Creating the Early Face of PlayStation with Crash Bandicoot
It’s hard to be a mascot in the video game industry. In a field where juggernauts like Mario and Sonic had ruled the roost and propelled their brands to massive stardom, thousands of companies took chances on trying to capture that same lightning. Sony was no different. As Sony prepared to market the PlayStation, they wanted their own face. They needed a character that would be instantly recognizable and easily sell their brand. It just so happened that a little studio called Naughty Dog was looking to make a name for themselves as well. The two would come together and their dealings would indeed culminate a charming early attempt at the then revolutionary new genre of 3D platforming. It was today in 1996 that Crash Bandicoot came to shelves and became one of the more iconic faces on which Sony would sell its new system.
Development of Crash Bandicoot began as early as 1994. Naughty Dog Co-founders Andy Gavin and Jason Rubin came up with the concept during a road trip. Gavin and Rubin mused over the fact that many genres were making the move to 3D rendering, but the platformer was still a relatively unexplored space. Given this genre was their favorite, Gavin and Rubin began conceptualizing ideas to capitalize on what they perceived as an empty market with ample opportunities. In that year, Naughty Dog had signed with Universal Interactive Studios and once they arrived, they pitched the idea to Mark Cerny. Seeing opportunity with Sony’s new PlayStation system, the team signed a developer agreement and worked towards creating a game that would compete with other major mascots in the industry.
When creating the central character for its new game, Naughty took inspiration from characters like Sonic the Hedgehog. They wanted to make an anthropomorphized character based on an animal not many people were familiar with. For this purpose, they looked to Tasmanian mammals, many of which were found only in the Tasmanian isles. In the end, they narrowed it down to three choices. A bandicoot was always one of the options, but Crash was also almost a wombat and a potoroo. Crash’s working name was even “Willie the Wombat” for a while as a placeholder even after it was determined that the character would be a bandicoot. Of course, the potoroo would be utilized in creating one of Crash’s main enemies: Pinstripe Potoroo.
Crash’s origin came out of the design of his arch nemesis, Dr. Neo Cortex. The team wanted Cortex to an archetypal mad scientist on a remote island. Dr. Neo Cortex and his fellow scientist, Nitrus Brio, create an Evolvo-Ray which they use to turn animals on the island into various mutants, give them superhuman abilities and create an animal army. Crash is one such experiment, but he manages to escape Cortex’s clutches. When Cortex turns his mad intentions towards Tawny, a female bandicoot to whom Crash had become attached while in captivity, he resolves to return to Cortex’s castle and put an end to the mad scientists machinations once and for all.
Crash Bandicoot was a benchmark game and a trendsetter in 3D platforming games. Though Super Mario 64 preceded it by a few months on the Nintendo 64, Crash Bandicoot set a standard for what players could expect out of the PlayStation. The game contained three islands full of levels that Crash had to traverse in order to make his way back to Cortex. Along the way, Crash jumps on and spins through boxes, enemies and everything else destructible while avoiding various pitfalls and gimmicks of any given level. As one of the first games of its kind, Crash Bandicoot represented a charming gateway into 3D platform gaming for players everywhere.
Crash Bandicoot has had a long run on PlayStation systems since its initial release. Naughty Dog would not only produce sequels to the original adventure, but tons of gimmick games similar to those of the Mario franchise would come out in direct competition with their N64 adversary. This led to games like the critically acclaimed Crash Team Racing and the somewhat less stellar Crash Bash in competition with Mario Kart and Mario Party respectively. Crash Bandicoot may have eventually lost step with Nintendo, but it was still one of the establishing franchises of the Sony brand for a long time and propelled Naughty Dog into positions to do much greater things. There’s no doubt about it: Crash Bandicoot helped open the gate for a ton of progression in the industry.