The PS4 lead architect reveals his journey into games

The words of a Legend: Mark Cerny’s inspirational Develop Awards speech

PS4 lead architect Mark Cerny was honoured as a Development Legend at this year’s Develop Awards, presented to him on the night by PlayStation boss Andrew House. What followed was a speech that would later be described as ‘inspirational’ by those in attendance.

Read on for the full transcript, in which Cerny reveals the origins of his games development aspirations.

Thank all you for the Award, I’m very honoured to accept it. And thank you Andy for making time in what I know is a very busy schedule, I’m touched.

Now you may have noticed, today is a family affair: my mother and her husband are attending, and I’d like to spend just a few minutes talking – really for the first time in my life – about the personal side of the path
I took to get into the games business.

I grew up in the university town of Berkeley, California. I come from a rather academic family – my parents are both PhDs, and my father spent over 50 years as a professor and a researcher at Berkeley.

As a child, I had a fantastically accelerated education in science, at the age of 13 I was taking classes side-by-side with the 18-year-old freshmen at the University. By 17 I had begun to study graduate level physics. I was on a track to get a PhD at a very young age and go on to study the mysteries of the universe.

But in the summer I turned 17, I had an experience that changed my life. I had an opportunity to work as a research assistant on a project at the Stanford Linear Accelerator, and I took it – I joined a team of scientists that were using this massive detector to search for short-lived elementary particles. I ended up spending my time that summer doing a statistical analysis of millions of particle tracks looking for systematic errors induced by micron-level misalignment of the detector components. And quite frankly, I hated it.

In retrospect, this was best thing I could have done – get face-to-face with my ultimate ambition, and find out that I just wasn’t that interested in it. As for what I was interested in, I was spending a lot of time on hobbyist programming, and playing Space Invaders and the like at the local dive of an arcade – and after some soul-searching I decided to leave the university, and see if I could find a career in video games.

Now, at this time, my brother had left to go to college, and my father had just left – the family had shrunk down to just my mother and me. I’m sure my decision to leave the world of academe and hard science behind broke her heart, but she did more than simply hide her disappointment. She helped in a great number of ways as I searched for, and eventually found and took on, that first job at Atari Games. It’s been over 30 years now, and you know, I’ve never said thank you properly. So let me do that now, with witnesses – thank you very much for that support. Without that, all of this, all I’ve done, could have turned out very differently indeed.

Still, though – mysteries of the universe versus video games. That’s a tough one.

I have to say a wonderful thing has happened in these last 32 years – video games have not stayed in the same place. Our medium has evolved.


I’m not talking about technology here, though the technological progress has been pretty astonishing – we’ve gone from black and white to colour to HDTV, 2D to 3D, ROMs and floppy disks giving way to 50GB games on Blu-ray.

But that’s just bits and bytes – the real revolution is in the content. Peter Molyneux created the God game. Will Wright brought us the joy of the simulated world. RPGs, RTSs and MMOs flourished as genres. Games became more social.

Our medium developed to the point that the US Supreme Court ruled that video games have enough depth and meaning to qualify for freedom of speech protection as artistic endeavours.

Most recently, with games like Brothers and The Last of Us, our chosen medium has reached the point where our creations have really begun to touch the human heart, to say something fundamental about the human experience.

I believe the fulfillment that you find in your career derives from the richness of the field you’re in. Looking back, my academic studies would most likely have taken me to a career in M Theory, a branch of physics so abstract that a thousand years of work has not resulted in a single experimentally verifiable prediction – it’s difficult to believe that I would have been happy and fulfilled there. The truth is I chose in video games, by sheer luck, an incredibly rich and rewarding field to dedicate my life to.

It’s been a pleasure and a privilege to share these last 32 years with you, and I cannot wait to find out what the next 32 years will bring for me, for all of us, and for our art form. Thank you again for the award, and thank you for your time tonight.

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