Please note: That this whole thing was NOT written by me. It was written by a friend of mine on a different forum. Thank you!
This article is copied word-by-word from the May 2007 issue of PLAY Magazine, which can be bought for $5.99 (U.S.) and $7.99 (CAN).
I now present to you all, the article!
Warning: it's a huge article!
It's jackin' time...
Words by Brady Fiechter.
Crash Bandicoot stars in his own fighting game? Well, not quite, but in Crash of the Titans, the dominant platforming you've come to expect from a Crash adventure is being crafted more to break up the pace and inject some added flavor into the heavy stretches of combat. You'll be swinging on ropes, bouncing of objects and climbing through the 20 different areas all proper platform-like, but the thrust of the game generates from hand-to-hand battles with the copious denizens of Crash's island.
"We have some big Street Fighter fans here," says lead designer Joe McGinn. The brawls aren't necessarily being designed to tax you like that classic one-on-one fighting game, but the inspiration is definitly there. "You know how Street Fighter has that sort of rock, paper, scissors mentality? Every creature here builds off that. Every creature has a light attack, a heavy attack, and a defensive move. Break through the block, throw a light to interrupt a heavy... that sort of thing."
Crash essentially dips into the same move set he'll face from the enemy. "Anything they can do to you, you can do to them," says McGinn. And with the game's central hook, once you wear an enemy down, you can take control of them, pounding out your move set with the same method as before, only now you you've got a different set of feet and hands doling out the punishment. "Creatures go up in status and size, up to boss titans. It takes some work to get on them, then you get a reward to kick some butt on the monster."
Every enemy has a special attack, and with the Wii version of crash of the titans, these attacks get integrated into the motion control of the remote. With one ape-like behemoth, you pound your chest to command the creature to wail on the opposition. "We call them second-generation gestures, you take control of the enemies' arms... we really love the Wii. It's doing everything we wanted it to."
While Crash begins with a basic set of moves, he'll receive a number of upgrades at the end of every level, boosted by the number of mojo you collect. Cleaning out the level yields a wide assortment of rewards. "We're inspired by the Xbox 360 achievement system, so we're implementing an achievement-like system on all skews," says McGinn. "We want to give a lot of incentive to go back and replay levels. You can even acquire the skins from the enemies, wearing them to go back and open up more areas. You'll actually get extra benefits for the level, with that skin you can get a one-time jack, or you can break objects you normally couldn't. You can run back through levels and access a few more rooms to maybe get the collectable you couldn't get the first time. There's really a lot to do if you want to dig in."
Talkin Crash with Radical Ent.
What is the essence of the newest Crash?
McGinn: It's that irreverent humor. We're trying to restore that. I think it's been a little bit lost, his humor style has evolved away from where it started, being able to break the 4th wall, wink at the camera...
Yousuf, art director: And to me, he doesn't over-analyze things. He just acts based on how he feels. He's kind of like a dog, like a puppy. He might be mad one second, and then all of the sudden he's totally happy and forgets. Crash won't plot, he just goes with the situation.
McGinn: Even when you look at his body animations, he's just throwing his body into it. No thought of consequences, his arms are swinging wildly. It just looks right for Crash.
Mapara: Another way of thinking about it, some characters, like Ninjas and that sort of stuff, they're really agile and they do cool stuff, it's fun to play. We thought about how we could get that kind of agility into Crash. But if you think about, like a monkey, they don't think about making cool poses, but they're just as agile as a Ninja. They're trying to get from point A to point B, and they're doing all this crazy stuff on the way. With Crash, all his fighting and movement, he just throws himself into it, tumble around and whatnot, but he's not so precise.
You mentioned that you couldn't, say, get away from the spin move completely, because it wouldn't be a Crash game. Whenever you take a licence like this, how do you make a decision... you still have to make it feel like Crash, so how far do you go in the other direction? How far can you go into your own territory of design?
McGinn: That's a good question, that's something everyone has debated. It comes down to how much value we're adding by doing something better more than making a drastic change. If we can make something significantly better, then we'll do it. Like the currency system. The reason we invented mojo is because, well, jumping into crates and having apples come out of them is ok. It's good for it's time. People liked it, it's a signature Crash thing. But It's not as much fun as currency that comes out and bounces on the floor and you can collect it. That's really satisfying, like in Ratchet & Clank or a Mario, or whatever platformer has that. There's so much to be gained by that simple gameplay by changing the currency system of the game. So there's one little area we make the call.
