Crash Bandicoot Remaster Dev Talks Remaking Classic Games
Crash Bandicoot: N. Sane Trilogy is a trip down memory lane for old school fans of the iconic PlayStation franchise, but it’s also a great entry point for those who haven’t experienced the games before.
The collection looks to maintain not only the vibrant aesthetic changes that the each series entry introduced at the time, but also the sharp, fine-tuned feel of each game’s platforming and mechanics. Whether you’re a longtime fan of the series or not, N. Sane Trilogy is shaping up to be a great place to experience the early adventures of this tenured marsupial.
We recently got the chance to talk with Crash Bandicoot: N. Sane Trilogy’s creative director Dan Tanguay, discussing his history with the franchise, the challenges of remastering the original trilogy, and the legacy and lasting appeal of Crash Bandicoot as a gaming icon.
GameSpot Staff: Where does your personal work start with the Crash Bandicoot franchise?
Dan Tanguay: It’s actually tied into the history of Crash Bandicoot itself. Naughty Dog originally created the series, but Universal published it. Due to the series’ popularity, Crash became a mascot for Sony, and as a result, the games were exclusive to Sony’s platforms. However, at a certain point, Naughty Dog and Universal parted ways, so it started looking for new developers for the Crash games. Traveler’s Tales [the Lego games] handled the first few new games, but Universal approached us in the early 2000s to create a sequel to Crash Team Racing. I was the creative lead on Crash Nitro Kart, which came out [in] 2003.
Universal then wanted to expand the franchise by creating Crash Bandicoot games for Game Boy, so Vicarious Visions made a number of those, which eventually culminated in a Crash and Spyro crossover game. Activision eventually bought Universal, and since Vicarious Visions is also part of Activision, the project quickly came together. We actually have a few team members outside of myself who worked on those early games who are now working on the N. Sane Trilogy, so it has been a homecoming for us to work with Crash again.
Was it difficult to balance preserving the games as they were while adjusting them to accommodate modern audiences?
Yeah, it can be pretty tough, especially considering the size of our team. Everyone needs to be involved in the decision making process over what needs to change and what doesn’t. You also need to think of your audience first, as there are a number of different types of audiences for Crash. There’s a nostalgic audience–I fall into that category–that fondly remembers the character and the experience of playing each game, but we also have a very hardcore audience, many of which still play Crash to this day.
At the same time, we wanted to broaden Crash’s appeal, so we had to keep in mind the new audience that might’ve never played these games before. It was important for us to consider that audience and how they might react to any decision we make. As a result, whenever we made a decision, we had to constantly ask ourselves: “But who are we making this decision for?” In the case of, say, remastering cutscenes, that’s a no-brainer. We remade those to make them enjoyable [to] everyone, but we also made sure to craft those scenes so they could hit the nostalgic Crash audience square in the feels.
But when it comes to factors like each game’s handling–especially on-foot handling–you have to carefully consider the changes you’re making. For example, we worked on Crash’s jump throughout the entire course of the project. At one point, we implemented his jump and thought: “Oh, yeah we got this.” But then we showed it to our hardcore fans on staff, and they’d be like: “Yeah, no you don’t.” At a certain point, we could have capped it off and kept it as it was to appeal to our nostalgic audience only, but we knew that it wasn’t nearly good enough for our hardcore audience. We’d repeat this process over and over again throughout development. It was incredibly important for us to make it all feel good.
What has been the most difficult challenge remaking these games?
As I mentioned earlier, refining Crash’s jump was definitely one of the biggest challenges. The N. Sanity Trilogy is an unusual remaster in the sense that we had only a slim selection of original files to work from. The chief thing that we started with was the original gray mesh geometry for each game’s levels. While that laid a blueprint for how it all should be, we still had to recreate Crash’s jump from scratch to work within the remastered playspace. That took a lot of time and iteration and going back between the original games and their remasters.
But another thing that was very challenging was trying to find the right balance between difficulty and frustration. We knew that would impact the new fans that we’re trying to create, so we would often bring in user testers–people who weren’t Crash fans–and just see how they fared playing the game. A guiding rule we learned from that process was to not change anything unless it was absolutely critical the original challenge of the game.
For example, we didn’t want to change any of the puzzles in each of the games. However, we would look at how those puzzles were introduced. In Crash Bandicoot 2: Cortex Strikes Back, there’s a lab assistant in the jet pack levels that shocks you with electricity. But it was difficult to know when that would happen, so we implemented a better telegraph for players to immediately recognize the threat. It was simple changes like that–which don’t change the gameplay puzzle–but better communicate it to the player.
What was the most interesting thing you learned about revisiting the original trilogy and remaking the games from the ground up?
