When it was confirmed that, like every Activision studio in modern times, the California-based Spyro and Skylanders studio would be contributing to the publisher’s FPS machine, many fans were understandably concerned that Crash’s days could be numbered.
And yet, that doesn’t appear to be the case – at least not today. The more cynical might argue that a multiplayer spin-off isn’t the greatest sign of confidence from a publisher with a recent history of ditching its smaller franchises.
But creative director Dan Neil argues that Toys For Bob has always demonstrated flexibility in the games it’s developed, and that its decade-long history of delivering hit platformers is something its parent company is well aware of.
“I think that we’ve shown we’re a really flexible studio,” he told VGC at Summer Game Fest. “The fact that, from the history of what Toys For Bob do, we’ve got folks internally who can turn their hands to Call of Duty and create excellent Call of Duty content. These two genres are not that similar on the surface, right?
“We’ve drawn a lot of knowledge and learning from working with the Call of Duty team that we’ve brought back into our own execution on Crash Team Rumble.
“Obviously, there’s a passion and a core ethos of games that Toys For Bob have demonstrated that they’re excellent at producing over the decades. But it’s not only about what we’re passionate about, it’s that Activision is supportive and they continue to want to invest in new titles for this franchise. They also have a belief that we can do exciting new things.”
What were the first things you considered when you approached translating Crash Bandicoot’s solo gameplay for a multiplayer title?
The first thing to say is that the five playable heroes in Team Rumble were the five playable heroes in Crash 4, so we’re starting from a baseline understanding of their movesets and their metrics. One thing we did make is we softened the metrics. Crash 4 is a game that’s about incredibly precise timing and execution, it’s not so much about engaging the little grey cells, it’s about ‘do this’ and it’s really challenging.
In multiplayer, you’re not just dealing with dangers in the environment, you’re dealing with the other team. So one thing we did was we softened the metrics; it’s not as tight, the jumps are easier because you’re not dealing with the dangers in the environment.
Were there any tricks you were able to implement to have it feel the same, even though it’s not quite as tight?
The baseline of each character feels the same as they did in Crash 4. All of their moves are the same and they feel as fluid to move around in. Often with multiplayer games, the movement doesn’t feel quite as good as single-player games, but it was really important to us that when you play with these heroes, it feels like you’re moving around in a triple-A platformer and not in a knock-about multiplayer game. So when you slide around with these heroes, they do feel great.
Another consideration was how much danger the player should be in from the environment, versus the other team. In Crash 4, obviously all the danger comes from the environment – that would be too much in a multiplayer game. So we really limited the amount of fall to death and most of the maps are a lot more forgiving: they’re not littered with nitro crates and enemies that are going to murder you.
Those two were our real main considerations when moving to multiplayer: the metrics and the danger from the environments.
Considering you decided to keep each hero’s moveset from Crash 4, how challenging was that to balance in a competitive game?
Very! There were so many considerations for balance, for sure. Everything in the game was very finely tuned the best we could internally, and then we had an open beta two months ago when we got a bunch of new data from the audience. So we’ve done a bunch of tuning passes since then for stuff like characters’ health, how much fruit they can carry, how fast they lose health, how much damage each attack does… all of that was balanced based on feedback.
Was the player feedback from the beta mostly what you expected, or were there any surprising responses?
It was closer to what I expected than I might have had worse fears of! From our perspective, the response was super positive. I know a lot of Crash fans went into the open beta not knowing what to expect. Honestly, it’s quite a hard game to describe. It’s not a clone of ‘X’… there’s not really been a competitive multiplayer platforming game like this. So I think a lot of fans went in excited, but not really knowing what to expect, and genuinely we’ve been really happy with the response that we’ve seen.
“Often with multiplayer games, the movement doesn’t feel quite as good as single-player games, but it was really important to us that when you play with these heroes, it feels like you’re moving around in a triple-A platformer and not in a knock-about multiplayer game”
Even though it is a departure, Crash has had multiplayer spin-offs before in the form of the Racing titles.
For sure. There have been multiplayer games in the franchise before, like the Racing games and Crash Bash, but they’re operating in different spaces. In the Racing games, you’re in a car – it’s not tied to the core DNA of the franchise, which is of course platforming. So our vision for this was, how do we take competitive play and marry that with the core of the franchise, which is platforming?
Can you talk a bit about how you’ve balanced monetisation? The game is a priced box title, even if it’s a lower RRP than most titles.
