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Thursday, December 29, 2011

Thursday Night At The Arcade: Crash Bandicoot

This is a very big day for me in my own personal life and times, as this is the first blog entry that I will be doing from my brand new laptop computer!

I know that for some of you out there, this may not seem as though this is that big of a deal, but for me, this is the first time that I have even owned a laptop computer.  Prior to Christmas Day 2011, I did all my blog entries the old-fashioned way, which was through a desktop computer.  But now, I can literally take my computer anywhere I want wherever I want.  Heck, I could head on down to Starbucks right now to type out a blog entry while sipping on an overpriced chocolate-banana smoothie!

Of course, I’m not doing that.  I’m in my bedroom, typing away, reflecting on just how much I really was tied down before I got this laptop.  I even got a really cool plastic surface with a cup holder so I can type away without my laptop heating up to the point that my furniture catches on fire.  Believe me, we WOULDN’T want that.

Certainly as someone who is entering the laptop world for the first time, it’ll take a bit of getting used to, but I think that after a while, it will eventually become second nature for me.  At least I started the laptop revolution before 2012 got here, so I can truly ring in the new year with a new computer.

And, well, let’s just say that when 2012 gets here, there are going to be some changes to the Pop Culture Addict’s Guide To Life blog.  Some changes will be minor, but others will be major.  The fun all begins January 1, 2012, so you have a few days to adjust.

But just to preview some of the upcoming changes that will be happening to the blog, I’ll state this.  Today is Thursday Night At The Arcade. 

And, as of now, the December 29 entry will be the LAST Thursday Night Arcade posting for a while.

The reason for the change is partly due to the fact that my Thursday entries are typically my lowest viewed blogs.  I suppose the audience for video games is somewhat small compared to those who watch television or listen to music.  But mostly, I’ve decided to drop the feature because I’m running out of games to talk about.  My tastes in video games is quite narrow, and frankly, I’m running out of ideas to keep the feature going on a full-time basis next year. 

Of course, that’s not to say that I’ll be dropping the feature altogether.  In fact, I’ve got some ideas on how I can bring it back on an occasional basis.  But, I’ll have more details for you once 2011 becomes another page in the world history books.

But today’s blog posting is somewhat linked to the whole idea of change, and how one video game company revolutionized the video game industry by creating their own mascot for a brand new game console.

In 1995, Sony had tossed their hat into the highly competitive video gaming market by coming up with their own console.  That console would become the first edition of the Sony PlayStation.  Since 1995, Sony has become a force in the gaming world, and the Sony PlayStation managed to sell millions of consoles.  Within a matter of years, the Sony PlayStation 2 and PlayStation 3 would also manage to sell a huge amount of consoles and games all over the world.  Today, Sony is just as big of a power player in the world of video games, and is right up there in sales alongside the Nintendo Wii and Microsoft’s XBOX 360.

But when Sony was first starting out, they lacked one thing that their biggest competitors had. 

Sony lacked a mascot.

Back in 1995, Sega and Nintendo were the two heavyweights in the world of video gaming, and both of them had representatives that one could easily associate with the company.

Sega, for instance, had a cash cow in the form of Sonic the Hedgehog.  Since 1991, Sonic managed to make the company millions of dollars through the little blue hedgehog.  Nintendo had double the success, as they had success with both the Super Mario games and the Adventures of Zelda games featuring yet another Nintendo mascot, Link.

Even lesser known consoles like the Turbo Grafx 16 had a cute little caveman character named Bonk.

So when Sony was designing their PlavyStation console, Sony knew that they needed a character to represent the company, and hopefully with much marketing and fun games, they could have a character that would help generate the same exposure and sales that other companies received with their mascots.

Enter Crash Bandicoot.

The little red Eastern Barred Bandicoot first appeared in the Sony PlayStation game ‘Crash Bandicoot’, released on August 31, 1996.  Since then, he has appeared in no less than eighteen video games total, and has sold more than 50 million units worldwide.  A very impressive total, wouldn’t you say?

The background behind the creation of Crash Bandicoot actually began two years prior to his first game appearance.  In 1994, Jason Rubin and Andy Gavin were in the process of a cross-country move from Massachusetts to California.  Naturally, a trip that long was going to have a lot of downtime in between, so both of them used the opportunity to plan out a new kind of video game.  The early sketches they had come up with were jokingly referred to as ‘Sonic’s Ass Game’, as the player would be forced to look at the backside of the protagonist through much of the game.

All kidding aside, the two men had a meeting with a representative of Universal Interactive Studios, Mark Cerny, who agreed to help the two men produce their game.  Production of the game began in September 1994, through video game company, Naughty Dog.

Over the course of the next year, the development of the game took place, and artists were brought in to design the main character of the game.  Artists Joe Pearson and Charles Zembillas were brought in to design the main protagonist.  Zembillas would also be responsible for the design of another Sony PlayStation mainstay, Spyro the Dragon, in 1998.

