We talk to the European producer of Knack, Daniel Brooke, about the PS4 launch title, character action games and making a game for both core and casual players.
Hi Daniel, can you start by introducing yourself?
I’m Daniel Brooke, and I’m the European producer of Knack, which is a character action game directed by Mark Cerny, who you’ve talked to already.
Sell the game to me in 30 seconds.
It’s the most accessible game for the PlayStation 4’s launch. It’s really for everybody, whether you’re a first time gamer or a hardcore gamer who just enjoys character action games. If you like anything like Jak & Daxter, Crash Bandicoot and Ratchet & Clank, then you’ll like this. We’ve got a really great tradition at Sony of doing these character action games. There are so many different franchises – like Sly Cooper – and to have a new IP, a new character, and a new world to really show off the PS4 is just fantastic. It has a really great storyline and people loved the demo from E3. The response has been awesome.
How do you think the character action genre has fared, considering that first person shooters have become increasingly popular this generation?
I think you can always have some genres proliferate in particular generations, and that’s just as much about changing tastes as it is about what the technology allows you to do. This generation, we’ve had a really strong presence with Ratchet & Clank – we’ve just had HD versions of the Jak trilogy and the Ratchet trilogy, we’re releasing a lot of character action stuff in this generation, whether it be classic HD versions or new iterations of the franchises. I think it’s a great genre, still going very strongly, there are a lot of people who are big fans of things like Ratchet and Jak. I still think that genre is very much alive and kicking. Having produced many of these games for Europe, it’s really nice to still be working in the genre.
Are there any references to Ratchet and Jak in there?
No, but we do have a homage to the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man from Ghost Busters, but no, it really does stand alone. But we knew he was a great character, and the more you see of him, the better… today is the first time we’ve been at an event with children, and it’s great to see that it really does appeal to children, because you want that universal appeal. We’ve had a lot of non-gamers at events who I’m sure have never picked up a controller before, and they picked it up and they liked it and they came back. We had queues. It’s got just as much appeal as franchises we’ve had before.
Maybe there could be a Ratchet Knack, where he looks like Ratchet or has bits of his flesh floating… wait…
I don’t know how to answer that… [Laughs]
Which is your favorite version of Knack? He can incorporate wood, stone, ice, etc.
Wow… hmm… from a gameplay point of view I really like ice Knack. The way he picks up health and changes his shape is really cool. But with the giant Knack, the reaction has been best. It’s awesome to see the look on people’s faces as you explain to them how many parts are in the character. Every time people are so like ‘wow’. That’s a real wow moment. I have a lot of love for all the various iterations though.
The biggest he can get is 5,000 pieces, right?
Over 5,000 pieces on the biggest one. But again, there’s so much variety in how many parts and what parts there are, but it’s still Knack and I think that’s the secret of it. There have been so many character action games that have come out before, and to come out with something unique is really special.
So if he sucked up a PS4, what would happen?
[Laughs] I… I really have no idea. Would be fun to try.
Are there any other types of Knack that haven’t been announced?
He can also absorb metal, we haven’t shown that. And obviously there are the alternate version that you get on the second play-through, like Vampire Knack and Sunstone Knack if you complete those collectibles, but there’s going to be more, we’re just not giving it all away in one go. There’s so much stuff to talk about, and so much more to show in coming events before launch.
Yes, look out for us at gamescom… that’s all I’m going to say.
Do you think that Mark Cerny being the face of PS4 as well as Knack helps the game’s publicity?
I think that it helps that the lead system architect behind the console is making a game. That’s just fantastic. That’s something that we’ve never had before, and for that to be the first PS4 game to be shown ever was just massive. I think certainly for the ideology behind the game it’s important because it’s inclusive. This is something for everybody. This leaves nobody out, it’s for hardcore people and for first timers. I’ll say it again and again but that really is important to us because I think it gets across a great message about the PS4 as well – it’s for everybody. The market is bigger than it ever was, and the love for PlayStation is bigger than ever. The brand is on fire.
Especially because it’s an affordable console this time around.
[Laughs, pauses] I couldn’t possibly comment on what prices mean.
But in relation to the PS3 it’s cheaper.
Yeah. I was at the press conference when they announced the price and you could feel the love in the room. But I think we’ve always been great value, I really do. If you look at what we’ve got in this machine and the way people have responded to everything, whether it’s price or specs or line-up, it’s awesome.
You were the European producer on the Resistance trilogy. Are you sad the franchise is now kind of probably dead?
[Pauses] Um, as we’ve said before, there are no plans to do a Resistance game at this time, but we have a lot of franchises, so many different IPs – some go away for a while, some come back, and some we have no plans for.
