Way of the Warrior – The Lost Interview

A Twitter friend of mine dug up this ancient and forgotten interview that I gave from my Cambridge Mass apartment in 1994, during the development of our 3DO fighting game, Way of the Warrior. The original post can be found here, but he gave me permission to repost the whole thing here. It’s certainly one of my older interviews on record. I did a number in the 80s but those are pre-web and certainly long lost (unless I comb through my parent’s basement for old copies of EGM and the like!).


Back in May I had a chance to interview Andy Gavin, one half of the team that makes up Naughty Dog Software. The other half consist of Jason Rubin who’s a graphic arts specialist. These guys are based in Cambridge, MA., where I happen to be from, and have created what may be the best fighting game for the 300. I played Way of the Warrior and it definitely blows the first Mortal Kombat away easily. The game is similar to Mortal Kombat in many ways. The digitized characters, fatalities, combos, blood galore, hidden characters, and special attacks are all here. What Way of the Warrior does is take if a step further with an amazing AI(Artificial Intelligence), characters that shrink and grow, over 50 attack moves for each character, 100% 3D scrolling, hidden weapons, interactive backgrounds, bonus items, and so much more. Let’s have a talk with Andy and see what he has to say about Way of the Warrior.

VGT: When did you first start programming video games?
Andy: About 1 0-12 years ago, the first game we made was Ski Crazed on the Apple II, which came out in 1986. It sold a couple thousand copies. Dream Zone was our next game that sold about 15000 copies. Keef the Thief, from Electronic Arts, did much better and sold about 50,000 copies on various machines. We then did Rings of Power, which was our only Genesis cartridge. It’s was very complex and sophisticated and took about 2 1/2 years to produce.
VGT: When was Naughty Dog founded?
Andy: Well , Naughty consists of mainly Jason Rubin and myself . Naughty got its names from a cartoon character that Jason drew. (Andy showed me a picture of an old Naughty Dog logo). Their new logo is on their flyers. The character was created about 8 years ago.
VGT: Is there any downside when programming on the 300 with their CO’s? Does access time and RAM space affect your games?
Andy: Well, first of all the 3DO has 3 megabytes, not mega bits of RAM, which is bigger then the largest SNES cartridge. The CD itself is 660 megabytes . There are technical issues that need to be addressed when programming on the 3DO. One has to use clever designs to reduce and eliminate load times. In Way of the Warrior the entire program was designed in what we call, Asynchronous. The loading is done while you play, by anticipating what needs to be loaded’ in advance with a hardware process called DMA (Direct Memory Access) . There ‘s a short pause going into a fight, but once the action has begun, there is no pause. Players can perform all their moves, with fatalities, 3D scrolling and the stereo music blaring, but with no load time.
VGT: So even though we’re playing continuously, there’s no slow down what’s so ever.
Andy: Yes, the 3DO is capable of loading stuff without any slow down. However, many previous CD games, including the 3DO, have had notable slow delays.

