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How Beenox is building "a love letter to the original Crash Team Racing" in Nitro-Fueled

It's easy to feel a mixture of joy and trepidation when approaching any remaster. The joy of an old favourite returning clashing with the understanding that it might spoil your memory of the original; that's the effect of nostalgia for you. Still, developer Beenox is helping to alleviate our fears as it continues to lovingly craft Crash Team Racing: Nitro-Fueled. 

OPM sat down with Beenox creative director and co-studio head Thomas Wilson to discuss the upcoming kart racer, covering the studio's attempts not only to recreate what was once great but elevate for a new generation of players entirely. 

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Did you work with Vicarious Visions as it developed the N.Sane Trilogy?

Thomas Wilson: We talked to our good friends at Vicarious Visions because they went through an experience of remastering the games, and did an awesome job with the Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy. But we’re big fan of the franchise, big fans of the original Crash Team Racing, so really for us our focus was really on delivering a great remaster that fans of the original would simply fall in love with.

Why do you call it a “remaster” instead of a “remake”?

TW: The original intention is to remaster the awesome gameplay and tracks that people fell in love with in the first place. Crash Team Racing was introducing very unique mechanics with the way you can power-slide around the tracks, and so that was something that we fell in love with as well. I started in the game industry 20 years ago playing Crash Team Racing, so it’s kind of sort of come full circle.

I fell in love with this game because of the awesome mechanics and the awesome track design and the personality that comes out of the characters, so our responsibility was first and foremost making sure that we were recreating that as close as possible – to really have the muscle memory kicking in as you play Nitro-Fueled.

But you must have wanted to change things up a little?

TW: There was an opportunity to modernise the experience by adding online racing and by also adding a lot more personality because of the technological gap between when the game came out and what it is now. So, there was a great focus and attention to detail in adding life and personality to every track in the game.

Was there ever the temptation to modernise more than you have?

TW: I consider Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled sort of a love letter to the original Crash Team Racing, and it was very important to us to stick to the winning formula that Crash Team Racing had created 20 years ago. Our focus was making sure that we recreated the same feel, the same fun of racing with these karts, but at the same time there was a opportunity to inject a lot more personality in the way we modernised it.

We talked about online and leaderboards but we can also talk about the personality that can be injected into each of the characters, right? Because now these characters are fully rigged, fully animated, and that’s something we can take advantage of when we’re animating the characters when they’re racing – the reactions when they get hit, when they jump, when they win after a race. So there was a tremendous opportunity to actually inject more personality into it by keeping the same original gameplay that everybody fell in love with.

A lot has been added to the world track design. What (ahem) drove that?

TW: The question that we were asking every time we were remastering each track is “What’s the story here? Is there something that we could inject that would add more personality?” And so every time the question was “What can we add to the environment? What can we bring to the table that would make this fun and exciting while maintaining the original feel of the game?” For instance, Polar Pass. With Polar Pass we assigned that level to Polar [the polar bear racer], and we said “Well then, what is this place?”

We could create a fishing village, we could had a treehouse with the glowing lanterns, we could even have a DJ in there – so we have a polar bear DJ actually just remixing the music track with penguins dancing on the side. These are the things that we start thinking about that would just be nice additions to the original experience, so what’s great is that we’re not modifying the original experience, we’re not modifying the layout, but we’re looking for opportunities outside of the track to put a little bit of humour and just a little bit of story in each of the tracks.

Everything you need to know

Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, Switch
Release Date: 21 June, 2019
Genre: Racing
Developer: Beenox

In a way it feels like the platformers, but in a kart racing form. Is that deliberate?

TW: Of course mechanics introduced back in the day we needed to maintain in the remastered edition in Nitro-Fueled. The sliding on ice was a gameplay element that was part of the original game, and so we needed to make sure that feeling, the way you slide, had to feel the same. Of course, the original game borrowed some influences from the platform games that Naughty Dog created, but here our goal was to make sure that we bring back all the great mechanics from Crash Team Racing but that we add so much more to the experience.

What was it like to be asked work on this remaster?

TW: I’ve been developing games for a very long time and you know, you get excited. It starts as just a regular conversation, but then you build up a strategy so it can happen, and so when we started working on it that was just like very exciting. It brought out the kid at heart in me, booting up the game and playing it again – understanding or remembering what made me fell in love with the game in the first place. It just brought fond memories.

So then it’s a matter of taking all those good memories, all this love, and putting it into Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled so that fans of the original game can fall  in love with it again, and newcomers can just discover it for the first time, and appreciate how great it is.

Thomas Wilson has a lot of love for Crash Team Racing, but did it translate into our hands-on with the game