Feature Article

Knack: Mark Cerny's Stepping Stone Into the Future

Sony's secret weapon.

Mark Cerny is a man who understands the inner workings of the gaming industry, perhaps better than any of his peers. After cutting his teeth on a pair of classic Atari arcade games in the '80s, Major Havok and Marble Madness, he joined forces with Sega to focus on home console development for the Master System. By his own admission, a large part of his work at Sega amounted to the creation of "shovelware," a term that conjures images of cheap cash-grabs and rushed development cycles. However, a few years and a couple of 3DO games later, Cerny found himself in the enviable position of working on the hottest property for the PlayStation, Crash Bandicoot. It was one of the strongest character action games of its time, and both Sony's and Cerny's reputations snowballed with its success.

Today, Cerny is best recognized as the man behind the PlayStation 4, having played a key role in the development of the system's architecture. His background in development informed his direction for piecing together Sony's next-gen console: prioritize the needs of developers. It sounds like an obvious path, but Ken Kutaragi, former president of Sony Computer Entertainment, failed to recognize the importance of designing hardware for game creators, rather than spec sheets, when designing the PlayStation 3. Unsurprisingly, Sony learned its lesson and put the future of the PlayStation in the hands of Cerny, an experienced developer with a successful track record.

While Cerny plugged away at defining the future for the PlayStation, a process that has taken no fewer than five years, he quietly contributed on a handful of major first-party games, though to a somewhat unsatisfying end. Recently, Cerny recounted the personal and professional challenge of consulting rather than creating. "While doing the hardware, I had some minor roles on God of War III and Killzone, but it became increasingly hard to contribute on projects of that scale, consulting part time." The PlayStation 4 hardware is his baby, more or less, but there was a latent desire to rejoin the creative ranks of software development in a meaningful way. "I finally came to the conclusion that if I was a director, on a small title, that I could have a larger role and still do everything I needed to do on the hardware."

Mark Cerny is the future of PlayStation

He wasn't alone in thinking some of his talent remained untapped. "Originally, I just set out to do the architecture for the hardware, but at some point during that process, Akira Sato, one of the executives who was also the chairman for Sony Computer Entertainment for a while, and a bit of a mentor to me, pointed out that a lot of the value I have for the organization is because I do active work on the game titles, and it was his strong recommendation that I keep doing that work." Thus, Knack was born.

His new charge brought him back to familiar territory: character action games. In spite of his broad range of abilities and interests, he's not put off by the idea of revisiting the iconic game type that has dominated his career. "It's nice to be making a character action game again," Cerny said. "You know, the game is very different every time we make it. Crash was about platforming. I went back and counted and there's one area where there's something like a hundred jumps that had to be made without dying, and 50 enemies that you had to defeat between checkpoints; really difficult. And then, with Ratchet for example, the focus was on the weapons you can pick up. For Knack, the focus has really been on what can we do with this unique character, and also what can we do with non-weapon-based combat."

Beyond the mechanical challenges involved in making Knack fresh, Cerny challenged himself to answer the needs of a younger generation of touch-screen-trained users without alienating grizzled console veterans. "On the easy difficulty [setting], there are just so few components of the move set--left joystick, right joystick, dodge, punch, super move--that it's something that they can really go from never playing a console video game before to pretty much racing through the levels, taking out enemies left and right in about 90 minutes."

Simplicity be damned, Knack's not without depth. "It works well for core gamers who require a control set to be mastered. I briefly mentioned this today, but there's a dodge maneuver on the right stick. You actually need to be doing a dodge in, not away, and punch, because on harder difficulty settings the enemy's attacks are so fast, if you walk in they'll hit you before you can reach them. So that's the kind of depth that we have for the core gaming side. For a core gamer, I think the difficulty is rather important. So long as they understand that there is that depth and challenge to the game, that will be a major source of appeal for them."

