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The Story of Spyro the Dragon | Gaming Historian

September 7, 2019


by the late 90s there were two major videogame companies competing for the industry’s top spot Nintendo with their Nintendo 64 console and Sony with their Sony PlayStation Nintendo marketed themselves primarily towards the preteen demographic and that was reflected in their games super mario 64 pilot wings Yoshi’s Story Mario Kart 64 that’s not to say the Nintendo 64 didn’t have mature games they definitely did but those usually came from third-party developers Sony on the other hand went the other way and appealed to teens and adults the PlayStation showcased cutting-edge technology for the time full motion video and CD quality audio meant developers could make almost movie like gaming experiences titles such as Final Fantasy 7 and Metal Gear Solid presented more mature violent stories the lines were drawn if players wanted a more lighthearted family experience they went with the Nintendo 64 more mature adult themes Sony Playstation but Sony didn’t like that dynamic they didn’t want a portion of the gaming audience they wanted everyone so by late 1996 Sony went after Nintendo’s demographic by making more family friendly games one of those titles was a cute little game called Spyro the Dragon developed by Insomniac Games Spyro the Dragon was one of the first open-world 3d platformers on the PlayStation despite slow early sales Spyro the Dragon spread by word of mouth and the game took off and SAAM niak would go on to make two more titles in the franchise the games would go on to sell more than 11 million copies the history of Spyro the Dragon is also the history of insomniac games Spyro was only their second title and it cemented them as one of their premiere developers for Sony in 1994 26 year-old Ted price was ready for a change after getting a degree in English from Princeton he had taken a job with his uncle’s medical company but prices true passion was video games at the age of 10 he had begged his father for an apple 2e computer claiming he could make a video game and earn 10 million dollars eventually he gave up his dream of programming but while working for his uncle’s medical company he found himself programming again in the itch to make video games came back so price left his job and on February 28 1994 he formed Xtreme software but price was in for a rude awakening while organizing his new company and working on designs for his first game he realized he needed a lot of help luckily help came to him one day prices mother was bragging to a friend about her son’s new startup video game company his mother’s friend had a son at Princeton who was roommates with an extremely talented programmer who was looking for work Alex Hastings prices mother passed the word to Ted who immediately called up Hastings to make a pitch Hastings agreed to join and in June of 1994 moved out to California to join price at extreme software soon after Alex’s brother Brian Hastings joined the company as well but the name extreme software was short-lived the trio received a letter from a database company claiming they had stolen their name they quickly had a brainstorming session for a new name a few ideas were ragnarok software black sun software moon turtle the resistance incorporated and ice 9 finally Ted price pitched the name insomniac games it wasn’t being used by anyone and all three members of the team were pulling a few all-nighters insomniac first game would be a doom clone known as disruptor price and the Hastings brothers all loved doom and remembered the excitement of playing the game for the first time disruptor felt like a good first title to get their feet wet said Alex Hastings we didn’t know what we were doing none of us had any experience but yeah doing a sort of doom clone it felt doable insomnia games approach Sony about bringing dis ruptor to the PlayStation but they were in for a shock a Sony development kit cost an arm and a leg it was too much money for the new company so dis ruptor began its life on the 3do in about a month they had a demo and began looking for a publisher but no one was interested that is until one of their last scheduled meetings with universal interactive Studios Universal interactive was a division of Universal Studios which was hoping to get into the video game industry they had just signed Naughty Dog to a development deal and we’re looking for more up-and-coming developers insomniacs disrupter caught the eye of Universal Interactive’s vice-president mark Cerny Cerny was no stranger to the video game industry at the age of 17 he got a job making games at Atari his first big hit was Marble Madness a unique isometric platformer where the player has to navigate a marble to the exit after Atari Cerny worked for Sega in both Japan and the United States working on games such as Sonic the Hedgehog 2 he eventually left to become an executive at Universal interactive Cerny was impressed that the disruptor demo was made in only a month he signed insomniac games to a deal Universal would publish disruptor an insomniac agreed to make three new games for Universal about halfway through disruptors development it became clear the 3do system was not the future sales slumped and other developers jumped ship with the help of mark Cerny and Universal interactive insomniac