Crash Bandicoot — and the power of a style guide

Today, I woke up and it was raining. Not just sprinkling, but the sort of rain that incapacitates your plan for the day. So my plans had to change. But before I could really commit to the pivot, I decided to play a little Crash Bandicoot.

For those of you who don’t know (I’m so sorry…), Crash Bandicoot is a magical video game that was originally released on the original PlayStation and within the last few years was remastered for PS4. The remastered version includes three of the original games, including one of the very first Crash games ever made.

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The face of a legend.

I decided to take a stab at the first game and was quickly reminded that it was inhumanely difficult. I flailed about for a while collecting game overs (and even got some PlayStation trophies for my troubles).

Finally, I gave in and switched to the second game, which is significantly easier.

What struck me was the style guide of Crash Bandicoot. As someone relatively new to UX, I have considered the style guide and UI kit to be a relatively static element. A collection of buttons, color choices, typography, hover states, etc.

But in order to create a universe (which is often the goal of a video game franchise), the style guide has to include so much more than that.

Every animation needs to remain consistent throughout the series, every resource and their conversions (100 wumpa fruit = 1 life) and every environment needs to maintain it’s appropriate physics and background music. We often take this for granted, maybe because some of the classic video games did it so well. Take Super Mario Bros. for example — if I blindfolded you, and started a level, would you know if it was underwater, in the treetops or on land? I guarantee you would.

In these ways, a Style Guide/UI kit can be so much more than that.

It’s the reality of a world.

It’s the physics, the ambient noise, the movements of every being and every object. It’s the way the wind blows through someone’s hair, the way the rain dampens the armor of a soldier and the way a Charmander becomes a Charmeleon.

A Style Guide/UI Kit can also be what allows the user to believe what they’re interacting with is real. The consistencies that it enables create trust between the product and the user (or the game and the gamer).

Maybe this is taking it all too far, but it is my opinion that these little consistencies are what makes a video game universe believable. And it’s what makes playing Crash Bandicoot 20 years after the original game came out still such a magical experience.

I’m a Product Designer at Grubhub working on the LevelUp Team to create branded apps for restaurants.

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