Not blind to criticism, he's aware of the opposition, who decry Knack as little more than a childish, character-driven experience. "I've been looking at the typical conversation on the boards, and the conversation goes something like this: 'Knack sucks, and the frame rate is terrible,' was somebody’s comment. Somebody else says, 'Well you know, I've played it in person, and it's actually very challenging and a lot of fun.'"

He's right. Knack's tough as nails if you want it to be, and while "fun" might be too broad of a term to accurately describe the experience of tackling its biggest challenges, it's not far off the mark. During the demo I played, it took only two hits for the character to die on the normal difficulty setting. Granted, Knack's health fluctuates with the number of items he collects, but I could tell my failure was ultimately the result of my own shortcomings, rather than a lack of resources. Dusting myself off, taking a moment to practice the controls, I discovered that there's indeed an underlying intricacy to the timing of Knack's movements.

The command set is small, but jumping, dodging, and attacking require quick reflexes when you're facing a hulking goblin while also avoiding incoming fire from far-away reinforcements. Cartoonish appearance aside, Knack will test you if you want it to, and on any difficulty setting other than easy, you won't stand a chance of seeing it through to the end until you understand and explore Knack's nuanced mobility.

The leading trio: Professor, Lucas, and Knack

Cerny has said in the past that it's likely Knack will be a second purchase for early PlayStation 4 adopters. It's not a stretch to imagine that he assumes most players seeking next-gen hardware want more mature content and games with so-called gritty realism. Knack's success isn't a given, but as evidence of his return to development in the new role of director, Cerny revels in the experience. "Knack's a very interesting character, I'd love to keep working with him, but really we all need to see what the appeal of this first game is. Going forward, I'd love to be creative director again. That was a lot of fun."

What the future holds for Knack and Cerny is anyone's guess, but Cerny's abilities and desires don't end at games like Crash Bandicoot and Knack. "There's always a great variety of games that would be nice to work on. I enjoy games for more adult audiences, and recently there's been this trend towards smaller games, and that seems like it might be a nice break from the larger projects, such as Knack or the hardware itself, where hundreds and hundreds of people were needed to put it together. For me, one of the big appeals of PlayStation is the variety of experiences available to the gamer. These days, they are games done by indies as a labor of love, but they are going to bring that same dimension to PlayStation 4 that we had on the original PlayStation."

The PlayStation 4 hardware is finalized, and with it, Knack will be available in a matter of weeks. Cerny has simultaneously managed two formidable challenges with seeming aplomb, which will surely allow him the professional freedom to chase his own labor of love in the years to come. He's a beacon of practicality and reason, and I have no doubt that the best years are ahead of, rather than behind, one of the hardest working people in gaming.

Written By

Want the latest news about Knack?

Knack

Knack

Follow

Discussion

133 comments
TashunkoSapa
TashunkoSapa

The only thing I like about PS4 is Mark Cerny's involvement.

Supabul
Supabul

I hope Knack is good

jmartin1016
jmartin1016

I'm interested to see how this game turns out. The industry is hemorrhaging overly violent games. Many games display of violence is completely unnecessary and often becomes the focus to drive sales instead of innovative game design and cleaver scripts and execution.

SpiderLuke
SpiderLuke

Sometimes I imagine Mark Cerny and I with our legs crossed sitting on the floor. We are drinking tea from tiny glasses and rolling balls of yarn back and forth as kittens are chasing it. We both fall backwards to our backsides laughing and giggling.

Gamer_4_Fun
Gamer_4_Fun

Really want to see more games from Mark in the future now that PS4 will ship.

endorbr
endorbr

The comment section on this article: proof that people are mostly trolls and a**holes.

gamesaredying
gamesaredying

THIS GAME SERIOUSLY NEEDS ADJUSTABLE CAMERA ANGLES LIKE MARIO 64 THE BEST 3D PLATFORMER EVER.

H4num4n
H4num4n

After reading this article i hope that the game gets a honest review without any 'Cerny-Bonus'.

