Tag Archives: Crash Bandicoot

The Importance of Sounds in Video Games

I was watching an episode of How About This Game? on YouTube recently, a show about game design by Barry Kramer.  I value Barry’s opinions a lot, and I think his view on games is very interesting, so by all means, take a look below.  In particular, I love hearing him talk about satisfying things in games.  Sometimes I even joke that he’s a “game design hedonist” because he’s always drawing attention to things that feel good in games.  A nice color palette, good controls, and satisfying sounds.

Sound is one of the most important parts of a game.  What you do in a game must be satisfying in itself, and sound plays a bigger role than you might think.  It can be a way of setting a mood, making an environment come alive, or empowering a player.

One of my personal favorite examples is the Unrelenting Force shout in Skyrim.  It’s always my preferred shout, not only because it’s useful, but because it feels incredible to use.  Whenever you trigger it, there’s a buildup as your avatar utters the words of the shout.  It culminates in a sharp, echoed lightning crack, and the shaking of dust and grass in your surroundings.  These aren’t particularly complicated sound effects, but combining them in context makes the player feel like a god.

Wandering around a large world with nothing but the sounds of your environment as company has a striking effect as well.  Look at the echo of a cave of chamber, the sounds of animals in the forest, the rippling of water.  They can make you feel happy, lonely, or afraid.  This is where some indie platformers and RPGs succeed thematically.  A lack of music directs focus specifically to the character of the environment.  This is why the soundtrack to The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is so interesting.  The soundtrack has drawn a lot of criticism for its very minimalist, non-iconic soundtrack, but the emphasis on environmental ambiance drives home the hopeless, dire story themes much more effectively.

Realistic sound can be great for this kind of thing, but as with visuals, realism isn’t always appropriate.  In fact, some of my favorite examples of cool video game sounds come from cartoony 3D character platformers.  Your Crash, your Sly Cooper, your RatchetJak, and Banjo.  These games have a lot of silly action and collectibles, and usually the tasks you do aren’t epic or compelling in themselves.  So the solution is to fill the game with fun stuff to do at every second.

One of the core mechanics in Crash is “collecting” boxes by breaking them.   When you break the boxes, it makes a short, sweet sound.  You hear the surface of the wood breaking and all the pieces knocking into each other.  It’s simple, but packs a punch.  Other can take ten bounces before breaking, and each successive bounce gets higher in pitch before the box breaks.  Again, a great buildup and payoff.  This kind of thing is small, but so visceral that it sticks in your head for years afterward.  In fact, this is one of my gripes with the Crash trilogy remake: the sounds have more fidelity, but feel less satisfying.

As with every aspect of game design, sound is a key tool in making the player feel what you want them to feel.   It can reinforce the feelings behind an action, and its absence can make the player fill in the gaps.  Sound can take us into another world completely.  The tension of lightsabers clashing, the breathing of a predatory alien…these things affect us to the core.  Think about sound as you make your game: it can make the difference between a good one and a great one.

Crash Bandicoot, Completionism, and Depth

This past summer I was lucky enough to get my hands on an old PlayStation 1 copy of Crash Bandicoot 3: Warped.  I’m a life-long fan of Crash games.  While Crash 2 remains my favorite, I believe Warped to be the best of the trilogy in terms of design, variety, and quality.  But that’s not quite what I want to talk about.

Crash 3 logo
The Crash Bandicoot logo as seen in Crash Bandicoot: Warped. (Byron Cabrera via YouTube)

Playing all this Crash Bandicoot got me thinking about the nature of replayability in games like Crash.  They’re pretty straightforward on the surface.  There is no open world in early Crash, unlike in contemporaries such as Super Mario 64.  There aren’t hundreds of stars for you to collect.  Instead, it’s very much a game of going from point A to point B, playing through level after inventive level.  There’s nothing wrong with this, but it leads to the question of why this game is so fun.  I wonder why I come back to it time and time again.

Although Crash games are fairly short and straightforward, the depth of the game doesn’t lie in simply getting from the first level to the last level.  The depth is in scouring every level for all of the game’s hidden treasures.  Sometimes you have to hunt down a secret path in a given level.  Sometimes you have to find a hidden path in one level to find another in a completely different level.

In Warped, a big part of getting collectibles is just speed-running levels for relics.  Therefore, you need to know each one inside and out.  I think this is the beauty of Crash Bandicoot.  Sure, it can be a great game for people who don’t play video games a lot.  But within it lies a spectacular challenge: completing everything the game has to offer.  That’s why I think this game is a perfect example to use for talking about completionism.

“Completionism” isn’t a very well-known term yet, but it’s a gaming term coined by Jirard Khalil, nicknamed The Completionist, whose YouTube channel is dedicated to beating every possible challenge in various games and making videos breaking down the games and the challenge of tackling everything they have to offer.  Everything from Chester Cheetah to Skyrim is fair game.

