Miguel Mendez, King's Senior Technical Artist, explains how prototyping and environment design for Crash Bandicoot: On The Run! were done using Houdini.
Crash Bandicoot: On The Run! is the company's first game where the environment pipeline relies heavily on Houdini. The idea was to create expansive detailed environments that look like open-world game sceneries. However, it was a bit tricky considering that a game with heavy visuals would be too much to handle for many mobile devices. Plus, with every road being unique it was an expensive project in terms of storage.
This is why the team started to look into tiling systems as they have lower storage and download requirements, allow for a higher degree of land uniqueness, and are easier to manipulate style-wise. This was done in Houdini as it can procedurally generate tiles which made the process of creating tilesets for the game levels much easier though the team did not fully rely on procedurally generated tiles.
Also, Crash Bandicoot's creators had an early test of hexagons from Houdini HDA from another game. Hexagons could give more natural results and could allow for a great degree of variation when creating level roads.
The team moved the hexagon-based paths to Unity to test out the future roads for Crash Bandicoot to run along. The issue with the hexagons though is that they can be tricky and technically demanding as you have to match them perfectly well so that every piece is tied to the other one pixel to pixel. So the developers tried to generate the hexagons procedurally but that did not work for the artists.
The team ended up building custom models which resolved both the technical and the artistic issues of game development. Little corridor-like elements (that the team refers to as "shoulders") were created to form the paths for the levels.
Creating little holes and pits in the road was a whole another creative challenge for the team as that meant there had to be tiles within the hexagon tiles, plus every pit had to be unique (some of them were dark holes, the others were filled with lava, etc.) However, the developers realized the roads were almost circular so the little hexagon pieces could be reused for optimization.