Novacanoo Crash Bandicoot Reply

Critique these critiques?

Holy crap, 11 reviews, jesus christ. Are 11 reviews really necessary?

Second, you’re really monotone. Like really really monotone. Sounds a little forced. Also are you actually british or just putting on an accent?

I don’t think the information on why you’re not covering the games prior to Crash is really relevant. I’m honestly not that interested in the history of Naughty Dog. Maybe someone else is, but I think it’s fluff when it comes to a game review.

Also I think your sentences are a bit long and drawn out, maybe using more words than necessary.

It’s weird to present the introduction to the game before the attract mode cutscene. It’s like you’re starting one idea then interrupting it with an earlier one.

Right here, you don’t mention what the character’s abilities are, how they work, or how intuitive they are.

I don’t think it’s fair to say that the X axis is barely used at all, it’s used about as much as the Y axis. Also don’t think it’s fair to say that obstacles that make use of the X axis don’t play into the strengths of the design. If they didn’t play into the strengths of the design in some way, then wouldn’t it effectively just be a different perspective version of a 2d platformer? A not very impressive 2d platformer?

Today we’d probably call it arcadey? Is that implying that arcadey is a bad thing? Today I think I’d call it uninspired and derivative same as they did back then.

Okay, so a game with high commitment jumps is alright as long as it’s, “designed around them.” This is a buzzphrase. What does “designed around them” mean here? It would appear to be, “the player is asked to jump any distance except the maximum length of the jump”, but castlevania, the example you just cited, requires you to jump the maximum length of the jump sometimes. Also doesn’t it seem like a good common sense rule of thumb to never ask a player to jump the maximum jump length so they don’t have to do ridiculously frameperfect jumps?

What does “poor physics” mean here? Are you sure you don’t mean the fact that you’re jumping into the Z axis, where distance is harder to judge?

“since most of the game’s jumps are the same length, there’s nothing stimulating about the act of jumping.” That’s a decent observation coupled with a swift judgment. I think it would have served your purposes better here to cite examples of how different jump lengths could have been used to construct more varied challenges, and how the system for controlling crash during jumps makes those infeasible, rather than jumping into the conclusion that this is compensation for an unruly physics system.

I don’t imagine that getting the physics right was a big hurdle at all. I think making a competent rendering engine was a much bigger hurdle. Crash’s system for rendering 3d graphics is legendary for its performance on the PS1 hardware. Physics calculations comparatively are very simple (at least, when you aren’t coding something like havok). Collision detection in 3d is harder.

Talking about what’s probably hard or the troubles the developers went through is very much copping MM’s style. I don’t think it’s helping your case, because like MM, I don’t think you have a background in computer programming or knowledge of game engines. Saying, “it must have taken a lot of effort” or “they put a lot of thought into this” or “I imagine that getting the physics right was one of the biggest hurdles” are kind of empty statements.

It doesn’t really matter what the intent of the designer was, or what was hard or what was easy. You can spend tons of effort doing something a hard way that doesn’t really pay off, and a reviewer should be impartial to that in my opinion. It shouldn’t matter to a reviewer how much effort something took. It matters to a development team. Saying “Man, they spent a lot of effort on this thing that turned out to be worthless” isn’t saying much about the final state of the game, it’s advice to make sure a hypothetical design team doesn’t fuck up another game. And maybe you want to include that type of thing as an aside, but it doesn’t properly indict the game itself for it’s own faults.

I’ll draw one exception when it comes to proposing alternative implementations that could have been better than what the game actually did. I usually limit myself to implementations of mechanics that existed at the time, to prevent hindsight bias. However this is still only loosely connected to evaluating the game as it is. If a game did something wrong and the correct interpretation was come up with later, you could just as easily say the game was made too soon to actually be good. It doesn’t matter if the developers tried hard, had the wrong tools, or incredible setbacks, either the game works out or it doesn’t.

I think you could have put in a better shot at explaining how that level doesn’t work so well with the dpad and physics. The dpad claim is especially weird here considering the dpad should make a level that looks like it’s just a straight line easier. It’s a digital input tool, it should be good at staying straight on a level that’s straight, and only moving you forward when pressed and not otherwise.

