Sony was hoping for 7s with Knack, and that's just not good enough

“I was hoping Knack could score in the mid 70s”, said Shuhei Yoshida, the other day. He was speaking to about the decidedly mixed review scores for PS4 launch games, and particularly, the outright stinker of the bunch. Mark Cerny’s platform-brawler is undoubtedly the least defensible of the PS4’s first batch of software; a family-friendly game which could only really be said to be friendly towards the family if said family had taken a clan-wide vow to avoid fun wherever possible. But that’s not the problem here.

Every console launch line-up is littered with sub-standard releases. New hardware, tight time restraints, and new design ideas always make development challenging. And of course there’s the additional pressure of having the entire world, starting with your immediate boss, glaring at you with the burning scrutiny of a sunbeam focused through a magnifying glass into the eyes of a soon-to-be barbecued ant. And that, without the macabre insect metaphor, is roughly how Yoshida later explained DriveClub missing its intended release date. Stuff like that just happens.

Besides, the quality of a launch line-up is rarely indicative of its host console’s future fortunes. Find me a machine whose games never improved past its initial paltry offerings and I’ll take that Atari Jaguar from you, humanely destroy it, and send you off with the tricky task of finding another machine as bad. The Xbox 360 launched with Perfect Dark Zero. A year later it had Gears of War. Launch games are irrelevant within the great scheme of a console’s long and storied future-history.

So why, you might ask, am I still circling around Knack’s guffness like a vulture with a particularly cruel penchant for drawn-out dramatic tension? Well you see--I reveal with a tweak of my hitherto unnoticed Poirot moustache and a flex of my not infrequently noticed Poirot smugness--that the true villain of the piece is not Knack itself, but company mentality that seemingly allowed it to be.

Is aiming for a 7 really the best thinking with which to approach one of your new console’s launch games? And not just any launch game. Perhaps unfortunately, Knack was the world’s first look at PS4 gaming back at the console’s February reveal. Whether intended to be a central player of the machine’s launch roster or not, that kind of treatment heaps a certain implicit expectation upon a game.

If you start with low expectations, you guarantee lesser results. And just as importantly, you give yourself no excuses if things go wrong. Whatever the logistical complications of developing a launch game, if you’re only aiming for a 7, then a 7 is the best you can expect. An ambitious but flawed game can get by on good will. A game that wasn’t really trying is going to get a kicking, and deservedly so. Yoshida says earlier in the interview that “The game wasn't designed [to meet specific] review scores”, but that just doesn't sit right with me. If a company, or the head of its worldwide studios, had an expected score average in mind, then on some level that’s the standard the game was designed to meet.

Yoshida’s notion that Knack was intended as a secondary purchase doesn't really help either. Rather, it feels a little like an attempted excuse, albeit one that compounds the idea that Knack’s development perhaps didn't push hard enough for quality. It also makes an implicit statement that family and kid-focused games aren’t worthy of as much effort. Given Sony’s long-standing reputation for providing eclectic, high-quality entertainment for all demographics, that idea is a fallacy, and one that Sony should really distance itself from.

Of course, I applause Yoshida’s candour regarding the PS4’s launch. The almost self-effacing honesty he presents during the course of that interview is refreshing like a gin and tonic in Hell, and something this industry needs a lot more of. And of course, it’s fine, and in fact healthy, to discuss a project’s challenges and failings post-mortem. What isn’t fine, is to start a project with potential failings and excuses in mind. 

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  • duelmonkey - November 16, 2013 10:19 a.m.

    From a games journalism standpoint, I can see where you're coming from. We don't want devs to settle when they could be innovating and giving us the best possible experience. But these are companies we're talking about, and companies exist to make money. For the most part, the quality of the game and the sales expectations increase proportionally, but that's just not always the case. Think about films, for example. Most movies that come out in the summer really suck. Even the ones that we as nerds or geeks (or whatever we're supposed to want to be called these days) get crazy excited for tend to be "just okay". After years of movies building up to it, we were all relieved when "The Avengers" was "just okay". It still made massive amounts of money, which is what the studios wanted, not Citizen Kane 2: Electric Boogaloo. The team that made Knack had one job: maximize profits. They made THE family game for the PS4 launch and they didn't screw up. They put the minimum amount of effort, money, and hours necessary to get a good game out in time, and they succeeded with flying colors. I don't think Sony did anything different than what they could reasonably expected to do. We'll get our CK2: EB eventually. Asking for it at launch is a bit ridiculous, though.
  • Scoob - November 16, 2013 10:07 a.m.