Raeldor
Raeldor

Haha, I especially like Gamespot's US release date of December 2097.

Total_mischief
Total_mischief

Eh, the only possible redeeming quality this game might have would be the story and characters. The gameplay looks more than average and neither that nor the visuals seem to do anything to boast the PS4's hardware, except for the physic engine. Doesn't seem like it could rival with Jax and Daxter or Ratchet and Clank as quality E rated action platformers - something that's been seriously missing on the 7th generation. So called "mature" games that feature an endless stream of brown, bloom and chest-high wall became boring around the release of Gears of War 2.

UNCStriker88
UNCStriker88

All of the children buying PS4 must be so excited!  Us adults will be playing all the good games on Xbox One, while simultaneously permanently blocking the annoying kids that still manage to find an Xbox

Raeldor
Raeldor

Awww.  The must have seen my comment and changed it to November 2013.  Booo! :P

jmartin1016
jmartin1016

@Total_mischief I agree the lack of solid platformers on 360 and ps3 save Ratchet and Clank has been upsetting. I'm optimistic about Knack. There is nothing else like it. It could be really fun.

ali_manslayer
ali_manslayer

@UNCStriker88 call your self an adult and then think you're a better person for buying a video game console...

pr56
pr56

@UNCStriker88 Ugh !! Take your 'childish' comments someplace else. If you are so proud at being an adult, you should understand that the choice between X1 and PS4 does not in any way indicate someone's love for games ! Grow up already !

UNCStriker88
UNCStriker88

@pr56 @UNCStriker88 It actually is significant in an individual's choice to purchase hardware based on software offered and the software offered appeals directly to children

UNCStriker88
UNCStriker88

@Grunkera @UNCStriker88 That is just sad, two fanboys and no one could find any place that Sony outlines the improvements to online.  NOTHING.  Absolutely no specifics about anything regarding the PS4, I would put my money on hopes and dreams

UNCStriker88
UNCStriker88

@haze0986 @UNCStriker88 @Grunkera another broad statement, well Sony is happy that people are willing to give them money for nothing.  How about some specifics? No word from Sony directly, just more crap, I wouldn't put my money on hopes and dreams.  Keep dreamin', maybe one day you will get there

haze0986
haze0986

@UNCStriker88 someone was kind enough to cite a source which they didnt have to do , @Grunkera thank you. lets see what his next smart reply will be

haze0986
haze0986

@UNCStriker88 @haze0986 the article where ps VOWS to up the network? how about the article where they state that they are even going to better the downloads on the network? you see i dont have to cite you anything, i took my time to do the research unlike you. do your won research especially the bit about making ps4 look like xbox because of the xbox limits .....let me guess you wont do that either huh

MAGIC-KINECT
MAGIC-KINECT

@UNCStriker88 Not everyone on planet earth has 24/7/365 internet. This was already settled months ago when M$ FLIP FLOPPED and changed their minds for just that reason. Next gen games will be 50gb +++  Not everyone has UNLIMITED bandwidth to download multiple 50gb games every month without paying Comcast/whoever more money when they go over their download limit! I didn't notice the month without PSN as I don't play online games. :)  Both companies and consoles have good and bad points. You seem to be focused ( obsessed with)  ONLINE issues only. So STFU get an xbone and float on the cloud...but the cloud isn't going to work as well as you might want it to. 

M$ "dedicated servers" are doing NOTHING for GTA V owners.... LOL  Oh well...enjoy your drivatars or whatever the hell they are...and your kinect 2.0...Dance Party USA! Yahoooooooo

UNCStriker88
UNCStriker88

@MAGIC-KINECT @UNCStriker88 @haze0986 @Total_mischief PS4 fans can't use that excuse forever, everything is going digital and I don't know a time when I'm not connected to the internet.  I do remember when PSN was down for over a month, that really showed people how dependent on "always online" that we already are.