One of our touchstones was we wanted the game to remain really balanced, so we decided to go with cosmetics. We decided to lean on our studio’s super fun, flavoursome, wacky character visuals for our cosmetics. That was point one, to make sure the game remained fair and you weren’t power levelling your heroes so that your became stronger against other players.
And then it was really a question of balancing the battle pass against the initial price of the game. I think fans are going to let us know when they get into the game how we did with that balance.
So that’s something you’re still open to feedback on?
We’re always going to be listening to how people are getting on with it over the course of our first season. The other thing we’re going to be doing is seasonal content. As gamers and developers we’re quite familiar with how other studios run seasons and events, but this is our first go at it and we’re going to bring our own flavour to how we create our own reveal events around new heroes, new powers, new maps and new modes.
None of this type of content is behind a paywall. The battle pass is all cosmetics, and that’s just one way you’ll earn those as there are also challenges for each hero that will unlock new cosmetics.
Activision Blizzard is probably the most experienced publisher around in competitive online games. Was it able to share some of that experience when you were creating Team Rumble?
Some, but honestly, they’ve been really open to us saying ‘this is what we feel is right’ from a Toys For Bob perspective. We’ve got a long history and reputation as a developer that we want to maintain in terms of how we deliver quality and fun. So while they were of course part of the conversation, they were not mandating.
How ambitious is your post-launch support plan?
Relative to what? (Laughs)
Well, we’re assuming you’re planning to go beyond Season 1…
For sure! Relative to Toys For Bob, it’s super ambitious! (Laughs) We’ve got new heroes coming out, new maps, new modes and new powers. There are limited-time events that players will participate in that are chances to unlock exclusive cosmetic rewards…
So you guys are already planning beyond Season 1?
If you know about development, you need to plan somewhat into the future. So no, we’re already deep into building…
There’s a lot of awareness around the number of well-received service games that suffered or closed in the last 18 months. What measures have you put in place to give the best chance that your community is still going to be there 30-60 days after release?
What do you see as the distinguishing factor for games that are able to keep their community?
“We’ve got a long history and reputation as a developer that we want to maintain in terms of how we deliver quality and fun. So while [Activision] were of course part of the conversation, they were not mandating.”
A clear roadmap and steady flow of new content.
And you know what, going back to those conversations with Activision, that’s something we feel Call of Duty does well: ‘this is what we’re doing, this is what’s coming’.
As a developer, even though they weren’t live service games, in the past Activision has had an expectation that things are done, done to quality, and done on time, so they can hit their mark and their season. Skylanders, for example, people want to unwrap those toys for Christmas, so we couldn’t miss that. Where I’m going with this is, as a developer, we’re very used to having to hit our mark. So we’re planning into the future, knowing we need to hit our mark.
A lot of players are asking about split-screen multiplayer. Is that something that could be added in the future?
Never say never, but it’s not something that we’re talking about right now.
What can you tell me about the studio and its commitment to this franchise? Fans were nervous for a while when it was revealed you’d be supporting Call of Duty, fearing you might stop making the colourful platformers you’re known for.
I think that we’ve shown we’re a really flexible studio. The fact that, from the history of what Toys For Bob do, we’ve got folks internally who can turn their hands to Call of Duty and create excellent Call of Duty content. These two genres are not that similar on the surface, right?
We’ve drawn a lot of knowledge and learning from working with the Call of Duty team that we’ve brought back into our own execution on Crash Team Rumble. Obviously, there’s a passion and a core ethos of games that Toys For Bob have demonstrated that they’re excellent at producing over the decades. But it’s not only about what we’re passionate about, it’s that Activision is supportive and they continue to want to invest in new titles for this franchise. They also have a belief that we can do exciting new things.
Moving to multiplayer means that preservation is also a new issue for you. How much thought have you put into that? Could Team Rumble be playable in some form when the day eventually arrives that the servers are switched off?
Right now there are practice maps that you can play with any hero against bots. We also have bots that will backfill matches, so that they’ll stay full.
It’s a really good question. I can totally see [concern over preservation in video games]. It’s also true with probably every multiplayer game, right? If they shut the servers off, what happens? I think that’s more of a lifecycle question at this point. Every development resource that we have at the not-enormous Toys For Bob is spent entirely on making the launch experience and the seasonal content as fun as possible. Maybe one day [preservation] is something we’ll need to look at.