This month’s IGN First is a bit different than usual. Rather than highlighting a single game — we’ll get back to that next month — we’re highlighting the Japanese game industry as a whole. We visited some of the biggest studios in Japan to focus on their games and creative processes. Check back all month for interviews, gameplay reveals, and more!
PlayStation’s Japan Studio isn’t shy about admitting the original Knack wasn’t perfect. When a sequel was announced at last year’s PlayStation Experience, Sony was open about listening to fan feedback and trying to improve upon the first game, even including a line of in-game dialogue about Knack’s limited moveset.
But Sony isn’t continuing the franchise lightly. Behind the scenes, developers are genuinely excited to revisit the character and deliver their original vision. Speaking to IGN in Tokyo recently, Japan Studio went into more detail, explaining exactly what they hope to improve with a sequel.
The team had a whole lot of ideas that they just didn’t manage to get into the first game.
“Well, the reason we are making a sequel to Knack is just that the team had a whole lot of ideas that they just didn’t manage to get into the first game,” creative director Mark Cerny told IGN. “So, in a very real sense, what you’re seeing with Knack 2 is the items that ended up on the cutting room floor.”
“Simply put, we really love Knack,” lead level designer Kenji Sakai added. “After the Knack 1 project, we knew there were so many things we could have done with this unique character made of parts, so we did all of these experiments. Some of those ideas were really great, and we wanted to share those experiences with users. That really motivated us to keep going with Knack 2.”
According to the team, the launch timing of the original game made it a challenge, as the limited development window meant a lot had to be completed in a short time.
Work started even before we had gotten official approval for Knack 2 because all the staff were so excited to work on it.
“The big difference between the previous title and this one is that the schedule for Knack 1 was quite tight, so it was a dash to the finish,” art director Yoshiaki Yamaguchi explained. “Of course, we still tried to spend sufficient time and resources to create the game. This time, work started even before we had gotten official approval for Knack 2 because all the staff were so excited to work on it. We made prototypes one after another. We have always been a very unified team with very few divisions, meaning that everyone would focus on and resolve issues one by one at a rapid pace. We were already evaluating prototypes before official approval for the new title had come through, and I jumped in to take part in that momentum. It was fun work.”
Studio Japan’s leadership echoed a similar stance, noting that the limited development window that came along with being a launch title meant Knack had certain very specific priorities.
“A number one priority for the project was to launch with the hardware and…showcase some of the performance of PS4, like particle effects and graphics effects,” said Shuhei Yoshida, president of Sony’s worldwide studios. “And at the same time, Knack as one of the launch titles had a very unique mission to complement all of the other gorgeous triple-A core gamers’ games to show the breadth of the lineup.”
“It was a brand new IP, brand new team and incredibly tight schedules, and we just felt that there was so much left undone. I think we had to fulfill that part that we couldn’t get to the first time around,” added Allan Becker, senior vice president of Japan Studio.
There was so much left undone. I think we had to fulfill that part that we couldn’t get to the first time around.
“Originally, we wanted Knack 1 to be a launch title so it could join the lineup as a game that families and casual players could enjoy,” game director Takamitsu Iijima explained. “That meant we had a limited amount of time, and the deadlines came before we could figure out how to implement some of the ideas we wanted to include. So I’ve always had a strong desire to revisit the Knack IP with a sequel.”
When it comes to feedback from players, the team takes criticism of the original Knack very seriously and has specific changes in mind for the sequel. According to Iijima, two of the main criticisms of the original Knack were that Knack didn’t have a diverse enough moveset and that players expected more platforming sections. In addition to adding many new moves to Knack’s repertoire, the team has intentionally added much more platforming.
“The reason we didn’t include much platforming in the first Knack was because our goal was to create a game people from age 7 to 70 could enjoy, and players who are very young or very old find jumping from one moving object to another in 3D space very difficult,” Iijima explained. “This time we added a lot of platforming, but we still want as many players as possible to enjoy the game. To accommodate the widest range of players, playing on Easy mode allows people to take detours that skip difficult platforming sections. Even on Normal, if a player repeatedly dies in the same spot and cannot proceed, they will be asked if they wish to skip that portion.”
We listened very carefully to players’ responses and we just filled out things that were missing.
Another main criticism of Knack was the sense of scale, as Knack could switch sizes in the original but the game rarely took advantage of it. “Based on that feedback, in Knack 2, we made it so enemy sizes stay small even as Knack gets bigger, and we have huge enemies appearing even when Knack is still small,” Iijima said. “This allows players to really feel Knack’s size change as they progress.”
“We listened very carefully to players’ responses and we just filled out things that were missing,” Becker added.
“We have been listening to all the feedback provided on Knack 1, definitely,” Cerny agreed. “That’s influenced us in a great number of ways. In combat, Knack feels bigger because we’re careful not to scale the enemies to the same speed as Knack. Or, we’re allowing Knack to change size because it was clear that there was a desire for a bit more freedom in the gameplay. It’s been very influential for us on the game.”
The team took that as a challenge: to keep things both varied and easy to understand.
Since one of the team’s goals is to make Knack 2 as accessible as possible, it was a challenge to add more variety to gameplay without making things too difficult for younger players. “With more variety, we were concerned the game would become too complicated and hard to understand,” Sakai said. “That might mean new controls, which means we would have to teach people those controls, and we were afraid we might lose players along the way. But the team took that as a challenge: to keep things both varied and easy to understand as we added lots of new elements.”
“The team, and myself included, felt that Knack accomplished many of the original goals when it launched, but we knew that there was a lot more to that concept the team can accomplish,” Yoshida said. “Knack was launched in 2013, so it’s been four years to really build upon the foundation that Knack had and the accessibility and the great-feeling combat, but layer on lots of depth of play and especially focus on the couch multiplayer.”
“We’re focusing on co-op play this time,” Iijima added. “You can play the entire game from beginning to end with a partner. They can join or quit any time they want, and anyone can enjoy this game together, be it family members, friends, or couples.”
Finally, the team wanted to make sure the story was easier to follow this time around, which it hopes to accomplish with more robust cutscenes throughout Knack 2.
This time around, we had a strong design and ample feedback to start with, which meant we were able to produce an even higher quality product.
“Others have spoken about the gameplay, but people also wanted to see improvements to the movie scene quality,” Yamaguchi said. “So we worked closely with a studio in the US, and even had our own shared wiki to facilitate detailed discussions as we worked together. The movie production schedule for the previous title was really packed, and we barely finished before going gold. There are places here and there we would have improved if we had more time. This time around, we had a strong design and ample feedback to start with, which meant we were able to produce an even higher quality product. It’s a good feeling.”
“’Easy to understand’ has been my motto and the motto of the team,” Sakai said. “For example, in the real world, you see a traffic signal with a red light and green light. It’s a simple, easy-to-understand sign. But if you were to make a game level with that kind of simplicity, with only red and green lights, it would be very boring.”
“So our mission is to find and make things that are both fun and understandable,” he concluded. “It’s not easy, but that’s what makes game development fun.”
Andrew is IGN’s executive editor of news and also hopes to have a more robust moveset in his sequel. You can find him rambling about Persona and cute animals on Twitter.