    Knack reminds me so much of Lair. Not in gameplay obviously. But in the parallels of how they were hyped by both Sony and by Sony's fanbase as being something unique and great. Then upon release both getting pretty mediocre receptions. If I was part of the development team on Knack, I would be all kinds of pissed at Yoshida's statement, especially if I was this Mark Cerny guy. I would actually be pissed if I was a fan of Sony games really. For one thing, who wants to work for a game company that aims for 7s? You don't go through years of hard work and training to get into any aspect of game development to churn out mediocre products. And as a video game player, who wants to buy and play games from a company that aims for mediocrity in it's games? Yoshida really should have said something along the lines of, "we wanted this project to be great, but it didn't quite get there. Something was missing." Or anything similar in wording. Basically, something like what an athlete would say in a losing effort after a match. We get it, they can't all be winners, but at least come out looking like you're trying.
  • Manguy17 - November 16, 2013 7:13 a.m.

    "refreshing like a gin and tonic in Hell, " I've got to use that sometime...
  • lon3wolf2002 - November 16, 2013 12:41 a.m.

    I am sure they did not set out to make a 7 (above average) game, the comment was what he thought reviewers would score it at. How can anyone think that a company would go "Sod it, lets make a below par game (not saying Knack is below par at all) no one likes and release it, wouldn't that be a jolly jape, I am sure our investors and board won't mind at all".
  • ParagonT - November 16, 2013 5:12 a.m.

    Because it would depend on the budget given.
  • lon3wolf2002 - November 16, 2013 5:49 a.m.

    Why? Even with a meagre budget, the devs are not going to say "lets aim for a low scoring game because who in the hell wants to make a decent game?" and the shareholders are never gonna say "Just make something that gets low scoring reviews as we are not interested in profit". Unless I missed the point in your response?
  • ParagonT - November 16, 2013 6:58 a.m.

    If there's a low budget, its going to be hard to compete with other games in comparison. This is a business, they don't have to make a perfect game for it to sell and gain a profit. Especially for a game that is being bundled.
  • brickman409 - November 16, 2013 8:47 p.m.

    Big budget games tend to make more than low budget games but that doesn't mean they're worse. They still could've made a good game with a low budget. They weren't aiming for an average game, it just ended up being average.
  • ParagonT - November 17, 2013 12:09 p.m.

    "Big budget games tend to make more than low budget games but that doesn't mean they're worse. " If they make more than low budget games, then wouldn't that say the exact opposite? That means more units sold. I get what you're saying with low budget games can be great too, but the idea still stands that with a lower budget you have to compensate that fact with either a great core mechanic or something that can offset the low budget. Thats why Indie games tend to be more "out there" because they have to do some crazy stuff to get noticed in the sea of games.
  • GamesRadarCollanderCooper - November 15, 2013 7:35 p.m.

    I couldn't agree more. Why would anyone aspire to mediocrity, especially when it comes to an expensive venture such as a videogame?
  • Jackonomics - November 15, 2013 6:34 p.m.

    That's just disgraceful. I mean for fucks sake Nintendo does nothing but shameless rehashes but they atleast they make them GOOD rehashes.
  • lordgodalming - November 15, 2013 5:01 p.m.

    This is getting ridiculous. What's the next article going to be about? "Sony charges $400 for ps4 because they are meanie-beanies to Microsoft."
  • brickman409 - November 15, 2013 12:47 p.m.

    I think he was just being realistic when he said that. He knew the game was going to be average before release, but after development started. I don't think they were hoping for average 7's from the beginning. I'm guessing as development went along it just started to look bad and they didn't have time to change it. They probably couldn't afford to delay another game, so they just settled with a mediocre launch game.
  • cyco687 - November 15, 2013 9:29 a.m.

