Crash Bandicoot – An Outsider’s Perspective (part 8)

This is part of a now lengthy series of posts on the making of Crash Bandicoot. Click here for the PREVIOUS or for the FIRST POST .

After Naughty Dog Jason and I joined forces with another game industry veteran, Jason Kay (collectively Jason R & K are known as “the Jasons”). He was at Activision at the time of the Crash launch and offers his outside perspective.

Although I would not meet Andy and Jason until after Crash 3 was released, the time around the launch of Crash Bandicoot was a fascinating time in the game business, and I believe that the launch of Crash, which was so far ahead of every other game of its generation in every aspect – technical achievement, production values, sound/music, design and balancing – caused everyone I knew in the business to rethink the games they were working on.

Warhawk: One of the best looking early PS1 games

It seems hard to imagine given the broad scope of games today — Console Games costing $50+ million, Social Games on Facebook with 100 Million monthly average users, gesture controlled games, $.99 games on iPhone – how troubled the industry was before the release of Crash, which heralded the rebirth of console games after a dormant period and ushered in the era of the mega-blockbuster game we know today. In the year that Crash Bandicoott released, only 74 Million games were sold across all platforms in the US – of which Crash accounted for nearly 5% of all games sold in the US. By 2010 – more than 200 Million games were sold, with the number one title, Call of Duty: Black Ops selling “only” 12 million copies in the US – about 6% of the total market. In some ways, adjusted for scale, Crash was as big then as Call of Duty is today.

Twisted Metal - Another of the better early PS1 games

After the incredible success of Super Mario World and Sonic the Hedgehog, the game business was really in the doldrums and it had a been a boatload of fail for the so-called “rebirth of the console”. Sega had released a series of “not-quite-next-gen” peripherals for the incumbent Sega Genesis system (including the 32x and the truly awful Sega CD), and made vague promises about “forward compatibility” with their still-secret 32 bit 3D Saturn console. When the Saturn finally shipped, it was referred to by many people as “Two lies in One”, since it was neither compatible with any previous Sega hardware, and nor was it capable of doing much E3. Sega further compounded their previous two mistakes by giving the console exclusively to then-dominant retailer Toys “R” US, pissing of the rest of the retail community and pretty much assuring that console, and eventually Sega’s, demise in the hardware business.

Wipeout - at the time it looked (and sounded) good

The PlayStation had shipped in Fall of 1995, but the initial onslaught of games all looked vaguely similar to Wipeout – since no one believed that it was possible to stream data directly from the PS1 CD-Drive, games were laboriously unpacking single levels into the PS1’s paltry 2 MB of ram (+ 1 meg vram and 0.5 meg sound ram), and then playing regular CD (“redbook”) audio back in a loop while the level played. So most games (including the games we had in development at Activision and were evaluating from third parties) all looked and played in a somewhat uninspiring fashion.

When Crash first released, I was a producer at then-upstart publisher Activision – now one of the incumbent powerhouses in the game business that everyone loves to hate – but at that time, Activision was a tiny company that had recently avoided imminent demise with the success of MechWarrior 2, which was enjoying some success as one of the first true-3D based simulations for the hardcore PC game market. To put in perspective how small Activision was at that time, full year revenues were $86.6 Million in 1996, versus over $4.45 Billion in 2010, a jump of nearly 50x.

MechWarrior 2: 31st Century Combat DOS Front Cover

Jeffrey Zwelling, a friend of a friend who had started in the game business around the same I did, worked at Crystal Dynamics as a producer on Gex. Jeffrey was the first person I knew to hear about Crash, and he tipped me off that something big was afoot right before E3 in 1996. Jeff was based in Silicon Valley, and a lot of the former Naughty Dogs (and also Mark Cerny) had formerly worked at Crystal, so his intel was excellent. He kept warning me ominously that “something big” was coming, and while he didn’t know exactly “what” it was, but it was being referred to by people who’d seen as a “Sonic Killer”, “Sony’s Mario”, and “the next mascot game”.

As soon as people got a glimpse of the game at E3 1996, the conspiracy mongering began and the volume on the Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt meter went to 11. In the pre-Internet absence of meaningful information stood a huge host of wild rumors and speculation. People “in the know” theorized that Naughty Dog had access to secret PlayStation specifications/registers/technical manuals that were only printed in Japanese and resided inside some sort of locked vault at Sony Computer Entertainment Japan. Numerous devs declared the Naughty Dog demo was “faked” in some way, running on a high-powered SGI Workstation hidden behind the curtain at Sony’s booth. That rumor seems in hindsight to have been a conflation of the fact that that the Nintendo 64 console, Code-Named “Project Reality” was in fact very similar to a Silicon Graphics Indigo Workstation and the Crash team was in fact writing and designing the game on Silicon Graphics workstations.

Tomb Raider - Crash contemporary, and great game. But the graphics...

