Interview by the CM Forum, organized by HP Zoner.
There are times when icons are created. Icons that mark their presence and stick around for years to come. Icons people can love and identify themselves with. Crash Bandicoot is one such icon. He was created by Naughty Dog over 10 years ago. Jason Rubin, one of Naughty Dog's co-founders, had a direct and vital role in the creation and conception of Crash Bandicoot, and now the Crash Mania community has interviewed him to know more about things past. Our big thanks to him for answering our questions!
CM Forum () - When you started out back in 1986, did you ever invision becoming as big as you are now?
Jason Rubin () - Andy and I fully expected to become successful game makers when we started. We were young and idealistic. Looking back now I realize how much luck played a roll, and how hard the road was. There are many talented developers that make great games that don't succeed for any one of a number of reasons, and even more developers that never get a chance to make it big. We are now very thankful for the opportunity. Thankfully we were young and idealistic or we probably wouldn't have even tried!
- How was the decision of creating Crash? You had already made games such as Rings of Power and Way of the Warrior, which were completely different in style and gameplay, so how did you come up with Crash later on?
- We really liked the PlayStation. Mark Cerny, who was our executive producer at Sony was a big proponent of the hardware. And we realized that Sony[sic] had Sonic and Nintendo had Mario. We set out to make a mascot for the only hardware company that didn't have a character action mascot. Of course, we didn't tell anybody, or ask for permission. But it all worked out. Crash never became an official mascot, but he was as close as the PlayStation ever got. Crash was our first Character Action game. The first one broke a lot of new ground, and the character was great, but I think it wasn't until Crash2 that we got the gameplay down.
- There are many fans who think Crash's most distinctive feature is its quirky and wacky cast. Who came up with the ideas for the characters, and how was that process?
- The original ideas for the Crash story and resulting characters were created by Naughty Dog. At that time , it was mostly Andy Gavin, Bob Rafei, Taylor Kurosaki, David Baggett, Charlotte Francis and I. Mark Cerny of Universal Studios also kicked in. For design, we contracted Joe Pearson and Charles Zembillas, two animation designers to help us. Much of the look and style of the world is therefore due to their interpretations of our characters and levels. All of the characters were created by bouncing ideas around and then having Charles, Joe, and Bob Rafei Draw. Good ideas were "bred" with other good ideas. There is no one person or persons in that group that can claim more than contributory brilliance. It was a team effort.
- Likewise, how did you come up with the ideas for the pick-ups (namely, the Crates and the Wumpa Fruits)?
- The crates were my idea. I remember playing the game much of the way into development and realizing that there were a lot of empty areas because the PlayStation couldn't handle a lot of enemies on the screen. Also, we needed more gameplay because players were solving the levels too fast. I remember coming up with the idea of a box (simple shape that was easy to draw) and putting various symbols on the side to create puzzles. It felt good to break them, thus filling the boring bits of the level, and the puzzles slowed the player down. We put them in overnight. It became Crash's trademark, and the box puzzle is still used in titles like Ratchet and Clank. Crash was eventually so named because he smashed so many boxes.
- Who were your favourite characters?
- I always loved Dr. Cortex and Ripper Roo personally. And Crash of course. N.Gin and N.Brio and the Doctor's would be next in line.
- Was N. Gin ever intended to have a first name?
- To be honest I don't know if he ever did. N. Cortex was a play on the neocortex, a section of the brain. He was named quickly and designed from the name, not vice versa. The other doctors followed. Eventually, it became more important to get the N. and something that worked after it then to ever work out what the N. actually stood for. I'd have to dig out my notes!
- Why exactly was Crash's girlfriend, Tawna, removed from the games? There have been many rumours floating around for a long time, but most fans are still searching for a definite answer.
