Interview by: CrashRatchetFan
Crash Bandicoot was created in the mid-nineties for the original PlayStation. Right from the get-go, there was always an intention of making a revolutionary game with a unique universe that was fun to interact with. At the genesis of that universe was Joe Pearson, who created most things we all know and love about the first Crash game and beyond. Joe Pearson wrote the backstory for the series and invented the original characters, and now he talks about this unique experience.
Q: To start off, what was it like working in Crash's world?
A: It was a lot of fun. The project was wide open when we started and we had a lot of opportunity to make strong creative suggestions and give a lot of input into the game from the very beginning.
David Siller, Jason Rubin, and the whole Naughty Dog team were very easy to work with and very appreciative and open to our work and writing. The only negative was really the payment. It was about 1/2 of what we would have liked, but that was the offer and the working conditions made it pretty enjoyable. Charles and I would work part-time at our respective studios and come in for weekly drop-offs and meetings at Naughty Dog.
Q: How did Naughty Dog/Universal get a hold of you and colleague Charles Zembillas to work on the game?
A: Will Meugniot at Universal Animation recommended me as a potential designer/world builder. (thanks Will!) So I came into my first meeting with David Siller, Mark Cerney and the Naughty Dog crew through Will.
After the first meeting, I could see that they were going to need a lot of work in fairly short period of time. Around that time I thought I was going to be signing a contract with Pressman Films to produce and co-write an animated Crow movie so I thought that I better get an extra talent/collaborator to get through all of the Crash work which was going to happen at the same time.
So I contacted my old friend and mentor, Charles Zembillas to see if he'd work with me. Charles said yes and the rest is history. Ironically, the Crow movie deal collapsed when the director dropped off the project, so I had more time then I anticipated, but I'm still very happy that Charles was able to come in and work with on Crash. No regrets at all in that area.
Pity about the Crow movie. The treatment that my writing partner and I had developed would have made for a fantastically powerful direct sequel to the first Crow movie.
Q: In Sept. 1996, you left Naughty Dog/Universal over a dispute in which they misinterpreted the press about how Crash came to be. Did you miss working with Crash then?
A: Yes, I did miss working on the other sequels and I do regret it. It's my fault, really. Jason Rubin called up to apologize for giving Charles and I extremely minor credits during the release of the game and I didn't accept his apology. I should have been a big enough man to accept and forgive. Charles was and he kept working through into the immediate sequels.
There's a lesson there…
Q: What inspired you to create the luscious jungle environments, the ancient temples, and twisted laboratory lairs of Crash Bandicoot?
A: When I wrote the initial Bible/back-story for Crash, I thought that there should be a reason for Cortex setting up on these isolated Pacific islands and a back story for them to make them more visual.
So I turned to myth, and the legend of the lost continent of Lemuria. Lemuria was like Atlantis, a high and ancient civilization that sunk into the ocean and was destroyed. And making it Lemuria led me to create the Aztec/Tiki ruins that are scattered about the Crash Islands. The islands are the very tips of the remains of the sunken lost continent.
And if you look at the design that I did for the exterior of Castle Cortex, you'll see the same motif, mixed in with some Cambodian style stupas.
Q: Got any favorite characters (this is a common question us Crash fans tend to ask people associated with the series)?
A: Actually Crash and Cortex, both.
Crash because he is so indomitable and Cortex because really he is too. In his back-story I have him overcoming a lot of childhood obstacles to his road/goal of ultimate power.
Q: Charles Zembillas told us on his art blog that a couple of your characters didn't make it to the original game, and were moved to Crash 2. These were the hulking Tiny Tiger (originally named Taz Tiger) and the slicin' dicin' Komodo Brothers. Were there other characters of yours that didn't make the cut?
A: No, there were no other characters that were cut, that I can think of.
Q: Were you granted freedom when you worked on Crash 1 and Crash Nitro Kart or were there boundaries that restricted you from having the freedom?
A: Part of the appeal of the project was just how much freedom the Naughty Dog team gave us. They had some requests for elements in the BG design, but generally, we'd design it and then they'd modify it to fit the game.
It was fun because when we'd come in, they'd have levels designed based on our work and then we'd get to comment on ways to color and light the semi-finished levels to bring the quality of the work up.
And in the case of Cortex Castle, the Evolvo Ray, the Cortex Vortex, Cortex Blimp and most of the island ruins, I pretty much created them whole cloth in the Bible and then plugged them into the game. Naughty Dog was very accepting of those elements and concepts.
Like I said, the pay wasn't great, but working terms were terrific.
Q: How did you and Charles Zembillas come back together to help develop the art style/characters in Crash Nitro Kart?
A: The team at Vicarious Visions tracked down Charles and then he brought me back in on Nitro Kart. That was a great reunion. This time around I was able to direct, design and storyboard the 40 minutes of game cinematics in addition to doing much of the key Background design. It was fun being able to plug in some of the original elements, like the Castle and the interiors.
Q: From the old Naughty Dog website, it states that Universal Cartoon Studios took part in developing the art style. Did they took part in developing Crash's world?
A: Only by bringing me in. They had non-artist consultants on the game, but really our creative interaction was with Jason Rubins and Bob Rafei and the Naughty Dog core team.
Q: What's your opinion on the later Crash games, especially Crash of the Titans and Mind Over Mutant, which changed the art style and character design of the series?
A: I'm not familiar with those. I did work on the cinematics and storyboard for Crash Twinsanity (and two commercials that ran during that year's E3, and on Crash Tag Team Racing.
I noticed that the character of Crash had "edged" up a bit in the later games. I'm okay with that. I wished I could have done more game character and background design in this later games. Some, which was done by Red Eye, was quite good; some wasn't really in the "canon" in my opinion.
However, I just looked at the art posted on the "Bring Back Crash Bandicoot" youtube video and that looked terrific. I really liked the designs a lot.
Q: If someone was developing a Crash feature film, would you take part of it?
A: Oh, absolutely. There was talk a few years back from a couple of independent producers who wanted to set-up Crash film, but it didn't pan out. It might have been for the best as they were very low-budget guys.
I'd love to be involved in a Crash movie. Writing, producing, directing, designing. Any or all of the above. Actually, if the studios were open to it, I think I could put together a good co-production package together. Charles would need to be involved if it ever got off the ground, certainly.
Q: What was your favorite Crash game that you worked on?
A: Crash 1 still remains my favorite, but Nitro Kart is a close second.
Q: Would you consider on working on Crash again in the future?
A: YES. Any good ideas on how to get a new Crash rolling?