An Interview with the Developers of ‘Knights and Bikes’
Developer: Foam Sword | Release date: 8/27/2019 | Platforms: PS4 (console exclusive), Steam & GOG | MSRP: $19.99
Knights and Bikes which is being brought to us by Double Fine and Foam Sword Games is a hand-painted action-adventure set in the late 1980s. The game draws inspiration from films such as The Goonies and classic games like Earthbound and Secret of Mana. This coming-of-age story will be available on Steam and GOG but it will be a console exclusive on the PlayStation 4. Naturally, I wanted to sit down with the developers of Knights and Bikes to find out more about their inspirations and what we can all expect from such a unique title.
PlayStation Haven: What inspired you to make an action-adventure with RPG elements type of game?
Moo: One of the big inspirations for me was a game called Secret of Mana on the SNES. I loved how it kept the action flowing and allowed a group of friends to role-play characters and go on a big adventure together. I’ve played through that game at least 20 times with the same group of friends and loved it every time.
PSH: How did you guys come up with the story for Knights and Bikes?
Rex: The starting point was to take some inspiration from coming-of-age movies, most particularly from the 1980s. Films where kids are striving to be a little bit older than their actual age, but also still young enough to show their unfiltered emotions and are still making up stories and playing pretend. Basically, kids at that really good age to be, before a bit too much reality starts creeping in!
The Goonies was the main story influence. It’s a classic treasure-hunting tale with lots of adventure and drive, but with room in the script for the kids to have plenty of interaction with each other. So the story is as much about kids learning about friendship and the world around them, as it is about the quest to follow clues to the treasures resting place. We’ve aimed for a similar balance of a big quest, but with room to playfully mess-around within. That’s coupled with opportunities to learn more about the characters AND maybe the person you’re co-opping the game with (if you’re playing two player). In single-player you just learn more about yourself I guess!
But we didn’t want to just be remaking The Goonies, the game needed to stand on its own and be memorable in its own way. So this tale is all set in the south-west of the UK, and is based on an area where I grew up called Cornwall. It’s an independently-minded region, it once had its own language and king, separate from England. So it’s filled with its own kind of folklore and stories. For example, the games “knights” theme comes from a ruined castle near my childhood home called Tintagel which is said to have been the real King Arthur’s castle and has captured my imagination since I was about 6 years old.
PSH: Are the characters Nessa and Demelza inspired by people from your life?
Rex: The lead characters, just like everyone else in the game, have little bits of real people’s DNA in them, including members of the team! Humans are fascinating, both in how they look and how they react to things, so you definitely want to take influences from real people to keep it more interesting, and from as wider range of backgrounds as you can, so you don’t rely on old tropes.
Way back when we initially started development, the game design was to have a larger gang of kids for you to swap between (so more like the Goonies gang) but it meant that our characters felt much more stereotypical, and much more like “tools” that you used to unlock gameplay rather than believable characters. So we trimmed back our cast to the two characters that we liked the most: Nessa and Demelza. I think we liked them most because they didn’t fit into standard stereotypes and were far more interesting because of it. And now that Knights And Bikes is a published book series as well as a game we can also enjoy reading about other adventures the two girls are having… without us!
PSH: Why was the PS4 the preferred console platform for Knights and Bikes aside from the PC release?
Moo: We’ve both spent significant portions of our career making games that were on Playstation like LittleBigPlanet, Ratchet and Clank, and Tearaway so it seems like a natural fit for Knights and Bikes. And one big reason we thought it’d be a good idea to launch on a console as well as PC was just that players are generally much more likely to have two controllers plugged into a PS4 than they are to their PC.
PSH: Aside from the 80’s influence of the game, there is a great handmade kind-of scrapbooking feel to the setting. How do you think this helps portray the adventure RPG elements?
