt that by removing the need to orientate yourself during combat we would really speed up our game and allow for a dynamic camera.

I pulled some team members into my office one day and showed them Fantavision. I felt we could translate the selection system they used into a fighting game, thus removing the need to physically turn the player. So after a series of long brainstorming sessions, we emerged with an interesting idea of how to handle combat in 3D space. Now we just had to make it work.

Dan Mueller had a long background playing and writing guides for fighting games, such as Tekken. Erik Medina, who is an extremely talented animator, was also a fighting game afficionado (and a mean MK2 player). Rich Karp is an amazing engineer with a deep understanding of what makes games work. These guys worked closely on the problem of making the combat and animation work. What followed was a lot of back and forth between the designers, animators and engineers to manufacture seamless 360 degree combat and a dynamic camera system that complemented the action.

The Mark of Kri PS2 ClassicThe Mark of Kri PS2 Classic

Without this energetic collaboration between design, animation and engineering, the combat — the heart of the game — would not have worked.

The quality of hand animation was an early decision. We wanted the player to look like a badass while playing the game. So the animation, and the crazy kill moves, became very important to the overall experience. Erik, Dan and the team of animators could often be seen acting out the kill moves, sometimes with hilarious consequences.

The team was having fun, and we felt that we were starting to make something fun.

Tim Neveu and I had both worked on Blasto together, where we explored a bold art style. With Mark of Kri we wanted to do something visually fresh, not chase realism like most other games out there.

Tim has a great eye for talent, and had hired Eric Medina and Jeff Merghart for “Barbarian.” They had been monkeying around (Tim’s term) with art styles, and something that was starting to gel was the art direction, a kind of “animated” look – which at the time no one had really done well.

The art style is reminiscent of the painted look people associate with 2D animated feature films, and we studied a good number of these early on in development. We had six animators in total on the game with varied levels of movie experience; these guys injected the life into the characters, but were also responsible for a great many visual and cinematic decisions made in the game.

They brought a simple philosophy to the team: Everything should be done with one thing in mind — entertainment.

The Mark of Kri PS2 Classic

We wanted the player to look good at playing the game, and feel good about how he looked when playing it. You know, when someone’s playing a game and his buddies are pushing him to hand over the controller because the game looks that much fun to play. That reaction was our ultimate goal.

As the gameplay and animated violence started to come together, a juxtoposition formed between the gratuitous nature of the combat and the animated art style.

This was the song that we had been looking for…

Shu recognized strengths in the game that others were at times against – such as the art style, and the over-the-top animated violence. He was immediately into the combat system and liked where it was going, but as things started to come together it became apparent that we needed other gameplay mechanics besides hacking and slashing.

We started to think of each combat scenario as a puzzle, and we gave the player tools that could be used to solve them. Rau had a sword, Taiha, and axe; we then added a bow. Being able to sneak into an enemy camp made more strategic sense than just running in swinging an axe. It also offered an interesting gameplay variant that complemented the frenetic nature of the combat. Making a three hundred pound warrior look stealthy, however, was a monumental challenge – a challenge that our amazing animators were up for. They gave him a bunch of outrageous silent kills, which ended up becoming some of my favorites in the game. The neck break, for example, became a defining moment in the game that everyone loved.

The Mark of Kri PS2 Classic

Ok, maybe not everyone. Some wanted to pull stealth out and remove the violence – replacing the blood with sparkles or the like. Shu quickly came to our aid; He saw the potential and supported us all the way. It was clear that he cared first and foremost about quality and pushed to get the best game possible. Frankly, the game would not have been the same without his support.

We continued to think of the game as a puzzle game, or a thinking man’s combat game. We looked for ways to add more tools to support this idea. One was to give Rau a familiar. Initially we talked about giving him a wolf, or a wolverine, but settled instead on a beautiful blackbird. “Kuzo” came from a need to scout ahead around corners; but he proved to be one of our strongest storytelling tools.

