Knights and Bikes has been a long time coming. This painterly, nostalgic adventure, created by two veteran game developers, enjoyed a successful Kickstarter campaign all the way back in 2016. Since then, a lot of progress updates and the occasional playable demo have kept the title in the back of our minds, and now it's finally almost ready. We're looking forward to playing Nessa and Demelza's big island escapade as they explore on their bikes and fend off evil.
Ahead of the game's arrival on PlayStation 4, we had the opportunity to chat with Rex Crowle and Moo Yu, whose cumulative work includes LittleBigPlanet, Tearaway, and Ratchet & Clank. Knights and Bikes is their debut project as Foam Sword Games, and we had a good old natter about its development, childhood memories, and geese.
Push Square: To start off, could you please introduce yourselves and explain your roles on Knights and Bikes?
Moo Yu: I’m Moo, and I’m sort of the programming half of Foam Sword. Basically, I do all the implementation, and I do all the gubbins in between, trying to make the game details work -- that kind of stuff.
Rex Crowle: And I’m Rex. I come from an art background, so I do kind of how it looks, and the characters, story, and the adventure that you get pulled through as part of the game.
And for our readers who might not be aware, could you give us the elevator pitch on Knights and Bikes?
RC: Yeah, sure. It’s an action adventure about two girls who are exploring an English island in the 1980s. They’re looking for a legendary lost treasure somewhere on the island. They’re cycling around using their bikes to explore and open up more of the island. It’s a story based game, so a lot of it is about the friendship of the two girls, and how that develops through the story as they become closer as friends.
Another element of the game is that we draw very much on the girls’ imaginations and how, as they’re running around trying to find this treasure, discover clues, and explore the environment, they're kind of augmenting and adding to it with their own kind of visions. That was quite a long elevator shaft, wasn’t it?
Well, there are some tall buildings out there!
RC: Not many on the island we’re setting the game on. [Laughs]
You’ve spoken before about how the game is inspired by your own childhoods, as well as things like The Goonies, and that sort of thing. What from your own lives have you put into Knights and Bikes?
RC: I think from my side, it’s very much the setting of the game. Although it’s a fictitious island called Penfurzy, it’s very much based on Cornwall, where I grew up on a farm. A lot of the locations you’re going to be exploring are similar to places that I explored as a kid. Lots of little fishing towns, deep forests, long-lost viaducts and old ruins, all kinds of things. So there’s quite a direct link between that Cornish scenery and what we’ve got in the game.
Just as a kid on a farm without a lot of popular culture around - it was before the internet, and I had very limited access to TV, didn’t have any game consoles at the time - it was more about making your own fun, basically. Whether that was the first time you get a bike, able to have a bit more independence, or just like using your imagination. You know, that tractor in the barn is a dragon, and you’re climbing around on it trying to find a weak point in its armour, you know. It’s that mixture of mundane meets the fantastical. That’s definitely something that we’ve tried to bring into Knights and Bikes.
MY: When I was a kid, I was very excited about video games, and I think it was sort of a cornerstone of a lot of my family and social interactions. I miss the time when you would say, ‘I’m gonna go play a video game’, and it meant that a bunch of people were gonna get together and have a weird, digital adventure. Big story based games where you could play an entire story with your friends, or family. One of my favourite games was Secret of Mana. You could play a lot of it on your own and let the AI take control, but like on the hardest boss fights, you’d call your friend over and be like, ‘I’m stuck on this thing’, or that kind of thing. A lot of my influences are trying to hark back to the days when every game was a multiplayer game, and the idea of playing video games was a social endeavour.
I guess that’s why co-op is heavily implemented in Knights and Bikes?
MY: Absolutely. I really love the idea of bringing people together face to face to actually play video games together and have a shared experience. I think you can add so much to the experience with the real life relationships you have. We also added online co-op because, you know, I’m [American] but I’ve been [in the UK] for about 12 years now. I was thinking how sad it would be if I couldn’t play the game I’d made, that was sort of to recreate the times I’d had with [my friends], if I couldn’t actually play it with them. So I made sure to implement that as well.
You used Kickstarter in order to raise funds and get the project off the ground. How did that approach affect the game, or the development process?
MY: From a morale perspective, it was absolutely huge. I think, as a creator, I’m always a little bit insecure about what I’m making, and you always have that doubt of, is anyone actually gonna like what I’m working on? I think Kickstarter was a great opportunity for us to put the core ideas of the game out there at a relatively early point and sort of get that validation that people actually do care. So when you're kind of having a hard day and trying to get through all the work - it’s a lot, especially between just two people - you always remember that you have those 5,000 backers behind you that are eagerly waiting for the game. Every month when we put out a backer report, they’ve always been so friendly and so enthusiastic about everything, but also very understanding about the time that it’s taken us.
In your latest Kickstarter update, you say Knights and Bikes is "content complete". What’s on the agenda now that the game is mostly done?
RC: It’s like the game itself is the epicentre of what you have to do basically, so there’s all the other stuff that’s swirling around it. Just recently I’ve been putting together the launch trailer, and today I’ve been learning about Steam trading cards, and making all the artwork for those. I think each platform has a lot of interesting systems now to allow players to connect more with the game and connect more with other players. There’s a lot of system level things on the PS4 and Steam and what have you. So there’s all these extra things to support.
Obviously, having worked so hard on the game, we want to make sure that as many people as possible know about it, so we’re preparing a lot of stuff for promotion. So that’s just like a furnace of content you’re just throwing things into every day.