- The truth is as follows: the marketing director of Universal Interactive Studios was a very small minded woman. She saw the designs of Tawna, hot of the press, and insisted that the character would never get into the game as drawn. The original designs, which I think can still be found on the Naughty Dog website were reminiscent of Jessica Rabbit from the Roger Rabbit movies… SEXY. The marketing director was not impressed. She called me into the office and yelled at me that women were not to be objectified in such manors, and that no real woman would EVER wear such clothing. We had drawn Tawna's clothing based on another employees outfit that day. When the woman wearing Tawna's outfit in real life walked by the office door, the marketing director lost it. We were both forced to listen to half an hour's ranting about women's issues that culminated with a tirade about some women's shoe commercial that featured women playing basketball in high heels. She also insisted that as of that date "no video game would ever be successful because of a sexy woman ever again." None of this was relevant, of course. What was relevant was that the marketing director got the president of Universal Interactive so nervous that he asked us to change Tawna to her specifications. Thus the final Tawna that made it in the game was heavily toned down and forced to wear the kind of clothing that a woman might on safari in the late 1800's. We had a lot of arguments with the marketing director, including her insistence that Crash be named "Wez", "Wuzzles", or (my favorite) "Wizzy, the Wombat". We won 99% of them. Somehow she prevailed on Tawna. The end result was such a disaster that we yanked her from the sequels. BTW: Lara Croft launched shortly thereafter and took the video game world by storm and the marketing director left games forever. Now you have the whole story.
- How often would it take for you to conceptualize and complete a level? Where would you get your ideas from?
- This depended on who designed the level and which game you are speaking about. The longest time was putting all of the polygons in place. The tools just weren't there at the time to handle it. Also, we were new at the game. I remember one level I created that may just have been impossible to pass without me sitting next to you. That one got redone and became the "road to nowhere" level in Crash 1. By Crash 2 and Crash 3 we had a formula. Mark Cerny created the science behind making a good Crash Level, and Daniel Arey worked the designs in the later games. Of course, many levels had "guest designers." There are too many to remember.
- You used the same formula for the original Crash trilogy, but you also managed to improve on a lot of things with each passing game. Despite that, did you ever consider doing a different type of platformer with Crash?
- We thought about doing a free-roaming Crash game, but the quality of our backgrounds couldn't be done on the PlayStation. By the time we got to the PS2 we had moved on from Crash at Naughty Dog. I really think something incredible can be done with Crash, I just don't think the right developer/publisher/time combination has come along yet. Hopefully that will change.
- Each Crash game gained more and more vehicles until CTR was entirely vehicle-based. Was this a decision to move away from typical platforming action?
- We thought players would appreciate something different than Crash4 for the PlayStation. So we did what we had done well with Crash: The PlayStation had no good kart game, so we made one. Dan Arey came up with the slide and hang time turbo system. I still LOVE that invention. If you ask me, CTR was the best game Naughty Dog ever made on a sheer playability level. I think it was a great success.
- Crash Bandicoot 3 introduced Coco as a playable character, to some extent. Do you think this helped getting more attention from female gamers?
- I think the video game industry has struggled for many years to do anything besides put a sexy woman on a video game screen. Naughty Dog tried hard to give girl gamers a character they could identify with. Crash really reached Girl gamers through Coco, and became one of the most highly played titles by girl gamers at that time. Although I think the attitude of the marketing director that killed Tawna was silly, I do understand the frustration girls must have felt when facing the restricted choice of playing either a male character or a sexpot. I think the industry has come a long way to improve the variety of games and the types of player we reach. There are more options now, but we still have a long way to go. I hope we continue to provide all types of characters.
- As far as the tale goes, you had a 3-year contract with Universal, and you made one Crash game for each year. If so, how did Crash Team Racing come to creation?