Well, there are a couple of things. First, you learn a lot about fans and how much they love the games. You really have to go back to your 20-years-ago self, and remember that these games were some of the most beautiful games on PlayStation, and that they sold so many copies. The fandom for this series is huge, and it’s not just the folks on Reddit or NeoGAF.
To give you an example, I was chatting with one of my wife’s best friends and she asked me what I was working on. We had finally publicly announced the game, so I could tell her, but she prefaced her question: “Hey, just to let you know, I’m not a gamer. I don’t play games. Whatever you’re going to tell me, don’t feel bad when I tell you I don’t know what it is.” But then I tell her I’m working on Crash, and she responds: “Oh my god, I love Crash.”
The funny thing is that this isn’t an isolated incident. I’ve had this happen time and time again where I discover people who don’t consider themselves gamers, but have fond memories of Crash because of how popular he was at the time. Experiencing this was pretty eye opening to me.
Did you reach out to Naughty Dog during the N. Sane Trilogy’s development process?
We have. Since we worked directly with Sony on this, it reached out to Naughty Dog. Before we premiered gameplay at PSX, Sony took our build of the first Crash game to Naughty Dog and had Evan Wells and a few other folks sit down and play it. They were blown away. They had a very similar reaction from what we’re seeing from everyone else where it’s this sensation of: “It’s just as I remember it!” And that was amazing to hear.
But to hear it from the creators themselves was really validating. They gave us their feedback at that point, but when we showed them Crash Bandicoot 2 and Crash Bandicoot: Warped, they told us that we nailed it. At this point, it feels good to know that they’re in our corner and that they’ve trusted us enough to deliver the goods.
There’s a huge following for Crash Bandicoot. What do you think makes Crash Bandicoot resonate so much with the gamers who played it at the time?
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To me, the staying power a lot has to do with the character of Crash himself. He’s basically a playable, living cartoon, and he has a great personality in how he’s a little irreverent, but also fun loving. He’s this embodiment of what makes cartoon characters so great. I believe people project a lot of their love for animated cartoons onto Crash.
Some people believe Crash Bandicoot is a series that mostly thrives from nostalgia? What would you say to that?
Honestly, I feel like some of that isn’t Crash’s fault. Some of the later games didn’t live up to the potential of the franchise. That certainly didn’t help keep him fresh in people’s minds moving forward, but hopefully we can change that with the N. Sane Trilogy.
Is there an aspect of the series that didn’t appeal to you when you first played the games, but now has become an absolute favorite?
One aspect that’s really is a highlight for me now–and it seems simple, but I’m really excited to to share it–is time trials. Back in the day, I didn’t think as much of time trials, but it was a really smart move on Naughty Dog’s part in extending the longevity of the game. As a result, it was very natural for us to want to include time trials not only in the third game, but in the first and second as well. In N. Sane Trilogy, there’s over 80 levels of time trials for people to play obsessively over and over again. That’s an aspect of our game that our team was looking forward to the most, because now they get to live out their fantasy of being able to complete these levels they know and love, and compete with their friends to see who can run them best.
The time trials seem simple at first, but I feel it’s going to provide the series with some legs. It’s entertaining to watch and turns playing with a friend. It also seems like it’ll translate fairly well into livestreaming and other things like that.
You’ve once said Crash Bandicoot: Warped is your favorite in the series. Why did that game appeal to you more than its predecessors? Had the previous entries not hit the right notes for you?
Well, I do enjoy the previous entries as well, but the reason why that game is my favorite is wrapped up in my history. Warped was my entry point into the Crash Bandicoot franchise, so that’s just naturally the one I like. Also, from a development point of view, that’s where Naughty Dog refined the formula to the point where it was very accessible to a mass audience. I actually started my game development career right around the same time that Crash Bandicoot came out. I had started playing games on PC, so I didn’t own a PlayStation for a long time. But when I did pick one up and started playing Crash, it was quite inspirational to see what consoles were capable of at that time. Vicarious Visions did eventually start working on console games, so Crash actually served as an inspiration to whatever I was working on consoles.
What’s your favorite boss fight from the original trilogy?
To me, Naughty Dog hit its stride with boss fights in Crash Bandicoot: Warped, so the one I enjoy the most is the Dingodile fight. It narratively sets the stakes so well; he’s about torch this cute penguin, but then you intervene. And once he’s defeated, the penguin gets his revenge at the end. It’s also one of the more mechanically unique Crash boss fights out there.
Could releasing this collection eventually lead to a completely new entry in the series?
Ultimately, we want Crash to return to the mainstream consciousness. We want him to be in everyone’s homes again and to create new fans with this collection and the work we’ve done on Skylanders Imaginators with the Crash Action pack. Would we love to see another Crash game? A new one? Absolutely, but we’ll have to wait and see how this one sells and what the people above me decide.