PlayStation arguably didn’t need a mascot, but California-based developer Naughty Dog saw the initial lack of digital leadership as an opportunity, and by the end of 1998, PlayStation’s blockbuster Crash Bandicoot had become PlayStation’s answer to Sonic. However, designer Daniel Arey recalls that the third platformer, Crash, drained his team’s batteries and prompted them to seek new challenges.
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So, to get around this, Dan and his team released the first fully 3D Crash game in the form of a kart racer, which they called Crash Team Racing, or CTR for short. “The Warped camera system is more or less in place and has a pre-computed polygon count. But we think we’re getting to the point where we can do something in 3D that doesn’t require any pre-computing, so you can move the camera around in the near future. We have all these 3D art assets, we have rich characters and rich universes. We have a lot of great places to create the perfect racing world. We also play a lot of Mario Kart. So we thought, ‘We can do it It might make a difference, change the pace of the team.’”
After the CTR was approved, with one exception, the team put the finishing touches on Crash Bandicoot: Warped before taking a well-deserved break. “We always put out the Christmas version, take a month off, and then start something new,” recalls Dan. “That’s how it works. But when Danny Chan started developing the CTR engine, we were still working on Warped; then we would take a month off and start full-scale production of the CTR. As soon as we got back, we immediately planned what we were going to use game mechanism.
Further planning followed, including a discussion of where the CTR course would be set up. “We’ve put together a lot of cool locations,” Dan muses, “so we can call in from all the different levels from previous Crash games. We knew we’d be doing a lot of Egyptian locations and whole island themes, and we started experimenting with some new themes.”
“Powerslide is a tribute to the power-drifting mechanism found in Japanese racing cars; we wanted to understand how the joysticks work in corners.”
Of course, CTR tracks need structure and function in addition to their theme, and the primary responsibility for that lies with Dan and his co-designer Evan Wells. “We approach each class the same way we approach platformer levels: there are main paths and secret paths everywhere,” explains Dan. “There are some secret shortcuts that make you jump, and ‘wait time’ is part of that. Hangtime is the idea where he gets as much airtime as he lands to get as much boost as possible. I think that is the achievement I’m most proud of. So these are the themes of each level: where do you get the big jumps, where do you get the shortcuts? We sit down and write it down on paper. Then we make Artists come into the room and add their ideas and we will work together in groups at each level.
In addition to the core level design, the team has extended stages for the CTR lessons to complement each lane’s theme, such as the skater’s dream halfpipe in the game’s sewer stage. “We really didn’t think the half pipe would work,” Dan admits. “There were a lot of issues with the crash, the way the camera turned, the half-pipe mechanics had a lot of challenges. But once we started, it almost felt like a skateboard made sense. We wanted that feeling of jumping out of the half-pipe and landing to get the Turbo and get a second top boost.”
A tricky balancing act
Unlike other kart racers, CTR’s vehicles are designed for mobility. “Control is part of our DNA,” Dan said. “Everything has to be responsive because if you feel like you’re out of control, you’re blaming the game and not yourself. So the players may have died a lot, but still forgive us.”
Crash Team Racing Review
CTR features an “adventure” mode, which the Crash team built around a story-driven racing sequence. “It’s a lot of extra work,” Dan admits, “but we have these great characters, this great world, and we feel compelled to tell some stories with him. It kind of settles down, but it’s fun and gives players some The feeling of progress and continued play.”
Decisions made during the development of CTR were centered on a group of playtesters, who the team relied on for input throughout the development of the runner. “We tested a lot!” Dan was excited. “You know, keep tweaking. We’re going to have a field test at Sony. We filmed and interrogated the players and we watched them behind the glass.”
The reward for all the hard work the team put into CTR came in the form of rave reviews and a warm welcome from players at the game’s launch. “We thought it was a huge success,” Dan said with a smile. “I know a lot of people love the battle mode. I mean, that’s all I need to hear! You know, the whole idea of people playing with four players and then laughing and moaning and yelling. For me, that’s the magic of the game; keeping the game going long after Adventure Mode is over.†
When asked to evaluate Crash Team Racing retrospectively, Dan noted that he was proud of the skateboard-inspired aspects of the game and offered little customization. “I’m still very proud of this game. It feels like we’ve accomplished all the goals we set in a rich universe. It has a really fun mechanic and I’m still very proud of the time it took to wait. I think the hang-up The timing mechanics are very innovative and I have a personal opinion on this I would change just a little incremental AI and small changes in balance I think we can do better on some levels but I think it’s “it’s usually product of that era. It did what it was supposed to do at the time; it was fun, and it was exactly the kind of Crash game everyone wanted. “
This feature first appeared in retro gamer Issue 176.For more great features you just read, don’t forget to subscribe to the print or digital edition my favorite magazine.
The making of Crash Team Racing: How Naughty Dog made a kart racing classic after getting burnt out on Crash Bandicoot
Arguably, the PlayStation didn’t need a mascot, but Californian-based developer Naughty Dog viewed the system’s initial lack of a digital frontman as an opportunity, and by late 1998, the company’s massively successful Crash Bandicoot character had become the PlayStation’s answer to Sonic and Mario. However, designer Daniel Arey remembers the third Crash platformer draining his team’s batteries and prompting them to seek a fresh challenge.
