Making Crash Bandicoot – part 4

PREVIOUS installment, or the FIRST POST.

[ NOTE, Jason Rubin added his thoughts to all the parts now, so if you missed that, back up and read the second half of each. ]


But this brings us to the gameplay. We were forging new ground here, causing a lot of growing pains. I started fairly programming the control of the main character early. This is the single most important thing in a CAG, and while intellectually I knew this from Way of the Warrior, it was really Mark who drove the message home. I did all the programming, but Mark helped a lot with the complaining. For example, “he doesn’t stop fast enough,” or “he needs to be able to jump for a frame or two AFTER he’s run off a cliff or it will be frustrating.” Jason’s also really good flaw detection. Which is a good thing. Internal criticism is essential, and as a programmer who wrote dozens of world class control schemes in the years between 1994 and 2004, I rewrote every one at least five or six times. Iteration is king.

Even after the control was decent, we still had no idea how to build good 3D gameplay with it. Our first two test levels “the jungle, level1” and “lava cave, level2” were abysmal, and neither shipped in the final game. First of all, they were too open with way too many polygons. Level1 had over 10 million, whereas a shipping level tended to have around a million (a lot back then). Level2 was better, but not much.

So during the summer of 1995 we retrenched and tried to figure out how to make a level that was actually fun. The F word is the most important concept in making games. Too many forget this.

But Mark – who served the practical function of producer – never let us.

By this time most of the art design for the game was complete, including the vast layout of possible looks and levels, but we skipped to about 2/3 through and used Cortex’s factory levels to really focus on fun. Our first successful level was essentially 2D (“Heavy Machinery”). It was all rendered in 3D, but the camera watched from the side like a traditional platformer. Here we combined some classic devices like steam vents, drop platforms, bouncy pads, hot pipes, and monsters that tracked back and forth in simple patterns. This was in essence a retreat to success, as it employed the basic kind of techniques that Donkey Kong Country had used so successfully. This palate of objects would be arranged in increasingly more difficult combination.

It worked. Thank God.

Simultaneously, we were working on a more ambitious level where the camera sat above and “Willie” walked both into/out and side to side (“Generator Room”). This factory level included drop platforms, moving platforms, dangerous pipes, and various robots. By using a more mechanical setting, and briefly forgoing the complex organic forest designs we were able to distill this two axis gameplay and make it fun. In both areas we had to refine “Willie’s” jumping, spinning, and bonking mechanics.

We then got our third type of level working (“Cortex Power”). This involved having the camera behind the character, over his shoulder, in the original “Sonic’s ass” POV that had faired miserably with level1 and level2. By taking some of the new creatures and mechanics, and combining them with hot pipes and slime pits we were able to make it work in this more factory-like setting.

Having learned these lessons, we turned back to the jungle design with a new jungle level, known as “levelc” (“Jungle Rollers”). This used some of the pieces from the failed level1, but arranged as a corridor between the trees, much like the over-the-shoulder factory level. Here we utilized pits, skunks on paths, stationary plants, and rollers to create the palate of obstacles. With this level the into-the-screen gameplay really came into its own, and it remains one of my favorite levels. Each element served its purpose.

Rollers (big stone wheels that could crush the player, and rolled from side to side) provided timing gates. They could be doubled or tripled up for more challenge.

Skunks traveled down the path tracking back and forth toward the player, requiring him to attack them or jump over them.

Fallen logs, tikis, and pits needed to be jumped over.

Stationary plants could strike at the player, requiring one to tease them into a strike, then jump on their heads.

Once we had these three level types going things really begun to get on a roll. For each level art design, like jungle, we would typically do 2-3 levels, the first with the introductory set of challenges, and then the later ones adding in a few new twists combined at much harder difficulty. For example in the sequel to the jungle level we added drop platforms and moving platforms. The elements combined with the characters mechanics to form the fun.