VGT: Like the Sega CD for instance?
Andy: Yes, this is due to sloppy, programming and not being aware of how to program on CD’s. It’s a difficult issue when writing programs that can actually play and load at the same time. It’s a technical challenge. With good program design the load time can be minimized. In turn, the quality of the sound effect, music, FMV, and game play surpass any cartridge game. Cartridge games only have a limited amount of memory in which you can program. CD’s only cost a dollar to manufacture, while cartridges can cost anywhere from 20-30 dollars. CD’s have enormously superior cost to storage ratio.
VGT: Can the access time for the Sega CD be reduced with technical design programming?
Andy: They can definitely reduce the access time. I don’t know that much about the Sega CD though. I don’t think their DMA is better than the 3DO. The 3DO has 4-5 times more memory. It also has a CD drive that’s twice as fast. It has decompression hardware that effectively doubles the speed. It has a unique and extremely powerful custom DMA architecture that can move graphics from disk to memory to screen and back without effecting game play.
VGT: What makes Way of the Warrior different from all the other fighting games?
Andy: As I mentioned before, I have an Artificial Intelligence Graduate degree from MIT. The computer players in WOTW are much more sophisticated then in other fighting games. Whereas they often resorted to patterns to beat the human players, there are no patterns programmed in for WOTW. It uses research grade AI that learns the best way to beat you. It’s extremely cunning and different and actually looks like a real player fighting by adapting to the situation and using all it’s moves.
VGT: Is it always learning consistently more and more each time you play it?
Andy: Yes.
VGT: What about the characters? What makes them so special.
Andy: The characters have around 50 normal moves and about 15-20 special moves. These moves reflect their styles and personalities. There are many secrets that use the background area and hidden characters can also be found.
VGT: So is each character equal in sense or are some stronger then others?
Andy: All the normal human characters are designed to be equal even though they’re different.
VGT: Well, I remember the first Street Fighter II game had very uneven characters. Some had a major advantage over others.
Andy: It’s tough to get the characters exactly even. We tried to get them as close as possible. People also developed different strategies for beaten the other characters. There are a lot of unique techniques and abilities for each character. Like Konotori, which means “stork” in Japanese, can flap and stay in the air longer. Major Gaines has special steroids’ implants that can change his size and therefore the amount of damage he receives become minimal. Nikki Chan is a Chinese Kung Fu artist who can do flips with special moves. She’s very fast and agile. Crimson Glory has close in grabs and special multi-missles that can be fired. Some character has special weapons. Nabu Naga has a sword and throwing stars. Shaky Jake has a staff.
VGT: There seems to be a little bit of everything from all the other fighting games in this game.
Andy: The other fighting games are very narrow. Most of them are to much alike. What we tried to do was take everything good from all the other fighting games and combine them all into WOTW. We’ve added unique features with better graphics, sounds, 3D backgrounds, special magic and potions, panning and zooming, background interaction, and larger more detailed characters.

VGT: Was the process of digitizing the characters the same as Mortal Kombat.
Andy: There are similarities. We’ve never seen them actually doing it. We have seen photos in magazines. They are actually a little more regimented then ours. Their fighting engine is much less sophisticated then WOFW. It requires that every characters moves line up to the exact same position. When each character does a high punch in Mortal Kombat, they high punch at the exact same point. So when they digitize their characters they have to line up perfectly. In WOTW, every character has its own information so not all characters need to have a high punch. Some of the characters punch high, some low, while others are tall, short, big and small. There’s no requirement that the character be the same size. We built the character the same way the actor would appear, rather then force them to convert to our pre-requirements.
VGT: With the 300 having such a small user base at this point, do you think it can increase sales and become successful?
Andy: We think it has a good chance. All game systems start off with a small user base. People forget the Genesis came out in August of 1989 and 2 years later when the Super Nintendo was released it only had 700,000 machines out there and only 23 games after the first year. 300 already has more then that. The 300 is the first of the 32/64bit machines and the difference is academic. Sony, Sega, and Nintendo have all announce 32/64bit systems that won’t be available until 1995. The 300 will be the only significant 32bit machine when Christmas comes. It will have a year of development by then and the price will probably drop some more. So I think it’s in good shape. We hope WOTW with help sell systems.
VGT: Are there any other projects being worked on for the 300?
Andy: We have 2 other projects we’re working on, but we can’t comment on them at this point.
VGT: Do you think that CD’s are the way to go for our future programmers?
Andy: I think this year is the year of the CD’s. It already has the PC market. It offers so many advantages in cost and amount of storage . The access time disadvantage can be overcome with well-designed machines and good programming techniques.