Subscribe to Retro Gamer
So in order to square this circle, Dan and his team pitched the first fully-3D Crash title in the form of a kart racer they called Crash Team Racing – or CTR for short. “The Warped camera system was sort of locked in place and it had a precalculated number of polygons. But we thought we were getting to a point where we could actually do something 3D that didn’t require precalculations, so you could move the camera around a lot more latterly. We had all these 3D art assets, we had a rich set of characters and a rich universe. We had so many cool locations that could make the perfect racing universe. We were also playing lots of Mario Kart. So we were like: ‘Can we do this? It might be a little different, a change of pace for the team.’”
After gaining approval for CTR, the team – with one exception – applied the finishing touches to Crash Bandicoot: Warped before taking a well-earned rest. “We always released our Christmas release, took a month off, and then started something fresh,” Dan recalls. “That was how it would work. But Danny Chan began development of the CTR engine while we were still in production of Warped; we then took a month off and started the full production of CTR. As soon as we came back, we were immediately planning on what kind of racing mechanics we were going to use.”
Further planning followed, including discussions on where the courses for CTR were going to be set. “We had so many interesting locations that we had already put together,” Dan reflects, “so we could call from all the different levels from the previous Crash games. We knew we were going to do a lot of the Egypt locations and all the island theme stuff, and we were going to experiment with some new themes.”
“The powerslide was in homage to the power drift mechanics in Japanese racing; we wanted to have a flavour to how the joystick worked around corners.”
As well as themes, of course, CTR’s tracks needed structure and features, the responsibility for which fell primarily to Dan and his codesigner Evan Wells. “Every single course we approached the same way you might approach a platformer level – there were main pathways and secrets everywhere,” Dan explains. “There were secret shortcuts where you could jump, and ‘hang time’ became part of that. Hang time was this idea where you got as much airtime as you could to get the biggest boost possible when you landed. That was, I think, my proudest achievement. So those became the themes of every level: where could you get the big jumps, where could you get the shortcuts? We would sit down and lay this stuff down on paper. Then we would have artists come in the room and they would add their ideas, and we would all work together in little pods for each of the levels.”
Beyond core level design, the team enhanced CTR’s courses with set-pieces to compliment each track’s theme, such as a skater’s dream of a half-pipe in the game’s sewer stage. “We didn’t actually think the half-pipe was going to work,” Dan concedes. “There were a lot of issues with collision, with the way the camera rotated, and a lot of challenges to the half-pipe mechanics. But once we got the hang time thing going, it made sense that it almost felt like skateboarding. We wanted that feeling of jumping off a half-pipe and landing for the turbo-boost, and getting the super-boost on the second one.”
A tricky balancing act
In contrast to other kart racers, CTR’s vehicles were being built for manoeuvrability. “Control was part of our DNA,” Dan reasons. “Everything had to be responsive, because if you didn’t feel like you were in control then you blamed the game as opposed to blaming yourself. So the player could die a lot and still forgive us.”
Crash Team Racing reviewed
CTR included an ‘Adventure’ mode, which the Crash team were building around a narrative-driven sequences of races. “It was a lot of extra work,” Dan admits, “but we had these great characters, this great world, and we just felt compelled to tell some kind of story with it. It was bolted on a bit, but it was fun, and it allowed players to have some progression and some sense of continued play.”
Instrumental to the decisions made during CTR’s development were an army of playtesters, which the team relied on for input throughout their racer’s development. “We playtested the heck out of it!” Dan enthuses. “You know, continued adjustment. We would do testing on-site at Sony. We would videotape players and questionnaire them, and we would also watch them behind glass.”
The reward for all of the hard work that the team had put into CTR came in the form of glowing reviews and a warm reception from players following the game’s release. “We considered it a great success,” Dan beams. “I know a lot of people loved the Battle mode. I mean, that’s all I needed to hear! You know, the whole idea of people playing four players and laughing and groaning and screaming. That was the magic sauce of the game to me; it kept the game going long after the Adventure mode was over.”
When asked to reassess Crash Team Racing with the benefit of hindsight, Dan highlights his pride for the game’s skateboarding-inspired aspects and offers little in the way of alterations. “I’m still extremely proud of the game. It felt like we had achieved all the goals we had set out to achieve in a rich universe. It had pretty interesting mechanics, I still am very proud of hang time. I think the hang time mechanic was wildly innovative, and I had a personal say in that. What I would change are little incremental things, it would be little AI changes and the balance. There are a couple of levels that I think we could have worked on, even better shortcuts, but I think, generally speaking, that it’s a product of its time. And at its time it did what it was supposed to do; it was fun, and it was exactly what everybody wanted from a Crash game.”
This feature first appeared in Retro Gamer issue 176. For more excellent features, like the one you’ve just read, don’t forget to subscribe to the print or digital edition at MyFavouriteMagazines.
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