UNCStriker88
UNCStriker88

@haze0986 @UNCStriker88 Well thanks to the cloud, the developers can add weather into the game at any time, and it has been discussed, something that will not be possible on PS4.  The drivatar technology within the game will never be possible on a PS4, and this is only a launch title.  Still waiting for that PS4 article...?

MAGIC-KINECT
MAGIC-KINECT

@UNCStriker88 @haze0986 @Total_mischief  How's the cloud for GTA V on 360????? I've read many comments about how it SUCKS. NOT WORKING, can't get online, game crashes, lost cars, money etc etc etc etc LOL The "dedicated servers" do NOTHING when the game itself is buggy. But anyway...neither company is perfect. I have a PS3 and 360. I like both. Too many misfires from M$ on the xbone so I'll hold off on picking up that slab til next year maybe.

haze0986
haze0986

@UNCStriker88 @haze0986 wait wait wait, first off you didnt answer my question , why doesnt forza 5 have weather or night racing if the cloud is so powerful gt5 does and thats on ps3 and 2. if the wii u made a webpage stating they had the best online would you believe that too? you also believe politicians huh?

UNCStriker88
UNCStriker88

@haze0986 @UNCStriker88 @Total_mischief alright well it it a simple task for you, find one Sony article where Sony specifically states improvements to online, the Microsoft articles are abundant on their site. So find one on Sony's site where it addresses online.  There is none!

UNCStriker88
UNCStriker88

@haze0986 @UNCStriker88 @Total_mischief Obviously many people don't understand computing power.  If you offload things such as AI then you can dedicate more memory to things such as graphics, that is why the PS4 is limited and that's the big difference.  That's how consoles work, it's a balance between granting memory to graphics versus other aspects, and unless you utilize things such as the internet then you are limited by hardware

haze0986
haze0986

@UNCStriker88 @haze0986 @Total_mischief doesnt exist? so they didnt say the money used on ps+ was going right back into the network? actually every gaming website has the video and article, just after e3 smartass

haze0986
haze0986

@UNCStriker88 @haze0986 @Total_mischief lololol the cloud??? he used the cloud as a point lololol, so if the cloud is so strong why is there no weather effects or night racing in forza 5???????? ps4 is 40 percent more powerful in everything including its calculations so what the hell are you talking about lol you really have no clue your just blindly going to say anything to seem right lololol

UNCStriker88
UNCStriker88

@haze0986 @UNCStriker88 @Total_mischief I have a PS3 and I really wasn't that interested so I wouldn't know, just reiterates Sony lack of appeal to consumers.  One of the few big games for them and still a failure.  But with the new consoles, the inevitable truth will be that many games will not be able to run on a PS4 due to lack of computing capabilities such as Forza, so if you want to cite an example then consider a game that at launch cannot run on a PS4 due to the lack of computing power because Microsoft can utilize a cloud-based system

haze0986
haze0986

@UNCStriker88 @haze0986 @Total_mischief lol theres no need in arguing with you, your one of those people who believe a billion dollar company couldnt afford servers since the start of xbox live, you really believe everything ms says huh? lol sony is increasing everything from servers to content. what is xbox doing? making you use windows 8? you pay for xbox live otherwise your xbox 1 is just a camera. you paid for xbox live on 360 for what? to be able to pay twice for free functions???? keep backing a money hungry company itll get you far.

UNCStriker88
UNCStriker88

@haze0986 @UNCStriker88 @Total_mischief Nice try but the infrastructure of Microsoft is several times larger than Sony, there is a reason that Microsoft is explaining, in detail, all of the improvements to online, in addition to dedicated servers.  Sony is again losing money selling their console, and you think they will invest more to catch up with Microsoft, what a joke.  What's Sony's big new plan?  I must have missed the memo, what is Sony improving with online?

haze0986
haze0986

@UNCStriker88 @haze0986 @Total_mischief ummmmmm you know xbox 360 is p2p right? you know not one halo game is dedicated right? how can you be such a fanboy and not know about your own favorite console? ps3 had more dedicated servers for most of their games than microsoft, but yet again xbots dont care about the facts only shit they "think"

