[Interview] Crash Bandicoot 4 creative producer on how the game came to be, 106% completion, Switch port, more
Posted on May 22, 2021 by Brian(@NE_Brian) in Interviews, Switch
After more than two decades, the Crash Bandicoot series finally received its first mainline entry. Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time initially launched in 2020, though it came to new platforms earlier this year – including Switch.
Recently, Nintendo Everything was able to catch up with Lou Studdert the creative producer for Crash Bandicoot 4 over at Toys for Bob. We chatted about the game’s origins, the player response to achieving 106% completion, the Switch version, and more.
You can find our full discussion with Studdert below.
An official fourth entry in the Crash Bandicoot series has been greatly desired by fans since Wrath of Cortex. How did the team feel about making a direct follow-up to a beloved trilogy from two decades ago?
Exhilarated and terrified. It’s one of those things where we are entrusted with living out our dreams as fans of the franchise and getting to see the game that we have wanted to have been playing for the past decade, but at the same time there are enormous marsupial shoes to fill and so it’s taken in a very considered stance; we are both excited and thrilled – and slightly scared by the prospect of living up to that huge level of expectation.
Given how long it’s been since the last mainline entry, how did Crash Bandicoot 4 come to be?
You know, coming off a number of different projects that helped engage the Crash fanbase, we saw the community was hungry for more Crash Bandicoot. Obviously, the success of the N. Sane Trilogy and the response to CTR Nitro-fueled was super exciting, and internally in Activision there has always been a love for Crash. We had also recently wrapped up working on Spyro Reignited Trilogy so we had this great cross over; we have at Toys for Bob this great history in creating platform adventure games, and so for us, we jumped at the opportunity that was there; we saw something that fans wanted and decided to try and put together a game, figuring out how we could bring Crash to the modern era. For us it kind of came about specifically on the question of what would we do to bring Crash to current consoles; how would we change it and what things would we hold on to, and I think our radical pitch was the fact that we wanted to retain the classic perspective shift in platforming that made Crash what it was because as Crash went on or as platformers have gone on, they have diverged from that style of game play, so for us it was all about revisiting Crash’s origins and bringing that to a modern experience.
Before Crash Bandicoot 4, Toys for Bob made Spyro Reignited Trilogy. Though they’re different franchises, did that development help at all when working on the new Crash game?
Absolutely, one of the things that doesn’t really get talked about is at a studio you use different pieces of technology, and Spyro Reignited Trilogy was our first time utilizing the game’s engine in that fashion, and so for us going through the motions, figuring out how best to use it really amplified our skills with our own tech tools; then from a game play and design philosophy we spent a lot of time looking at what made Spyro Reignited Trilogy tick, really looking at a franchise and figuring out what were the essential pieces, and so we brought that same research and analysis to the Crash Bandicoot franchise; trying to analyze what was the DNA of Crash Bandicoot that we wanted to preserve, so both from a tech side of things as well as a game play philosophy design Crash Bandicoot 4 really is a continuation of some of the work we were doing with Spyro.
Crash Bandicoot 4 was initially released just two years after Spyro Reignited Trilogy, which surprised us a bit. Did Toys for Bob have different teams working on those projects, or is the company just quick with development?
[Laughs] You know it’s not as cut and dry as that; it’s not that we have and A team and a B team; we are a pretty small studio, but at the same time you can always carve off a few people to be doing investigations/research/prototypes/analysis – things like that along with the development of another product. We don’t usually talk specifics because frankly it’s a little muddy internally even, it’s not like we have a start and finish flag marking the way – there was some concurrent work going along and we were figuring things out as we went but on completion of Spyro you want to bring your whole team to a product so they know what they are going to start doing and it creates a nice smooth continuous stream of work for the team.
The game uses a lot of features that fans really wanted from a new entry in the series, from elements like a very clear shadow under Crash to a phasing out of the “Power Up” unlockables used in Crash 3 or Wrath of Cortex (such as the Crash Dash). How much did fan feedback impact the creation of this title?