It’s also worth noting that we stumbled onto a few of our weirder (and most popular) level designs as variants of the over-the-shoulder. First “Boulders,” aping that moment from Raiders of the Lost Ark when the giant stone ball starts rolling toward Indy. For this we reversed the action and had the character run into the screen. This proved so successful that we riffed on it again in Crash 2 and 3. Same with “Hog Wild,” in which the character jumps on the bag of a wild “hog ride” and is dragged at high speed through a frenetic series of obstacles.

Jason says:

Making games is no game.  So many aspiring designers think that all you do is come up with a great idea and the sit around and play.  That may be true if you are aping something that exists, like making just another first person shooter (this time in ancient Sumeria and with Demon Aliens!), or making something small and easy to iterate, but it is certainly NOT true when you are trying something new in the AAA space.

And to make matters worse, the LAST person who can attest to a good game design is the game designer.  Not only do they know what to do when they test it, but they are also predisposed to like it.

Oh no, the proper test is to hand it to a complete noob, in Crash’s case the ever rotating list of secretaries and clerical staff that worked at Universal.   For many of them it was their first time touching a controller, and they succeeded immediately in failing, miserably, to get a single challenge passed.  As they smiled and tried to be positive they were saying “this sucks” with their hands.  Thus a good designer has to both dread and seeks out other people’s advice, especially those most likely to hate the work he has done.  And the designer has to accept the third party opinion over theirs.  Every time.  Only when the noobs start completing challenges and smile WHILE PLAYING do you know you are getting somewhere.

I don’t know why, but I have always had an innate ability to see the flaws in my own projects, even after they are “final” in everyone else’s eyes.   Naughty Dog graphic engine coder Greg Omi, who joined for Crash 2, once said I could spot a single pixel flicker on his monitor at 30 yards while holding a conversation with someone else and facing the opposite direction.  Whatever it is, I get a weird frustrated sweat when I see something wrong.  Mark Cerny has the same “talent.”

The two of us were always unhappy with the gameplay.  I don’t mean just the early gameplay, I mean always unhappy with the gameplay, period.  I know in retrospect that I was to hard on the team quite often because of this, and that perhaps more often than not I was too poignant when voicing my frustration (letting myself of easy here!), but I think a certain amount of frustration and pain is inherent in making gameplay success.

Stripping the game down to familiar 2D, and then building from there to levels that contained only platforms floating in space was the crutch we used to get to the jungle levels that made Crash such a success.  In the end, these levels aren’t that different in gameplay design.  But starting with the Jungle was too big a leap.  We needed simple.  Upon simple we built complex.

Andy has done a good job of compressing a year of design hell into a blog-sized chunk.  With all our technical and art successes, the game could not have succeeded without good gameplay.  This was by far the hardest part of making Crash Bandicoot.

Dave and Andy’s code, Justin’s IT and coloring, Charlotte Francis’s textures, And Bob, Taylor and my backgrounds and characters would have been worth nothing if Crash hadn’t played well.

Jason, Andy, Dave, Bob, Taylor, Justin, Charlotte



69 comments on “Making Crash Bandicoot – part 4

  1. mika says:

    amazing! CB games were a great step forward for games in general…it was complex, yet simple and fun!

    Thanks for hours and hours of fun I and my friends had with Crash Bandicoot

    I wonder what you guys could do with Crash with all the tools we have nowadays…

    • agavin says:

      For some reason platforming is a bit out of favor, but you could certainly make an unbelievably good looking and playing Crash on the PS3/360. But just because the tech is better doesn’t make it any easier to make a fun game! Ask the Naughty Dog’s working on UC3! (which will, I’m sure, be fantastic, but sounds like an insane amount of work)

      • Dion Gray says:

        I’m loving this blog. There’s some great insight on platforming game design and Crash Bandicoot’s development. I loved/love every thing about old school Crash Bandicoot and this has been a treat.

        BTW, your reply to this guys comment made me wonder what you think of the modern 3D mario games, such as Super Mario Galaxy 2(assuming you have played any)? Do you like that they stray away from open world platformer design? or do you much rather prefer the Mario 64 style of open world platforming?