Rex: The thinking behind the art style of the game is to make it look like it’s been created using materials that the kids in the story would have access to. So it looks like “their story” as seen through their own eyes. That’s something that really interested me, as kids see the world completely differently. They exaggerate details and they warp perspective and make all kinds of interesting choices because they are showing how they feel about the subject matter rather than just making a record or a copy of something.
So trying to use that style in the game allows for more unusual exaggerations and a more interesting world to explore, but it also creates a canvas for some extra visual fun. At times the imaginations of the game-characters take over and start adding to the scenery. So something relatively mundane like a car-crusher in a scrap-metal yard might morph into a hungry dragon. Their imagination literally paints onto the landscape to turn it into what they are imagining.
In the early prototype of the game, the world was actually all 2D, and it looked good enough but… well, the trouble was there was no peering behind things. Because the perspective never altered, the views that you got as you walked or cycled around never changed. The only way anything was revealed was when it scrolled onto the screen. Switching to our final system of expressive 2D paintings layered up in a 3D scene made all the difference. Suddenly our game about exploring felt much more adventurous as each footstep forward would reveal more things in the environment as the camera moves with you.
PSH: Are the bike upgrades mostly for traveling around the island or will they also be used for some mounted combat?
Moo: One of the optional upgrades that you can acquire pretty early in the game is the speed boost. In addition to letting you pick up a quick boost of speed, it let’s you charge your bike into enemies, effectively weaponizing it. In fact, you might even get a trophy if you do it enough.
PSH: What has been the biggest challenge in balancing the puzzle, RPG, and adventure elements together?
Moo: I actually think they fit really well together. It’s good to have so many gameplay styles to draw from to keep the experience fresh and be able to vary up the pacing constantly. Especially when you’re trying to represent the attention span of children, it’s wonderful to have so many different types of activities to jump to.
PSH: Captain Honkers adds a Tamogatchi like character to the party, what does he provide if he is taken care of by Nessa and Demelza?
Rex: From having a demo of the game at various shows, we’ve found that petting Captain Honkers is quite a hit. Some players just seem to spend their whole time with him, either petting or feeding him (or cleaning away his poops, sometimes in some quite unconventional ways!).
His main gameplay purpose is to help guide you across the wilder open hub of the island. As part of the story he will pick up the scent of the next place you need to visit and will run on ahead, honking as he goes. So it’s then up to you whether you want to follow him immediately or go digging around in the undergrowth looking for extra loot, or little mysteries to solve before rejoining him.
PSH: The sound design and soundtrack already sound fantastic. Are there songs that stand out as your favorite tracks?
Moo: The main theme that was used in our Kickstarter video has been stuck in my head for the last three and a half years so I’d have to say that one.
Rex: Kenny has done a really great job on the sound design, and I really love how he’s responded to games theme of childhood imagination and play. Not just with the sounds that need to be there, but by adding an element of fantasy into the audio experience. My favourite always being that when you get on your bike in the game you’ll hear a subtle horse whinnying, so you feel like a knight mounting their steed. Powerful!
On the music front, it’s always great fun collaborating with Daniel, he’s another creator who likes to push things in interesting directions to get the right sound or atmosphere, like wrapping the drums up in newspaper when he was composing the Enter The Spiderverse score!
I think, like Moo, my favourite track is also the original Kickstarter theme as it’s been such a big part of our lives recently. But I also have a real love for a track called “I Wanna Ride My Bike” which we plotted out during a clifftop walk and recorded with a very talented kid called Winter screaming into the microphone. It’s very punky and energetic and exactly the kind of power we needed for our game intro.
PSH: What do you hope is the biggest takeaway that gamers get out of Knights and Bikes at the end of the game?
Moo: I hope that players have fun and remember to appreciate the time they spend with friends. And if they enjoyed the experience single player the first time, that they try to think of a friend they could enjoy the experience with even more a second or third time. 🙂
Everyone here at PlayStation Haven would like to thank Rex and Moo for taking the time to speak with us. Knights and Bikes launches on August 27, 2019.