The fact that he’s able to do this with any kind of regularity is extremely impressive by itself, but what intrigues me is that at the end of every review, he gives a rating of whether to play it, finish it, or complete it 100%.  Games don’t always get the “complete it” rating for various reasons, but the most common reason is that total completion of a game is a hassle, except over a very long period of time.

Crash Bandicoot games, meanwhile, beg for 100% completion.  They use creativity to make a limited number of assets go a long way.  Gems are often hidden behind unconventional solutions and secrets, and time trials test your reflexes and skills to the core.  As a result, the game encourages players to beat it multiple times, and makes it possible to get a lot of mileage out of playing the same game for the promise of a secret ending, bragging rights, and satisfaction.  That goes to show that a game’s appeal and longevity don’t have to come from an open world or hundreds of levels to finish.  This is the meaning of depth in a game.

Crash Bandicoot finds a secret path.
You need to stay alive to find some secret paths! (Photo: ReaperHunter via YouTube)

In fact, one of my favorite things about Crash 2 and Crash 3 specifically is that they fall into a rare breed of games where it’s possible to get over 100% completion.  For example, in Crash 3, the maximum completion possible is 105%.  You obtain this completion by beating every level, obtaining every crystal, and finding every gem.   This means finding every box and secret paths, and obtaining every gold relic obtained from time trials.  You also can’t forget the five extra levels and the two secret levels hidden within other stages.  Even then, it’s possible to go for platinum relics on every stage, which basically require perfect time trial runs.

The amount of stuff you can challenge yourself with in Crash games is inspiring.  Games like these, where you can literally push past the boundary of 100% through your own wit and skill, are uniquely rewarding.

Crash pulling some dangerous stunts. (ReaperHunter via YouTube)

The original Crash trilogy is being remastered by Vicarious Visions and is going to be released in 2017.  This is massive news not only because it’s af treat for the fanbase, but could also lead to a revival of the franchise.  I truly hope that these remasters remain faithful to the series legacy of short-but-deep level design.  If not, I think it will be a shame, because the development of Crash Bandicoot is an incredible story of repeatedly making something out of nothing.

Andy Gavin, co-founder of Naughty Dog and Crash Bandicoot creator, tells the full story of development on his website, and it’s an awesome read that I recommend you check out if you want to get into game design!

My Thoughts on E3 2016, Part 2: Sony

Sony's press conference was full of surprises and promise.
Sony’s press conference was full of surprises and promise.

Sony’s press conference leads me to believe that the PS4 is about to become the leading platform for cinematic, poignant, and hard-hitting video games.  From the next installment in the God of War franchise, to Hideo Kojima’s undeniable collaboration with The Walking Dead actor Norman Reedus, to a series of VR experiences of all kinds, it looks like Sony is aiming to evolve in the position it’s always had, pushing the boundaries of the stories video games tell.

So what really got me going at the press conference?  Well, just about every other thing.  God of War looks like it’s about to go in an interesting and hopefully more narrative-driven direction compared to its old third installment.  The Crash Bandicoot remakes hopefully signal a re-emergence of that franchise that so many of us grew up with.  Horizon: Zero Dawn looks like it will be an incredible combination of themes and deliver on some thrilling gameplay, and I have to admit, the very idea of Insomniac Games creating a new Spider-Man game gets me cautiously giddy.  As for all the promised VR spinoffs shown, all I can really say is I like the idea of them – given the current expense and relative novelty of VR, it’s something I can’t honestly say is going to be amazing or not – I may take an in-depth look at VR in another post, another day.

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But now onto the real hype machines.  First off, Detroit: Become Human looks like it’s going to set a new standard for interactive story building, exploring insanely interesting themes of real humanity vs. artificial humanity through engaging, investigative gameplay.  The multiple endings also make me thinking this is going to be an incredibly deep, well-crafted narrative experience and I can’t wait to see it take off.  Death Stranding and Resident Evil VII: Biohazard also excited me almost to the point of tears, not necessarily because they represent the kinds of games I play a lot, but because they are sure to shake the industry to its core.  The ingenious minds at Kojima Productions are most definitely going to make Death Stranding an intensely creepy and profound work of art, and RE7 not only looks like a return to the series’s survival horror roots, but the continuation of the kind of immersive, disturbing gameplay we were promised in Silent Hills before it was canceled.

Lastly (pun intended), we have The Last Guardian, the long awaited third entry in the series of extraordinary games that started way back when with Shadow of the Colossus.  It’s looking better than ever on this generation of consoles, and I think it’s sure to move us like few other games can.  Truly, Sony wowed us with the variety and promise of their whole presentation, and I hope their final products are as good as they look.