You’re reaching when you say that the developers tried to force intricate platforming after making compromises to their original design. I don’t think you have sufficient evidence to claim that. The developers are dead. You don’t know what their intent was. It doesn’t matter what their intent was.

Stating that players probably gave up once they reached this level is similar reaching. You don’t know that. Please avoid guessing at other players’ experiences.

The spin attack thing was probably intentional. It would have been easier to implement it the other way, where you stop when you release the dpad. They probably went to extra effort to make it move regardless of your dpad because they wanted you to feel committed to the motion of the spin attack, feeling like it has inertia of its own, like dash attacks in many games. Dying due to it sounds like it speaks more to incompetence on your part unfortunately.

I think the level analyses could have been better if you went over the way the individual levels attempted to challenge the player rather than the extreme cliffnotes versions. How was the level design actually utilized to make the player think? What sort of play does it bring out? How are the enemies used? For the water level, I think it would be appropriate to mention that aligning the camera with the primary plane the character is moving on helps players significantly with accurate movement across that plane. This is why we have 2d platformers with cameras from the sides instead of the back. In many Crash level, the camera is behind crash, which makes it difficult to judge how far things are ahead, but in water levels, they clearly felt that this wasn’t as important as simply showing the player exactly how far the character is moving relative to what’s below him.

I don’t think having a variety of stage types is necessarily a strength, especially if all of those stage types are bad or average. It’s better to do one thing well than 5 things poorly.

In what way do the hog ride levels rely on trial and error? You’re presenting a conclusion before your evidence. Same thing when you say the slippery climb level is extremely challenging but in a good way, because it “takes the limitations of the controls into account” which is incredibly vague. When you mention how it’s a pain to jump on moving platforms with these controls, that could do with some explanation as well. I’d presume it’s because you don’t inherit the platform’s movement when you jump and need to manually accelerate and deccelerate in the air to keep up. Also it would help if you had a better explanation of how bad the controls are in the first place. Also vague is saying that you were frustrated by the last level because again, the controls suck, especially versus the things introduced in that stage, which you don’t elaborate on.

I don’t really care how fancy the final boss’s scenario was for the time.

Game feel isn’t a concept that’s ethereal, though without knowing the exact game logic it can be hard to put a finger on. I think you could have broken down the mechanics of how crash moves and jumps much better than you did. I think this is particularly remiss given it’s a platformer game. This isn’t a factor of age, Mario 64 was released months before it. The game logic required to make a good feeling 3d platformer is not hardware intensive nor beyond the mathematical capabilities of developers of the time. Game logic is usually the least cpu intensive part of any game, barring AI. The issue is that they built a faulty implementation.

Also, it’s really bizarre how you can say that they basically screwed everything up, levels, camera perspective, physics, enemies, bosses, yet the game is somehow still worth playing. You haven’t really mentioned any of the merits of the game at all. Also, dark time when we played 3d games with Dpads, try playing the Ys games on PC. They have a very similar control system to Crash, and you can in fact play them with a dpad (or arrow keys). They control fairly well. The dpad limitation is something that can entirely be worked around. The Crash developers simply failed.

To look into the game a bit more, I downloaded a rom of it and had a try at it. Something I guessed from the video was that diagonal running was at the same speed as cardinal direction running, and that turned out to be correct. My guess is that they have an independent X and Z velocity value that both have physics calculations run independently, rather than a cental polar coordinate value that is later converted into X and Z velocity values using trig. This is a common error in games of the time, but I’d guess that it’s not an error here because of the boulder sections. If you ran with correct angular velocity, then you’d lose distance to the boulder across the boulder chases when moving left or right. Obviously having different speed ordinal directions is part of what makes movement feel so awkward. Another observation is that you didn’t really explain how the health powerups, the tiki masks work. More or less they’re like a mushroom from mario, giving you another hit before dying, but not providing any other function. Also you failed to mention that you can control your movement during a spin, but you have basically no friction and a smaller acceleration force than normal. And that spins can be canceled by jumps and vice versa, and canceling a jump with a spin seems to increase the speed at which you fall, so you don’t seem to get as much distance from jumps if you spin out of them (I can’t totally tell, all my testing seems to indicate the jump is unaffected, but it feels like you get less distance).