Mapara: I think too, there's that essence to something, and there's just the details. You have to make the decision, is this change messing with the essence of it, or is it maybe just a detail that was there to suit the technology of the PSOne?
McGinn: If it's good, then it's valuable. If it's good and players like it, don't change it just for the sake of change. Here it's about keeping that character, keeping his sense of humor. We're actually trying to restore that sense of humor more to what it originally was. He was kind of irreverent. You look at the old commercials where he made fun of Mario in that Crash suit. That's one thing people liked about Crash.
Mapara: He's not gone dark or anything. That's something we tried to avoid. The last thing you want to see is a character who's appealing because he's different, he's quirky, all the sudden he becomes all slick, carrying a gun. In this game, we wanted to give players a sense of power, and cool fighting and stuff, but still have that fun, quirky character. No matter how tough the monsters are, no matter how fierce and powerful their powers, Crash is always on top, having a good time.
There's a lot of dialogue, huh?
McGinn: Our full time writer likes to refer to "gags per square meter." Putting in all sorts of little gags. We're going to push the standards of variety in dialogue in games like this. He was also the main writer on Hit & Run, he wrote a lot of the one liners and gags. There's something like, 7, 8 thousand lines of dialogue in the game overall. For this kind of game, that's huge. When you're fighting, you're constantly hearing new stuff. When you use a big power, they'll get scared and run away and say something. Kind of like the little guys in Halo, it adds a lot of spice to the fights that way.
So there certainly a change and direction for the series.
McGinn: It's about 70/30 in favor of combat. That was sort of where the hook came from in the first place. We wanted to make a more interesting game with even more fun and depth, there's only so much you can do with the platforming. So the platforming here is more of the break and the rest between the combat areas. We want the combat arenas to be the destination, to have a good pacing, and you have fun getting there.
[McGinn asks Mapara to talk a bit how they're approaching the art in the game.]
Mapara: We went kind of with a completely different art style than what Crash usually has. One of the things that really bothers me is when you can see in the game the limits of the technology. When you see blown out pixels that are trying to do too much. So we made a priority of, what techniques are blowing out the technology, are exposing those weaknesses. And we just stayed away from those. We built our art style around just... I guess pixels is one of the biggest things, a lot of games try to show too much detail. But you have such low resolution image maps that you can't do that. If you look at a lot of paintings, say an oil painting, when you paint, you don't draw every little detail. You know that crazy painter guy on TV with the big beard, Bob Ross... he just makes a bunch of splotches and he makes a whole forest. It's just a bunch of splotches, but it tricks your brain that it's a forest. We wanted to apply that same thinking, because in computer art, people are so fixated on making every single leaf, and every single detail, but with the technology, you just can't do that because of the low resolution images. So we took advantage of suggesting the detail and tricking you brain that it's a whole jungle. We used more broad-stroke colors and stuff. We looked at a lot of traditional art, even Disney they do that a lot in the backgrounds. It actually was a big challenge too, because we had no idea how to do that in 3D. So the first two months, it was like, don't worry about the game, just let the artists focus on building little sets and stuff where we can decide if this is even possible. The other bottle neck was that not every texture artist could really paint like that. We had to specialize. In previous games, an artist might do a whole level. We sort of specialize, so the guys who could make those beautiful paintings, they're the only ones texturing, they're the ones touching those things. The result is we really pulled off that style we wanted. Two and a half months in, finally those art samples started clicking. It really freed up a lot of polygons and texture for the foreground, so we could make everything really high res.
McGinn: That experimentation part, figuring out how to make things in 3D was so critical. You look around at the concept art, people comment on how pretty it is. Well, that's great, you need talented people. But the hard part is taking that beautiful concept art and realizing it on technology.
Mapara: Something we're doing... even Zelda, if you look at that, it's so beautiful but... we're really watching our pixel scale. Sometimes you might have a 512 map on a character, so there's a lot of resolution for a small amount of screen space. Then the ground might be a 256 texture, and you see all these blown-out textures. We're trying to keep our pixel scale really similar, so you don't have something really sharp or something that's really blurry, that sort of stuff. It's okay if things get blurry farther away, because that's how our eyes work. But it doesn't make sense if something in the foreground is really blurry, something in the midground is sharp, something in the background is blurry. Because we're using traditional art as our basis, it holds up really strong. When you rely on the gimmicks of the technology, then it gets really outdated fast and doesn't hold up to the next bit of technology. Good color theory will switch over from one game to another.