The fiction and world were starting to come together, but Erik and I were growing concerned with how we could deliver all of this information to the player. Cinematics were expensive – one quote came back at nearly a million bucks! We had to come up with an inexpensive and elegant solution to help tell our story.

I had started at SCEA many years before as a concept artist, so I was somewhat familiar with the art software on the market. I had been playing around with Painter and discovered that you could record your brush strokes. I did a quick test, recording myself sketching Rau. I showed it to Tim, Erik and Jeff and suggested that we sketch out our cinematics, and fade into the game. After a couple more tests we got it working (using Jeff’s amazing art). We called these our “bookends,” and used the technique to sketch in or out of the gameplay. They worked, they were inexpensive, and we didn’t need to outsource our cinematics – allowing for greater creative control.

The Mark of Kri PS2 Classic

It’s interesting to think that the cinematics were done this way because of financial, time, and creative restrictions, yet ended up being one of the key visual elements in the game. Funny how things work out.

When we started writing the story, I watched Conan back to back a few times – and realized that if the hero rarely speaks, his personality and stoic nature explode off the screen. Conversely, in movies where the warrior archetype chats along merrily, he loses his mystery, his mojo and his strength.

I personally hate wisecracking warriors – so there were no jokes and minimum dialogue for Rau.

Tim, Erik and I talked a great deal about the story. We loved the narration in Conan – how it felt like an epic story was being told. So that’s how I approached writing it: later generations looking back. A grand saga, told by an ancient witness to its events… It was also nice that narration is one of the most flexible ways to craft a story. :)

We always viewed The Mark of Kri as a complete creative experience, and everything we put into the game was placed with purpose, to support its story and its characters.

To us, the music and the voice talent for the game were as creatively critical as any other element. We listened to dozens and dozens of actors before making a choice. We avoided strong “American” accents as they seemed too modern. We also sat in on and directed every line in the game – probably driving our audio team crazy.

The Mark of Kri PS2 ClassicThe Mark of Kri PS2 Classic

When I first started to hear musical samples, I was blown away. It was awe-inspiring. Chuck Doud brought his incredible talents to the team and genuinely cared about how the music matched The Mark of Kri’s mood – rising in tempo as the action picked up, and slowing back down for stealth segments. He worked very hard to get it right, and was key in making it all fit together – without a strong score, games and movies seem lifeless. Chuck made sure that every moment of the game felt alive. Dan is also an accomplished musician, so he and Chuck collaborated to bring many interesting elements into the score, such as Ben Watkins (Juno Reactor), and even some chanting Tibetan monks.

Everyone got involved with focus testing. As the game came together, I watched over 700 hours of gameplay footage – we even made a wall out of videotapes in the office. The team shared a genuine love for this game.

We were proud of what we accomplished, and all the nominations and accolades it received felt great. It’s testament to the game that even after all these years we’re still asked about The Mark of Kri.

Shu was a critical factor in this game coming together – that cannot be understated. He had my back, and allowed us the time to make and correct our mistakes. I have been making games for 24 years, and the development of The Mark of Kri remains one of my happiest, most fulfilling periods, largely in part because of the amazing team that I was lucky enough to work with – wonderfully enthusiastic professionals – but also because of the incredible culture at that time within SCEA.

We had been allowed the time to create an expansive world with language, history, and myth. While designing and creating The Mark of Kri, we also kept in mind where its next chapters might lead. We expanded on the world and fiction in the sequel Rise of the Kasai, but we always felt that the world had many more stories to tell.

Thanks to the Mark of Kri team, everyone involved in developing the game, SCEA, and – of course – Shu.

//Add Your Own

51 Comments

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1

+ stupidhass on September 20th, 2013 at 11:21 am said:

I guess this means there won’t be an HD remaster of this game then… *sigh*


2

+ Ouren on September 20th, 2013 at 11:22 am said:

Cool, I’ve never played this, so I’ll probably check it out.