I think the game feel issues can be chalked up entirely to the way acceleration works. The character moves at a slow speed across the screen, much lower than say the perceivable speed of mario in Super Mario Bros on NES, or Mario 64, yet the acceleration value is also fairly low. The friction value is the same as the acceleration value, so it creates this feeling like it’s difficult to get moving or to stop moving, where in mario 64 by contrast, if you hold a direction all the way, you get moving almost instantaneously. The dpad is a hinderance here because there is clearly extra acceleration and decceleration going on here compared to 2d games where acceleration is usually close to instantaneous, yet because of the digital controls, fine control over the acceleration is not possible, so the character always moves a bit further than you intend, or not as far as you intend when you press or tap the dpad directions. It’s like having ice physics, except the friction level is the same as the acceleration level, so it comes across as feeling weird rather than clearly like ice. Also friction is only applied when the dpad is released (I think), which is why it takes so long for crash to turn around (because if it’s applied all the time, then he’d lose speed from the direction he’s going at double the normal rate instead of the same rate as when the dpad is released).

This is the same in the air, making it so that if you’re directly over something at the peak of your jump and hold back directly when you’re over it, you’ll still overshoot it based on the time it takes to slow down. Unlike Castlevania, you’re required in some sections to accelerate in the air, which means you need to accelerate enough to get onto the target platform, but stop before you’ll overshoot it when you hold back. Because the acceleration value is so low, it’s easy to over/under shoot this. To accurately jump to another platform from no acceleration you need to accurately hold in your mind how long it will take to accelerate to the appropriate speed to get to that platform across the amount of time you’re in the air, and the point at which you need to hold back in order to not overshoot, plus the added constraint of how long to hold the jump button. This is so far from real-world physics and even commonly intuitive videogame physics that it’s a huge pain in the ass to jump accurately even in the 2d platformer levels. In Castlevania you at least have the luxury of always knowing the exact arc of your jump.

Speaking of the jump, something feels awful about it that I can’t quite put my finger on. I don’t have frame advance or a memory reader that can tell me Z position over time, so my best guess is that as long as X is held, you move up at a certain velocity until a timer runs out, then gravity handles it until you hit a terminal velocity equal to the rising velocity. The end result is that the jumps look consistent every time, but feel like you don’t have a lot of control over them. This is likely because the rising velocity and terminal velocity values, as well as the gravity value, are all fairly low. This produces a sensation that feels floaty and like you don’t have a lot of direct control (because you have no control over the jump height while gravity is doing its work, as opposed to the way 2d sonic and mario control their jumps where either your upwards velocity is instantly braked to a lower value when the button is released, or gravity is altered as long as the button is held, respective to the two games). On a more simple level, you get maybe 1.5 times as much height by holding the button down all the way as not. That’s a really shitty amount of variation.

That the running animation also is forced to play through a full cycle before coming to a stop doesn’t help matters. It seems like there’s an animation of him taking a step, and doing a full run, and it transitions between these when he hits a low enough speed threshold, but the full run can only transition to the step animation when his feet are together, at the passing position. So it looks like he has this exaggeratedly big level of motion when his velocity is very low, which is disconcerting. Animation blending didn’t exist back then, but they could have added extra animations to help buffer this transition out (like mario 64 did).

I also feel it’s weird you didn’t mention the life system and how collectibles work, granting an extra life when you gain 100. Compared to most games in the genre, there are a lot more collectibles dispensed, and the game chastises you for missing collectibles at the end of each level. Also in your review I felt like the remark about how it was unconventional that you could destroy collectibles, even really important ones, was weird. Playing the game, I feel like the reason it’s there is so there’s a hazard as you open boxes, that in your rush to destroy more boxes, you might destroy collectibles too. I just destroyed a save point collectible like 4 times in a row while playing. A more appropriate criticism of the mechanic would probably be to mention that there’s no benefit or alternative use to destroying powerups, or objects in general, they’re just gone.

