Most of my concerns over Knack melted away when I got the chance to play the PlayStation 4 exclusive action platformer at E3 earlier this year, following on from its announcement earlier than that with the reveal of Sony’s newest home console.
One major worry remained, however, and that was the level of interaction and complexity that was on display during the playable demo: The environments, while amazingly colourful and detailed, were extraordinarily linear and beating up baddies and collecting goodies was limited to a few mashes of the controller’s face buttons.
Extra manoeuvres, like dodging, combo attacks, blocking and sneaking past lasers at specific times, were showcased, but because Knack is primarily a family friendly game with enough simplicity to engage young children, I was going to have to look elsewhere if I wanted a challenge akin to Bayonetta or Castlevania: Lords of Shadow.
- Mark Cerny at a gamescom 2013 presentation
Since then, Sony and project director Mark Cerny have revealed a co-operative mode for Knack that lets a second less skilled player take on the role of a smaller controllable ‘helper bot’ that will run alongside the main character, Knack, to distract enemies and siphon energy to player one.
During an El33tonline attended gamescom 2013 presentation for Knack, Cerny himself was on hand to walk us through the co-op mode and touch on a few additional features, with time for a few questions afterwards where at least one journalist learned that it’s not a good idea to argue with the PlayStation 4’s lead system architect about technical capabilities and performance.
The (Small) Elephant in the Room
As though using telekinesis (or maybe he’s just been reading everyone’s reactions online), Cerny addressed the concern over ‘challenge’ in Knack, saying that on the highest difficulty setting the game will test most every player out there. In addition to tricks like increasing enemy difficulty, certain platforming areas will become more challenging to navigate, for example.
In one section, we saw various platforms and walls moving in sequence to create a path forward, before disassembling themselves and starting the process over. During the demonstration, the difficulty was set to easy which meant the platforms were moving very slowly, but these will apparently move more quickly at higher difficulty settings.
That being said, Cerny hammered home the point that Knack is a game that “pretty much anyone can finish, whether they play games regularly or not.”
Knack – gamescom 2013 Trailer
Cerny also revealed a snippet of Knack’s story for the first time at gamescom, talking about the doctor who created the inventive robot, Lucas, who is the doctor’s 15-year-old assistant, as well as Ryder, who is Lucas’ uncle (and something of an adventurer). In the gameplay demonstration that followed, we were shown how Knack’s primary ability, that is, the chance to absorb different parts in the level (either from enemies or destroyed objects and hidden areas) in order to grow larger than his original three foot form, with properties associated with the parts that players collect.
If you collect transparent pieces, you’ll be able to sneak past security guards and enemies, and if you collect wood parts you’ll grow very large very quickly for more power, but if you’re lit on fire you’ll burn away just as fast. Similarly, growing larger with icicle parts will let you bulk up but walking into the hot sun will melt Knack back down to size.
We were also shown what Cerny calls “not a traditional couch co-op” mode, which allows a second player to seamlessly drop in and out of a primary player’s game – you won’t be able to play Knack start to finish using the game’s brand of co-operative play. Instead, the secondary controllable character, called Robo Knack, is a “helper character” who can defeat enemies and donate parts to Knack to help him regain energy.
Knack – gamescom 2013 Screenshots
Question, Schooling and Answer Time
One of the features of Knack that was at least a little fuzzy until now was the use of the PlayStation 4’s social network in the game, but Cerny demonstrated the feature by discovering one of the many hidden treasure chests located in the levels. When opening a treasure chest, you’ll be presented with what was inside the box, but if you don’t fancy that bit of loot you can instead, in-game, cycle through a list of your PlayStation Network friends who have also played Knack and choose to pick up the item that they might have found at that exact same treasure chest. It’ll be beneficial to you, then, to have friends who are as ardent Knack fans as you are.
The highlight of the Knack demonstration was of course seeing more of the game, but with some time for a little question and answer session at the end, one hapless journalist tried to argue with Cerny – the lead system architect for the PlayStation 4 and a game development veteran of 30 years – about frame rate, my personal least favourite topic when it comes to games. Here’s the exchange:
“The game looks quite nice, but I noticed that the frame rate seems a little shaky at this point, what’s the target for the final release?
“We’re going to be at 30.”
“A solid 30?”
“Now, we’re going to be at 40 – as a character action game the higher we can push it the better…”
“… right, but, with the way TVs work and the refresh rate, if you go above 30 and not hit 60 you get a lot of image jutter that’s not quite…”
“There’s actually some very good triple buffering techniques that work between 30 and 60.”
“Yeah… that’s good to know…”
“The target is 40.”
With that out of the way, Cerny was able to talk about how Knack’s co-operative mode will work, revealing that there are certain sections of the game where the second character simply won’t be able to appear, but owing to the asymmetrical nature of the co-op relationship a second player will be able to drop in where needed and then drop out for a very casual experience. “It’s almost like a bonus feature, in our minds,” explained Cerny.
Cerny also answered one of my burning questions, which is, are players able to combine relics and abilities throughout the game? Short answer is no, but I’ll let the man himself answer:
“So, each stage has a theme – there are a little over a dozen different areas that you visit in the game. And that’ll be ice, or wood, or metal – which we haven’t shown in any of our demos – and transparent parts, and there’s one more that we’re saving ‘cause it’s near the end of the game, that you’ll just have to play the game to see.”
While Knack will primarily be a game of linear progression, there will be larger areas that open out into different sections, much like God of War where you revisit parts of a level to solve puzzles, for example. There won’t be a hub system of progression, says Cerny, but to improve replayability and encourage exploration the game will include a total of eight different gadgets for you to find.
In a typical playthrough, however, players will only get two of these gadgets because their discovery is randomised to ensure everybody’s experience is different. Crystal relics can be found, however, in order to unlock a new playable character, which you can then play the game with a second time around.
Knack is out later this year as a launch title for PlayStation 4. Check out El33tonline’s past looks at the wonderfully vibrant platformer for more details.
Also be sure to follow El33tonline’s coverage of gamescom 2013 for our continued impressions from the show this year, with photos, sights, sounds and more to come.