Thanks for digging up old concept art! :D


3

+ UndreyVITA on September 20th, 2013 at 11:28 am said:

Say… didn’t one of Sucker Punch’s current animators work on this?

Or someone who still works with Sony?


4

+ D-Squad3 on September 20th, 2013 at 11:33 am said:

I’d totally get it if it were HD with trophies. :(


5

+ JamCap on September 20th, 2013 at 11:33 am said:

I used to love this game so much. I constantly am bringing it up on IGN and hoping that a reboot or remake was in the cards. I guess this answers some of the question. The art style was amazing, almost “brutal Disney”.


6

+ S1lentSurviv0r on September 20th, 2013 at 11:37 am said:

Oh my god, you have no idea how much I want this game. In ever forum I frequent and they always have a topic of what PS2 game would I like to see on PSN, I always reply with Mark of Kri. I’m not sure how many people would want this title, but know that you made THIS guy happy. Thanks :D


7

+ pi8you on September 20th, 2013 at 11:48 am said:

Add me to the list of people that are happy to see this, but would fervently love to see both games in the series get the HD treatment (and also a new entry!).


8

+ cassarcc on September 20th, 2013 at 12:45 pm said:

If at least sony made ps2 classics for ps vita… :(


9

+ joaryche on September 20th, 2013 at 1:08 pm said:

i am also for ps2 classics for the vita….make it happen


10

+ Ry-Dog on September 20th, 2013 at 1:18 pm said:

if you guys are going to be releasing this game on the PSN store, will you guys consider releasing the game’s sequel Rise of the Kasai at some point in the future.


11

+ CrimsonPaw on September 20th, 2013 at 1:19 pm said:

Add me to the list of people who want PS2 classics for the Vita … a man can wish! If I could play this on the go it’d be a day 1 purchase.


12

+ F4r0_Atak on September 20th, 2013 at 1:22 pm said:

PS2 games on Vita would be awesome… Imagine this, San Andreas or Dragon Quest VII played on the game. Wonder if The Mark of Kri is getting some kind of reboot/sequel for the next gen sequel? :D


13

+ Boe50 on September 20th, 2013 at 1:47 pm said:

Several years ago, I would ask for this game on a weekly basis: THANKS FOR FINALLY LISTENING !!! Best game I ever played on PS2…A Vita copy would be nice and the touch screen would come in handy with the games combat style. Thanks again and keep on keepin’ on !!


14

+ dulun18 on September 20th, 2013 at 1:54 pm said:

I think there’s also a sequel (both ps2 games)

they are ok games .. interesting game mechanics


15

+ Boe50 on September 20th, 2013 at 1:57 pm said:

FUA TOKO RUTU


16

+ ClinToN on September 20th, 2013 at 2:04 pm said:

Still have my original of this and the sequel. Awesome games. Rau as a PlayStation Allstars character would be great too. *hint* *hint* ;)


17

+ Vcheese on September 20th, 2013 at 2:55 pm said:

Great game, nice memories!


18

+ waldowalso on September 20th, 2013 at 3:12 pm said:

Mark of Kri was great, too bad the sequel wasn’t…

I’m still waiting for Haunting Grounds, Crimson Tears, Beat Down, and PS2′s version of Rez.


19

+ bleigh007 on September 20th, 2013 at 3:21 pm said:

Great writeup. Loved the Mark of Kri since it was originally released, and to this day wish someone would make a game with the art style and direction (ie brutal Disney), as its something we never saw before and haven’t seen since.

I also would love to see an HD release alongside Rise of the Kasai, let alone the hope of a new title in the series, or just a spiritual successor to Mark of Kri.


20

+ YOCDUB on September 20th, 2013 at 4:06 pm said:

Unfortunately Jeff Merghart and many others at Sony were laid off recently. Wish them well!


21

+ HughesMan_ on September 20th, 2013 at 4:15 pm said:

It’s great to see Sony acknowledge this title. I kinda thought they forgot about it. :(
Would love to see another one.


