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 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.

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.

 

Advertisements

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.

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.

Podcast Returning

kentuckyroutezero-act2

I posted two new podcast episodes in January, but have yet to deliver on my plans to do more since. Now that The Commonwealth’s new album, Urban Soul, is done and released (you can listen to it here, or stream it from my sidebar), and with a handful of games under my belt this year, I’m feeling ready to get back into podcasting through the late summer and fall.

Kentucky Route Zero‘s 2nd act came out at the end of May, and it gave Hilary, our very good friend Alex and I a lot to talk about. They’ll be joining me on the third episode of All My Friends Play Video Games to discuss Cardboard Computer’s follow-up act, so check back next week sometime for the podcast.

If you’re interested in catching up with past episodes, including Hilary’s and my discussion on Act I of Kentucky Route Zero, be sure to check out the archive.

Playlist 2012: Introduction, SSX

Looking back, 2012 has probably been the most balanced/diverse year for the amount of time I spent gaming and the kinds of experiences I got to play.

Back when I was studying game design as my major a couple years ago, I’d gravitate around 2-3 games on a single platform for the entire year, which I’d then dissect the hell out of. With a PS3 acquired earlier this year, it’s been easier to bounce between PC and console titles and a variety of genres. To add to that, smaller studios continue to bloom with leaner projects that stack up just fine to the large-scale productions, making it possible to get through more games in a fraction of the time without feeling dissatisfied.

I’ve just about closed up shop on my game-consumption for the year, so I wanted to take a look back and share some of my take-aways from each game, one at a time, in my playlist for 2012.


SSX PS3 | EA Sports | February

ssx

I’m not what you’d call a dub-step enthusiast, nor do I have much appreciation for heavy snowfall. The reboot of SSX had mass quantities of both assaulting my senses as I barreled down international slopes, but I welcomed them with arms outstretched for the kind of adrenaline rush I hadn’t felt in a video game since the original launched with the Playstation 2. lts return to the PS2’s big brother revitalizes much of what made those games tick back in the early 2000’s: speed, style, and level designs that were each over-the-top, igniting competition in a highly addictive loop. Continue reading

The Master Sword: How swordplay creates gameplay in Zelda’s latest legend

akuhar-theherooftime

For the past few weeks, The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword had me doing things that no other video game has. It had me standing for 90% of a 45+ hour adventure because it was more compelling than sitting down. It taught me how to read my enemies’ behaviors, and to reconsider the meaningfulness of my sword (which, in terms of combat and puzzle-solving effectiveness, doesn’t change in a significant way throughout the majority of the game) more often than every other classic Zelda tools also at my disposal. By the end, it had me convinced that I was a significantly better swordsman than when I first gripped the blade referenced in its subtitle.

Every new idea requires a good explanation, but many of Skyward Sword‘s best ones got away without needing any. Without hand-holding exposition nor repetitive tutorials, this newest entry into the series draws attention to how its design sensibilities were subtle enough to have more than one user in mind. Though by contrast, they also draw attention to every moment that thought otherwise, leaning on tradition and variety when it least needed to. As I watched the first Zelda in half a decade struggling to soar to the top of most critics’ 2011 Game of the Year lists, deep down I think I knew why.

Continue reading