      • agavin says:

        The last Mario I played was Mario Sunshine, so I can’t comment on the newer ones. My favorites are style Super Mario Bros (the SNES release one) and Yoshi’s Island. I guess I’m old school :-).

      • Andreas says:

        I must say I’m really looking forward to Uncharted 3. Naughty Dog seems to be revolutionary on every console they have been working with. Uncharted 1 was revolutionary for the PS3 at its time with its sharp graphics and third person shooting. I have the two Uncharted games that’s out now and am really looking forward to the third installment in the series. The animation in the trailer looks amazing.

        By the way, what do you think of any of the Crash games you didn’t participate in making yourself? (If you have played any that is).

      • agavin says:

        Somewhere in one of these comments I talked about the other (non NDI) Crash games.

      • Andy, I would just like to say that you and Jason and my two most favourite people of all time!
        Crash Bandicoot made such a great impact on my life and I love it so much, you made the world perfect with your brilliant creations. I don’t know what life would be without Crash Bandicoot. I don’t know what I’d be like. The world would be so dull. Crash Bandicoot is fun and funky, it’s colourful and always brings a smile to my face. Crash Bandicoot has improved everybody’s life. And we owe you and Jason the “thank-you.”

        -If somebody asked me who would I like to meet most in the world? It would be you and Jason.

        Forget Michael Jackson, forget Elvis. You two are the true Kings.

        I grew up with Crash all my life. You are the GREATEST!!!!!

        -Aaron White, England

      • Thank-You so much for replying! It means the world to me!

      • agavin says:

        My pleasure!

      • I was just wondering quick, I would love to be a Games designer, I’m at School now, can I ask:
        How can I get into this business?

        Many thanks, 😀

      • agavin says:

        I have written articles on this topic. For becoming a designer and separately for careers in programming.

      • Thank-you so much, I will stop bothering you now don’t want you to hate me 😛

        Thank-you for changing the world!

  2. […] February 5, 2011 at 7:12 am Making Crash Bandicoot – part 4 « All Things Andy Gavin […]

  3. Mike Joseph says:

    Not sure if you plan to discuss this in your series of blog articles or not, but I was wondering why the Stormy Ascent level (discovered in 2009 through hacking) got removed from the game? Many people say it was because it was too hard, though IMO it still could’ve been a third locked level (like Whole Hog and FITD).

    Also, is RikotheFoxKid’s theory right in that Jaws of Darkness was the level created to replace it?

    I also think I’ve seen someone’s theory that Castle Machinery was the level created to replace it (though I can’t find this anywhere).

    • agavin says:

      Stormy Ascent was just cut because it was too long and too hard and he ran out of time. I wish we had put it in as some kind of easter egg, as it was an awesome level, one of my favorite in the game. Long, a bit brutal, but it looked great, and had a real rhythm to it.

      So no other level “replaced” it, it was just a last minute trim. Because of the place it held in my heart, I still remember its “real” name, “levely” (every level had a similar bland name in the code, “level1,” “level8,” “levelb” etc. when we got to “levelz” I went on to “levelA” lol)

    • agavin says:

      A full video of “Stormy Ascent” can be found here

      I just re-watched for the first time in 15 years (ain’t the internet grand?) Awesome. This was my homage to the castle wall in Wizards and Warriors one of the most brutal and fun levels ever to grace platforming.

      • Mike Joseph says:

        Ah yes, this makes sense. It would’ve been a cool level to have in the game, but I guess there’s also something cool about having cut levels that are still in the game’s coding, in that 13 years after the game came out, there’s actually something new that someone finds! Kinda reminds me about a similar thing in CTR, where most of the cheat codes, like those for most of the characters, as well as infinite masks, etc. have been well known since the game came out, but oddly some like the code for Fake Crash, as well as infinite turbos and slippery roads weren’t discovered until 8 years later, and it made my day!

