Mark Cerny has worn many hats during his career. From designer and programmer to director and producer, he has helped bring dozens of video games to life and has been instrumental in leading development teams to success. He’s now wearing the hat of an architect, tasked with Sony’s monumental next-generation gaming venture. Cerny was the main designer of the PlayStation 4 and is the chief architect of the PlayStation 5, but today he doesn’t want to talk about the nuts and bolts of the hardware or the speed and power; he just wants to talk about the quality of the games and how addicted he is to chasing platinum trophies.
Cerny, 56, has won 33 Platinum Trophies on PlayStation 4. A few of these Platinum are gadgets that are automatically unlocked upon completing a game, but most took a lot of time, effort and skill. He is currently chasing Platinum No. 34 in the brutally tough Cuphead. Cerny believes his completeness approach stems from a similar drive he had in the 1980s when trying to get high scores in arcade games.
Earning over 30 Platinum Trophies is impressive, but by no means a record or close. There are players with over 1,200 of them. Either way, it’s great to see a creator dive into games to explore all they have to offer. The creation of PlayStation 5 came from someone who knows games inside and out, not just creating them, but what makes them fun to play to the point of getting the almighty Platinum. “In some ways, I feel like I’m learning what the developer values most about the game they’ve created,” Cerny told me on a video call from his home office, which is studded with revealing gaming memorabilia including a Marvel. Spider-Man poster signed by various developers at Insomniac Games.
I told Cerny about wanting to get platinum trophies, his love of arcades, and some of his favorite trophies to run.
Game Informer: Take me back to your early days. You told me you played a lot with Defender.
Mark Cerny: I was a great arcade player, starting with Space Invaders. I’ve cut my teeth on this and Asteroids and a few other games. I never really got into Centipede, but I was madly in love with Missile Command and Defender. Almost my free time at the end of high school and college was in the arcades playing these games. Part of [the allure] was the controls. It wasn’t like the Atari 2600, where you had a button. You had a dial for Missile Command, Defender had its seven buttons and joystick, and Robotron had two joysticks. I loved it.
They were really tough games. When we watch Cuphead today we say, “Oh my god, I played this first level of run-and-gun and had to die 50 times.” This only replicates the typical difficulty of 1980s arcades. With arcade games, you typically had to kill the player in three minutes. We got test data on a game that was four and a half minutes long, and it’s clear that this game was never going to be successful because it didn’t kill the player fast enough.
Arcade gaming was such a different mindset than it is today. We were trying to be the best on a machine in every place we went. We weren’t trying to end a story or see the credits roll.
Law. It also had a bad influence on me as a designer. I gave up making arcade games in 1986, and what I was doing with things like Shooting Gallery for the Sega Master System was trying to represent the arcade experience at home. We didn’t have to kill you in three minutes at home, but it continued throughout the first Crash Bandicoot. I realized towards the end of this project that it was too difficult. I spent the last six months [of development] trying to get the levels to the point that they could be completed by most people. We have always saved lives for some reason. We have kept lives for so long.
Tell me about your history with the trophies. When did you first develop the desire to choose Platinum?
On PlayStation 3, I did not receive any trophies. I played most of my game before I launched my dev kit, so I don’t have a lot of visible history on PlayStation 3. When I had PlayStation 4 and was on social media, I thought it would be fun to expose everything I was doing to the players.
For me, the way it started was Resogun, which is basically Defender. This is where I started to enter the trophies. I thought, “Maybe I could get the Platinum.” I was in the top 10 of the international rankings for certain categories. I had confidence in it.
The other thing, guy number two on [PlayStation] hardware is a guy at Naughty Dog, and we entered a competition. He had eight Platinum Trophies and I had six. I’m still losing seven years later, but I’m still proud of where I am with 33 Platinum. 40 years ago. We still give each other bullshit about it. He obtained a Platinum in Job Simulator. Now how hard is that? [laughs] In his defense, he didn’t even go into it – it just popped up – so he says.
Resogun was your first Platinum? It’s a hell of a way to start.