    Knack is really a shame, I was hoping for a good game that reminded me of the old Ratchet and Clank/Jak and Daxter kind of games, and it just bombed all around.
  • Vonter - November 15, 2013 9:10 a.m.

    "It also makes an implicit statement that family and kid-focused games aren’t worthy of as much effort." This is what worries me the most and always makes me defend more than I should Nintendo. I like that games are continually challenging gamers since well most have grown up. But I dislike that the M-Rated game is the only type of games that can have ambition. Like I said before I thought Knack could at least be like Kameo, or a Sly type of game. From a general perspective having only mature games makes in the long run things boring, mostly since there is a lack of levity that contrasted with conflict makes us care about what happens. From a personal perspective I also want to be excited for games that don't take themselves to seriously, you know, only having fun with themselves.
  • shawksta - November 15, 2013 11:07 a.m.

    This Whether people shit on Nintendo or not, the plain fact is that they are the only few out there who bother kicking their ass making games for EVERYONE and not limit themselves. Sure, they have a problem not stepping out of their borders outside Zelda and Fire Emblem to cater to the players wanting a more serious and Mature game, but in these circumstances it makes you happy they even care at all to make games that are both serious and the entire family can enjoy without having to rely on a Mature appearence.
  • ParagonT - November 15, 2013 12:30 p.m.

    I just shit on them since none of their games seem to have any type of story or point at all besides "Collect all the stars!" or "Princess needs saving". I enjoy Nintendo's IP's, but they never seem to get to stretch their wings and try something new. Their usually just put into nearly every game, and the sad thing is that characters can apparently sell the game on its own. Not the story, not the universe, just the characters. Would Brawl sell without the characters? I doubt it. Thats like asking for the least amount of work possible, and I'm sure Nintendo is happy to give everyone that. Racing game? Slap Mario in it, sell millions. Party game? Yoshi. I love the IP's, don't get me wrong, but its high time they start making new ones to give the yearly recycled ones a break, or try something new. But thats just me.
  • shawksta - November 15, 2013 1:13 p.m.

    There are many games out there, pointing to the obvious icons is too easy. Mario RPG's have amazing gameplay and story, Zelda brings a fantastic experience with every game, and then there's Fire Emblem and Xenoblade/ the new X game. Smash bros's appeal is because its a fighting game with Nintendo characters, you cant call it off on that. There's also a difference between using a character in different situations and using the same genre. Mario Kart, as slapped as it is, is still a great series, it differs from the usual racing genre. You cant just assume a new series entirely will automatically mean anything. and even then throughout the years has been spawning new IP's that are flat out ignored. Also you seem to focus on story, if you want story, go for a game thats full of it, the story isnt anything, its the gameplay experience that makes their games shine, especially 3D Mario. WIth that said however, i still respect your opinion as it is and its understandable.
  • shawksta - November 15, 2013 1:15 p.m.

    Also, smash bros has shown its quality many times. Its not simply liked for its Nintendo characters. Playstation Allstars didnt really nail it because the game itself wasnt built right, as fun as it is.
  • Vonter - November 15, 2013 7:15 p.m.

    Its like with Megaman or [classic] Castlevania. Instead of making a plot it took that time to develop clever game design both in its levels and enemies (also music). There's a concept behind the simple narrative. I like storytelling in games, especially if it can be both dramatic and funny. But sadly people seem to want games to become movies or cinematic entertainment and I personally don't like the prospect of just going along with what movies do. Two games I wish I could have played are Journey and Puppeteer, because they seem to embrace storytelling through gameplay. That's nice. But I also like games that want to be games despite the tropes that every platformer ever made revolves around a kidnapping. Harmoknight even though it doesn't gave you freedom was a very funny game that had a very imaginative concept behind, despite the cliche story. So yeah all this is mainly saying that I feel Nintendo still makes games and most of the industry want to make interactive storytelling. Also if we add a business perspective that's why Nintendo doesn't make new IPs (they think Epic Yarn wouldn't have sell without Kirby, also they have mentioned not having something really special to bring Starfox or F-zero back). Even the two previous games I mentioned for the PS3 are risks since they sold little despite their critical praise.

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