It’s interesting to note though that when Crash Bandicoot was created, his original name WASN’T Crash.  He wasn’t a bandicoot either.  Instead, he was known as ‘Willy the Wombat’.

So, I ask you this question.  Would YOU play a video game with the cutesy name of Willy the Wombat?  It may have some appeal, but it seemed to me to be a little bit too cutesy-pooh for my personal tastes.

But, the name Willy least until the level development phase began.

By August 1995, three full levels had been completed, and a demo was prepared for submission for Sony Computer Entertainment.  It was discovered that during the demonstration that the levels were quite empty in certain places because at the time, the Sony PlayStation’s technology didn’t allow for the game to display many enemies on screen at a given time.   It was also discovered that the various puzzles that were scattered throughout the game were way too easy for players to solve.  Something had to be done to amp up the difficulty level of the game, and to find a way to fill up the vast emptiness of the levels.

Jason Rubin, however, came up with a tentative solution.  What if he created boxes that had a variety of symbols on the sides of them?  Ones that could be used to trigger puzzles that were planned for the video game?

The idea was for the boxes to be positioned in such a way that they could fill in the empty spaces of the game.  And the purpose of these boxes would be used to challenge the game even further.

Thus, the Crash Bandicoot crates were created.  In January 1996, the first crate was ‘built’.  And when the main character was used to smash the crates, the sound of the destruction was used to rename the main character from Willy the Wombat to Crash Bandicoot!

Now you know how Crash Bandicoot came to be!

And, Crash Bandicoot was definitely a fun and challenging game to play.  I owned both Crash Bandicoot and Crash Bandicoot 2, and I enjoyed them both.

And just to give you some perspective on how challenging the first game really ended up becoming, I’ll alert you to this.  I can fully beat the sequel to the game, but I’ve never beaten the original.  I know some of you hardcore games are probably coming up with comments telling me how much I’ve been pwned, but I’m telling you, I find the first Crash Bandicoot game to be tough!  Just have a look at the video I’ve included with this blog entry to see what I mean!

Here’s the thing with Crash Bandicoot though.  If you really dissect it, you’ll find that the game isn’t much more different than that of a Super Mario game or Sonic the Hedgehog game.

Take the items you have to collect for example,  In Mario, it’s golden coins.  For Sonic, it’s golden rings.  In Crash Bandicoot, you have to collect Wumpa Fruits...none of which are gold in colour.

Or, take the idea of bonus challenges that one has to unlock throughout the game.  Certainly Mario has warp whistles and keyholes to access secret levels.  Sonic has those Chaos Emeralds.

And Crash Bandicoot has coloured gems and pink crystals that he has to collect to be able to fully complete the game.  And some of these gems were NOT easy to find.  Sometimes you’d have to go through a level without breaking a single crate.  Sometimes, you had to locate a secret exit.  Sometimes, you had to beat the level within a certain time limit.

I’ll tell you, getting that yellow gem in Crash Bandicoot 2 was definitely a hair-pulling experience.

Something else the three games have in common?  There’s always someone you have to save.  Sonic has to save the forest creatures from Dr. Robotnik.  I’ve lost count of how many times Mario has had to rescue that stupid Princess Peach.  And in the first game, Crash has to rescue his girlfriend, Tawna from the evil Doctor Neo Cortex, who in turn serves Doctor Nitrus Brio (N. Brio).

Crash also seems to have a lot of mini bosses that Crash is forced to defeat in order to get close to the real baddies of the game.  He has to beat a demented kangaroo named Ripper Roo, a gangster wannabe named Pinstripe, a hybrid of a dingo and crocodile named Dingodile, and several other baddies.

And why wouldn’t Crash want revenge?  It was because of Cortex and N.Brio that Crash ended up becoming who he was.  The evil doctors experiments mutated Crash into the creature he became, as well as several of the other jungle creatures within the area.  Crash was supposed to have been used as a puppet for the evil doings of the mad Doctors, but at the last moment, he was rejected, as he was deemed unworthy by them.  His girlfriend, Tawna, is slated to be the next victim of their plots, so is it any wonder why Crash may harbour a little bit of resentment towards them?

At any rate, I wanted to end the Thursday Night At The Arcade feature with a bang...ah, erm...crash, so to speak, and I figure that this was a great way to do exactly that.

I hope you enjoyed the look back on these video games over the last year, and I’m sorry to see this feature go.  But as this entry is about embracing change, and moving ahead towards the new year, I felt that it was time to let this go.

But fear not.  You may see video games still being featured on other days of the week.  And I’ve got plans for Thursdays for the new year already set in place.  So, stay tuned to this blog, as many more changes are sure to come.

And maybe by the time 2012 arrives, I’ll have gotten more comfortable with the laptop.  J

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