VGT: Are there any other types of games that Naughty Dog will be working on besides fighting?Andy: We signed a deal to put WOTW in the arcades.
VGT: If WOTW does come to the arcade, will it be different then the 3DO version.
Andy: It would be a bit different. The basis of it would be the same. There are different constraints for the arcade version. The 3DO is capable of producing arcade quality games.
VGT: What’s the most outstanding achievement you’ve seen in video games today? What games really blow your mind?
Andy: I have favorites over the years. I tried Ridge Racer which was very impressive looking, but had mediocre game play. In the PC world, “DOOM!” was very good looking. It shows us that 3D games are here and can be produced very well, even on PC’s.
VGT: Well, that’s about it for the questions. Thank you very much for taking the time to be interviewed by VGT. We all hope that Way of the Warrior is very successful and we look forward to reviewing it and any other games that are produced by Naughty Dog.
Andy: Your welcome. Thank you for choosing Naughty Dog as your first interview. We look forward to reading VGT when it’s released.

This is back to 2011 Andy. It’s so worth watching the totally hilarious video from our 1994 masterpiece (LOL). As you can see, we went for over the top.

For more info on my video game career, click here.

For what I’m up to now, click here.

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



Making Crash Bandicoot – part 1

Crash Bandicoot cover

In the summer of 1994 Naughty Dog, Inc. was still a two-man company, myself and my longtime partner Jason Rubin. Over the preceding eight years, we had published six games as a lean and mean duo, but the time had come to expand.

In 1993 and 1994 we invested our own money to develop the 3D0 fighting game, Way of the Warrior. In the summer of 1994 we finished it and sold the rights to Universal Studios. At the same time we agreed to a “housekeeping” deal with Universal, which meant moving to LA, and for me bailing out on my M.I.T. PhD halfway. It certainly didn’t turn out to be a bad decision.

Jason and I had been debating our next game for months, but the three-day drive from Boston to LA provided ample opportunity. Having studied arcade games intensely (yeah, in 1994 they were still relevant) we couldn’t help but notice that 2 or 3 of the leading genres had really begun making the transition into full 3D rendering.

Racing had, with Ridge Racer and Virtua Racing. Fighting, with Virtua Fighter. And gun games, with Virtua Cop. Racing was clearly 100% the better in 3D, and while Virtua Fighter wasn’t as playable as Street Fighter, the writing was on the wall.

Sensing opportunity, we turned to our own favorite genre, the character platform action game (CAG for short). In the 80s and early 90s the best sellers on home systems were dominated by CAGs and their cousins (like “walk to the right and punch” or “walk to the right and shoot”). Top examples were Mario, Sonic, and our personal recent favorite, Donkey Kong Country.

So on the second day of the drive, passing Chicago and traveling through America’s long flat heartland, fed on McDonalds, and accompanied by a gassy Labrador/Ridgeback mix (also fed on McDonalds), the idea came to us.

We called it the “Sonic’s Ass” game. And it was born from the question: what would a 3D CAG be like? Well, we thought, you’d spend a lot of time looking at “Sonic’s Ass.” Aside from the difficulties of identifying with a character only viewed in posterior, it seemed cool. But we worried about the camera, dizziness, and the player’s ability to judge depth – more on that later.

Jason, Andy & Morgan on arriving at Universal

Before leaving Boston we’d hired our first employee (who didn’t start full time until January 1995), a brilliant programmer and M.I.T. buddy of mine named Dave Baggett. We were also excited to work closely with Universal VP Mark Cerny, who had made the original Marble Madness and Sonic 2. In California, in 1994, this foursome of me, Jason, Dave, and Mark were the main creative contributors to the game that would become Crash Bandicoot.

We all agreed that the “Sonic’s Ass,” game was an awesome idea. As far as we knew, no one had even begun work on bringing the best-selling-but-notoriously-difficult CAG to 3D. Shigeru Miyamoto, the creator of Mario, was said to be working on Yoshi’s Island, his massive ode to 2D action.

But an important initial question was “which system?”