Everyone in the business knew how “Sega had done what NintenDONT” and that they had trounced Nintendo with M-Rated games and better tiles in the 16 bit Era, and most of the bets were that Nintendo was going to come roaring back to the #1 spot with the N64. Fortunately for Nintendo, Sega’s hardware was underpowered and underwhelming and Nintendo’s N64 shipped a year later than the Playstation 1. With all the focus on many people’s attention on this looming battle, and the dismissive claims that what Naughty Dog was showing was “impossible”, most people underestimated both the PlayStation and Naughty Dog’s Crash Bandicoot.

Since no one that I knew had actually gotten a chance to play Crash at the show – the crowds were packed around the game – I fully expected that my unboxing of Crash 1 would be highly anti-climatic. I remember that Mitch Lasky (my then boss, later founder of Jamdat and now a partner at Benchmark) and I had made our regular lunch ritual of visiting Electronics Boutique [ ANDY NOTE: at Naughty Dog this was affectionately known as Electronic Buttock ] (now GameStop) at the Westside Pavilion and picked up a copy of the game. We took the game back to our PS1 in the 7th Floor Conference Room at Activision, pressed start, and the rest was history. As the camera focused on Crash’s shoes, panned up as he warped in, I literally just about sh*t a brick. Most of the programmers we had talked to who were pitching games to us claimed that it was “impossible” to get more than 300-600 polygons on screen and maintain even a decent framerate. Most of the games of that era, a la Quake, had used a highly compressed color palette (primarily brown/gray in the case of Quake) to keep the total texture memory low. It seemed like every game was going to have blocky, ugly characters and a lot of muted colors, and most of the games released on the PS1 would in fact meet those criteria.

Mario 64 - Bright, pretty, 3D, not so detailed, but the only real contender -- but on a different machine

Yet in front of us, Andy and Jason and the rest of the Crash team showed us that when you eliminate the impossible, only the improbable remains. Right before my eyes was a beautiful, colorful world with what seemed like thousands of polys (Andy later told that Crash 1 did in fact have over 1800 polygons per frame, and Crash 2 cracked 3,100 polys per frame – a far cry from what we had been told was “a faked demo” by numerous other PS1 development teams). The music was playful, curious and fun. The sound effects were luscious and the overall game experience felt, for the first time ever, like being a character in a classic Warner Brothers cartoon. Although I didn’t understand how the Dynamic Difficulty Adjustment (discussed in part 6) actually worked, I was truly amazed that it was the first game everyone I knew who played games loved to play. There was none of the frustration of being stuck on one spot for days, no simply turning the game off never to play it again – everyone who played it seemed to play it from start to finish.

For us, it meant that we immediately raised our standards on things we were looking at. Games that had seemed really well done as prototypes a few weeks before now seemed ungainly, ugly, and crude. Crash made everyone in the game business “up their game.” And game players of the world were better off for it.

 

These posts continue with PART 9 HERE. You also never know when we might add more, so subscribe to the blog (on the right), or follow us at:

Andy:  or blog

Jason:  or blog

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Detailed and Colorful - but most important fun

Certainly varied

Sorry for the lousy screen shots!

26 comments on “Crash Bandicoot – An Outsider’s Perspective (part 8)

  1. […] February 16, 2011 at 7:26 am Crash Bandicoot – An Outsider’s Perspective (part 8) « All Things Andy Gavin […]

  2. […] February 16, 2011 at 7:26 am Crash Bandicoot – An Outsider’s Perspective (part 8) « All Things Andy Gavin […]

  3. SCE DevNet says:

    why not have used your gameplay screens? 😉

  4. aimee says:

    Have you guys seen what Activision has done with Spyro he looks awful he’s changed completely, I hope they dont change crash.

  5. Another excellent read. Maybe next time you could get Cerny to voice his experiences? It’s kind of crazy to think that Crash was as big as CoD is today.

    Also, is there a story behind the ‘Electronic Buttock’, or is it you just didn’t/don’t like them?

    • agavin says:

      Oh no. Just the affectionate naming by a bunch of 24 year-olds. Electronic Buttocks, Sphincter Etc, and Cabbages were the 3 main software vendors 🙂

  6. Edgar says:

    It’s interesting hearing this all from an outside of the development team (at the time) but still very much in the industry. Crash Bandicoot was a huge part of my childhood and I remember being drawn to it for the very gameplay and visuals it boasted. Twisted Metal, Tomb Raider and Wipeout were fun, yes, but Crash always had me coming back for me. Replayability.

    Thanks for sharing this awesome 8 part Crash Bandicoot blog! It’s insightful and fascinating into the creation process behind the bandicoot and the game. It’s also given me some good material for the Crash Bandicoot Retrospective that I’ve been spending time on (I posted the first part in January, before this blog, but the facts are all still there).

    Was the process easier when it came to Crash Bandicoot 2, or was it equally as difficult?

  7. Tristin says:

    I think thats what i liked most about Crash Bandicoot, its details were remarkable, i mean if you look at the screen shots in mario, the polygonals, almost all,looked like they were simply colored on, but in crash, the polygonals on alot of things, were highly detailed with textures and all that jazz.

