Interview with Paul Yan - Canadian Guy Eh (Crash Bandicoot 4)

To better acquaint ourselves with the upcoming Crash Bandicoot 4: It's About Time, Canadian Guy Eh was able to get an exclusive interview with Paul Yan, Toys for Bob's Co-Studio Head and Chief Creative Director. Paul reveals a lot of new information about the game, and a transcript of the interview can be found below, as provided by Canadian Guy Eh himself, with editing by JumpButton. Thank you very much to all the parts involved!

Interview provided by CanadianGuyEh

Transcript edited for print by JumpButtonCB

CanadianGuyEh (CGE): What was it like working on Spyro Reignited, and now shifting over to Crash Bandicoot 4? What was that transition like?

Paul Yan, Co-Studio Head & Chief Creative Officer, Toys for Bob (Paul): Well, first, there are so many emotions that come with that. One is that it's such an honor to be working on these classic 90s mascots, and it's so exciting to see that its fans are wanting to resurface them in a relevant way. A modern way. So, it's been great to see that!

Spyro and Crash are such vastly different experiences -- you know, one is open and full of exploration, it's calm and it's soft, you go about it at your own pace. Crash is a totally rich universe, but it's focused. It's really dense. It demands precision, and has a very specific rhythm in place.

So, we had the great pleasure of helping to make Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy and Crash Team Racing: Nitro Fueled, so we're absolutely familiar with Crash himself. Taking the lead on this project, it was really exciting and we applied some of the same ways to onboard that we did with Spyro, and that's just to dive deep into the original game and play all of it and re-familiarize ourselves with the games. Then figure out exactly what we want to extend on, and blow out and make bigger.

CGE: Speaking of that, as well, Crash as you know has such a rich history in terms of story and lore. You got games that came after Naughty Dog, from Wrath of Cortex, Mind over Mutant, and many others. Now this one is called Crash Bandicoot 4 which seems like we're rewinding back a little bit. Are the games that came out post Naughty Dog going to be referenced at all, or is this kind of seen as a soft reboot in general?

Paul: I mean, technically this is the eighth game in this line! But we are very deliberately calling this Crash 4. There's something really special about those original games and it was definitely a high point in the series, both critically and commercially.

For us, chronologically, that's where the events pick up. But, this game is called "Crash 4: It's About Time" -- and there are multiple timelines in this multiverse. The other events that happened after [Crash Warped], they did happen. They may have happened in other alternate timelines, and those may be reflected in some ways in this, but this is a game that picks up right after Crash 3: Warped.

So we're going to see Uka Uka, N. Tropy and Neo Cortex just recently emerged from the planet they were banished on. [EDITOR'S NOTE: They were banished both into the past and on a distant planet according to the Trailer and Fact Sheet provided by Activision.]

CGE: That's really cool to think that there's almost like a multiverse in a sense. So it seems that Crash's design and the art style from the game has changed away from N. Sane Trilogy and even from CTR. What differences are there from the N.Sane design, and what inspired the changes?

Paul: Well, one thing that was important to us was to make sure we set apart the aesthetics of the remasters from the aesthetics of the new game. We are trying to put a stake in the ground, and set forth a new future for Crash. There's a lot that those games did right in terms of Crash's design, and so before we jump into "What are the changes?" we wanted to preserve a lot of things about Crash's silhouette.

Crash is very angular. There's an expressiveness that came with him. Naughty Dog's original inspiration was Looney Tunes so we wanted to go back to that source, and make sure that the model we were creating had the capabilities to push that type of aesthetic, to get that Chuck Jones look in our character.

Then we've got a very specific aesthetic that we apply more broadly to the entire world, and the way in which we utilize the game engine's renderer. So for us, to get into that art direction side of things, we wanted to make sure that our shapes were really really bold, and clear, and we want to play with those in really zany ways. We want to reduce the amount of texture and high frequency texture detail so that you have more pleasing, softer gradients that are just easier on the eyes.

So we learned a lot from the Reignited Trilogy in terms of "How do you keep reverence to the original design that came before us, but still providing something new that sparks some freshness to balance the familiarity at the same time".

CGE: Crash is known for his jumping, and his spinning, and the basic platforming, but are there going to be new elements added to the game?

Paul: Don't forget the Slide and the Belly Slam and all the classic Crash moves! All those are going to be in the game, too, but he's also learned a couple more locomotive tricks!

There's going to be wall running, there's going to be rail grinding, and he's going to have some timing challenges with rope swings as well.

Quantum Masks are a huge focus in this game -- Now that Cortex, N.Tropy and Uka Uka have torn a hole in the fabric of the Multiverse, the way to restore balance is to reunite the four Quantum Masks. Each of them, as they're collected, grant Crash and Coco new locomotion abilities.

The two we're talking about today are the Time Mask, Kapunala, who gives Crash the ability to slow down time to a crawl to get past really fast hazards, and also to get past Nitro Crates.

