The latest in the long-running Cruis'n series – which began life in '90s arcades with Cruis'n USA before making the leap over to the N64 – this neon-coloured racer promises to deliver a high-octane arcade experience on Nintendo's hybrid system, and comes courtesy of Raw Thrills, the studio established by industry legend Eugene Jarvis, the driving force (no pun intended) on the original Cruis'n USA.
Jarvis should need no introduction; his video game credits include some of the most seminal arcade hits of all time, such as Defender, Stargate, Robotron: 2084, Smash TV and NARC. We were fortunate enough to speak to Jarvis about Cruis'n Blast, working with Nintendo and his glittering career. Enjoy.
Nintendo Life: Can you give us a little background as to how Cruis'n Blast came to be? What made you decide to create a new entry in the series back in 2017?
Eugene Jarvis: I have a classic video and pinball arcade in my basement and every time we have a party, once the kids see the old Cruis’n drivers they’re like maniacs on them for hours. It’s really hard to get them to go home. And then there’s the moms and dads who grew up with Cruis’n and they jump into the action, too! So if 25-year-old games are this much fun, how about making a new Cruis’n arcade game? It would be a rush to see what a Cruis’n driver with 1000x better graphics and computing power would look like today.
Some of the team was rightly skeptical about how such an ancient title could be relevant in our crazy new fast-forward era of gaming. When we first played the new theme song, they couldn’t stop laughing and then dancing to the outrageous retro disco vibe. Then there was the issue of what to call the game. Cruis’n for a Bruis’n? There were a lot of candidates. I kinda liked Cruis’n 4-Ever ‘cause it was like the fourth game in the trilogy. So we made a bunch of wheels with '4s' in them for the logo, but something just wasn’t right.
After what seemed like months of dumb names, we came up with Cruis’n Blast. I loved that “Blast” is both an explosion - this was the first Cruis’n game to have a turbo-boost feature, which we call “Blast” - and also because we wanted to capture the casual fun driving vibe of Cruis’n (having a “Blast”!).
Now that I think about it, we really should’ve put an exclamation point at the end! There’s always next time…
How hands-on was Nintendo with this release? Did it provide any feedback or advice during development, or were you given complete freedom?
Nintendo really was great. They are the owners of the Cruis’n IP, so it was a real honour to get their confidence to develop the game on the Switch. Being arcade developers, we really knew very little about the Switch, and John Vignocchi and the Nintendo of America third-party team really helped us out every step of the way. They gave us lots of feedback and advice on how to take the arcade game core and stuff it with tons more gameplay and content that the console crowd demands. Then they basically turned us loose to make the best Switch game possible.
Nintendo famously censored Cruis'n USA on the N64 - has there been any danger of a repeat of that for the Switch version of Cruis'n Blast?
Yeah, we had some edgy “humorous” content back in the day! This time around Nintendo really gave us a free hand.
Did you face any issues when it came to fitting an expensive arcade game into a relatively underpowered portable system like the Switch?
The project really started out as a kind of "what if" joke of the ridiculousness of trying to stuff a high-end arcade piece into the Switch. I mean, where’s the Nvidia 32-gigapixel graphics card and 5GHz CPU? But to tell the truth, we were really surprised at the frame rate and graphics quality, even when blown up on a big family room LED flat screen.
Not to say that it was a walk in the park. I guess our artists and coders had a lot of time on their hands during the pandemic to tweak the code and graphics and frame rate to the max. When you can’t go anywhere or do anything – work can be super interesting. To get the shaders and effects looking cool especially took a ton of blood, sweat and tears. This was our game and we couldn’t blame someone else for a crappy port.
What makes the Switch version of Cruis'n Blast superior to the arcade original? Have you made any tweaks or improvements for this edition?
Console and arcade experiences have a lot in common, but since home players have the time to really max out a game quickly, you need megatons of content. So we went from five tracks and 12 cars to - get this - 29 tracks, 23 cars, dozens of secret shortcuts and new hidden vehicles. Plus we got lots of new “turbo ramps” with cash rewards and 87 keys to unlock all these goodies. In short, it’s a whole lotta Cruis’n going on!