got Sony dev kits so development could continue for the PlayStation on November 30th 1996 and sámi at games and Universal interactive released disruptor for the Sony Playstation it was a disappointment the game only sold around 200,000 copies mostly due to a lack of marketing however critics praised disruptor IGN stated for gamers who liked a good shooter you can’t do much better than this despite the praise the lack of sales made insomniac founder Ted price nervous there were times when we thought we weren’t going to be around for an they’re weak he said but Universal wasn’t ready to give up on insomniac gains after the disappointment of their first title disrupter insomniac games which had grown to six employees wanted to make a game with more mass-market appeal disruptor took place in a dark gritty world Brian Hastings said they were ready to make quote a game my mother would be able to play Universal Interactive’s mark Cerny approached them with some insight the average age of a PlayStation user was trending downward in tendo’s family-friendly games were selling extremely well if Sony could get more titles like Nintendo had it could result in huge sales numbers not only that but Alex Hastings was working on a new game engine it was developed to showcase open worlds and view objects at great distances perfect technology for a 3d platformer all they needed now was a character and a story Ted Pryce pitched an idea about aliens invading earth he got a lukewarm reception then art director Craig stit mentioned that he had always wanted to make a game with dragons I’ve always loved dragons to me they are just the greatest creature the combination of a t-rex with wings and breathing fire I mean you’ve got the best of everything in a dragon the idea clicked with everyone insomniac games newest title would be an open-world 3d platformer where you played as a dragon they brought in artist Charles M Billis who had helped Naughty Dog with the character designs in Crash Bandicoot sim Billis began preliminary sketches of the dragon character at first the dragon was large too large Alex Hastings noted that animating such a large character would be troublesome it had to be smaller and would need to appeal to their demographic of 8 to 10 year olds a few descriptors were acute mischievous bratty and unpredictable eventually Zen Billis had nailed down a design for the main character said Brian Hastings this looks like a mascot character this is something that could be big his original name was Pete as was the working title of the game but Universal lawyers quickly stepped in noting that Disney had a movie called Pete’s dragon and would surely come knocking the name pyro was also considered but it felt too mature a Sony marketing director eventually suggested the name Spyro it’s stuck originally Spyro was a green dragon but that quickly changed as art director Craig stit designed the medieval fantasy worlds for players to explore he was concerned that Spyro was blending into the grass too much after experimenting with dozens of colors they finally settled on purple it was a unique color that made Spyro more playful and fun at the e3 expo in May of 1998 insomniac games showed off Spyro the Dragon people were impressed by the large colorful open worlds and called it graphically stunning Sony was excited for the game as well and through heavy marketing behind it magazine previews and even TV commercials raised hype for Spyro after crunching through tight deadlines Spyro the Dragon made its debut on September 9th 1998 for the Sony Playstation at a retail price of $39.99 [Music] inspirer the dragon you play as spyro the smallest of the dragons living in the artisans world after an interview were the Elder Dragons insult a villain named nasty Newark nasty turns all the dragons into statues Spyro who avoided the spell must save his dragon friends and take down nasty and his henchmen along the way spire was accompanied by his dragon fly buddy sparks sparks was designed to provide hints to Spyro and act as his life meter the first thing players noticed when starting up Spyro was how open the worlds were and how fun it was just to run around with Spyro insomniac thought many PlayStation games felt too claustrophobic and wanted to give the player room to run around during development and SAAM nyet games had a Nintendo 64 in their office and would play it constantly one thing they noted was how much fun it was to just run around in Super Mario 64 they called it the toy factor the game should be fun to run around even without enemies when enemies were around they actually interacted with Spyro which was different than most games at the time generally enemies travel along a fixed path or fire projectiles but in Spyro many of the enemies react based on what Spyro does or even interact with other enemies it made the world’s feel more alive Spyro attacked enemies by either charging them or with his Flame breath players had to learn which attacks worked on certain enemies for example some enemies wore armor so fire wouldn’t work on them in total there were six worlds to explore each one containing multiple levels in most levels Spyro must rescue his dragon friends while collecting gems and the occasional dragon egg to mix up the action insomniac games added flying levels to the game in these levels Spyro has to complete certain objectives