The 3D0 was DOA, but we also got our hands on specs for the upcoming Sega Saturn, the Sega 32X, and the mysterious Sony Playstation. The decision really didn’t take very long.  3D0, poor 3D power, and no sales. 32X, unholy Frankenstein’s monster – and no sales. Saturn, also a crazy hybrid design, and really clunky dev units. Then there was the Sony. Their track record in video games was null, but it was a sexy company and a sexy machine – by far the best of the lot. I won’t even bring up the Jaguar.

So we signed the mega-harsh Sony “developer agreement” (pretty much the only non-publisher to ever do so) and forked out like $35,000 for a dev unit.  Gulp.  But the real thing that cinched the deal in Sony’s favor though wasn’t the machine, but…

Before we continue to part 2 below, my parter and friend Jason Rubin offers the following thoughts on this section:

Andy and I always liked trying to find opportunities that others had missed.  Fill holes in a sense.  We had done Way of the Warrior in large part because the most popular games of the time were fighting games and the new 3DO system didn’t have a fighting game on it.  Our decision to do a character action game on the PlayStation was not only based on bringing the most popular genre on consoles into the 3D, but also because Sega already had Sonic and Nintendo already had Mario.  Instead of running headlong into either of these creative geniuses backyard, we decided to take our ball to a field with no competition.

Filling a hole had worked to an extent with Way of the Warrior.  The press immediately used Way as a yardstick to make a comparison point against other systems and their fighting games.  This gave it a presence that the game itself might never have had.  And as a result, ardent fans of the system would leap to defend the title even when perfectly fair points were made against it.  The diagonal moves were hard to pull off because the joypad on the 3DO sucked?  No problem, said the fans, Way of the Warrior plays fantastically if you just loosen the screws on the back of the joypad.

Why couldn’t the same effect work with a character action game on PlayStation?

And remember, at the time these games were the top of the pile.  It is hard to look at the video game shelves today and think that only 15 years ago childish characters dominated it.  There were first person shooters on the PC, of course, but sales of even the biggest of them couldn’t compare to Mario and Sonic.  Even second tier character games often outsold big “adult” games.

It’s also easy to forget how many possible alternatives there were along the way.  Most of Nebraska was filled with talk of a game called “Alosaurus and Dinestein” which was to be back to the future like plot with dinosaurs in a 2d side scrolling character action game.  I still like the name.

The “Sonic’s ass” nomenclature was more than a casual reference to the blue mascot turned 90 degrees into the screen.  It defined the key problem in moving a 2d game into the third dimension:  You would always be looking at the characters ass.  This might play well (it had never been tried) but it certainly would not be the best way to present a character.

Our solution, which evolved over the next 2 years, was multi-fold.  First, the character would start the game facing the screen (more on this later).  Second there would be 2d levels that guaranteed quality of gameplay and a chance to see the character in a familiar pose allowing comparison against old 2d games.  And third, we would attempt the reverse of a Sonic ass level – the run INTO the screen – which became the legendary boulder levels. [ NOTE from Andy, more on that in part 4 ]

It may have been this very Sonic’s ass problem that caused Naka-san to “cop out” of making a true 3D game called Nights for Saturn.  I also believe, but have no proof, that he felt so unsure of the move to 3D that Sega didn’t want to risk Sonic on that first experimental title.  Instead they created a new character.  This lost Sega the goodwill that Sonic would have brought to the three way game comparison that eventually ensued.  That ended up working to our favor.

Of course Miyamoto-san did not have this problem.  He created a truly new type of character action game with Mario 64.  The controls and open world allowed you to see the character from all sides.  Eventually this proved to be the future of 3d Character games.  But at the time it had disadvantages.  More on that later.

The concept of making a mascot game for the PlayStation was easy.  The odds of succeeding were next to nil.  Remember, we were two 24 year olds whose biggest title to date had not reached 100,000 units sold!  But if there was something we never lacked it was confidence.

NEXT PART [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11] PART 11 is brand new 08/13/11.

The index of all Crash posts is here.

And peek at my novel in progress: The Darkening Dream


The Crash Bandicoot in-game model. His only texture was the spots on his back, but every vertex was lovingly placed by Jason