Engadget Feature: The (re)making of ‘Crash Bandicoot’

If you have ever thumbed through my blog here, it doesn’t take long to deduce that the original three Crash Bandicoot games were essential to my childhood.

With that in mind, I am very pleased to share my latest piece of professional video game writing: a full-length feature on the process behind remastering Crash Bandicoot trilogy. The feature was published and laid out by Engadget in early July, featuring in-depth interviews with art & design leads on the team at Vicarious Visions (VV), in addition to exclusive process-artwork that outlines their creative workflow.

What stood out to me were the philosophical aspects of VV’s approach, and the pressure they placed on themselves in striking a balance between their vision and Naughty Dog’s original thought process. As a lifelong fan, I had immense expectations for the remaster, and VV went above and beyond — my conversations with them only solidified that trust.

Special thanks to Aaron Soupporis at Engadget for his mentorship, collaborative spirit and going the extra mile on the layout, as well as Jessica Conditt for connecting us. Nicholas Ruepp, Kara Massie, Cory Turner, Curtis Orr, Leo Zuniga and Wiebke Vallentin at VV & Activision were all extremely helping in coordinating the interviews and art assets we needed, all the way up to the eve of releasing the N. Sane Trilogy.


Aside

Although I played the original games into the ground throughout the late 90’s, it was stumbling upon Andy Gavin’s making-of blog series that got me interested in them again. Unfortunately, while I had a working PlayStation, I didn’t have my original copies anymore — I sold them off in order to raise money for my mom’s Christmas gift as a kid, back when allowance was hard to come by.

I began recollecting each one, the original black-label editions, from a variety of regional used game stores. Revisiting the legacy games over the course of my 20’s became an annual hobby, but my years as a professional designer — on top of my game design education — gave me a newfound appreciation for the effort and thoughtfulness that went into each one. What’s fascinating is how they preserve a clear evolution in Naughty Dog’s talents and sensibilities, which you can still see traced in the remasters.

All that being said, I feel incredibly fortunate to have recently authored a feature on the (re)making of Crash Bandicoot for Engadget, just in time for its long-awaited return by Vicarious Visions.

I still remember waiting for the latest issues of Ultra Game Players or PlayStation Magazine to arrive in our mailbox, just to tear them open for any information on the newest Crash Bandicoot game. That excitement certainly had a resurgence as VV began releasing more details on the N. Sane Trilogy. I feel grateful to have gotten to know the team and their vision a little better, and to have an inviting and respected platform like Engadget to publish that experience on.

 

Polygon Opinion Piece: The Last Guardian

 

Recently, I wrote an opinion piece for a well-known video game website, Polygon.

The article recounts my experience with a long-awaited game, The Last Guardian, and the parallels I drew between it and our bond with animals during a trying time in my life. It’s an analysis of the game’s design as much as it is a personal essay and investigation into the ways we all encounter animals in need. Here’s an excerpt from the piece:

The Last Guardian doubles as an interactive metaphor for the discovery and rehabilitation of animals in situations of abuse or neglect. For being such a fantastical setting, it plays host to a cautionary tale that is grounded in reality. By offering us an extended glimpse into an abused animal’s perspective, The Last Guardian asks us to empathize: What does it mean to spend time in their environment? How are they a product of it, and how much can they change?

The full article can be found here, and I invite you to share your own story and/or takeaway from The Last Guardian.

Tiny Apocalypses: An Interview with Dan Pinchbeck, Creative Director of Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture

Everybody may have vanished from the slumbering town of Yaughton, but not without a trace.

Across a blindingly bright English countryside, with radios left on, research abandoned, doors unshut and phone booths ringing, Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture explores what life there was like as you piece together a hauntingly calm apocalypse in a most unfamiliar setting: home sweet home.

Previously known for their surreal Dear Esther and Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs, Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture is the latest game from studio The Chinese Room. In my curiosity to learn more about what fueled Rapture’s story, its big questions and the creative drive behind them, I discovered what inspires and compels the team that created it. Dan Pinchbeck, Creative Director at The Chinese Room, graciously took me through their process, the artistic decisions they made, his thoughts on science fiction and the potential for storytelling within video games today.

Below is an excerpt from our discussion, and you can read the full interview here.


rapture-yaughton-09Andrew Kuhar: What lead you to explore the English countryside as the right home for this take on the end of the world?

Dan Pinchbeck: The other major idea behind Rapture was the collision of the epic and the intimate, and we drew a lot of inspiration from the ‘cosy catastrophe’ science-fiction of authors like John Wyndham, Christopher Priest, J.G. Ballard and John Christopher. There’s a very definite Englishness about this work that felt just absolutely right for Rapture. The combination of a sleepy, idyllic English village with this apocalyptic tale just felt like it would get that sense so absolutely.

At the end of each character’s story, we get the rather harrowing opportunity to witness the emotional arc of their final moments. Yet, these set pieces are presented in one of the game’s most memorable aesthetics. How did these moments come together and what inspired them?

Often it’s not a lightbulb moment, but a gentle process of things. We really wanted to capture that magic and majesty of the stars in the skybox, to have that silent, beautiful sweep across the world. With Rapture, the emotional punch comes from that mix of big and small — we’ve talked a lot about the epic and the intimate — so we wanted to have a moment where those really small private moments of connection between people, or something as intimate and extraordinary as someone’s death, were played off against this huge sweeping cosmos and beauty of the drifting lights, to really set it in this magical context. I’m a huge Carl Sagan fan, and he often talked about how the more he understood just how extraordinary and vast the universe is, the most privileged he felt to be alive. We really wanted to make that statement in those moments.