        Anyhow, it never really made much sense to me that those bonus icons were Cortex icons, as not one of them is even slightly hidden. I also presume had you decided to keep the level, you would’ve moved the final bonus round piece as that would’ve created a mid-air checkpoint upon finishing the round, which is a very weird thought.

      • agavin says:

        The whole cortex/brio/tawna icon thing was stupid. At the time Stony’s TRCs mandated that we support password saves, and they really did the game a diservice, it should have required a memory card like every other game we did after. There’s a reason why those are one of the only features NOT retained in Crash 2 and 3.

      • jasonrubin says:

        There was never anything sadder than dropping a level that close to complete. The work that went into making a level like that is incredible. To see it on the cutting room floor was always a tragedy.

      • Andreas says:

        It’s really a shame that others who don’t know how to hack themselves to play this level. The level had exclusive graphics and elements that the official release never had, like the “flipper” from the ruin levels like “Sunset Vista” having custom graphics for “Stormy Acsent”. Also triple pads spinning while moving back and forth was never in the official one and the maze of pads spinning at two points of the level. I also know that the second bird in the row of three birds moving up and down is bugged. Sometimes you’ll lose a life or an Aku Aku mask, at other times not. I would pick “Stormy Acsent” over “Slippery climb” any day.

      • Dave says:

        I remember working on Slippery Climb with Bob (Rafei) — in addition to the Wizards & Warriors / Castlevania homage, there was also a “clockwork” concept. The whole level was intricately timed so that everything lined up perfectly, and you could actually get through the whole thing without pausing if you had memorized it.

        Trivia: internally, we called the stairs “Scooby Stairs” after a similar trap in that cartoon from our youth.

  4. Branch says:

    Based on the drawings of the map, seems you already had plans for snow-,sewer, underwater(!) and cavern-levels. Could it mean there was too much work to do so you pushed some ideas for the sequels? 😉

    • agavin says:

      Oh course 🙂 That always happens in video games. We wanted to do everything. Even as it shipped, Crash 1 is a big game with lots of levels, and it was brutal to make. So in starting the levels on Crash 2 we naturally begun with the ideas that hadden made it into Crash 1.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Hi Andy. Thanks you for these articles. It’s always interesting to know all the problems game developers face when working on limited hardware and even more interesting how they solve them. You guys are geniuses (and artists)! I just have one question, Are you still working at Naughty Dog? Thanks in advance. Cheers from Peru.

    • agavin says:

      Thanks! No, Jason and I left Naughty Dog in October 2004. The company is now in the hands of the extremely talented Even Wells and Christophe Balestra (as well as the rest of the team) and they have proven themselves with Uncharted and Uncharted 2. The last of these has won more “Game of the Year” awards than any Crash ever did!

      So the traditions begun here in the Crash era have continued on and evolved so as to be going strong.

  6. […] PREVIOUS installment, or the FIRST POST. […]

  7. Dion Gray says:

    Thanks for the reply 🙂
    btw if you don’t mind me asking lol what did you think of Super Mario Sunshine? Also where might you have taken the Crash series if universal let you guys keep the IP?

    • agavin says:

      Tough questions. Sunshine I was a bit disappointed in. It felt sorta like Mario 64 with weird gimmicks, and I expected more. But then again Miyamoto-san had trained me to expect the world.

      If we had continued Crash, we would have at some point done a reboot — like the way Batman has been rebooted — It certainly needs it now. Hard to say. I’m personally convinced that the frantic style of reactionary gameplay that is the Crash hallmark (and other good platformers before it) is still relevant. It’s not like people have changed. Styles change, but what people actually like to do doesn’t.

  8. Andreas says:

    One more thing I want to ask on a freelance comment.

    I’ve noticed that the PAL version (Region restriction for Europe and Australia) of the Crash bandicoot games tends to be harder than the NTSC (American restricted) and NTSC-J versions(Similar to the NTSC version, but Japan restricted.