There is fan feedback of the moment then there is fan feedback over ten or twenty years from fans with a deep love for Crash Bandicoot – I would say you know, we are those fans again as well, we are a team full of people who love this franchise and really spent our time growing up, spending a lot of our time and years playing Crash Bandicoot, so knowing as fans what we would want and knowing what we have seen fans ask for over the years definitely went into our considerations. Again, looking at the foundation of this game; going back to the perspective shift in platforming that’s a focus on tense precision execution – that in itself is tied to the fact that we as fans wanted to be playing games that felt like those original games. You know, we didn’t take them to a 3D open world adventure specifically because we as fans wanted to play more of that type of original game play; and then as far as we went, we would always listen to what the fans were saying. I don’t have any specifics to point to, but Crash has a great fan base that was kind of there along the way and we obviously keep our ear to the ground.
There’s a lot to do in Crash Bandicoot 4 if you’re looking to achieve 106% completion, though we’ve seen some fans express some frustration over the requirements to reach that total. What do you make of players who feel that it’s too tedious to go after everything the game has to offer?
Well, when we were making the game, one of the things that we wanted to do was to make sure that this game wasn’t something that players could just blast through in a single afternoon. Fans have waited some ten years for a new Crash Bandicoot experience, and for us we wanted to make sure that the people who had been waiting that long and who had these skills built up couldn’t just play through everything and see everything in a moment’s notice, so we layered in a ton of additional content. We focused on these different groups of players; the adventure player, the ones who want to see the story, we wanted to provide a lengthy adventure but one that players could achieve and get through. Then for the completionist; we tied the completion with the expert player who has these skills and these years of expectations, we leaned hard in to adding a lot of content, adding a lot of objectives, doing a lot of things to make sure players had to continue along that path – and that way so the ten years of waiting wasn’t just gone in an afternoon.
How much did the lockdowns surrounding COVID-19 impact development?
Obviously, the big change there was everyone was moving to a working from home status and the fact that everyone banded together so well and continued to make a really great game was a testament of the strength of Toys for Bob – and honestly a testament to our IT and OPS teams; we wouldn’t be in the situation of making a game at all if it wasn’t for them so a really big shout out folks helping us and enabling us to work from home so well.
Toys for Bob worked on the Switch version of Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy a few years ago. Did the company take anything away from that experience that assisted the development of Crash Bandicoot 4 on the console?
Yeah, absolutely! One of the things that was great from getting that early hands on was again finding what are the things that are important on that game, finding out on the tech side what were the things that really made a Crash game feel like a Crash game, and finding out the things that we needed to retain when moving from console to console; that’s from a player side of things, from a tech side of things – there is a different engine at play between NST and CB4 but it did give our team some additional hands on and familiarization with the Switch console, helping them learn how to put the console through its paces to the best of their ability.
Is there any insight you can share regarding the porting process? The team had less to work with than other platforms from a hardware perspective, so we imagine that the Switch version was no easy feat.
One of the big things with our game is, from the get-go, we wanted to make sure that we had an art style and a technology solution to enable us to scale our game in various ways on various platforms without losing any of the charm, experience and entertainment of the game. So, regarding the porting process, the team had to modify a number of different factors all in the spirit of ensuring the game maintained its charm, it’s fun, it’s tension, it’s precision, it’s exacting game play, without that being at a detriment to anyone’s play.
Were there any significant technical difficulties or hurdles in bringing Crash Bandicoot 4 to Nintendo’s consoles?
I wouldn’t say there was anything specific other that there wouldn’t be on any other console. You know, you always want to make sure you are targeting that console’s specifications using the hardware that it provides to the best of its abilities, making sure that your game again is still the game that you have been making and is as fun for the folks who have that platform versus another.
Some fans noticed slight changes to lighting and effects for the Switch version, with some even saying that it almost looks like a different take on the art style. Toys for Bob seems to have made sensible choices and really put in work to ensure that the game looks great on the platform. Was this difficult to implement rather than following standard port procedures of simply lowering the frame rate and resolution?
It puts more of an effort on our art and engineering teams as the folks to bring this vision to life on a different platform. So really, it’s a testament to the work that they put together to do any modifications along the way; they are using their understanding of these pieces of hardware to make the best and most sensible modifications to make the game still feel like the game and still seem like the game that we always wanted the player to play.
The loading times in the Switch version seem pretty fast – they’re not too far behind the PS5 and actually seem on par if not slightly better than the PS4. Were there any particular techniques used to make this possible?
Having great engineers! They have worked super hard to make sure that was a reality and it’s something we’re super proud of at Toys for Bob.
Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time is available on Switch. We appreciate Studdert taking the time to answer our questions.