McGinn: We work in two week sprints, and the team reviews everything we've done together. There's an instance where we put the concept art up on one monitor and have the actual game running up on another monitor, and people on our team who had been involved in the process didn't realize it was the game. They thought it was all concept art. Then when the camera started moving, they were like, "Whoa! That's unbelievable."
You seem to be working a little more freedom into the Crash universe.
McGinn: It's really reflected by our work philosophy. I treat my designers like that as well. These guys are serious gamers, really good designers. I let them have a lot of responsibility. Our fighting guy, it feels like his baby in some ways. He's just so passionate, he's here till 10 every night making these little tweaks, trying to get the rock-paper-scissors thing working for all our creatures. This hook came out of the idea we had in the last Crash, the racing game where the cars could merge; this idea that the enemy could be your friend. And we wanted to do a true action adventure game this time. This one guy on the team is a big Smash Brothers fan, so he was like, what if the characters could jump on each other? What would they do with each other's powers? And form that we just sort of moved on to where we are now.
How did you want to treat the visuals?
Mapara: We think of it as very painterly. We wanted to be able to strike some beauty into it. Like when you come out into a sunlit vista, we want to spark some emotion. A truly cartoony style, with flat saturated colors and stuff wouldn't really do that, and yet we're trying to keep it in the cartoon world as well. We made choices: is this something that can be beautiful, or is this something that can be more silly? It's all still very stylized/ We really wanted it to have an emotional quality.
When you think about the first Crash, it looked so revolutionary. There really wasn't anything like it before.
Mapara: Absolutely. You know, we try to construct things in a way that people can really appreciate.. it makes me think about this one day when I woke up and walked outside, I opened my door and it was just really beautiful and sunny, and I couldn't help but think what a great day it was. I realized how it was the exact same composition, the trees, everything was there the day before. What made it feel so different and beautiful, it had been cloudy for a week, and then all the sudden you come out and it's sunny. It was simply that change, that contrast. If it was sunny every day, you probably wouldn't have that same realization. So we try to use the contrast in our style. If we want to make someone feel like they're stepping out into the sunlight, and just acknowledge that, then we did a good job of presentation. We might have them going through the dense jungle for a while, and then open it up and drop them in these little constructed areas that are very deliberate, in hopes that the audience will really feel something.
You're going for more of a linear experience, right?
McGinn: Yeah, it's pretty much straight forward.
With the presentation though, it seems to lend the impression of a vast and open world you're moving through.
McGinn: Yeah, we're definitely wanted the illusion of nonlinearly. That was something we achieved on Simpson's Hit & Run. Some people complained that there was no city map anywhere you could actually get to. That was an intentional choice... People talked about how confused they were, how hard it was to navigate. And were like, "Yes, we pulled it off!" All these different techniques of faking it and making it feel like a real place.
You ever talk about really opening the game up, taking it to a totally different place?
McGinn: We're talking about that, yeah, we talked about that a lot. [Laughs.] I don't know how much I should talk to you about the next games. I guess all I can say is, we're talking about it.
The multiplayer co-op game where you can work together seems pretty unique.
McGinn: Yeah, there's one feature that's really unique as far as I know, which sort of came out of the idea that we didn't want to go split screen. The platforming created some real challenges for us, because if you've got these series of rope swings, you have to get across, and you get separated. The camera may not see you both, or if one of you dies it's very hard to work without some sort of split screen. So one of our designers came up with what he calls leap-frogging platforming. The question was, what if you can jack each other? So you can jump on each other's back. It works literally like when you were a kid playing leap frog. Every time you jump or do something and you land, they swap and the other play takes control. So it is actual cooperative gameplay, you're not just two players on the screen when you're platforming. So you'll jump, there will be a sound effect, then I'll jump. If I connect onto a rope, then you're going to swing, and we'll swap in mid air, and so forth. You really get into this rhythm with the other player.
Is the tech an evolution of what you've had in the past?