    I could see through the gameplay that several more Aku Aku crates are available in more convenient spots in the NTSC versions. I could also see an extra checkpoint on a spot I know contains a Tawna head token in the PAL version. This continues through the whole Crash bandicoot series on the PS1.

    My question as a European and owner of the PS1 Crash games in PAL is: Why did you change around on the crate contents in the different versions?

    • agavin says:

      We did 3-4 very specifically tuned versions. USA, Japan, Pal (Europe etc), and I think for Warped Korea.

      Each producer had various requests, and in Japan we made lots of changes. The big change for the Pal versions was just accommodating PAL itself. The 50 hz (instead of NTSCs 60) display resulted in needing to resample all the animation. The resolution is a little better, so the PAL version is sharper but a little more flickery. But also, it is just barely noticeable that the reaction time of 1/25 of a section is a little slower than the 1/30 of a second. Nothing we could really do about it unless we had been double the speed and able to hit 50 instead of 25. So that makes it just a little harder.

      But… The European producers asked us to make it a bit harder, insisting that the demanding European gamer “liked it hard.” So we pulled out a bunch of helpful crates at their request! I think we only did this for Crash 1.

      All of this by the way kept my life busy for 2-3 months after the game was “done,” while much of the rest of the team got to go on vacation. Oh, the life of the lead programmer…

      • Andreas says:

        Well, actually I noticed most of the changes in Crash 2 and 3. Mostly the placement of Aku Aku crates. What I can see in the PAL version is that the Relic time trial mode of the levels in PAL have the same crate types as the NTSC version in most cases. I wonder how this is for the Americans.

      • agavin says:

        I guess they kept asking for it. It’s hard to remember. I do recall programming in a special (in PAL, boxes can have an alternate content feature into the tool pipeline.

      • adam says:

        God ! that’s why I’ve never finished Crash 1 with 100% gem !!! You’re the devil !!!

  9. Andreas says:

    I’ve actually played the level you were supposed to remove from the game. Do you remember the “Stormy Acsent” level?

    Man was this one hard! I played it at first recently in 2010 by using some homebrewed Gameshark to unlock it through a hidden code in the game. I think it was a wise decision to remove it. The level was hard even without me going for the gem. I eventually got it though. =D

    The Tawna bonuses would crash my game if I activated them in that level, but I know very well why that is so.

    • Andreas says:

      One funny thing I forgot to mention. Did you know that on the back of Crash Bandicoot 1’s official cover there is a picture taken directly from this removed “Stormy Acsent” level of yours? XD

      I think it’s kinda funny. It’s not just me who’ve noticed.

    • agavin says:

      Too bad we didn’t have a bit more time to make it a little easier and shove it in. Or really we should have made it some kind of super gem level for an extra above 100% completion point.

      The marketing dept who does the covers just gets a pile of photos, probably months in advance, they never play the game (mostly) so they just shove what seems cool in there, often with horrible color correction so that it can look a lot worse on the box than in the game. That helps make the buyer extra happy that he didn’t purchase a game with blurry overly orange graphics.

      • Andreas says:

        That’s what you did in a way. If you complete the Stormy Acsent level on a 100% save you’ll pass the percent limit of the game I believe. I got the gem myself so I should know.

      • adam says:

        Today is the contrary : amazing picture and cinematic as shit everywhere, but horrible game in fact.

  10. […] Bandicoot – part 1Making Crash Bandicoot – part 2Making Crash Bandicoot – part 3Making Crash Bandicoot – part 4Making Crash Bandicoot – part 5Making Crash Bandicoot – part […]

  11. Thankyou for this post, I am a big fan of this site would like to go along updated.

  12. […] Bandicoot – part 1Making Crash Bandicoot – part 2Making Crash Bandicoot – part 3Making Crash Bandicoot – part 4Making Crash Bandicoot – part 5Making Crash Bandicoot – part […]

  13. lalo says:

    hey, listen, I love crash bandicoot, and I want to relive those moments when he played crash team racing, so why not re-create those games that many would like to play again, such as crash bandicoot 1, crash bandicoot 2, Crash Bandicoot Warped and Crash Team Racing, I swear that if those games again being sold to people to buy it. Think about it.