like flying through hoops and destroying enemies in a limited amount of time these were programmer Alex Hastings favorite levels you can easily waste an hour or two without even realizing it he said when it came to making the world’s art director Craig stead focused on creating unique color palettes for each world each world had two or three base colors and the details were filled in by different shades or contrasting colors stit used a white board in the office to document and keep track of the unique colors for each world spire the dragon runs on an internal game engine developed by Alex Hastings what makes the engine unique is that there is no distance fog at the time consoles weren’t powerful enough to render a lot of complex graphics and shadows to compensate objects faraway games would use a fog to hide the graphics allowing the game to run more smoothly in Spyro there is no fog rather the engine renders objects farther away with a much lower polygon count as the player gets closer the polygon count increases until it is fully rendered it was a great solution seen platforms and objects far away enticed players to explore and try to reach new areas with universal interactive backing the game insomniac games had access to incredible resources this is especially evident in the games music and voice acting Spyro the Dragon soundtrack was composed by stewart copeland co-founder and drummer for the band the police spyro was his first video game composition to write the music Copeland would play the game and get an attitude for each level he would compose the levels music based on that Spyros voice is provided by carlos alazraqui most well-known for being the voice of rocco in Rocko’s Modern Life in the Taco Bell Chihuahua dog according to PlayStation underground Alice rocky was the first to audition for the role and immediately got the part according to alice rocky it took a little while to find the right voice for Spyro I think we went through about maybe five or six versions you know where he was like really really young and had no the nose and then he was like really cooler and older and actually recorded something like that then they found out he was too mean so then we just kind of did a mixture in between the two where it’s kind of like he’s really kind of a go-getter kind of guy and kind of tough but really kind of nice additional voices were provided by Clancy Brown who also voiced dr. neocortex from crash bandicoot and mr. krabs from Sponge Bob Squarepants critics loved Spyro the Dragon while this type of game has been all but perfected on the Nintendo 64 with stars like super mario 64 and banjo kazooie attempts added on the PlayStation haven’t panned out blasto for example was particularly disappointing and while Playstations reining mascot champ Crash Bandicoot has appeared in several platformer games players didn’t have full control over where he could explore but Spyro finally proves that not only his PlayStation capable of supporting such a game it can do it very well Ian McDonald home office computing magazine GameSpot – Joe fielder felt the same way yes it’s taken some time but there’s finally a proficient 3d platformer game for the PlayStation he said several reviews noted that the game was a bit childish that bothered insomniac founder Ted price to see it called a kiddie game implied that it was a simple novice oriented game that wouldn’t satisfy hardcore players he said sales were mixed despite widespread acclaim from critics in Europe the game flew off shelves but in North America things were much slower it wasn’t until after the 1998 holiday season that things began to pick up as kids got the game for Christmas parents and even grandparents discovered how much fun Spyro the Dragon was said Ted price we had grandmother’s writing us letters saying they had stolen the game from their grandkids because they liked it better sales of Spyro the Dragon eventually surpassed more than 5mm units it was the breakthrough game insomniac games was hoping for universal interactive and Sony were thrilled with the sales they asked for a sequel by the 1999 holiday season after the release of Spyro the Dragon insomniac games grew to 13 employees mark Cerny wanting to focus more on game design left universal interactive informed his own consulting company cerny games and Ted price founder of insomniac games was feeling the pressure to deliver a sequel recalling the development of Spyro to Ted price said we had to make the sequel more revolutionary than evolutionary the good news was insomniac could use the same game engine they just had to come up with new gameplay mechanics the team scrambled and threw out a lot of ideas but they eventually settled on minigames challenges and objectives throughout the levels this would add variety to each level instead of the standard get to the end of the stage goal one idea insomniac struggled with was collecting items it was definitely an important aspect of the game but how much was too much for spyro 2 insomniac found a nice balance they added more collectibles but not enough to make it the main focus of the game this would also add more challenge to the game and insomniac hoped it would help shed Spyros label as a kiddie game when it came time to name the game insomniac took inspiration from the first Spyro game in an unlikely way they noticed that on the Japanese