Ryan Ridout, technology director: Yeah, we've been building on this for a while. On top of that, there's stuff... it's a fighting game, right. A fighting game and a driving game have very different technologies, although they do share a lot of the same renderings and effects. The combat, that actually came from a game before that didn't shipped. So that part of the engine is going to be used for the first time.
What kind of level themes are you providing Crash to explore?
Mapara:There's this giant mutant tree, the size of a building. We modeled it after an olive tree. You're running inside the tree and out, the inside is all swamplike and murky. The time of day is sunrise, so you'll see through the openings all these sort of peachy streams of light flooding in. Outside, it's really bright. It's one level where you're constantly in and out, going higher and higher.
McGinn: There's a weapons factory. You know N. Gin? Sort of this hyper guy with the rocket for a head? He's got some of the best scenes in the game. Every level, every theme is built on the story. So he's constructing the weapons for the giant robot the bad guys are building. You get here after going through this beach night scene, where all these rockets are falling on you. There's the Wumpa island and the environmental destruction that leads to it in the opening of the game. We're not hitting you over the head with this, but it's sort of a subtle nod that certain actions have consequences in our world.
Ridout: And like Yousuf was saying, there really is a lot of contrast in every level. In the weapons factory, you can imagine what the inside of a weapon's factory would look like. But behind the scenes, there's also what the people pushers are doing. There's actual people back there in offices. So you find yourself going from area to area, where machines are pounding and weapons are being made, and then you're in the midst of file cabinets and folders and whatnot. Every level has this attention to going back and forth.
Mapara: There's even these shower areas, the workmen shower areas.
McGinn: One of the things I'm really proud of, rather than just a lot of levels--the lava level and the ice level like a lot of platformers have--we worked really hard to make the levels make sense within the story. You start out in the island, the beautiful lush jungles, rivers and lots of water and stuff. As you travel through, you get to a point where the bad guys are trying to destroy the world. Further you go, you get to a lava level, where they're sucking minerals out of the ground, sort of hellish.
You were talking about the importance of feedback on the game. It was interesting, some of the reactions you mentioned to the choices you're making.
Kirsten Forbes, producer: Yeah, and it's interesting what you asked about being able to take the enemy with you for long stretches, we were just recently working on the finishing moves when you dispatch an enemy. During some focus tests, people really felt like they had earned this monster and they didn't want to give him up. They were actually forging a relationship with this guy. We really labored on, well, if you're going to have to get rid of them, how can we make that a funny experience for you? The input has been huge. We've had a group shadow us through the entire project, we're giving them credit as, like, junior designers on the game.
Mapara: Even before we went into production, we lined up all our enemies, and we asked what were the favorites, and if they all had different favorites, we've done a good job. If we have a well-balanced set of enemies, that's a good outcome. We went through maybe a hundred different monsters, just spent a lot of time in our concept stage. Even deciding what was properly scary... You want to create these characters that really create a sense of power. We started to work more on giving the characters more visual cues that relate to their powers.
The boxing meter concept... I like that.
McGinn: Yeah, you're not actually just wearing them down. I can't kick a character and come back and have the damage stay. He actually has a meter that goes up and down over time. You have to stick with him and fight him. That was a big step in the gameplay. The combat designer felt really strongly, deciding that if we didn't do something like this, you wouldn't be enticed as much to get into the deeper mechanics we put into the game. It works really well, you can really get right into it. To get it right, out interface designer went through a lot of different iterations to communicate that well. We really debated this a lot.
Ridout: We've had a very adaptable development process, where if we want to try something, we go for it. We don't say, if it's not in the original design document, then we're not going to do it. We had a system that was completely hit-point based, walk in, hit him, and so forth. We had basically moved on to work on other features, but the combat designer came in and said, this actually could be a lot better, and now it is.
McGinn: Every two weeks, we re-evaluate all the features, and put the most important ones that are the most valuable to the player at the top of the list. And the whole team gets together on that Monday and we plan out what we're going to do for the next two weeks. We basically demo to each other. And by that process, what you end up in the end is a bunch of stuff that might not have enough value and can be reworked, rather than getting to the end and saying, "Oh s**t, if we had a better jacking system, the game could be great instead of good."
Th-th-that's all folks!
Hope you enjoyed it!
And comment away!