development info - Keith Webb Interview

Interview by Cameron Sawaya.
Keith Webb (SpaceCat) was a Crash Twinsanity developer (Concept Artist). Big thanks to them!
  • How did you start working on Twinsanity? Did you start there when TT Oxford was established? Or did you come on later in the project?
Keith Webb (KW): So, from what I recall I would have joined maybe a year and a half into the development cycle. A good friend of mine, Chris Abedelmessiah, had already joined the team about a year prior and was working at Travellers Tales Oxford as a character builder, providing the great 3D models for the game. He recommended me initially as a Storyboard Artist to the Lead Designers as they were starting to plot out the narrative of the whole game and needed to start developing the cinematics for the cut scenes. I joined initially as the Storyboard Artist and then soon moved over to help out the Concept Art team as that side of development started to ramp up again.
  • Were they your main roles while working on Twinsanity?
KW: Yep, for the Concept Art side I began creating various environment sketches as soon as I started, primarily using the Charles Zembillas artwork as a guide, but also trying to match the style that the other Concept Artists in the team had established. Initially the game had a very large Sci-Fi influence, and the lead concept artist at the time, Rich Albon, had a great visual painterly style that he used for the backgrounds. He also worked alongside Danny Flynn, another great Concept Artist who had built up years of experience illustrating Sci-Fi book covers for authors such as Arthur C Clarke etc. If I recall correctly, the tone of the game started to change when it observed that it was getting a little too close to a recently released Ratchet and Clank game in terms of plot and setting, with the various Si-Fi planets etc. That was really when it changed from the initial “Crash Evolution” concept to what we now know as Twinsanity, with a much more classic cartoon style emphasis. There was another Concept Artist prior to Rich and Danny, whose name escapes me at the moment, but he did some great work as well and I remember trying to match some of his artwork when I started for consistency. His stuff was very professional and detailed stuff from what I recall.
  • How far did Crash Evolution get into development before it shifted into Twinsanity?
KW: I reckon it sort of merged from one to the other, in that there wasn’t really a before and after period, but a lot of stuff that was working well got shifted over to the newer concept, and some other stuff was left behind. The Ants and Evil Twins for example were very much a cross over from the game’s more Sci-Fi roots. The main contributors who lead the direction of Twinsanity at this stage forward were the Lead Designer, Paul Gardner, and the Lead Artist, Dan Tonkin, and they both contributed a lot to the direction that the game took after that. They took the game in the new direction, from both the story narrative and visual focus respectively. Dan was a great artist, and had a background at the time working as a lead artist on some of the Looney Tunes games back in Australia, and so I think that may have contributed to the more cartoony focus in the art direction, and Paul had some very unique and exciting game ideas that were influenced by the character interaction between Crash and Cortex, and their conflicting personalities. I think all those elements combined set the stage for what the game was to become. Also, I think a lot of the staff were all fans of the original 3 crash games, so we tried to tighten that aspect of the game from a visual standpoint during that stage.
  • Was "Crash Bandicoot: Evolution" the first W.I.P name for the game or did it change through early development before becoming "Crash Twinsanity"?
KW: I recall a few names that it had prior to me joining – "Crash Unlimited", "Crash Fully Fluxed", "Crash Evolution", and there may have been some more. Crash "Twinsanity" was actually one of the names I proposed at the last minute. I think it was a Saturday when a handful of us were in the office finishing off some work, and the Producer came in in a bit of a panic as they needed to finalise the title ready for the marketing. I think a few ideas were chucked around, and I might have said "Crash Twisted Twinsanity" (as a reference to the Twins being the villains), then it was shortened to "Crash Twinsanity" and the rest is history.
  • What were your main inspirations while making art for Twinsanity?
KW: Definitely the old Warner Bros cartoons, such as Looney Tunes, Animaniacs things like that. The slapstick stuff really. Some old obscure video game references in there as well. One of my favourite characters in the game, Rusty Walrus (the maniac chef on N.Gin’s Battleship), was actually inspired by the final boss from the old Taito arcade game The New Zealand Story, which is why he is a blue walrus. Don’t think a lot of people know that, but I like obscure references like that.
  • What was your favorite level to create art for?
