TFB News Update!

TFB posted a new update on their news page for June 13:

Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure getting all kinds of E3 coverage

Our game was shown at E3 lately. You can find all kinds of coverage online but my favorite is probably this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UExDOBLiRu0

I just wish dwarves had danced a happy gig around the toy statues while medieval mandolin music played. But I guess I could say that about most things.

Anyway, we are all trying to finish up this wild ride that is Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure so I don’t have the time of the lucidity to go into a whole lot of details right now but can tell you that we are very excited about this game, we think you will be very excited about this game (you specifically) when you finally get to play it and that it’s pretty cool that we were allowed to do something innovative like Skylanders in a time when not everybody gets to do innovative things. It’s been a real pleasure working on this title and especially with such great people here at Toys For Bob and at Activision.

Also, feel free to check out our game’s website right here: http://www.skylandersgame.com/ It literally is free!

I have embedded the YouTube video below:

Personally, I think the life-size figures lowering behind the smoke was a bit awkward; the audience had to turn away from the large screens for a moment, tried to look through the smoke to see what characters are behind it.  I was able to see Trigger Happy’s gun and Gill Grunt’s harpoon.  However, it may be more visible from an angle different from the person who recorded the video above.

From what I’ve read, no official release date has been given by Activision  or anyone from Toys for Bob.  I’ve read that Skylanders would be released some time between September 27-30.  In one of the interviews with Jeff Poffenbarger, he stuck to the vague answer “Fall 2011″ as the release date.  Here is an interview that Dan Amrich (One of Swords) had with Jeff:

“The thing to remember is we did this internally.  This is Toys for Bob.  We just have a lot of really creative people.  I mean, what this game… and what you’re seeing wasn’t like somebody came to us and said “Here’s a portal of power and here are toys”.  It’s actually my boss, Paul Reiche and my co-workers that sat down and did all of it.  Took it to Activision and said ‘Hey, look at what we’ve got’.  I think it goes beyond what the core audience is and speaks to anybody that has a fondness for toys.”
– Jeff Poffenbarger

“PVP for kids that aren’t old enough to play Call of Duty”
– Dan Amrich

Dan: When is Skylanders coming out?  Do you have a release…  How close are you to the date?  Is it “nebulus” like fall or is it like “we can tell you a day and a date”?
Jeff (in a monotone voice): Fall 2011.
Dan: Fall-tember, Fall-tober?
Jeff (pretending to yawn nervously): Faaaallllll.

I’ve been thinking of why Jeff may not have been allowed to give a specific release date. One reason may be that no specific date has been chosen at all. After all, TFB is still doing some work on the game at the moment. Another reason I thought about is to prevent other publishers from releasing a game on that same date that is in direct competition with Skylanders.

I’m still eager to see how well it will be received from reviews and sales.

Links
One of Swords – E3 2011: Skylanders dev interview
Toys for Bob website

More Skylanders Info

Reiche is an old-school gamer, and his company has a solid history of development, including the legendary Star Control titles and 1996’s Pandemonium.

Yes, there is another trailer, this time with a narrator. In addition, there is some gameplay footage, with commentary from Jeff Poffenbarger, executive producer at Toys for Bob.

Skylanders gives a new meaning to “multi-platform”.  It will be available for Xbox 360, PS3, Wii, PC, Mac, 3DS, iPad, iPhone and just about “any viable platform”.  In addition, the toys are platform-exclusive.  I can play Skylanders on the Wii, ake my toy and use it in another console such as the Xbox 360.  I wonder what a portal device connected to the iPhone would look like.  I think this would be the first commercially-developed game that spans across home consoles, handheld consoles (though PSP and DS are excluded), and mobile phones.

Mike Schramm has posted an article about Skylanders and quotes Paul Reiche, CEO of Toys for Bob.  Mike also wrote the article where Paul explains where the name “Toys for Bob” came from.

…when Activision first approached Toys for Bob about doing a Spyro title, Reiche and his company originally aimed for something much darker than Spyro has ever been before.

