Knights & Bikes

An af­fec­tion­ate salute to the joys of child­hood



De­vel­oper/pub­lisher Foam Sword For­mat PC, PS4 Ori­gin UK Re­lease April 2017

De­vel­op­ers of­ten talk about their cul­tural in­flu­ences, and when you’ve been do­ing this job as long as we have, you no­tice the same hand­ful of names crop­ping up. The Goonies, it’s fair to say, is rarely one of them – which makes a pitch that name-checks it all the more in­trigu­ing. Not that you’d im­me­di­ately recog­nise the in­spi­ra­tion from a first glance at Knights & Bikes. Its he­roes are two young girls, a sea­weed-ob­sessed goose, and the sen­tient de­cap­i­tated head of a leg­endary knight, and they’re ex­plor­ing an is­land just off the coast of Corn­wall, throw­ing Fris­bees and an­grily peck­ing at the be­witched crea­tures that cross their paths. Our mem­o­ries aren’t what they used to be, but that’s not quite how we re­mem­ber it.

Of course, Me­dia Mol­e­cule’s Rex Crowle and Lit­tle Big Planet pro­gram­mer Moo Yu aren’t in­ter­ested in di­rect pas­tiche or homage – they’re aim­ing to cap­ture the ad­ven­tur­ing spirit of Richard Don­ner’s 1980s favourite. It’s a con­cept the pair have been kick­ing around for a while, hav­ing dis­cussed their mu­tual af­fec­tion for the film over a few drinks. “I was busy on Tear­away so we didn’t re­ally do a lot with it,” Crowle tells us, “but I re­mem­ber Moo and I felt we could do some­thing re­ally in­ter­est­ing by tak­ing RPG-style me­chan­ics and blend­ing that with a Goonies-style story, with mul­ti­ple kids, each with their own per­son­al­i­ties.”

The two spent the best part of 12 months mulling the idea over be­fore start­ing pro­duc­tion last year, set­ting up un­der the name Foam Sword just as de­vel­op­ment on

Tear­away Un­folded was wrap­ping up. Crowle is still work­ing two days a week on Dreams, but the rest of his time is now be­ing spent on

Knights & Bikes. By the time its crowd­fund­ing cam­paign was ready to launch (“a friend from Dou­ble Fine warned me that it’s like an­nounc­ing a game and ship­ping it all in one month,” Crowle laughs), Foam Sword had a very firm vi­sion of what the game was go­ing to be, which is il­lus­trated by one of the most dis­tinc­tive Kick­starter projects to date.

Char­ac­ters were a key fo­cus dur­ing the early dis­cus­sions. “We had a group of kids that were much more generic,” Crowle tells us. “We had the nerd and the jock, and we were both try­ing to mash them up and up­set all the stereo­types.” Over time, po­ten­tial pro­tag­o­nists were grad­u­ally ex­cised, with none of the boys mak­ing the fi­nal cut. The two that re­mained were out­sider Nessa and the hy­per­ac­tive, videogame-ob­sessed Demelza. If they’re hardly archetypes, their re­la­tion­ship has that clas­sic odd-cou­ple dy­namic; what the two girls share is a rest­less de­sire to spread their

“We’re go­ing for very uni­ver­sal mem­o­ries… treat­ing the world like an ad­ven­ture”

wings. “We’re go­ing for very uni­ver­sal mem­o­ries of child­hood,” Crowle ex­plains. “Of get­ting on your bike and cy­cling around and treat­ing the world like it re­ally is an ad­ven­ture. Where you’re try­ing to deal with all th­ese mys­ter­ies and ques­tions. Like that locked-up con­crete bunker in the middle of the woods – what’s hap­pen­ing in there?”

There is, too, an el­e­ment of nos­tal­gia for a time when games were an im­por­tant part of the early lives of both de­vel­op­ers. Through Demelza in par­tic­u­lar, Knights & Bikes will ex­plore the way in which games can be­come a way for kids to in­ter­pret the world around them; there are di­rect ref­er­ences to Nin­tendo’s SNES and other con­soles of that era, though you won’t see much in the way of meta-com­men­tary. “Videogames have al­ways been a big part of our lives,” Yu says. “It’s a game about child­hood and imag­i­na­tion, and both of us used videogames when we were kids to some­times es­cape the real world but also oc­ca­sion­ally to just find a char­ac­ter that we loved liv­ing in. There will be a bit of a cel­e­bra­tion of videogames, and what it was like grow­ing up with them.”

