And Crash Bandicoot has kind of become rather spread thin, it seems to me, as a franchise. Do you have any feelings about that?
JR: No, I mean... We really, at Naughty Dog – and I think this is still the case – they’re doing one project at a time, they’re focusing on it, and they’re making it the best game that they can make it. That was our focus with Crash Bandicoot. We didn’t do as many toys as we could’ve done. We didn’t do as many ancillary products as we could’ve done. They need to focus on the games. That would be the only thing I would say. Crash was a gameplay phenomenon. People liked it. And they need to get back to that core. That’s what made Crash special. And I think he has fallen a little from those days.
One thing that was interesting to me about the initial design of it, was… This was before Mario 64, as far as I recall…
JR: Correct. We had never seen or heard of Mario 64, or Nights, which was the other competitor. Sega had Nights in 3D. We did Crash, and that ended up as the Playstation 3D platformer launch kind of metric, and then there was Mario 64. And we didn’t see Mario 64 until we were very close to alpha, which meant we had a fully playable Crash Bandicoot.
It was a pretty unique kind of mechanic you had going which really worked well, because it was the precise platforming of sort of 2D, but it was in 3D. I don’t think it’s really been replicated.
Do you think that that kind of mechanic could be evolved more than it was? Because Crash sort of went more fully 3D after that point.
JR: Well, it’s an interesting question. What basically happened is – Yuji Naka, who was the designer of Sonic – or not the designer, he was the creator; the designer actually works at Naughty Dog now.
Right, Hirokazu Yasuhara.
JR: Yasuhara, yes. So Naka-san was working on Nights. Miyamoto-san was working on the next Mario. And we were working on the PlayStation. And we all had the same question that we wanted to answer for ourselves: how do you take a 2D platformer, and make it 3D? Nights was kind of a – it was all from the side, so they didn’t – it was a 2D game that kinda looked 3D. So he went the least far into 3D.
And Miyamoto went the farthest and said, “let’s just open this up and make it 3D.” What we did – and this was Andy and I driving across the country to start working on Crash – is we turned the 2D game 90 degrees into the screen, but basically kept it a 2D game just played from behind. And we called that theory “Sonic’s ass”. Because you’re looking, effectively, at Sonic’s ass. And everyone said we were derivative of Miyamoto’s Mario games. We were actually most derivative of Donkey Kong Country. That was the game that we really looked at. And if you look at the way the levels were structured and stuff.
We took that, we turned it in 3D, and we thought, we gotta make this guy have a spikey head and spots on his back, cause you’re gonna be looking at his back most of the time, let’s have some running into the screen levels, because you’ve gotta see his face some time, and we gotta have some sidescrolling stuff, because otherwise you’re literally looking at his ass the entire time. And based on that, we created the Crash engine. I think the validity of that engine is still there. The problem we had is that we got caught up in the technology race, and the technology race moved into free-roaming full 3D. So that’s why Jak and the later Crash games – not under our guidance, but Jak was – moved to open 3D. And Crash was just jump-spin. That’s all we had.
By the end of Crash, we’d used every button on the PS one. By the end of Jak, we had modes of controller. Where the ten buttons, 12 buttons, I don’t even know how many buttons were on there, two analog sticks, one digital stick, everything did something – and then there were other modes. And I think the validity of the Crash simplicity is still there. And I think that’s Guitar Hero, you see it, and some of the Wii games. I think people really do still value the simplicity – and online, again: casual games. So I do think somebody could do a Crash like Crash, and I think it’s still valid. So, long answer, but that’s…
No it totally makes sense. And I think a lot of people are going too far with all the modes. And I’m hearing a lot of backlash against it now. Like, you know, Penny Arcade did a comic about it, which was pretty funny: “press in the analog stick to engage hyper mode. Hold to serve a sandwich.”
JR: Well, we would sit around with the marketing staff, every time we did another Jak or Crash game, and say, “let’s add some features. What are the features we’re going to add? Well now he crawls, well now he slides, well now…” Every one of those features added a button. And, you start with too many on Jak, I think, for the average player, and you end with this nightmare of button control that only serves the most hardcore gamer. They love it. But if we keep serving only the hardcore gamer, we’re going to marginalize ourselves as the industry. And that’s why I think that things like Guitar Hero, that are simple, with simple controllers, that move away from the joypad, are so, so valuable.