KW: I recall really enjoying working on the sketches for the Evil Crash house in the Tenth Dimension, using the original Crash house as a basis, and then twisting it up in a Tim Burton-esque design. I think that was one that Chris Abedelmassieh, one of the 3D artists then translated to 3D and it looks really good in the game. I’m always in awe of the skill it takes to translate something from 2D to 3D as I’ve struggled with that in the past, much preferring to work in 2D, but he did a really good job and most of his character models are the ones that populate the game. Creating all the storyboards was enjoyable too, as it felt like it was akin to illustrating a comic book or Graphic novel at the time with all the movement of the characters and getting to understand the humour and personalities of each of them in an ongoing narrative.
  • Are there any concept art pieces that weren't released that haven't already been shown?
KW: I think most of the ones that I created would have been shown by now, as most of them appeared as unlockables in the extras menus etc within the game. Whilst I was working on them it was never the intention for the Concept Art to be seen by the public, they were mostly just for the in-house environment and character artists to work from as inspiration etc, but it is nice that we managed to find a use for them as unlockables. A lot of the other artists working on the game also have their work showcased in the unlockable section too which is why there is a nice variety of styles etc in there.
  • Was there a design document that was made for Twinsanity? If so, do you think it still exists anywhere?
KW: There were definitely a lot of design documents and I think they were going through revisions all the time as things started to get pinned down in terms of gameplay and stage order etc. Unless an overall one was created, I don’t think a giant design doc with everything in exists, but I could be wrong?
  • What was your favorite moment(s) while working on the game?
KW: Working with the all the members of the team really – everyone was great and I don’t want to mention everyone’s names just in case I miss anyone out, but the very talented animation team, the game designers, the world building and art teams, the programmers and the other concept artists, they were just a great bunch of people to work with.
  • How far did the level “Gone a Bit Coco” get into development before ultimately being scrapped from the game? Was this a Producer decision or a development team decision?
KW: I saw quite a few prototypes of the stage, and it was definitely playable in some form. And thinking about it, it must have been quite far along as I had created the graphic for the title of the stage. As I only really did those for stages that were almost ready it must have been almost ready for inclusion. I think it may have been scrapped due to time restraints rather than any creative decision, and from a story perspective it was one of the stages that could have been removed and not have a great impact on the flow of the narrative, so the cut scenes that had been created wouldn’t have been effected.
  • If you had more time with the game with the experience you have now, what would you have changed?
KW: I probably wouldn’t have changed anything actually, as I was really happy with my contribution to the project, being that it was my first foray into the professional world of video games development. I think it was a great opportunity, and all the ideas and contributions that I suggested were given an opportunity to be heard and considered within the game, and I think a lot of other people felt the same way. I think as the development of the game happened much more organically than a stricter development process, it allowed it to have the unique feel that it has, and that might be why it is remembered favourably after all these years. Had we stuck to the safe option and created another by the numbers “Wrath of Cortex” type sequel, I think that would have been a disservice to everyone involved and all their individual personalities and creativity.
  • Did the TT Oxford team work very smoothly together or was there a lot of conflict/disagreement on the game?
KW: I mean in any creative field you are going to get some disagreements, and occasional creative differences, but our Studio Manager, Steve Riding, gave us all a lot of freedom in creating something great so I think everyone managed to get some of their own ideas and work in the game which I think everyone was proud of. As a bunch of different people it was a great team to work with and I still try and keep in touch with a lot of them, and they all reflect fondly on our time there, a sort of unique experience that I don’t think we’ve been able to capture again. It was great fun, but it was also hard work at times as we would occasionally be working under quite a bit of pressure, but we all had a great deal of input in the final product.
  • Any funny stories while working at TT Oxford?
KW: I recall we once printed out a 8 foot by 8 foot picture of one of the programmers faces, and stuck it up on the wall in the carpark at the back of the office. I don’t know why we did that, and I also don’t know how much printer ink that would have taken up, but it would have been a lot! It probably rained after wards and the whole thing got ruined, but I can’t recall ever actually taking it down, which is quite strange... I wonder if it is still up there...?
  • Who was the best at playing Quake III/Halo during office gaming sessions?