  14. adam says:

    F*** I just remembered that I din’t have the game when it came out, but only the demo with the 2nd level.

    God I played it so much I could have done it blind.

  15. Dakota Hedgepeth says:

    hey andy i got a question what is a enemies,objects size modifier?

  16. Dakota Hedgepeth says:

    im very sorry i’d ment to say what is it called when you change the enemies size?

  17. Dakota Hedgepeth says:

    that is very cool. i got another question when you were making the crash games how did you place the enemies, crates,and objects in the levels?

    • agavin says:

      Mostly for crash they were placed by the artists in PowerAnimator. They would add a node called something like _object_lab_ass and that would make a lab ass, or _object_crate for a crate. The tool would then assign these a persistant unique name like “crate_64_48” (where the numbers were the coordinates rounded to meters).

      Separately there was a text file where these objects could be modified. Something like:

      object crate_64_48 {
      object_size 1.5
      params 10,20
      crate_mode tnt

      All the linking and paramaterization was done in the file. Although it was possible to set this in PA and override it in the file. It was also possible to “create” objects in the file, but you’d have to find the 3D coords in the game which was irritating. There was an option to spit out Crash’s coords so you could walk him to a spot and do that.

      Enemies often had splines attached to them too. These were created in PA and hung under the object nodes. There was no way to add one in the text file, although you could remove one I think.

      You could also put lines in the text file to “delete” objects the artists had created. It was often easier to do this than to get them to find it in the PA level and remove it. The text file could be reprocessed in 3-5min, while the whole level often took several hours.

  18. Dakota Hedgepeth says:

    that’s awesome . i also got another question was there a lab assistant that had a machinegun in the level cortex power ?

  19. Dakota Hedgepeth says:

    that’s interesting i also have another question is there a lab assistant that jumps out of the chasem or was it a wire that hold him?

  20. wah says:

    Was Stormy Ascent left on the disc on purpose for someone to eventually find, or was that a mere oversight?

    • agavin says:

      Seemed fun to leave it there. Took a game shark or similar to get at it. I can’t remember if I had some cheat to do it in the game — might have.

      • wah says:

        Thanks for the quick response! I just discovered it a little while ago while showing Crash videos to my younger cousin. Just started playing through it–it’s really tough!

      • agavin says:

        You can thank Taylor Kurwasaki & I for that particular challenge 🙂 The hardest level that shipped, “The high road” is all Jason Rubin!

  21. […] posts on Crash: [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, […]

  22. […] Making Crash series: [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, […]

  23. […] version of the story, as posted by Andy Gavin: 1. The ideas 2. Characters 3. The technology 4. Crash gameplay 5. Crates and other items 6. Attending the E3, premiere of the game 7. As a startup 8. An […]

  24. Aku-Bubsa-Aku says:

    Can I ask you a very important question?

    In levels such as The Great Gate and Hog Wild – are the people holding the shields and wearing grass skirts men or women?

    I have wagers with several dozens of my friends riding on this.

    (Cross-post from – you have no idea how happy you’ve made me by answering 15 year long question)

  25. Bryce Anderston says:

    Recently, a couple of videos have surfaced on You Tube which are supposedly about the “Crash 1 prototype levels”: cavern level, cliff level, and waterfall level. Are these real? What are these? Is “Cavern Level” the legendary “level2”? Thank You, links below, and apologies if these videos have already been mentioned.

    • agavin says:

      I’ve covered this at some other points in the comments, but yeah the top one is “level2” and the bottom the “level1.” These were the first two levels we created for Crash, and they sucked — so we never shipped them, or even finished them. We scrapped them midway and went on to create three different levels in the Cortex Power plant that did make it into the game.

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