“Let’s blow Spyro out,” Reiche said at the time. “Let’s raise up the age range for him, let’s appeal to the kids over 16 up into young adults, let’s make it tough and bloody. And we did all of this concept work and just lost our enthusiasm. That wasn’t Spyro. That isn’t what our passion was about. It was much more joyous and active, and so we sort of stepped back from that.”

That was surprising to me.  I would love to see dark game with a TFB twist.  I guess we’ll have to wait longer for that to happen.  It may be possible that they might use that idea in the future.  It also shows that TFB has plenty of experience with working with publishers to appeal to a specific target audience and satisfy Activision at the same time.

Skylanders will also have RPG elements.  Paul has used his experiences with Dungeons & Dragons other RPG games such as Diablo.  I think this is a good point for Skylanders; maybe this is the TFB twist we’ve all been waiting for.

Reiche says that the parallels to more mature hack-and-slash titles like Diablo are definitely there, especially emphasized by his old-school pen-and-paper RPG experience. “I love fantasy adventures,” he admits, “all the way back to Dungeons and Dragons, so what we were trying to do was access an environment where lots and lots of monstrous heroes made sense.” But at the same time, many of the design decisions that lean towards hack-and-slash co-op titles weren’t necessarily pushed by any other influence than just trying to make a solid game. “A lot of it is just parallel evolution,” he admits. “The decisions that led people to make certain games before lead you right there as well.”

Paul also mentioned that he has experience casting and making toys by hand which contributed to the design of 48 toys, 32 of which have been confirmed for sale in the future. This means that there are 16 toy designs that may or may not be for sale after the game is released.

It’s nice to hear that Skylanders will have RPG elements and goes beyond a co-op platforming game.  There’s no perfect scientific way of predicting how successful it will be; it’s a simple concept for kids, yet so different that everyone is at least curious about the game.  I read somewhere that this game is going back to children, just like how the original Spyro game started out.  As we get closer to the Fall season, I’m excited to see more gameplay footage and info.  There might even be an interview eventually.  I sent a tweet to GameTrailers about interviewing someone about Skylanders and they replied “stay tuned”.

Thank you Mike for the insight from Paul Reiche.

Links
Joystiq – Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure preview: Babes in toyland
GameTrailers – E3 2011: Character Mechanics Walkthrough (Cam)

What’s in a Name: Toys for Bob

Mike Schramm from Joystiq wrote an article about the history behind how Toys for Bob got its name.  This is part of a “What’s in a Name” series of articles that include other companies such as PopCap, Black Isle Studios and BioWare.  Paul Reiche is quoted and mentions how his wife came up with the name as a way to generate interest:

“Whenever you’re putting together a studio, right, it’s like name, t-shirt, and then let’s do the contract. So Fred [Ford] and I had formed a partnership to do Star Control 1. And we had all of these different names laid out, including this Bosco the Bee mascot that didn’t work out. And finally my wife — she’s a poet, very interested in psychology — she said create a name that generates interest, that doesn’t distance yourself from people, and that you can reinvent.”

Some of the comments on this article mention support for a new Star Control, which is awesome.

Thanks Mike for taking the time to write about Toys for Bob.

Check it out.

Links
What’s in a Name: Toys for Bob
Joystiq: What’s in a Name articles

The Upcoming E3 Expo

This year’s E3 Expo will be from June 7-9.  Activision will be showing off the following games according to IGN:

  • Prototype 2
  • Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure
  • Spider-Man: Edge of Time
  • X-Men Destiny

It’s strange that Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 isn’t listed.  The COD games are usually released around November.

Skylanders is TFB’s current game that will be released some time this year.  So far, very little has been revealed about the game itself.  There is an interview with Eric Hirshberg from Activision and the debut trailer that uses AC/DC’s song “Thunderstruck” song.  A very unique feature of this game is the USB-powered portal device that will scan any Skylanders toy and becomes a playable character in the video game.