Is Knack a trilogy?
[Laughs] We’re just releasing the first one, but I hope it will be. You can say that about any IP, you hope there’s longevity.
But does the plot open itself up for sequels?
We’re just focused on that game, there’s plenty to do right now. But you always hope they’re going to be well received and successful and lead to more and more and more. Look at Ratchet, look at Jak. They are amazingly successful – what is it, 12 years since Jak was released?
Any plans for that?
[Laughs] I’m only the producer of Knack.
Your face twitched…
It did not! I couldn’t possibly comment on franchises I’m not a part of [laughs].
But there is a new Ratchet & Clank.
Yeah, there’s Into The Nexus, which is great. Having produced the first four, and Q Force, and the trilogy, I’ve got a lot of love for Ratchet. There’s a lot Ratchet in my blood.
How does Knack measure up against Ratchet & Clank?
I think it measures up really well. I think there’s so much that we haven’t shown, but for me the key is the the accessibility, the great story, the great characters, and the fact that it is different to Ratchet and it is different to Jak. It’s its own thing, which is incredibly important. There is always new space in this genre, I really do think that. You can look at any of the IPs we’ve got in the character action genre: Sly is different to Ratchet, Ratchet is different to Jak, but they’re all appealing for different reasons. Knack is a welcome addition to that pantheon – ooo, that’s a good word.
That’s my headline right there.
Perfect! Yeah, Knack is a new entry in that pantheon, and the game has a different kind of gameplay, it has a different story style.
Other than the visuals, what makes this a PS4 game – why couldn’t this be done on PS3?
Really intrinsic to it is the character – and it’s more than just graphics. If you look at Knack, and you look at the amount of objects he’s made from, that’s a complex physics simulation right there, and you need that, and it’s not a gimmick. It’s not lip-service, you need that, it’s intrinsic to him. It’s intrinsic to the world, to the storyline – it’s what makes the character, what makes the world, it’s the gameplay, it’s the way you pick up health, pick up objects, it’s all linked together. You couldn’t do that on the PS3, it wouldn’t be the same. It’s so much a part of the character and the game, it’s all part of a whole.
He has a very deep voice.
Yeah, very deep.
What’s the reasoning behind that?
It’s just the way he was born. It’s just his voice.
So wait, how was he born?
The relics are objects from ancient times, from an ancient civilization. They’re very mysterious objects, and they’re used in the world of Knack as a power source. So that’s why you find them in things like vacuum cleaners and generators and vehicles and things like that. So the doctor has created Knack through unknown means by giving some of these objects consciousness. So he’s very unique in that respect.
Would you like a Knack TV show?
We do great games, but oh man, I think my kids would love one. My kid can’t wait to play it.
You don’t let them play it?
My kids don’t work for Sony, but they’ve seen the trailer, and they’re big fans. That’s a good test – do kids like the game? I don’t think I’ll get to play much of it on day one, they’ll steal my PS4.
And there are hours of cutscenes, so it’s almost like a mini-movie of its own.
Yeah, there are a lot of animations, a lot of movies in the game. I can’t wait until we show more of the story, it’s really great. We’re spending a lot of time on localizing them, which is so important. There’s so much localization work that we do. We have 13 languages, which I think is a really solid amount, and that number’s always growing.
But games have more and more plot and voice acting – doesn’t that make it harder?
And we keep getting better at it. But if you look at all the games we’ve released, they’ve always had a lot of plot and brilliant cutscenes. Take The Last of Us – that’s got a movie in there basically.
I’m guessing you don’t let your kids play The Last of Us…
So how important is it that they can have games that they can play?
It’s very important because my kids don’t play games constantly. When they play a game they want to play something that’s good, and they want to play together, and co-op for them is a huge draw. Once they’re old enough for Ratchet, they’ll have to learn to take turns and watch the other one progressing. But it’s very important that they have something to play, and something that I think is a good game.
If you complete the game on hard, what do you get?
I don’t know, I’ve never managed it.
What I liked about the hard setting on Knack was that it did feel like a different game. It irritates me when it’s just slightly different.
Yeah exactly, it’s not the same. Not just health, but the way enemies shoot. The behavior is different: where they shoot is different, there are so many things working in concert… Take the ice level. You slide round the corner of some cliffs, and on hard there’s no barrier and you can fall off, but on easy there is a barrier and you can’t. There are lots of subtle differences like that. We know there’s a different audience playing those different levels of difficulty. We take it seriously – we want something that will appeal to everybody. There’s a phenomenal amount of detail; certainly when I was demoing it to people I could see that they had a lot to talk to each other about, because it was different between the different levels of difficulty.
There’s so much to talk about.