22

+ tusunami on September 20th, 2013 at 4:27 pm said:

Never played this but with the opportunity to now play it. i just might look into this eventually.


23

+ Lord_Rinja on September 20th, 2013 at 5:31 pm said:

The Mark of Kri and Rise of the Kesai were excellent, five star, underrated classics. Even to see this come back in its original form, trophies or not, is a damn good thing. I absolutely loved its versitile combat system which let you play both head on and stealthy. The artwork looks like a beautiful disaster, a Disney movie gone horribly wrong (in a good way :-). Games like The Mark of Kri, Jet Set Radio, Wind Waker and Gungrave paved the way for Cel-Shaded video games and as a result, game animation has come to life in a whole new way.

Also, those storyboards are absolutely incredible. The transition from paper to 3D Models look seemless. After The Mark of Kri launches on PSN, please give some consideration into bringing Rise of the Kesai to the PS Store as well. These are two games that are truly worth revisiting.


24

+ Earthling_8 on September 20th, 2013 at 5:31 pm said:

This is good news. Sadly I never came across this title during the PS2′s reign but now I can. :)
Since Blasto was mentioned, please bring him back Sony. I want to play the game.


25

+ Earthling_8 on September 20th, 2013 at 5:36 pm said:

@stupidhass maybe there is not a lot of demand for this game that’s why there is no HD remake, would be nice though I’d buy it.


26

+ tdh004 on September 20th, 2013 at 7:12 pm said:

Please, for the love of everything good, and just, and holy in the world, do a HD remix of this. They were amazing games, second in my hear during the PS2 era only to Ratchet & Clank.

I still have my PS2 copies, I may have to dust off my PS2 this weekend.


27

+ Nagisawa1 on September 20th, 2013 at 8:45 pm said:

I wish there had been more to this franchise. I wanted more of the world, the setting and some of the characters. Still, I will buy it again on PSN when I can. I love this game so much.


28

+ KING__OF__SPARTA on September 20th, 2013 at 11:09 pm said:

is rise of the kasai came after this or before this? because rise of the kasai was such a great game and the most best game ever on ps2


29

+ Korghano on September 21st, 2013 at 12:25 am said:

This was a fantastic game, wish we could get a new entry in the series.


30

+ brooklynzak on September 21st, 2013 at 12:57 am said:

Great article – thanks for the insight into the process. Look forward to playing.

Oh and yes, Sony, PS2 classics for the Vita would make my gaming year. Odin Sphere on the go – mmmmm….


31

+ Vengeance914 on September 21st, 2013 at 5:00 am said:

I remember owning the demo disc of this game. It was pretty awesome and I could never find the full game anywhere. I will definitely download this. Now, if we could only get Mercenaries: Playground of Destruction on PSN…


32

+ AsahiSeth on September 21st, 2013 at 6:23 am said:

Very cool, I never got very far in this as I got into Dark Cloud 2 at the time and that took all of my time. I’ll pick this up. There was a sequel as well, maybe it will show up here soon too.

On a side note, while I think these games are prices fairly, I still think some of the more obscure PS2 Classics should cost less. Not that many aren’t worth it, but I think it would lead people to give them a try if they didn’t already like them. A lot of these games can be had for a few dollars elsewhere and I think better pricing would push more sales. I know there are a few titles on there I’d like to try and would gamble on them being good were they a little cheaper.


33

+ Elvick_ on September 21st, 2013 at 9:11 am said:

Really wish PS2 Classics supported Remote Play like PSone Classics do.


34

+ GeekWhenSpoken2 on September 21st, 2013 at 10:04 am said:

One of my all time favorites, I’d love to see an HD redux.


35

+ SkarKlaw on September 21st, 2013 at 10:14 am said:

This needs to be playable on the vita. god! i loved this game and this and ico are on my most guilty list for not having finished either.


