Ever since he was a kid, Aaron Yang says he dreamed of becoming a game developer. An avid Nintendo fan growing up, he remembers branching out in the mid ‘90s to the PlayStation, which at the time was attracting new players with a spinning marsupial.
“I played the original Crash Bandicoot way back in high school and remember really liking it a lot,” Yang says, recalling the opening few minutes of the game. “Start on the beach, fight the crabs!” Decades later, Yang found himself revisiting those first few minutes of the classic game, only this time, he was on an international development team helping recreate it for Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time. “It was amazing to see our team remake a lot of the scenes from the old game,” Yang says. “I kept going, ‘Wow, the old Crash is back!’”
Yang ended up fulfilling his childhood dream and landing a job as a senior software developer at Activision Blizzard Shanghai due to some fateful research. “Nintendo is my favorite company, so one day I was browsing their career page and saw a link to DigiPen,” Yang says. “I took a closer look and found out DigiPen is a top game development school, where the majority of the teachers were top tier pros from the industry. The more I learned about DigiPen, the more I felt it was somewhere I should go.” Yang decided to take his undergraduate math degree from Beijing and head to Redmond for DigiPen’s Master of Science in Computer Science program in 2013, graduating two years later.
“My big takeaway from DigiPen was really learning the fundamentals,” Yang says. “The data structures, algorithms, network protocols, how game engines work — those are the backbone of your skill set. Most of the time you have to learn a completely new tech stack on new teams, but with good fundamentals, you can adapt quickly.”
Those fundamentals came in handy five years later when Yang joined Activision Blizzard on Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time, where he primarily worked on programming the game’s competitive and co-op multiplayer modes. Challenging technical hurdles came his way, but using the fundamentals he learned at DigiPen, he was able to find creative solutions. “We had this one big performance problem we had to deal with, but I came up with an idea to add a feature to the Unreal Engine and finally solved the issue. It feels very rewarding to tackle difficult problems like that,” Yang says. Successfully pushing past those technical challenges became some of Yang’s proudest moments during development.
Working on Crash Bandicoot 4 wasn’t all difficult though — especially when it came time to playtest the game with his colleagues. “It was always fun competing with friends and having a good laugh. I’m probably the worst player when competing with my colleagues in multiplayer mode,” Yang says. Other times, the joy of playtesting emerged just watching the pros find unusual glitches. “I was very intrigued watching the crazy things our QA guys could do in the game, certain bugs they could reproduce.”
My big takeaway from DigiPen was really learning the fundamentals — those are the backbone of your skill set.
Taking care to honor the legacy of the Crash Bandicoot series became another fun development highlight, especially given its distinctly kinetic feel. “There’s definitely a special attachment when working on a classic game like the Crash series. When we encounter certain issues like character movement or interaction, we would look at the old Crash games to make sure we were preserving the original feeling,” Yang says. “I feel more motivated when working on a classic title like this, because you’re not just doing any old programming task — you should really go above and beyond to deliver an extra polished game to the fans.”
Now that Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time is out in the world and receiving glowing reviews from classic Crash fans, Yang is preparing to leave Shanghai to help modernize and honor the legacy of another classic title. “I’m heading to the UK to work at Jagex on Runescape as a senior backend software engineer!” Yang says. “It will be quite challenging, but exciting at the same time.”