Spyro at 25: Insomniac Games and Toys for Bob celebrate 25 years of Spyro the Dragon

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Spyro at 25: Insomniac Games and Toys for Bob celebrate 25 years of Spyro the Dragon

The platformer’s original creators and the stewards of the remastered trilogy dive into the original series and how it impacts the franchise today.

On September 9 1998, Spyro the Dragon made his mischievous debut on the original PlayStation, capturing the hearts of gamers of all ages. To celebrate 25 years of Spyro, we sat down with both the original developers from Insomniac Games, as well as the team behind the remaster, Spyro Reignited Trilogy at Toys for Bob, to learn how the beloved dragon came to be.

Ted Price, President, Insomniac Games: We had just shipped our first game, Disruptor, and were brainstorming on what to do next. Our longtime partner and producer Mark Cerny pointed out that there was a notable vacuum in the family-friendly market on the PlayStation. Shortly afterward, Craig Stitt who had been creating environment art on Disruptor said, ‘I’ve always wanted to make a game featuring a dragon.’ And we were off to the races.

At the time, 3D platformers were still a relatively new genre, which led to a host of challenges Insomniac needed to tackle.

Brian Hastings, Head of Creative Strategy, Insomniac Games: From a gameplay perspective, our goals initially were just to figure out how to make 3D platforming gameplay work. It sounds straight-forward now, but back then we had never made one before and there were a lot of challenges to figure out. For instance, how to make fast movement work in 3D without giving players motion sickness, how to create intuitive controls in three-dimensional space without an analog stick, how to create platforming and combat challenges without the precise sense of distance you get from 2D, and just generally what kinds of metrics resulted in a fun level design space in 3D.

Many of the lessons learned from developing the original Spyro the Dragon trilogy would go on to influence future Insomniac titles, and aspects of the original level design tenets can be seen in Insomniac’s approach to exploration today.

Brian Hastings: Spyro has had a huge influence in our approach to exploration and discovery across all our games. In Spyro we learned the importance of creating a world where every part of it is memorable in some way and every secret nook is worth investigating. We’ve had that same attitude with all aspects of our games ever since. The best thing about this approach is that it empowers everyone at the company to find their own ways to add something special and meaningful to the parts of the game they’re working on.

While we look back at the original Spyro the Dragon title as a classic from the PlayStation 1 library, it was not an immediate success upon release. For a small developer working in an entirely new genre, Insomniac took risks in creating a new franchise, but it paid off as love of the Purple Dragon spread amongst PlayStation owners.

Ted Price: Frankly, we were surprised by Spyro’s success. That’s because at first the game didn’t sell very well. But it kept selling. And selling. We felt extremely fortunate that the game had somehow broken through[…] partly because it was a very accessible game with straightforward controls, fun combat, lots of gameplay variety and, in my opinion, a compelling ‘collect every last gem!’ level design.  Another reason was that, along with Crash Bandicoot, it was an all-ages game that was safe for kids but fun for adults as well.

Over the course of three games, Spyro solidified himself as an icon of both the PS1 console, and the 3D platforming genre. With how beloved the original trilogy was amongst Spyro fans, remastering the classic games would be a daunting task for any developer. Thankfully Toys for Bob, the studio responsible for creating the Skylanders franchise, were no strangers to the lovable dragon. The team took immense care in perfecting and remastering every aspect of the original games, while also infusing their own updates and love for Spyro throughout the Spyro Reignited Trilogy.

Paul Yan, Co-Studio Head, Toys For Bob: There were so many things that were important to really nail but first and foremost, we knew we needed to get gameplay absolutely right – and by that, I mean we knew we needed to recreate gameplay precisely. If you’re the type of player who can navigate the levels blindfolded, we wanted to design to that kind of muscle memory so the game would feel and play just like you remembered it.

Similarly, the game wouldn’t be what it is without Stewart Copeland’s iconic soundtrack. We knew we had to offer those original tracks in their pure form but we also added an option to experience a more dynamic interpretation that responds to gameplay in subtle, more contemporary ways.

Where things got really challenging (and subjective) was in the game’s look. We initially did a pass on the characters by interpreting them as if they were higher resolution ports, but it was clear that we had to go much, much, much further to really flesh out the charm and personality clearly implied by the original games. This is where the term remaster kind of fails as a description of Reignited because not only did we rebuild gameplay from the ground up, but we had to redesign environments, props, characters, and cutscenes by piecing together our own interpretations of the original designs, the memories that fans cherished most, and the authorial intent from the original Insomniac team. It was only in going through that archaeological process and talking it through with the Insomniac crew that we were able to feel more confident about the soul of the game’s designs in order to build new aesthetics on top of that foundation.

The Spyro Reignited Trilogy allowed lifelong Spyro fans to relive their formative experiences charging, gliding, and soaring across the beautiful worlds of Spyro, while also introducing brand new fans to the franchise. The team at Toys for Bob worked alongside Insomniac to ensure the classic feel of Spyro stayed true in Reignited, while also providing feedback on the visual upgrades.

Brian Hastings: I think there’s something special about the simplicity of Spyro’s gameplay that has allowed it to stand the test of time. Games in general have gotten more complex over the years. There are more buttons, more moves, more upgrades, more layers of mechanics. But the core fun of Spyro was the simple joy of exploring these big, beautiful worlds, collecting gems, and chasing sheep. That simple fantasy of exploration and discovery in a world full of secrets, magic and surprises is something that doesn’t fade with time.

That said, what Toys for Bob has done with graphics in the worlds is nothing short of amazing. Spyro’s worlds feel more magical now than we ever dreamt was possible back in the 1990s.

John Fiorito, Head of Operations, Insomniac Games: We couldn’t think of a better team to reimagine the original Spyro games. We were so impressed with the Skylanders series and wanted to see what they would do with Reignited. The Toys for Bob team visited us early in development to show the game off and we knew right away that the reimagining would be faithful to the originals while bringing the franchise to a new generation of players. Insomniac collaborated on the look and feel of the game and Toys for Bob were always receptive to our suggestions and feedback. It was exciting to see the game come together on new hardware and the attention to detail throughout reignited was phenomenal. I played all three games when they came out!

Ted Price: On behalf of all of us at Insomniac, thank you to Toys for Bob for being so faithful to the original vision for Spyro.

To the players who have been with Spyro since the beginning, and the new fans experiencing his adventures for the first time, thank you for making the last 25 years of Spyro magical!

Paul Yan: Spyro debuted at a formative time for many gamers. He introduced us to 3D platforming in a way only a dragon can and it clearly left a lasting impression. Insomniac crafted such a timeless and appealing design and gave him an endearing go-get-em kind of attitude that’s really easy to root for.

Did you know there’s been over a dozen different Spyro games? As the reins get passed between different developers, it’s interesting to experience all the different takes and shifts in emphasis, but what I’ve always felt, is that Spyro games are at their best when they build on a foundation of great movement controls in vast, colorful worlds full of charm and wonder – where Spyro is a young, plucky, optimistic underdog ready to take on any challenge that’s hurled at him. That’s the timeless icon I know and find myself gravitating to often.

John Fiorito: Spyro is an underdog who never gives up. He always tries to do the right thing and help everyone he can. And he can breathe fire. What’s not to love?

Play the Spyro Reignited Trilogy today on PS5 and PS4.

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