This idea of forg­ing bonds through shared ex­pe­ri­ences means that while solo play­ers will al­ways have an AI ally to ac­com­pany them, Yu sug­gests it’s ideally played with some­one along­side you. “It’s set at a time where th­ese kids are try­ing to fig­ure out who they are and how they fit to­gether to be­come bet­ter in­di­vid­u­als, and we thought co-op was a re­ally nice way to bet­ter mir­ror that kind of theme.” Ex­pe­ri­ence comes in a more tan­gi­ble form, too: as the two girls find hid­den trea­sure and res­cue is­lan­ders they’ll earn up­grades for their bikes to reach new ar­eas, adding thicker tyres to ne­go­ti­ate patches of slip­pery mud, for ex­am­ple. A knight, of course, needs an ap­pro­pri­ate weapon, and you’ll be able to mount a me­dieval lance on the front of your two-wheeled steed.

You’ll have plenty of joust­ing prac­tice, too, though com­bat is mostly con­ducted on foot. “There’s an un­easy re­la­tion­ship be­tween mak­ing a re­ally beau­ti­ful game and then hav­ing com­bat in it,” Crowle con­cedes. “So we’re try­ing to make sure the com­bat is part of the ethos of the game, where you’ve got that kid-like feel­ing of hav­ing loads of en­ergy, loads of imag­i­na­tion, and deal­ing with all th­ese sit­u­a­tions in a slightly scrappy way.” There will be plenty of in­ter­play be­tween the two leads: Nessa, for ex­am­ple, can throw wa­ter bal­loons onto the ground to make pud­dles which Demelza can jump into with her wellies in or­der to splash ev­ery­one with mud – which, nat­u­rally, may well make an­cient knights a lit­tle rusty.

Knights & Bikes’ free­wheel­ing, unique, ex­per­i­men­tal spirit, to­gether with its blend of hu­mour and melan­cho­lia strongly re­call Foam Sword’s other big in­flu­ence, Earth-Bound. No game since has quite cap­tured that same nervy ex­cite­ment of ex­pand­ing one’s bound­aries, tinged with the sad­ness of say­ing farewell to a part of your life. Not that it’ll be too heavy-go­ing: there are mo­ments of in­tro­spec­tion, sure, but this is a cel­e­bra­tion.

“We’re try­ing to cap­ture the joy­ful­ness of child­hood,” Crowle says. “Of ca­reen­ing down a slope on a bike with no brakes.” A shift away from the com­fort of a larger stu­dio marks new ter­ri­tory for Foam Sword, but this thrillingly sin­gu­lar ad­ven­ture is clear ev­i­dence that Yu and Crowle are more than happy to let go of the han­dle­bars, scream­ing at the top of their lungs all the way down.

Though it’s too early to de­ter­mine the ex­act bal­ance be­tween ex­plo­ration, com­bat and nar­ra­tive (Crowle says roughly a third of each as a ball­park es­ti­mate), a branch­ing di­a­logue sys­tem will give both Nessa and Demelza op­por­tu­ni­ties to make them­selves heard

Or­phan Nessa is the qui­eter of the pair – as a main­lan­der, she’s treated with a de­gree of sus­pi­cion by most of Pen­furzy’s res­i­dents, with the en­er­getic Demelza the no­table ex­cep­tion

ABOVE CEN­TRE Demelza’s pet goose, Cap­tain Honkers, has a keen sense of smell, which serves as a use­ful navigational aid. The is­land’s menagerie tends to­wards the avian: as well as geese, you’ll come across wood­peck­ers and puffins.

ABOVE Each is­lan­der you res­cue will re­ward you in some fash­ion: a few have use­ful abil­i­ties, while oth­ers will give you key items

In co-op, the girls won’t be able to ex­plore sep­a­rately be­yond the lim­its of a sin­gle screen. With team­work cen­tral, Foam Sword hopes play­ers won’t want to any­way

“We won­dered if the ap­peal was just in our heads,” Yu says, “but peo­ple have got­ten in­cred­i­bly ex­cited about it, which is ex­actly what we were hop­ing for”

Knights&Bikes is mostly a two-man pro­ject, but Crowle has been able to call upon Me­dia Mol­e­cule col­leagues for as­sis­tance. Sound de­signer Kenny Young and com­poser Daniel Pem­ber­ton (see p20) both worked on Lit­tleBigPlanet

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