This is the first one I have. To go through my list briefly, I started with Resogun, then I did Infamous: Second Son, which is interesting because you have to play good against evil, then evil against good. Sound forms, let me tell you, I have no rhythm. These levels seemed impossible, then two hours later I did it. I learned so much about David Bowie playing this game because there had to be an entire Bowie album. I made Transistor. I was so proud of the Platinum for Wolfenstein: The New Order. I had to finish it on Über difficulty, and got a bug where ammo stopped spawning. It was hard. I researched the percentage of people who obtained this Platinum; it was 3.2 percent. It’s pretty good for a trophy.
The next Wolfenstein is even more difficult; you have to complete this on Mein Leben difficulty without any saves or deaths. At first it seemed like no one in the world could do it, then a month goes by, but someone did. Certainly, it is beyond my capabilities.
Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor is a good thing; he has nice challenges like riding these beasts. Until Dawn was also a fun trophy as you have to see all the different permutations of the story, Talos Principle had mind-boggling puzzles and a great story.
What about Knack 1 and 2? These are two games that you helped create.
These deserve to be highlighted. I play my own games to get Platinum because I want to know what the experience is like. For Knack, it was not very pleasant to get the Platinum. It appears at random. Time commitment isn’t bad, but the haphazard nature of things makes it just plain brutal. We fixed this for Knack II.
I see you have Platinum in Rocket League. Impressive.
It is the only Platinum trophy that I know of that has a multiplayer component. The people at MP are just too good! I remember being a part of the design team for Resistance: Fall of Man on PS3 and playing the game for hundreds of hours – I could finish the campaign on the hardest difficulty – and the weekend when she went out, i went online and thought to show off my skills. Instead, I ended up being dominated by players who were playing the game for the very first time. So if the Platinum Trophy needs online, I ignore it.
As a Platinum Trophy Hunter, when you get a new game do you first look at the trophy list and maybe a guide on how to optimize your game?
First, I’m so busy that I usually play games two years late. This year, I finally played God of War. I really enjoyed it. By the time I get to a new game, it’s a known thing. I take a look at the guidebook to see if there’s anything totally boring I should be doing along the way, so that I don’t have to play the game twice. That’s about the extent. of the guide’s experience. In some of these games there is a huge advantage in knowing what to do.
You are part of an elite crew as one of the people who won the Platinum Trophy in Invisible, Inc. Only 0.1% of players got it. How many players is that?
I don’t think we were posting anything less than 0.1 percent. There must be less than 100 people. It took me months to get it, and part of it is that I don’t have much time in a day to play. Maybe 30 minutes. And then there are the weekends.
Do you think banging your head against a challenge feels good? Knowing it’s possible, but not many people have done it?
I guess I want to take on the biggest challenge possible. It’s a flashback to the arcades. I want to play it consistently, hard, and then beat it hard. In the arcades, we were developing skills on these games for six months to a year.
Was there a game that was too hard that you just needed to upgrade to other than Platinum?
I started some games by saying, “I’m going to do this,” then I realized that there was just a lot of side content that you had to do. In some of these cases,
I won’t even finish the game.
I’m doing Cuphead right now, and I’m not sure if I’ll ever finish it because it might be too hard for me.
Where are you?
I beat him, but now I have to do it on expert difficulty. Because I’m not sure if I’ll be able to do it or not, I start with the more difficult bosses – the ones people say they have given up on. If I can pass the hardest five, then I’ll know I can do all the rest. I landed one of the top five. I just finished it last weekend.
Any decks that you would recommend to people? Or that you liked?
Gravity Rush Remastered. People really don’t understand what Gravity Rush is. I wish more people would play it. It really is wonderful. Horizon Zero Dawn works well with the storyline. Tackling Platinum and having everyone in the world become an ally makes the game more fun. Astro Bot in VR is all about twitch reflexes. There are three difficult puzzles. Ghost of Tsushima. I liked it so much that I even did things that weren’t necessary, like getting all the outfits.