Also you brushed over way too many of the level challenges. The core of the game is moving forward in the direction the level goes, and around obstacles as they crop up, jumping and spinning as appropriate. You could have explained how the level designs, the enemy arrangements, and so on, combine these 3 key aspects to make the player need to think (or not need to think too hard) about, planar movement, jumping, spinning.

I think overall you need to focus more on describing how the core mechanics work, or don’t work. You’re going to need to develop a better eye for that sort of thing. I think you brushed over a lot of the central interactions between the core mechanics and the enemies/levels. You frequently remarked that they were trivial or not worth mentioning, sometimes that they were hard or frustrating, but rarely got into detail about what goes into any particular section that makes it trivial or frustrating.

Your review ends on an upnote for a reason that is not at all made clear by the contents of the review. I mean, I really have no reason to not think this game is a walking talking abomination all things considered.

Well, thanks for your effort. There’s certainly plenty there to consider. I will say though that the last few paragraphs on controls are where we differ – people like you and me who can understand all that jargon are few and far between, and there are even fewer who find it interesting.

What do you mean we differ? Like, you don’t agree with that part, or you didn’t quite have the knowledge to pull that type of thing out?

Anyway, I find it super interesting. I think it’s one of the most interesting things about games. I’ve programmed a number of simple physics simulations, collision detection systems, and other stuff, and the vast number of different ways these things can be implemented is fascinating to me.

“What do you mean we differ?” I just meant that, while we can both understand everything you meant when talking about acceleration/friction/gravity/velocity values, you find it super interesting where I don’t. And, while I usually hate the phrase, to each their own.

Hahaha, damn! That’s unfortunate.

I like math, and physics, and animation. Games are like the intersection between those things.

With that said, you’ve got a follower in me if you ever get around to making videos of your own. You say you’re lazy, but take out the references to me and paragraphs 51 through 60 could fill out a focused video on Crash 1’s controls just fine. I just dunno what kind of audience you’d find. To show that that 3000 words doesn’t go unappreciated: I’ve taken the parts I unreservedly agree with and written a little something to keep myself in check. In particular, I really needed to hear that part about making claims about a game’s development as justification for a fault being a totally worthless endeavor. Sorry for quadruple post – I appreciate how constructive your criticism is, and this is the way to act on it that makes the most sense to me. Also it’s a New Zealand accent, believe me you aren’t the first one to wonder.

Thank you and you’re welcome.

You’re right, my remarks on the game from trying it is practically an analysis in of itself. However writing is easy for me, video editing is harder. Why do you think I answer so many asks?

Thanks for your pastebin summing up some of my remarks. That fits into this ask from earlier: At the time I couldn’t remember some of the more specific procedure I had, but your pastebin sums it up nicely. I might append a rewrite of some of that when I post the ask to my blog.

Good luck, have fun.

6 thoughts on “Novacanoo Crash Bandicoot Reply

  1. Nimpak August 21, 2016 / 10:32 pm

    This was a great read. I love your analysis on the physics, and thought it was really interesting. I hope you can do a similar analysis to Yooka-Laylee when it comes out.


    • Chris Wagar August 21, 2016 / 10:40 pm

      Thank you. Yooka Laylee is kind of a random choice, but I might do it.


  2. Nimpak August 22, 2016 / 3:18 am

    Well my reasoning for that game specifically is because at least from what I’ve seen without playing the controls look a bit awkward, and I would like to see that concern either confirmed or quashed from someone who knows what they’re talking about, and not some reviewer who will praise the game simply because it’s a successor to Banjo-Kazooie and overlook a lot of its flaws.


  3. DJaeger August 22, 2016 / 11:47 pm

    Honestly, as weird as the physics are for Crash 1 (and they do feel different to other big platformers), I have always felt that they work for Crash. It is just different from other great platformers, but I don’t think that means it is a bad game. Having beaten it myself a couple of times, I haven’t really felt it being unfair or stiff, just challenging at times (apart from the second boss fight, that shit can just die). Only thing that felt really weird was changing the direction of a jump in midair, which meant you often had to make really calculated jumps. But yeah, Crash 3 and twinsanity were big improvements imo.


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