Why King Used Houdini for Crash Bandicoot: On the Run
The latest mobile entry in the Crash Bandicoot franchise is Crash on the Run! by King, an instant hit on Android and iOS and a long-awaited revival in the worn-out genre of endless runners. One of the unusual things about Crash on the Run (except for being made for platforms other than PlayStation) is that it was made using Houdini instead of Unity. Why did King switch the engine for this game?
The original idea was to combine elements of an endless runner and an open-world game (if you have played Crash on the Run!, you remember free mode on the island where you run to collect stuff). It required pipeline environments that the game would generate on the go, and it all should be compatible with rather weak hardware.
The solution the King team found is using a tiling system. Using tiles (in this case, hexagons) would allow for changing the environment on the go, with much fewer data to download and store than using alternative methods. Houdini provided the perfect functionality for that, and sets of tiles for various levels and worlds perfectly fit into a rather small application.
It took a lot of creativity because procedural generation supported by Houdini did not provide the perfect results. The hexagons should fit in various combinations. It provided extra work for the designers who had to paint the tiles pixel by pixel to make them fit. When the work was done, though, the idea turned out fantastically spectacular. To form paths, the designers made special “shoulders” – long corridors along the paths you can choose from. Making the paths almost circular helped to reutilize the same tiles within one landscape.
Houdini also allowed for creating various holes and pits, but neither was that easy nor simple. It required creating smaller tiles within basic tiles which loaded the system even more. Still, the developers found ways to improve the performance and yet make the game work the way it does.
The result that you can observe on your mobiles is a Crash Bandicoot installment that looks great even next to It’s About Time, the latest PC/console installment in the main series. It works smoothly on both Android and iOS, and its requirements are lower than expected. Maybe the success of Crash on the Run will make Houdini the engine of choice for large mobile games like it is now for top-tier animated films. Just replay a run or two in Crash Bandicoot: On the Run to see how it looks. You can try to play and tell us about your game experience in the comments below.