- If things were a little different Naughty Dog might still be making Crash games and Andy and I might still be at Naughty Dog. The chain of events that led to three parties being involved in the Crash Universe both helped launch the franchise and also eventually impeded it. By the time Naughty Dog finished working on the three titles it had contracted to do with Universal (Crash 1-3) we were determined to get fair compensation for the work we were putting in to the titles. Sony was doing a great job marketing and distributing the games, and Naughty Dog was working 7 day weeks and 16 hour days finishing the titles. However, Universal Interactive wasn't doing much at all (Mark Cerny still had a big role. He had left Universal by this time and was working with Naughty Dog as a contractor). So Naughty Dog contracted with Sony directly after our contract with Universal was done. We agreed to make a racing game. For a while, it wasn't going to be a Crash title but we agreed that if Universal would take a reasonable cut in their royalty on the game so that Naughty Dog was being paid fairly for the work it was doing then we would do one last Crash title. It's a good thing they finally came around!
- Were there any scrapped character comebacks for CTR?
- We went through all of the characters in the Crash Universe and tried to pick the most appropriate mixture of "good" and "evil" as well as popular. We had a fixed number from the beginning and stuck to it. I don't think we ever planned to have any more, so once the decision was made it was final. Nobody got cut in a second round.
- Do you have a favourite Crash game?
- I personally think Crash 2 was the best platformer and CTR was the game that was most fun to make and play as a game creator.
- Was there ever something Crash disappointed you with?
- I haven't been happy about where Crash has gone since we left him, but I guess that's our fault!
- What was the best part of developing the games?
- Crash was created during a period in the game industry where small teams could make big product. Today the teams are much bigger. The camaraderie at Naughty Dog in those days was unbeatable. I used to truly love coming to work every day. And the work one person did had a much bigger impact on the game's outcome. I would love to see those days return, but sadly they are far behind us. More work goes into a single level of a game today than did in a whole Crash game. Big teams are here to stay.
- Let's go back to the time when CTR was finished, and Jak & Daxter (or rather, Project Y) was on its way. Supposing you had gained the rights to Crash back then, would you have considered continuing the series in the future? If so, any quick thoughts on what you would have kept and changed?
- If Naughty Dog had regained the rights to Crash, or been able to share them with Sony we would have kept making Crash games. There were plans in our heads for a free roaming Crash game that returned to Crash 1's roots and stripped the game back to its simplest form. I think we would have tried for less revolutionary gameplay than Jak and Daxter, but we might have ended up with a more playable game. But who knows what might have happened.
- How did you feel when you left Crash to do something different?
- It was both exhilarating and frustrating. I spent more time working on Crash than I did going to College. I was definitely ready to do something different. But at the same time Crash was like a child. Seeing him leave home was very difficult. I think at the moment the excitement of doing something different was the stronger emotion, but looking back now I really should have realized what I was giving up. I do miss Crash Bandicoot, and I think there is still a story for him to tell. Hopefully his next caretaker will bring him back into the spotlight.
- Crash has recently passed his 10th anniversary mark. Are you proud to be behind the creation of such an iconic and ongoing series?
- Absolutely. I want to see where Crash is on his 20th anniversary in 8 more years. Viva Crash!
- Do you have an opinion on the post-Naughty Dog Crash games?
- I do, and it's the same one that most gamers have had. I think the review scores speak volumes. It's sad that Crash went from one of the most expensive and technically forward releases of the year to games made on a budget. I think this, more than which developer was working on the title, has led to many an average game in the last 8 years. I would like to see someone put an effort behind Crash again. Maybe the merger of Vivendi Universal (who owned the Crash Rights) and Activision will lead to such a revival. I'm waiting for a good game to get behind. I'll be the first in line.
- It's no secret to anyone that Naughty Dog has always been good friends with Insomniac Games, the creators of Spyro the Dragon. How did this relationship begin?
- Naughty Dog and Insomniac worked on titles next door to each other on Universal's back lot. While we were making Crash they were making Spyro. Thought the games competed we always helped eachother out. We managed to best them with the Crash games (based on sales), but they got us back with Ratchet and Clank, which did better than the Jak and Daxter Series. They're a great team and good friends.