cover of Spyro the Dragon the katakana characters looked like it spelled ripto in English insomniac loved it and gave the name to the main villain of the game on November 2nd 1999 Spyro 2 riptos rage was released in North America three days later the game came out in Europe and Australia but under a different name to avoid translation issues it was named Spyro 2 gateway to glimmer after defeating nasty Newark Spyro is ready for a vacation but when he tries to visit dragon shores to relax he is transported to the world of a velar there he meets Elora the fawn hunter the cheetah and the professor they need Spyros help in defeating ripto a warlock who has decided to conquer the land Spyro and his dragon fly buddy sparks agreed to help take down ripto and his minions Spyro too introduced several new characters to the series most moneybags a greedy bear who will charge you gems at every turn to access areas and learn new abilities the core gameplay of Spyro remained mostly intact with ramming enemies gliding flying and breathing fire insomniac also added swimming to the game but Spyro had new minigames and challenges he had to complete in order to get all the collectables in a level in one level Spyro had to compete in a game of ice hockey and another Spyro had to eliminate drafters before they gobble up cavemen it was clear insomniac games wanted to increase the difficulty for the sequel in Spyro two players would have to collect gems orbs and talismans in order to advance to new areas insomnia games up to the requirements which force players to backtrack and collect more orbs boss battles were also made more difficult but the reward was great beating the game and collecting everything unlocked a full theme park at Dragon Shores presentation-wise insomniac added a lot more cutscenes and dialogue Tom Kenny was the new voice of Spyro today he is best known as the voice of Spongebob Squarepants but Spyros voice wasn’t the only thing to change for the Dragon insomniac collected feedback from players on the first game many felt that Spyro was too cocky and arrogant they changed Spyros attitude to be a bit more relaxed and humble music was once again composed by Stewart Copeland [Music] reviews were overwhelmingly positive IGN’s Doug Perry said spyro to riptos rage is a large beautiful game with a phenomenal amount of missions side quests and mini-games in it that provide the structure and depth the first game sorely lacked electronic gaming monthly stated it’s a beautiful game that’s got both charm and polish spyro 2 riptos rage would go on to sell more than three million units it was another huge success so it was no surprise to anyone at insomniac games when Universal interactive and Sony came knocking for another spyro game spyro 3 would need to be ready for the 2000 holiday season that once again gave insomniac less than a year to come up with something new it was a challenge from the get-go Ted price claimed insomniac was quote scraping the bottom of the barrel for ideas the good news was insomniac games officially had three PlayStation titles under their belt they were able to fully maximize the power of the Sony Playstation brighter color palettes more polygons and more special effects all while maintaining a steady frame rate of 30 frames per second in addition to this insomniac came up with a way to adjust the difficulty on-the-fly it was called a CT or Auto challenge tuning the system was designed to tune the games difficulty based on how well the player was doing more experienced players could enjoy an increase to challenge while novice players wouldn’t get frustrated to keep the game fresh insomniac went with more minigames in four new playable characters adding new characters took pressure off creating new moves for Spyro and added more gameplay variety when it came to naming the game it was an easy decision spyro 3 was set to release in the year 2000 the year of the Dragon according to the Chinese zodiac the game was officially titled spyro year of the Dragon and was released on October 24th 2000 in North America on November 10th 2000 in Europe Spyro and his friends are celebrating the year of the dragon welcoming new dragon eggs all the sudden a rabbit named Bianca appears with an army of rhinox and steals the eggs Spyro and Hunter chase them to a new world that was once inhabited by dragons an evil sorceress has taken over and wants to use the captured dragon eggs to eliminate dragons for good she has also imprisoned several of the world’s heroes and trusting moneybags to guard them it’s up to Spyro to free his new friends find all the dragon eggs and take down the sorceress along with collecting gems and dragon eggs Spyro 3 added several new minigames inspired by some of insomniacs favorite games there were skateboarding areas inspired by Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater a boxing match inspired by ready to rumble boxing and even shooting Riina’s inspired by doom spiral Year of the Dragon introduced new playable characters with their own unique levels Sheila the kangaroo could jump extremely high while kicking enemies sergeant bird was a little penguin who could fly and shoot rockets Bentley was a Yeti that moved slowly but had an extremely powerful swing and finally there was agent 9 a monkey with a laser gun that loved to throw bombs another new playable character was sparks