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LOS ANGELES—The Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy lands on consoles next week, and, from what I can tell, the game will offer very little in the way of surprises. All three of the series’ original PlayStation 1 games are coming back in a single package. From what I’ve played at multiple events, every brutally tough platforming level seems to be returning with faithful controls and with substantially redrawn, HD-friendly graphics.
Activision invited Ars to check out the near-final game one more time ahead of its June 30 launch, and, for some reason, they thought the most exciting news they had to offer was a new playable character. (Crash’s sister, Coco, will be playable in all three games, but she’s a cosmetic swap with zero unique moves.)
But after hammering developer Vicarious Visions with question after question, I got something more interesting out of the team: the amount of from-scratch work that was required to make this remaster.
Mesh of blues
“Almost everything was missing,” Vicarious designer Dan Tanguay said to Ars in an interview. By “everything,” he means all of the Crash games’ source code and reference materials.
“The original engine was specifically built for PlayStation 1,” Tanguay said. “Naughty Dog pushed [the PS1] to the limits. They made a fantastic engine for doing that. That engine didn’t see the light of day beyond PlayStation 1, as far as I know, and it certainly wasn’t usable by us. Any code, anything like that, we didn’t have access to.”
Thankfully for Vicarious, the team did uncover a crucial data set: all three games’ 3D meshes, provided by both Sony and Naughty Dog as a series of hard drives. (“They were compressed in some wacky format that we had to decode,” Tanguay pointed out.) Meshes don’t make an entire game, of course—far from it. Data on the original games’ animations, characters, artificial intelligence, control timing, textures, and even a lot of the music was gone (though Tanguay confirms some musical data was recovered to help the team lock into songs’ timing and MIDI instrumentation layers).
All the meshes did was help the team nail the architecture and scale of the worlds Crash would run, jump, spin, and repeatedly die in.
The rest, Vicarious producer Kara Massie said, came down to eyeballing and video comparisons. Crash remaster prototypes would run alongside video footage of the original games to confirm timings. The team relied on a group of “hardcore fans in quality assurance and design” who offered notes and complaints after testing each build. The game’s art team had a limited amount of concept art to access, so its members were encouraged to also study up on Crash‘s visual inspirations, including Who Framed Roger Rabbit and Animaniacs.
From GDC to GameFAQs
Massie freely admitted that Vicarious’ staff had combed various forums and guide sites on the Internet to double-check specific gameplay details. When asked a pointed question about whether Vicarious specifically lifted any GameFAQs.com guides, the game’s representatives burst into surprisingly loud laughter, then carefully said they appreciated the information they gathered from “all” online Crash communities.
classic-gaming speedrunners in mind, and Tanguay said that many speed-assisting exploits from the original trilogy have been preserved. “We took [each exploit] on a case-by-case basis,” Tanguay said. “In some levels, [exploits] are absolutely key. We left some in there, and we added some new ones to discover. I’m also of the opinion that we have to earn speedrun love.” (To that end, Tanguay admitted that his team discovered relatively late in the process how differently each sequel’s breakable crates worked compared to the others, which matters for the sake of how quickly Crash can spin-smash through them.)
Tanguay was particularly proud of one bit of memory recall, which he used to allegedly preserve the exact ways Crash 1-3 varied based on the chosen difficulty level. Turns out, the series’ original developers hosted a GDC panel years ago that went into the nitty-gritty of how the game’s difficulty levels were tuned. “I, surprisingly enough, attended that lecture,” Tanguay says. “I got this!”
When asked a follow-up question about why the team had to rely on old anecdotes, as opposed to having former Crash developers coming on board as official consultants, Massie made clear that she and her team were happy with how many assets and materials they’d been given. She also said her teammates showed off each major gameplay reveal of their project to members of the original Crash teams at Naughty Dog and Sony “out of courtesy” before showing them to the public.
Vicarious has gone to great lengths to rebuild the earliest Crash games, and, from my cursory glances, the team appears to have preserved their most core elements, on both a micro and macro level. (We’ll hopefully get a better look at the remasters ahead of the collection’s June 30 launch.) But thanks to a mix of missing code and inability to carry older assets over to newer engines, the N. Sane Trilogy will never share millisecond-level precision with its source material.
Not every classic series is so lucky to afford so much build-from-scratch design, programming, art, and animation work to get as close as this one appears to, either. Software makers of all walks, from gaming to productivity, would be wise to read about this N. Sane remaster and, you know, put a few hard drives and backup utilities in deep freeze. Just in case.