Talking with a designer of Spyro: Year of the Dragon is talking to an artist. One of the few series that has ever managed to bridge the gap between young and adult entertainment, Spyro appeals to all ages with its bright and colourful graphics and tight gameplay. We got a chance to talk with Ted Price of Insomniac Games about making the game, what it's all about, and future plans.
PSi: How and when did you become involved in the Spyro project(s)?
After we had finished Disruptor for the PlayStation in 1996, we had around
people at Insomniac Games and we were trying to figure out what we wanted
next. We knew that we wanted to do a 3rd person game with a more
feel than Disruptor and that the age of the average PlayStation consumer
decreasing. After a couple of weeks of brainstorming, we came up with the
beginnings of the Spyro concept and began developing the character and the
PSi: Why Spyro: The Year of the Dragon? What prompted the Oriental flair?
Since 2000 IS the Year of the Dragon, it just made sense. Naming a game can
one of the tougher challenges (believe it or not) in the development
especially when it is as high profile as Spyro. You've got lots of people
are already attached to the character or the gameplay and nothing really
right. Looking back on the original Spyro, we went round and round for
on the name until Ami Blaire, director of product marketing at Sony
suggested Spyro. Even then, it took folks a while to get used to it. Now
though, I can't imagine calling Spyro by any other name (except "Pete"
PSi: How long did it take to develop and complete Spyro: Year of the Dragon?
We began development in November 1999 and finished the U.S. version in
mid-September 2000 so that would be about 10 and a half months. With the
exception of the last month in the project, this was the smoothest
cycle that we've ever had. I think that the two previous Spyros really
us nail down a production pipeline that works well for this team.
PSi: What do you like best about the way the game turned out?
Everyone you ask on the team will probably have a different answer since
are so many new features for Spyro Year of the Dragon, but personally I
that the five new playable characters were a real coup for us. We spent a
of time trying to come up with critter designs that were well-balanced and
whose gameplay style didn't overlap and I think that we succeeded. The
playable character - Sparx, also turned out great with his old school
PSi: What do you most wish you could have done differently, if anything?
Given the time constraints we were under - nothing. But when you take
and release dates out of the picture, the answer for this is always the
for us - add more stuff! Despite the fact that this game is twice as big as
last two Spyros, we STILL wanted to add more at the end. Spyro is such a
character and we had so many ideas for minigames and general bells and
that it was hard for us to stop creating cool stuff.
PSi: What other games gave inspiration to the style of play in the newest
When you look at the huge variety of minigames in Spyro Year of the Dragon
should be able to tell where we got a lot of our inspiration: Tony Hawk,
Scramble, Gauntlet, Goldeneye, Robotron, Virtua Cop, Mario Kart, Crash
Bandicoot, Ready to Rumble, Mario 64, Rampage, to name a few. We also
plagarized from ourselves - taking some of the minigames from Spyro 2 and
improving them dramatically. For instance, the hockey game from Spyro 2
into the Cat Hockey minigame in Spyro Year of the Dragon. I think though
we had a LOT of purely original minigames in the latest Spyro and I hope
we're able to inspire other developers in the future.
PSi: In the first two outings of the series, you controlled only Spyro. In
Year of the Dragon, there are a multitude of friends that you get to play
with as well. Why the switch?
Instead of burdening Spyro with a bunch of extra moves, we wanted players
experience new control schemes AND introduce new faces. The best way to do
was through the critters. Since all four are so different we believe that
created a much greater variety of gameplay by using them versus sticking
PSi: What inspired the unique, Gouraud-shaded stylings of the Spyro
as opposed to the typical texture-heavy fare of most platformers?
When we created the first Spyro, we found a couple of pastoral images in
fantasy art books that stood out because of their vivid, cheerful palette.
wanted to create a bright, saturated fantasy world that wasn't cartoony so
used those pictures as a platform to develop the art style. We also
that by employing vertex coloring and using textures that had a "softer",
hand-painted feel, we would be able to create a style that was unique on
PlayStation. Another of our original goals was to create panoramic views in
environment which meant multiple levels of details for our models. Since
low-poly versions of these models were not textured, but Gouraud-shaded, it
enhanced the game's "softer" feel.
This time around, we've increased the saturation and "punch" in our colors
textures so that the environments are even more vivid than they were in the
PSi: How do you decide what minigames to put into the game, and similarly,
how do you come up with the minigames themselves? Are the levels designed
around the games, or vice versa?
The design process on this Spyro was very collaborative. We asked everyone
come up with ideas for the minigames and give them to the level designers.
fact, we had a LOT of brainstorming meetings which involved people from
discipline at Insomniac - designers, programmers, background artists and
animators. It was up to Caroline, Brian and Michael (the level designers)
though to decide which minigames went into their levels.
The levels really weren't designed around the minigames. They were designed
around the primary route to the exit and then we added the minigame areas
had the same production design flavor.
PSi: How do you balance appeal to both children and adults? Just with sly
humour, a la The Muppet Show, or is there more to it?
PSi: We know there'll be no more outings for the purple dragon on the
PlayStation. Any official word on possible hijinks on upcoming hardware
like, say, the PS2?
One of the ways we did it this time was to introducte the Active Challenge
Tuning (A.C.T.) system.. A.C.T. is a system that Brian Hastings, our VP of
Programming, invented to even
out the gameplay difficulty curve for players of different abilities.
going into details, A.C.T. is designed to sense how well a player is doing
interactively "tune" the game's difficulty so that the hardcore players are
constantly challenged and so that the novice players don't get frustrated.
really is an amazing system and most players will never know that it's
working in the background.
Despite the fact that we created Spyro, this is our last outing with the
diminutive purple one on any platform. You may be seeing him again, but we
won't be the ones doing it. We're moving on to bigger and better (and
top-secret) things on the PS2! Stay tuned...
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