    I really must thank you guys for posting this stuff about your experiences and stuff, that went on, it looks life you all had an awsome time, and with the gifted abilities you all got, more power to ya!!

    ~Tristin

  8. jay says:

    Can you please get mark cerny to do one on his experience with Crash and Universal, that would be amazing.
    And Are you also doing Crash 2 and 3, this would be very interesting

  9. jay says:

    what do you think of Spyro’s reboot?

  10. braian says:

    dang if only crash was still with you guys it would be just as good as uncharted those people who own crash ruin’d him.

  11. The Swede says:

    Thanks for a great blog, I’ve been reading all parts the last days and I’ve really been enjoying it! I hope you’ll make some more, perhaps even about Crash 2?

    I know you’ve lost the rights and everything by reading the comments, so there won’t be another real Naughty Dog Crash game, but why exactly? Was it that Jak and Daxter seemed like the smarter route, so you sold Crash and used the money to spend it on the other series?

  12. Brittany says:

    This has been a really interesting read. Crash Bandicoot was a big part of my childhood. It saddens me to see how much it has changed while not in the hands of Naughty Dog, it doesn’t feel the same any longer. Crash Bandicoot had originality and was unique. Activision have brought it downhill along with Spyro. There is hope that can change though I suppose? I’ll go listen to old Crash Bandicoot music now.

  13. Jonathan Vigurs says:

    Its been amazing reading through all of this and has really inspired me! I’m an aspiring game designer and I’ve always longed to have a company of my own.

    Crash was a game that really inspired me while you guys were at the helm, shame about today.

    Whats your opinion on the direction Crash has been taken in the games since Naughty Dog worked on it?

    I’ve been working on a little fan game for a few months now and would love an opinion on it.

  14. Matteo Mazzarini says:

    Mr Gavin,
    I’d like to ask You what You personally think about the Crash Bandicoot games published after Eurocom’s “Crash Bash”.
    I mean…if You had to give a mark to the following titles, what would You give them? (Between brackets there is the score I’d give to the games)

    -Crash Bandicoot: The Wrath of Cortex (PS2 version – 4.75 out of 10)
    -Crash Bandicoot: The Huge Adventure (8.50 out of 10)
    -Crash Bandicoot 2: N-Tranced (6.50 out of 10)
    -Crash Nitro Kart (PS2 version – 7.00 out of 10)
    -Crash Bandicoot Fusion (without score; I just played it only one day)
    -Crash Twinsanity (7.55 out of 10)
    -Crash Tag Team Racing (PS2 version – 8.25 out of 10)
    -Crash Boom Bang (Never played, fortunately :D)
    -Crash of the Titans (PS2 version – 7.50 out of 10)
    -Crash Mind over Mutant (PS2 version – 6.00 out of 10)

    What emerges from this scores that I personally gave to the games, is that I consider The Wrath of Cortex the worst of all chapters in Crash’s series; on the contrary, Twinsanity was yes a good game, but I expected more and more from it, so it represents a kind of half-delusion for me.
    Tag Team Racing is the best for PS2, in my opinion, considering that, despite the bad graphics, it was able to give me a sense of fun that Twinsanity didn’t give to me. But things have become again annoying, considering that I cannot stand the last chapters and their idea of controlling titans to give Crash a possible success.
    If ever Crash has to come back to its glorious past, what developers should do is to give back the Old Crash.
    Of course, I am not a journalist, just a Crash Bandicoot fan. If I gave these scores to the games, it was just to quantify the idea of appreciation I have of them…consider that I would give the following scores to Crash 1 – 2 – 3 and CTR:
    Crash Bandicoot 1 (9.00 out of 10)
    Crash Bandicoot 2: Cortex Strikes Back (9.25 out of 10)
    Crash Bandicoot 3: Warped (10 out of 10)
    CTR (10 out of 10)
    Crash Bash (8.50 out of 10)

    What do You personally think? Do You agree with my considerations about after-ND Crash Bandicoot games?
    Hope to hear from You,
    Matteo Mazzarini

  15. […] is part of a now lengthy series of posts on the making of Crash Bandicoot. Click here for the PREVIOUS or for the FIRST POST […]

  16. isaak merritt says:

    man the memories those pics bring back even when iam 14 i still play crash team racing and crash bash on my ps2 the sonic cd wasent that bad:)

  17. Testy says:

    Awesome blog posts, thanks so much for writing them guys!

    Would love to see another series about the making of Crash 2 and hear how you guys managed to go from 1800 to 3100 polys per frame.

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

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

  20. […] 5. Crates and other items 6. Attending the E3, premiere of the game 7. As a startup 8. An outsider’s perspective 9. The programming 10. Tools for the game 11. Teaching an old dog, new bits 12. A practical example […]

  21. Me fascina sobradamente tu modo de redactar. Este blog de manera directa a preferidos!
    Felicidades por el site!

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