36

+ Kevvik on September 21st, 2013 at 11:06 am said:

Games like this and Psychonauts are the reason why PS2 classics needs to keep going.

Unfortunately, more often than not we get games like Dora the Explorer, etc which are cheap for Sony to get the rights to and spam out at us.


37

+ UmpleWu on September 21st, 2013 at 11:18 am said:

This was a game that had little to no coverage before its release. I stumbled across it, played it non-stop, and loved every minute of it. Maybe I’m reading too much into the article, but it sounds like they are ready to reboot this for PS4. You have my attention.


38

+ UmpleWu on September 21st, 2013 at 11:20 am said:

Now that I think about it… could a new entry be episodic? Indie? AAA? I’m down for just about anything.


39

+ CaruthK on September 21st, 2013 at 2:41 pm said:

I’m so getting this on Tuesday. So can someone at Sony talk to EA about SSX3-HD or something. I love that game the New SSX was not what I expected it to be….


40

+ SpooNManX on September 21st, 2013 at 5:46 pm said:

Great game, but it deserves an HD remaster along with it’s sequel.

The pictures he drew are Disney quality.. The good Disney, back when they drew things by hand.


41

+ tampaBAY on September 22nd, 2013 at 8:52 am said:

Awesome now add Indigo Prophecy to the lists of PSN PS2 classics please.


42

+ Rafael215321 on September 22nd, 2013 at 10:18 am said:

esqueçam ps2 ja foi ja era e passado #lord kratos


43

+ ngreatshark on September 22nd, 2013 at 7:39 pm said:

Still have this & its sequel on ps2, they are excellent games, I think the problem was just timing, in both cases Gta 3 in 02 & God of war in 05 came out and kind of overshadowed everything else released on ps2.


44

+ Charliebr0wn82 on September 22nd, 2013 at 9:10 pm said:

Loved this game. maybe if it sells well on PSN they will bring it back or maybe give us a hd remake.


45

+ dkarlowicz10 on September 23rd, 2013 at 8:36 am said:

I agree with others. This and other PS2 classics should be on the Vita.


46

+ Figboy on September 23rd, 2013 at 9:14 am said:

The Mark of Kri is still one of my favorite games of the PS2 generation. I still have my disc tucked away in my CD case!

I’m bummed there won’t be an HD collection of Kri and Rise of the Kasai, but I’ll take this! This is actually rather perfect timing, as a week ago, I was telling a coworker how awesome The Mark of Kri was, and he was hoping to find a used copy somewhere, but was not having any luck. I just told him about the PSN release, and he’s more than a little pleased!

I’d kill for a Vita remaster, though…*hint hint*


47

+ zakfarseer on September 24th, 2013 at 2:38 am said:

Mark of kri is one of my all time favorite games, and in my opinion, one of the most criminally underrated and overlooked masterpieces of the ps2 era (for some reason, a lot of games didn’t get the credit and/or sales they deserved back then, like Kya: Dark Lineage, Sphinx, Beyond Good and Evil, Second Sight among others)

I’d be really happy if there was a HD collection of MoK and Rise of the Kasai, or at least a re-release of the first one with Trophy support. I played and finished Mark of Kri like 3 times. Good times.


48

+ Noctisnox on September 24th, 2013 at 3:06 am said:

I really hope they revive this title. Maybe for the Vita or the PS3 or even the PS4.


49

+ Naills on September 24th, 2013 at 10:16 am said:

Let me throw my name in the hat too as someone who would happily purchase HD remakes of this and the sequel (I never got around to playing the sequel on PS2 and always felt regret). I suppose the HD desire is partly for my own selfish eye candy, and partly because I enjoy thinking it adds jobs to the game industry to create the HD remakes.


50

+ b1tters on September 24th, 2013 at 8:02 pm said:

HD remake of this one? Nah, i’d pass on that and get the classic. I’d rather the time be spent on making a new entry of this beautiful series. This game is great and i’d rather take it as is.


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