Full admission; I’m a gamer. For those of you unfamiliar with the term, it means someone whose hobby is to play video games. We’re not talking candy crush mobile apps, perish the thought. We’re talking glued to the TV, PlayStation controller in hand, “just one more level” sort of gamer.
This sort of lifestyle is the antithesis of getting the washing done.
Two months ago, I found out a video game series from my childhood, Crash Bandicoot, was being remade. I hadn’t seen nor heard anything about Crash for over 20 years. But I was overjoyed he was back on the block. Made in 1996, the original games are so old that they’re completely unplayable.
What I also learned is that the remake was a very long and agonizing process. You see, Naughty Dog — which has to be the best company name ever — didn’t really put much thought into keeping backups.
So here’s the story on how a lack of backups almost ended the world’s most famous bandicoot, and what they had to do to bring him back from the digital grave.
Rebuilding Crash From Scratch
In 1996, very few people had heard of the game company ‘Naughty Dog’. Even though they’d been around for a decade, they admit they’d been working on “garage titles” that never really went anywhere.
But things really got started when they invented a particular bandicoot wearing blue shorts, in the vein of a much quirkier Sonic the Hedgehog.
The story goes something like this: two mad scientists are performing experiments on animals on a bunch of Australian islands. Their aim is to create a mutated army of animals to take over the world. You know, as you do.
Their plans backfire when they mutate a bandicoot called Crash, who manages to escape. From there, you control him as he goes about thwarting the evil scientists’ plans at world domination. Mostly by jumping, spinning, sliding, and wearing goofy masks.
People lapped this up. At 6.8 million units sold worldwide, it became one of the best selling PlayStation games of all time. Naughty Dog made two more games, then passed the rights on.
What they didn’t do, however, was create a simple backup of all that hard work they’d done.
Fast forward to 2017. The now-owners of Crash want to revive their IP. So, they enlist a company—Vicarious Visions—to remake those three games that Naughty Dog made. Naturally, the first thing Vicarious Visions do is contact Naughty Dog.
Any data from your smash hit success? Game code? Music? Animations? Artificial Intelligence? Textures? Control Timing? Development Notes? Anything?
“Almost everything was missing,” Vicarious designer Dan Tanguay said. “Any code, anything like that, we didn’t have access to.” The loss of the game engine Naughty Dog had built for the game was perhaps the biggest blow.
As any person who’s played Crash Bandicoot knows, the game itself is hard. It’s more than just hitting jump. You’re calculating the arch of the jump, the seconds it takes, the exact inch you press the joystick. The cartoon graphics are deceptive – to play the game is to throw your controller in frustration at least a dozen times. But that’s what also makes it satisfying to win.
By losing the physics data from the original game, Naughty Dog had effectively lost the whole game. A faithful reproduction would be near impossible.
Only the 3D meshes remained. But all this did was help them rebuild the architecture and scale of the world that Crash would run around in. It was the gameplay that made the game, and fans would know if this was missing.
And so, it was to these hard-core fans that Vicarious turned to. If the data wasn’t stored on a device, at least there were almost seven million people who had played the game – and that would hold them ultimately accountable if they fell short.
They Combed Fan Forums For Missing Data
With no physics data, the game makers had to scour forums and guide sites for gameplay data. There were exploits that fans knew that needed to be preserved in order to make a faithful remake.
And without that original data, there were slip ups. Tanguay admitted his team didn’t realize until late in the process that each sequel’s breakable crates worked differently from others. This was important became many fans knew the exact speed they could smash through a box to complete a speed run.
The most basic mechanic – how high Crash could jump – caused the biggest problem for the remake team. What should have been a simple line of physics code had to be eyeballed, guessed and tested. And if the guess was wrong, it affected the quality of gameplay in single level of the game.
Like remaking old movies for a new audience, remaking video games has become a major growth area in the last decade. However, many of these are a new paint job on an old game – just some replaced 3D graphics and textures, repackaged and sold. Very few games get the same level of built from scratch design, programming, art and animation that the Crash remake has gotten.
Since it’s launch a few days ago, word is the new Crash Bandicoot has been a faithful reproduction of the 1990’s classic. As an avid fan, I’m thrilled they stared down the barrel of massive data loss and won.
But guys, maybe next time, you should keep some backups of your work, even if it’s in cold storage. If it’s not for you, do it for the guys who’ll be keeping your game and hard work alive in a decade’s time. We’re all better off for it!
Looking to Avoid Your Data ‘Crashing’?
Read our handy guide on the best backup and recovery software for any OS, from Windows to iPhones.
By Adam Ipsen