The arcade version was updated after launch with new cars; do you plan to do a similar trick with the Switch port via DLC?
We’re hoping that the player demand will be there so we can crank out some more exclusive Cruis’n content for the Switch. There’s a lot of dream cars and tracks that the artists want to bring to life.
What's the future of the Cruis'n series beyond Blast? Do you have plans for more games?
We’ve been tossing around some ideas – one thing I’ve been tossing around is to remaster the classic arcade Cruis’n trilogy especially for the Switch, up-resing the content to full HD and solid 60Hz frame rate! And I think some of the best ideas come from the Cruis’n players out there. We look forward to hitting all the socials on release date - Twitter, Insta, YouTube and TikTok - to see what Cruis’n memes are trending!
Your career in video games will be the envy of many; what do you make of modern games development? Do you think there's room for old-school experiences like the Cruis'n series in 2021?
It’s crazy but I started doing arcade games back at Atari in the ‘70s - 44 years ago! It seems like about five or six lifetimes on the journey from Pong to Mario to Fortnite to who knows what. From 8-bit to gigabits, it’s been a trip.
I really loved the dev process back in the 8-bit era when I was coding, doing pixel art and sounds on Defender and Robotron. It was just two or three geeked out kids on a game, and management pretty much left us alone because they had no idea what we were doing! Somehow it was just magic. Even on Cruis’n USA the game dev team was only five people! But over the years it’s become more and more like a giant Hollywood deal with huge teams, lighting artists, animators, character riggers, texture folks, sound devs, music composers, environmental artists, level designers, character designers, art directors, tech leads, programmers, special effect creators, game testers and producers everywhere you turn around! And the games today are incredible – 1000x better than I could’ve dreamed back in the day.
But just when you say small teams and old-school games are dead and everything must have a $100 million budget - out of nowhere comes a massive game like Flappy Bird or Candy Crush and makes anyone with a budget over $10,000 look stupid! And the longer I’ve been in the games biz, the more I realize the only thing I have learned is that I don’t know s**t! I probably spent half my career trying to get rid of pixelated graphics – and getting more realism – and then the next thing I know some teenager in Sweden comes up with Minecraft, and giant pixels are now the coolest thing ever! I remember laughing at a gifted young artist in the late ‘80s who wanted to do a game about growing plants (how are you going to blow that up?) – and then 20 years later Farmville takes the world by storm!
I think one of the big factors in the success of the Nintendo Switch is that it really captures the arcade style – the immediacy and accessible style of play that is truly fun for all. So I think the old school arcade spirit is alive and well - not only in the physical arcades of the world, but inside every Nintendo Switch player!
What's it been like working with Nintendo again, and would Raw Thrills ever produce a game which is exclusive to consoles, rather than for arcades?
It’s really been a joy working with Nintendo again. Obviously a lot has changed in 25 years and the standards for gameplay, content, localization and testing have grown exponentially. I remember back in the day working on Cruis’n USA and testing was like, “Did the game crash? No? You’re good to go!” Now game complexity and quality are through the roof and things are much more serious.
As far as doing an exclusive to console release – who knows? We’ve been dedicated to making great arcade games for the last 20 years at Raw Thrills, and we’re now one of the leading video arcade makers in the world! We’re having so much fun pushing the envelope in the arcade with titles like Jurassic Park Arcade, Halo: Fireteam Raven or our latest original title King Kong of Skull Island VR. And guess what – Cruis’n Blast arcade is still one of our top sellers around the world.
Part of pushing the envelope is constantly exploring new things, and Cruis’n Blast for the Switch is a way of stretching and seeing if we can bring something old/new to the console scene. I’m hoping the players really get excited about playing Cruis’n Blast for the Switch. Nintendo is opening up a whole new universe for Raw Thrills. I can’t wait to see where we go from here!
We'd like to thank Eugene for taking the time to speak to us. Cruis'n Blast arrives on Nintendo Switch on 14th September.