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 the 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. Continue reading Engadget Feature: The (re)making of ‘Crash Bandicoot’
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.)
Crash Bandicoot is like taking a hike in the forest.
You’re on a dirt path for the most part, running across animals while leaves and flowers brush past you, with just enough light bleeding through the canopy up above. You feel like you’ve been funneled into something by the outdoors, a natural interior that envelopes your imagination, and with that comes a natural tension as well. The trees, the change in elevation, the twists and turns obscure your vision–the most important tool to playing a 3D platformer–leading every several steps towards discovery, and surprise.
You could only ever see a few meters ahead of you, and a few feet behind you (or the opposite, if a boulder/bear was chasing you). Occlusion is something that the thrill of most video games, especially platformers, thrive on. Our television sets become viewfinders, our hands moving them back and forth.
Whether or not the context of a larger world begins to make sense to us is only a side-effect to this layer of interactivity. Crash never asks you to envision that entire space–just what’s up ahead, or around the corner. You couldn’t plan too much ahead even if you wanted to, and the temptation of crashing into/onto a crate, than onto a skunk, then onto a platform and back onto the ground is a rhythm so satisfying in motion you’d rather just keep pressing buttons and moving forward.
The pacing of Crash games (at least those developed by Naughty Dog–I’ve never played the current generation Crash’s) were incremental and moment-to-moment, without completely ignoring the scope of its larger surroundings. Between levels you would leave the more claustrophobic forests and return to larger islands, indicating where you were in Crash’s world. From there the environment also became your interface as you’d pan between which level to play next. As unconcerned as this mode of presentation was with detail or hand-holding tutorials, it still seemed to get the job done.
Crash was pretty satisfying with so little to be said. It was focused, undistracted by duct-taped features creeping in, or a desperate excuse to leverage internet access. It was an ancient tiki island filled with secrets, and that’s how I found them.