Spyros dragonfly buddy these were shoot-’em-up levels and if completed gave sparks new abilities music was once again composed by Stewart Copeland Ted price considered at Copeland’s best work on the Spyro series Spyro was once again voiced by Tom Kenny newcomer Bianca was voiced by Pamela Hayden best known for her work on The Simpsons spyro year of the dragon was a massive game almost twice as big as its predecessors critics once again loved it writer Marc Saltzman commented it was one of those rare gems that’s perfect for boys and girls young and old and either experienced or casual players came spots Brad shoemaker said you’ve certainly played year of the dragon before but you’ve rarely played it better the third installment in the Spyro series sold over three million units worldwide fans of the game were in for a surprise once they completed year of the dragon a message from insomniac games we hope you have enjoyed the Spyro trilogy we have had four great fun sleepless years creating it was this the end of the series in a way it was for insomniac games at least [Music] after four years of working on spire of the Dragon the team of 30 at insomniac was ready to move on said Ted price we decided that it was better to start with a new franchise and come up with a new character than to try to push Spyro again insomniacs three game contract was up with Universal interactive they were ready to create a new series and pitch it directly to Sony it was the end of an era through it all insomniac was still surprised by the international success of Spyro although insomniac created the series they didn’t actually own the license to it it belonged to Universal interactive Universal wasn’t ready to give up on the purple dragon and opened up the franchise to new developers but none of the titles could recapture the magic from the original trilogy Spyro entered the Dragonfly was the first Spyro title on the new PlayStation 2 platform but failed to move the franchise forward in IGN’s review Doug Perry said if you want something entirely new or even remotely resembling a next-generation experience than forget it the follow up Spyro a hero’s tale was an improvement but it was also more of the same GameSpot noted that its gameplay has remained more or less the same since the series debut in 1998 the novelty has worn off Spyro games would also appear on handheld systems including the Game Boy Advance and Nintendo DS in 2006 the series was rebooted as The Legend of Spyro a more action focused game but once again it was a major disappointment it wasn’t until 2011 that Spyro achieved a sort of rebirth developer toys for Bob a subsidiary of Activision were given a chance to revive a franchise one of their choices was Spyro which Activision owned after merging with Vivendi Universal Toys for Bob liked the idea of using a mascot with wide appeal but they didn’t want to use Spyro in the same old formula previously they had experimented with toy and game integration and they felt Spyro would be the perfect character to test it thus was born skylanders spyros adventure the first game in the wildly successful Skylanders series released in October of 2011 players could purchase Skylanders toys to unlock new characters in game the concept was a huge hit sales were double to triple what Activision was expecting several sequels followed the series has over three billion dollars in sales although Skylanders was a massive success fans of the Spyro franchise weren’t buying it as the return of their favorite dragon Spyros role and Skylanders seem to be in name only there were no references to the older games and gameplay wise it was totally different but on April 5th 2018 fans of the original trilogy were in for a treat toys for Bob announced the Spyro reignited trilogy an HD remake of the first three Spyro games toys for Bob hopes that the game will not only appeal to fans of the original trilogy but bring in new ones as well they even met with insomniac games to present their ideas they wanted to ensure the game stayed true to the spirit of the original games keep up the good work Spyro i expect nasties really starting to worry about you shaking in my boots what made spire the Dragons so successful it was a combination of many things charming characters large open worlds enemy interaction high production values but none of it would have come together were it not for the work of insomniac games insomniac was on the verge of quitting after the disappointment of their first game but they were able to bounce back in a big way they created a family-friendly 3d platformer for a system that didn’t have those types of games it was only their second title for both sequels insomniac managed to maintain the spyro formula that everyone loved while introducing new mechanics characters and gameplay in total the Spyro the Dragon trilogy sold more than eleven million units worldwide each game was enshrined in the PlayStation greatest hits collection insomniac games is still around today if ellaby new titles for Sony’s PlayStation 4 they’ve come a long way since their formation in 1994 and they have a little purple dragon to thank for that that’s all for this episode of the gaming historian thanks for watching funding for gaming historian is provided in part by supporters on patreon thank you [Music]

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