UNCStriker88
UNCStriker88

@haze0986 @UNCStriker88 @Total_mischief you must be living in lala land, matchmaking on PS3 is terrible, Sony has made no statements addressing any improvements to online, in addition you will have to pay for that outdated online set-up.  The same thing happened last time when everyone said the PS3 graphics would be so much better and...never actually realized and it was annoying how Microsoft bought up all the exclusives.  The same is happening again and I would rather join the winning side.  You will quickly realize that Microsoft is buying up ever more exclusives this time, including Deadrising 3, Titanfall, and Forza to name a few, not to mention the apps and interactive television.   Sony's hype guys might be good talkers but its not hard to see past the lack of launch titles, why do you think Sony is promoting Indies so much...they don't have much else to offer

haze0986
haze0986

@UNCStriker88 @haze0986 @Total_mischief all one has to do is look it up smart guy, but i guess you dont want to see the truth. good luck being butthurt when you find out. and my psn experience is far better than my xbl was. call me a fanboy i wear it proudly because ive owned every system and the xbox was the worst, paying for features that are free everywhere else no thank you, and online being better? lol not in my experience, ps plus trumps games for gold ten times over but keep telling yourself xbox live is worth it

UNCStriker88
UNCStriker88

@haze0986 @UNCStriker88 @Total_mischief Microsoft is proactively improving online in several ways, as stated, while Sony remains to be seen on the subject, I guess the Sony fanboys can continue to hope the Sony will follow a similar avenue as Microsoft, but I'm sure XBL vs PSN will continue to have a clear winner, as can currently be seen.  Currently no dev will be cutting anything considering one console over another because most games coming out at this point don't utilize the hardware potential but considering the long term, the PS4 will be limited by the hardware, while the servers and cloud computing will allow Microsoft to in the end surpass the PS4 several times over.  Citing Sony's broad statements and speculation is exactly how everyone got to this point, where there is a large number of uninformed consumers

haze0986
haze0986

@UNCStriker88 @Total_mischief annoying children, hmmmm the console known for the most children is xbox....so your point is trash. and if you must know, your precious xbox cant handle the games that are coming out, devs are cutting the look of ps4 games to be fair to xbox, look it up and stop your bs

UNCStriker88
UNCStriker88

@Total_mischief @UNCStriker88 Considering Xbox One will incorporate a specific algorithm designed to group gamers based on reputation, thus eliminating annoying children, you obviously exhibit either ignorance or a distinct denial of education

Total_mischief
Total_mischief

@UNCStriker88 @Total_mischief Relying on sophism to get a point across really invalidates your arguments. I hope you're aware of that; if not, you're welcome for the bit of advice. You might then be able to make a relevant contribution to this comment section by proposing an opinion backed up by more than a ridicule console rivalry.

UNCStriker88
UNCStriker88

@haze0986 @UNCStriker88 @pr56 hundreds...of Indies? The real big games is what people are going for and Sony is clearly lacking.  I still have my sega genesis, we can play together.

haze0986
haze0986

@UNCStriker88 @pr56 im going to be 30 and im getting knack, so whats your point? sony has the best exclusives hands down but you xbots choose 1 game out of the hundreds that will release lololol

UNCStriker88
UNCStriker88

@pr56 @UNCStriker88 Even the PS4 fans hate on Knack, very few people have genuine interest.  Given the game selection of the next gen consoles at this point, the decision is either Xbox One with big new titles and exclusives and then PS4 with a bunch of Indies and half-finished games, at least a few developers were nice enough to make crass-platform versions but the appeal for a PS4 at this point is lacking significantly

pr56
pr56

@UNCStriker88 @pr56 Umm you do realize that there are a lot of people (including adults) who might want to play this game, right?
Your comment seems to attest that somehow being an adult means buying an xbox. (and don't get me started on the 'good games on X1' part)