KW: I don’t remember much of the Quake III/Halo matches, but I do recall we went through a phase of playing something called “Soldat” for a while that was a bit like the Team 17 game Worms. We also played a few games of Zelda 4 Swords on the GBA in breaks in between our working day, and a lot of Street Fighter 3, Marvel Vs Capcom 2 matches, which I recall one of the Vivendi producers, Chris Wilson, was very good at.
  • I heard that the Vivendi producers came into the studio to actually cancel the game but after seeing the graphics and playing it, they decided against it. Is this true?
KW: Yeah, that’s the rumour we’d heard also whilst working there. Who knows if it was true, or if it was just a rumour to scare us and keep us in line. Regardless it must have worked as we got the game complete and out the door!
  • Were there any plans for a sequel to Twinsanity during the development?
KW: After development on Twinsanity was finished, we did work on a small pitch for a few potential sequels, one of which was called Cortex Chaos, that we pitched to Vivendi. That wasn't picked up, but a few years after when no one was using the Crash licence and it was just sitting dormant (sometime around 2011-2016), a few of us had considered seeing if we could have a crack at proposing that again with a few members of the remaining TT team - but I think that behind the scenes Activision were just working out how to revive the franchise in its current form so that wouldn't have worked out. In hindsight, I don’t think we would have had the capacity to do that back then anyway, as the team had already started to move on to a lot of separate projects in different cities, but discussions were had.
  • Where does a game like Twinsanity's source code/assets go after the game goes gold? Are they wiped from the TOOL's/PC's? or are they kept around if needed?
KW: I reckon the most likely scenario is that it all went back to the main branch of Travellers Tales, and I think Jon Burton (the head of TT) actually uploaded some footage in the past year or so confirming that they do have some old builds lying around. I wasn’t really involved in the coding side of things, so I couldn’t say where it all ended up or what the process would be, but it would be nice to see some old builds to see if there was anything we all forgot about.
  • Are there any hidden easter eggs/secrets that are hidden in the games code or assets?
KW: I’m fairly certain Nicola, the Lead Animator, appears in one of the paintings in the Academy of Evil stages. Whether or not she knew she was going to make an appearance there is another matter. A lot of the ideas and concepts from the development that were left on the cutting room floor are always fascinating to me, so once the game was released I started to collate and archive the aspects that didn’t make it into the final game, just so it could be archived before it all got forgotten to the mists of time. Soon after the game was launched I thought I'd start posting about the various concepts that were discussed. Some were very early stage concepts, as I was involved in sketching ideas up as soon as either Paul (Lead Designer) or Dan (Lead Artist) had a brainwave but some were much more fully realised. I’m certain there are a lot more ideas and designs that even I’ve forgotten about that other members of the team will remember so I thinking some of the more unknown ideas are still waiting to be uncovered!
  • Are there any projects that you've been working on recently that you can tell us about?
KW: A few years back I developed a series of games for the Nintendo handhelds (DS/3DS) called the "Go! Go! Kokopolo" series, and have been toying with the idea of releasing a version on the Nintendo Switch, but that’s taken a bit of a back seat at the moment. I occasionally try to sneak in cheeky easter eggs about the series in some of my work to see if anyone would spot them as it’s such an obscure game, but other than that just working on a handful of other games here and there, but nothing too substantial.

I always like to keep my ears open to see if Activision is ever considering a remake of Twinsanity after the success of the Crash 1-3 remakes, and so whenever I meet up with various members of the Travellers Tales Oxford crew we always discuss whether or not we'd be interested in contributing, or consulting, if the opportunity ever arose. I've lost touch with some of them, and many of us have moved on into different fields, but I think most of us all share fond memories of our time together working on it. I do think there is an opportunity in re-visiting the quirkiness of Crash Twinsanity, and fixing it up to make a refined version with improved QOL, and tidying up story elements, and certainly the interest is there. If not however, I do hope Activision feels free to reference it as much as possible in future instalments as it’s got a lot of creativity and unique ideas in it at its core which would be a shame if it gets forgotten as Crash spins his way into the future. Regardless if it does get wiped out of canon by the new direction Crash is taking, we all have fond memories of working on it that will stick with us forever, and hopefully you all have fond memories of playing it!