Read the full interview »

Generation gone: Where Playstation mascot Crash Bandicoot is today

As a reflection on the Playstation 4’s launch, I wrote an article for GamesBeat about the relevance of the original Crash Bandicoot trilogy in 2013. In essence, it’s about how what worked for Crash in the late 90’s might also be what the series needs today, should it ever finally return.

GamesBeat has since promoted and republished the article, which I thought I’d forward and share an excerpt from here:


In some ways, Crash Bandicoot 2 shares a philosophy with the puzzle-platforming series Portal. You’re given what moves you absolutely need near the very beginning and nothing more for the rest of the adventure. From there, it’s up to the level design and the game mechanics to play off each other to keep things interesting. Jumping, spinning, belly-flopping, crouching, and sliding are all you have to get from point A to point B. Granted, there are a few exceptions (like transports of some manner), but Crash himself never fundamentally changes.

Instead, the levels subvert your expectations by presenting you with interesting challenges based on what you already know. Suddenly, there are more dangerous crates to break open, so how do you move around them in a 3D space? A few levels flip your sense of direction, either having you running toward the screen and away from an agitated bear or moving along it like a traditional side-scroller. When moving forward starts to feel boring, you find yourself riding atop an untamable polar bear cub at top speeds or following fireflies down dark paths, making the game feel like an endless runner or a relay race at night.

But at no point in any of the above scenarios are the game mechanics altered beyond recognition. At its most abstract and arguably its best, Crash Bandicoot is purely about playing with familiarities in the platforming genre.

Here’s a link to the full article on GamesBeat »

(Thanks to Stephanie Carmichael from GamesBeat for promoting and editing the article.)

Arimathea

brothers

Have you ever buried someone?

Half a decade ago, my brothers and I, with the help of our father and his brothers, carried our grandmother to her final resting place. She was on my mother’s side.

I remember being much physically weaker then, and although it wasn’t easy holding up my side of the casket, Staramama (Slovenian for “grandmother” — it’s what we all called her) always had a respect for manual labor. She was a bull, and in my final moments with her, so was I.

Almost five years to the date, I played Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons. Its visuals, gameplay hooks and restrained yet fantastic environments spoke to many of my enthusiasms for video games. How could I resist? All of the above was to be expected, but to me Brothers also acted as the last of a genre I’ll remember these past couple years of video games for: succinct atmospheric games with heart (others include Flower, Journey, Papo y Yo, Guacamelee, The Walking Dead, The Unfinished Swan, Gone Home and Kentucky Route Zero to name a handful). What I didn’t expect was how timely and deeply Brothers would take me back to saying goodbye to Staramama, and remembering the kind of life she hoped, and lived, for my brothers and I.

Continue reading

All My Friends Play Video Games – 4: The Last of Us

last-of-us-crosscountry

All my friends play video games,

and one of them joined me to talk about The Last of Us.

Today’s episode of the podcast centers its attention on The Last of Us, the critically acclaimed survival adventure game from Naughty Dog. With all of its detail and a compelling cast of characters, it’s an experience that needs to be discussed, and I’m happy to have Jim Wiser back on the show to do just that. Our reactions to the core gameplay mechanics, exploring a post-outbreak world, believable performances, art & design sensibilities, and of course the outcome of Joel and Ellie’s journey across the country are all on the bill for conversation here.

Warning: this episode does contain spoilers for The Last of Us throughout.

Listen to the podcast here:

All My Friends Play Video Games – 4: The Last of Us
Hit the above link to stream it within a new tab, or right-click to download it directly.


CAST & CREDITS

Jim Wiser and I have been friends since our first couple years in foundation art classes at the Cleveland Institute of Art, where we continued to collaborate as majors in Game Design. His thesis project explored level design as a means of better understanding way-finding, and since then he’s created artwork for a number of indie game projects and custom levels for Team Fortress 2.

The Last of Us was developed by Naughty Dog.
The music in this episode was from The Last of Us OST.

All My Friends Play Video Games – 3: Kentucky Route Zero, Act II

Kentucky Route Zero, Julian in the forest

All my friends play video games,
and two of them joined me to talk about Kentucky Route Zero, Act II.

We’re filling out the seasonal Kentucky Route Zero panel with Alex Koval joining Hilary Bovay and I for this edition of the podcast. Our hour-long discussion covers our reactions to Act II of Cardboard Computer’s episodic series, recurring themes and character development, secret locations, our favorite/least favorite moments and more. Feel welcome to add to the conversation by leaving a comment below.

Fair warning: this episode does contain spoilers for Act II throughout.
If you’re interested in the game and simply want to learn more about it, I’d highly recommend listening to our previous episode on Act I — the first segment introduces KR0 and is spoiler-free.

Listen to the podcast here:

All My Friends Play Video Games – 3: Kentucky Route Zero, Act II
Hit the above link to stream it within a new tab, or right-click to download it directly.


CAST & CREDITS

Hilary Bovay is a very talented artist & photographer, and super-fan of both David Bowie and Hayao Miyazaki. She’s got a keen eye for visual storytelling, and her love for the original Crash Bandicoot trilogy is all you’ll ever need to know about her taste in video games.

Alex Koval is a student of both philosophy and psychology, a fan of horror and especially H.P. Lovecraft. We’ve been best friends since 2nd grade, and some of his favorite games include the original Resident Evil remake, Final Fantasy Tactics, Eternal Darkness, and the childhood classic Banjo Kazooie.

Kentucky Route Zero was developed by Cardboard Computer.
The music in this episode was produced by Ben Babbitt, from the soundtrack for Act II of Kentucky Route Zero.