Orr recalled a question the team had asked itself a lot: “What is Crash’s core expression?” Before work could begin on Crash’s detailed animations, the team had to land on a character design that would better unify the trilogy visually. “Off the bat, some of our concerns were: ‘Which iteration of [Crash] did we want to home in on?'” responded Turner. “He’s changed in look over the years. We knew there were concerns about what Crash should look like — there’s a lot of passion around that topic.”
Turner is being kind. When it comes to which iteration to build from, there’s no contest. The second you complete the old Crash Bandicoot and boot up its sequel, Cortex Strikes Back, it’s immediately evident how much Crash’s character model was improved. He looks sharper, his gestures and freedom of movement feel snappier. Understandably, this became the “archetype” for their iteration. “From there it was an issue of building out the character,” said Turner. “How angular and polygonal does he need to be? How much roundness do we bring in? Where do we want to try and match something, like, say, a feature film character?”
“There’s a lot of room for interpretation in those old graphics, being that there’s so few polygons.”
It’s this back-and-forth that became another recurring theme: What does “newer” look like? “There’s a lot of room for interpretation in those old graphics, being that there’s so few polygons,” Turner continued. “People can take away a lot of different things from their own play experience.”
Play through the original Crash and you’ll notice recurring themes: death and missed boxes. To help soften the blow and play up their dark humor, the legacy games featured a plethora of ways for Crash to react to any run-ending mistakes. Inspired by the antics and body horror of Looney Tunes, Crash was originally designed to cooperate with any amount of stretching and squashing Naughty Dog could put him through.
The team kept Crash’s angular shapes and proportions while still refining aspects of his structure for “cohesion and solidity.”
To create such an expressive character, Naughty Dog directly manipulated the vertices (corners) of Crash’s polygons. Emulating this technique with today’s best practices in mind became key — no matter how extreme each geometry-melting pose could get, Crash still needed to look good. “Building that kind of character now, with modern techniques, vs. the way [Naughty Dog animated him], is actually a very tricky proposition,” said Turner.
The remaining threads to Crash’s more dramatic side are in his repetition and his subtleties. “We spent a lot of time doing his basic move sets — and his move sets are ridiculous,” said Orr on animating Crash. “He’s by far the most elaborate character that I’ve ever animated.” “Crash’s handling is so integral to the experience,” said Nicholas Ruepp, executive producer. It’s not just how jump looks, but the distance it rockets Crash in any direction, or the momentum he builds while running. “There’s such a difference from the original to the new one,” stylistically speaking, acknowledged Orr. “We tried our best to nail simple things, like how he looks when he’s running, his basic expression or when he’s standing there idle. We agonized over that kind of stuff.”
Meanwhile, scanning the Crash Bandicoot subreddit became a pastime for Vicarious Visions.
There’s a common saying among creatives: “You can’t fool your peers.” For Vicarious Visions, its peers include the fans who make split-second assessments of the studio’s work. Some fans — ranging from newcomers to hardcore — were even invited to provide feedback on builds of the game. Meanwhile, scanning the Crash Bandicoot subreddit became a pastime for Vicarious Visions. A range of moods are exhibited from post to post, such as “This ‘you’re just nitpicking’ shit needs to stop,” “The originals will still exist, you know” and a personal favorite, “THE LIZARDS HAVE IMPROVED.”
While perhaps not always aspiring to the poetry of Reddit, creative direction always returned in-house and aimed high. “There might have been some initial eggshells,” said Orr. “‘Do they want us to just re-create it, or to be artists and make a better version?'” In the end, the team settled on what it hopes will be the best of both worlds.
The newest addition to the remaster is the inclusion of Coco, Crash’s sister, as an alternate playable character throughout the entire trilogy. Previously, she was reserved for only certain levels in Warped. “Once we were like ‘Hey, let’s add Coco as a playable character,'” said Orr, “while still being a huge task … it was a matter of reanimating it and keeping within her character.” “There was room there to invent a little more personality, [too]” added Turner. “We still needed her to play exactly like Crash does,” noted Orr. “You should be able to do a timed-run sequence [with] either character. It was still a lot of work, but that was fun. She turned out great.”
“That was definitely a tricky question: ‘What can we change? Where is the wiggle room?'” pondered Zuniga, returning to what still seemed to be on everyone’s mind. “Every discipline had to go through this. Thankfully, we had a ramp of evolution: Crash 1 vs. Crash 2 — there’s a huge difference there. And then [with] Crash 3, again, a big leap. We always had to catch ourselves.”
If the original games were changing so often anyway, the team felt it could embrace that as part of its legacy as well. Zuniga boiled the team’s approach down to two sentiments: “There is no sacred cow” and “What would Naughty Dog do?”