Traditionally, Nitro Crates have been: you touch it and boom, you explode, no way around that. You just have to dodge them. But Kapunala gives you the ability to slow down time so that you can touch a nitro crate, but then have a small window of opportunity to get out of the way before it explodes because you're watching it all in ultra slow-mo, so that gives you another way of overcoming that obstacle. [Editor's Note: At press time, we were not given clarification on the spelling of the names of the Quantum Masks, and they are based on what is heard in the Audio.]

CGE: That's cool!

Paul: The second mask we're talking about today is the Gravity Mask, his name is Eeka Eeka. The Gravity Mask gives Crash the ability to flip the direction of gravity, so you can run upside down on walls, and so it's a whole new head scratching way of overcoming certain impossible obstacles.

CGE: That sounds impressive, and completely different for Crash, and also something that I feel is kind of a refresher. But Crash has had a number of ways to traverse and choose different levels, whether through a hub world, like Crash 2, 3 and Wrath of Cortex you had portals connected to a hub. Twinsanity was more open, and then Crash of the Titans had "chapters". How is this game going to handle choosing your levels and the overworld?

Paul: You said the word "Hub" there, and we took a cue from the very first game. In between levels, you'll be travelling through what we will be calling "The Dimensional Map".

As you're hopping between different dimensions, and time travelling between different times, that's the place you're going to be landing back on. The levels are presented in a linear fashion, and that gives us two advantages.

One, is that the story can be presented in a more reliable way, and the narrative can build on itself in a more focused way.

The second is that when we think about difficulty and the ramping up of challenge, we can be way more precise. We introduce one mechanic in one level, and we know once you've successfully overcome it, that we can layer it and make it more spicy and interesting in the next subsequent levels.

CGE: That's going to be very interesting to see. Now, for the first time in a long time, players will be able to play as Cortex in a core Crash game. How do Cortex's missions work compared to Crash?

Paul: Cortex's gameplay is really exciting because it's completely different from Crash. Crash and Coco -- you can switch between the two, they share the same move sets, they're both bandicoots and can do the same things -- But Cortex, in place of a double jump, has the ability to dash forward, he's got a mini-flight of sort.

The second thing he's got is his Ray Gun, this transmogrifying gun, and he has teh ability to shoot at hazards and convert them into platforms. There's two types of platforms he can convert them into: One, a static platform, and the second, a bouncy platform.

So as you can imagine, there's a lot of neat, strategic, more head-scratchy types of ways to approach a Cortex level. His levels are designed to be a little more puzzly, because the time you convert a hazard is really important, and the type of platform you convert it into is really important. So that's going to freshen things up, and it's a very different change of pace then playing with Crash.

CGE: I can see a lot of, as you said, "puzzly" diverse gameplay, there. Now, I had read that there is a "Modern" mode and a "Retro" mode. Could you fill us in more on what exactly those are, and what the difference is, and how it effects gameplay?

Paul: Sure! So I'll give you a little bit of context on how we landed on what those are.

When we first started developing the game, we initially inherited the original system of limited lives, from Crash 1, 2 and 3. A stock amount of lives, and as you pick up a Crash mug or collect a hundred wumpa, you earn additional lives and when those lives expire, you get a hard reset to the beginning of the level.

In the studio, there has been a split between who prefers playing that way, versus what we have, which is infinite lives. So that's the distinction. In Retro Mode, it's exactly as it was, a limited lives system. Modern Mode, which is what we think is the preferable way of playing, but you have the choice, unlocks infinite lives.

That way, the challenges, as you move past certain challenges, if you fail we aren't going to hard reset you to the very beginning [of a level] but we are logging how many times you die, and so there's a new Clear Gem reward at the end of levels [that you achieve by completing the level in under a certain amount of max deaths.]

So we definitely want to incentivize you to try and perfect a level, but try and also make the game more approachable for a wider audience, and at the same time provide the option for people who want that classic retro experience to have it as well. That's the difference between the two.

CGE: That's really interesting! Now, CTR has introduced, and RE-introduced a bunch of characters from Crash's past to fans young and old. Is it possible we'll see versions or variations of those characters in this game?

Paul: It's certainly possible! I guess I'll just say that as devs, we love to drop easter eggs, and you know from Reignited that's one of my favorite things for us to do. So I'd say... Keep an eye out!

CGE: Okay! So obviously Crash, Coco and Cortex have received redesigns, do you think that there's any design that will shock fans, or that fans are going to look at and think "woah!"?

Paul: Our goal in designing the characters is obviously not to shock fans, we try to be very respectful of the designs that came before us. But, what I will say is I do think that fans are going to be pleasantly surprised by some of the timelines that spill into this adventure, that's all I can say about that!

CGE: Okay, final question, a fun little question, and we might get a no! But... is there a chance we see a particular purple dragon in this game in some shape or form?

Paul: There's absolutely a chance for that!

CGE: Absolutely a chance? Well! That's awesome to hear. Thank you so much Paul!

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