But yeah, the infinite list gradually gets shorter. [Laughs]
MY: We ran a backer beta with a bunch of our Kickstarter backers, so a lot of them were playing the game and giving us bug reports and feedback. There’s also getting the platform submissions and stuff like that. So I’ve spent a lot of time playing online games with myself and unplugging ethernet cables at really bad times, and stuff like that. Just trying to make sure the game behaves well for a lot more than the three players it’s had for the last couple of years!
What has been your favourite part of making Knights and Bikes? Is there anything that stands out as a highlight during development?
RC: I think the fascinating thing about making games is that you have to have very different personalities and skills working together. So me and Moo are very different people, and we both bring different things to the party. And then also like having collaborator friends to work on the audio side is really fun. Kenny [Young] will add little features to the sound design he’s doing that will surprise you and you won’t have noticed for a long time, so that aspect is really fun. Also our composer, Daniel Pemberton, who’s a big shot Hollywood film composer now. he just composed the score for [Spider-Man:] Into the Spider-Verse. He’s in a lot of demand at the moment, but he’s pulled out some great tracks for us.
MY: I think for me it was the first time I got to show the game. People were playing and enjoying it, and it was cool to see people actually play it, but I remember these two girls who came up to play. They were probably eight or nine years old, and just seeing them play through the demo, and act out the little things the characters were doing, they were really getting into it. I remember the moment that it sort of clicked with me that we’re doing something that will resonate. As soon as they finished playing the build, one of the girls shouted, ‘Again!’ and they played through it a few times. It was just so good to see in real life just people that are absolutely loving the game.
What attracted you to the idea of taking on a smaller scale project like Knights and Bikes, and why make it now?
RC: I don’t know if there was a plan, things just happen. I definitely felt it would be nice to work on something a bit smaller, a bit less stressful in some ways. Having led Tearaway before at Media Molecule... My role really was to make sure that everyone else could have the best possible ideas, and they certainly did. I would work on ways to combine them and fold them into the story and what have you. That was a really fun role, but I also felt it would be nice to get my hands dirty again. Having gone from Lionhead [Studios] to Media Molecule, I’ve never experienced an engine that wasn’t made specifically for the game we were working on, so I was intrigued what it was like to work in something like Unity, where you can sort of mess around a bit more. There’s just a bit more scope to, I dunno, just sort of level up in understanding technically how to put a game together, and set up all the logic and whatnot.
A lot of thought must go into deciding which platforms to support, especially for a small team like Foam Sword. What made you decide to bring Knights and Bikes to PS4 alongside PC?
MY: I think there were two things that jumped out at me during the Kickstarter campaign. One of them was that, the people that are familiar with our work and really are interested in the stuff we’ve created, you know, it’s gonna be like Tearaway, LittleBigPlanet, and Ratchet & Clank. So I felt like we had an audience that was already sold into the PlayStation ecosystem. But it also felt like, as soon as you launch a Kickstarter campaign and you haven’t announced any console platforms, 90 per cent of your messages are, ‘will it come to this, will it come to that’. I definitely felt during the first two days, the deluge of requests for it coming to PS4 far outweighed anything else. So it sort of became a relatively easy decision for us.
Is there anything else about Knights and Bikes you'd like to discuss?
RC: The thing that we’ve not shown a lot of, and we’ve deliberately held back on them, is all the abilities you get in the game. Basically, the two girls, all of their "weapons", they’re all quite improvised. They’re not getting like a minigun, or grenades or anything. And although we have combat, it’s the sort of combat where you’re, you know, you’re kind of almost imagining that that scary tree stump has come to life, and now you’ve got to destroy it by throwing pine cones at it. You know, it’s more that kind of playfulness. So we have these various abilities, and up until now we’ve only shown that you have Frisbees, water balloons, Demelza has [wellington] boots, and they’ve all been designed to push that interaction between the two characters. So every single ability can interact with the abilities of the other kid in interesting ways.
Some of our late stage powers do get quite odd. You know, as the game becomes slightly less grounded in reality, Demelza gets a sort of Nintendo Power Glove, which is slightly fourth wall breaking -- she can then use that controller to control enemies in the game, and mess around with them. Also, Nessa gets this sort of powerful mix tape she can play on her stereo, and she can use that to blast all the evil curse out of the scene, but also she can use it to get enemies to dance. And then you can start to mess around between the two powers, or the whole host of them, and set up some fun interactions. Sometimes we’ve been surprised what people can do with them. Although it’s a story game and it’s something you move through in a relatively linear way, there’s a lot to mess around with on the journey, which is how it feels to be a kid. You’ve got some big goal, but you know, along the way you kind of get distracted, and you might just sit down and pet your goose for half an hour. So we’re just trying to support that kind of childlike playfulness and wonder, as well as the hyper, over the top energy that they have in endless reserves for cycling around and throwing pinecones at enemies.
You've somewhat preempted my last question, which is: can you pet the dog?
RC: You can!
And you can pet the goose?
RC: You can pet the goose.
MY: You can pet the cat!
RC: Goose petting has become very popular whenever we’ve taken it to events. I think there was maybe a bug that Moo spotted from someone who was just petting the goose so much, more than we would ever do, and they uncovered some little exploit.
Anything else before we wrap up?
MY: The only other thing that I always like to reinforce is that, we always sell like how it’s gonna be a really great co-op game. But the funny thing is that most of the time me or Rex have played it, we’ve played it as a single player experience, so we’ve put quite a lot of time into making sure it holds up as a single player experience. If you don’t have anyone to play with, you can make a new digital friend in Knights and Bikes, and hopefully one day have a real friend to play it with! [Laughs]
A huge thanks to Rex and Moo for taking the time to talk all things Knights and Bikes with us, and to Sun for setting it up. The game is gearing up for release next month. Are you as excited as we are? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.