Maybe someone from TFB will be at E3 and I’d love to hear what they say.  I’m still curious about what this game is like and how well it will succeed.  I am aware of the negative reactions from longtime Spyro fans.  I know that Activision touched another franchise in hopes of taking advantage of the video game market for children.

Keep an eye on E3 this June.  Other sci-fi games I saw listed were Mass Effect 3 and Star Trek: Infinite Space.

Do you expect any surprises from Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure?

Links
E3 2011: The Big Games List
E3 Website

Matt Chat 96: Part 2 of Paul Reiche & Fred Ford Interview


Matt shows us part 2 of his interview with Paul Reiche and Fred Ford.  Here, they discuss things such as Archon, Free Fall Associates (now Free Fall Games), the formation of Toys for Bob and Star Control itself.

I had no idea those Pkunk insults were voiced by Fred.  I find the history funny.  Despite their disagreements at that time, they found a way to vent that anger and turn it into something that could be used into Star Control II.  They managed to do this while maintaining an E rating by the ESRB. :D

I’ve seen links to these interviews spreading around in other blogs and forums and I’m glad that it’s reaching out to people, even people who don’t know much about Star Control.  Paul and Fred show how passionate they are as gamers and designers.  This could be a possible inspiration for other developers to take the time to take part in lengthy interviews for their fans.  Having passion for a career is crucial to surviving in this economy, in addition to education, skills and connections.

Part 3 of this interview will be coming soon and I can’t wait to see what else Matt will talk about with the TFB gods.  Please, spread around these interviews.  I know Matt has done other interviews and I’ll add those to my list of things to watch whenever I get the time.  Extra thanks for providing a direct link for downloading these interviews in MP4 format.

Links
Matt Chat 95: Skylanders and more with Paul Reiche and Fred Ford
Matt Chat 96: Paul Reiche and Fred Ford on Star Control
Paul Reiche on Twitter
Matt Barton on Twitter
Star Controller on Twitter

Matt Chat 95: An Interview with Paul Reiche III and Fred Ford


“an interview with not one but two of the greatest game designers of all time”

This is only the first part of the interview.  Matt states that there’s more to come and this isn’t even half of the interview.  This is great to hear.  I think the last time I’ve seen an interview with Paul was when they were working on Tony Hawk’s Downhill Jam and they spoke to IGN and GameTrailers.

When asked about Skylanders, they mentioned that it is another example of how they blend genres.  In fact, one could say they combined two entirely different forms of entertainment.  I’m still going to buy this game just to experience it myself and I hope it’s successful enough for them to move closer to a project they’ll have more control over.

When Paul mentioned “giant freaky robot”, it reminded me of the Orz and their devastating space marines.  He even mentions some important gameplay design elements such as asking new questions while answering old ones and defining what fun is.

For us Star Control fans, I think our most favorite part is when Paul mentions that Star Control is coming, “someday soon”.

It’s definitely a great interview.  They always have something to say and it reminds me that they have a deep history in games and it’s important to have a burning passion in order to survive in the industry for this long.

Matt mentioned that he pities anyone who hasn’t read Orson Scott Card.  I happen to be one of those people. :( I’ve just been so busy with personal stuff that I haven’t had time to read anything.  I’ve gotta add Ender’s Game to my reading list.  I remember seeing Orson’s name in a promotional card for Star Control on the Sega Genesis; I’ll post a link below.

I’d like to thank Matt for sharing this interview and Paul and Fred for providing us their wisdom.  Matt has played some of Paul’s older games such as Mail Order Monsters.

Links
Matt Chat 95: Skylanders and more with Paul Reiche and Fred Ford
Star-Control.com forum discussion
Star Control Promotional Card

Another Dose of Video Game Politics


Bizarre Creation’s farewell video by Eamon Urtone, Creative Director.

Guitar/DJ Hero Cancellation Aftermath

Activision has announced that there will be 500 layoffs.  Vicarious Visions has laid of 50 of their employees.  Bungie has stated that the rumors surrounding layoffs from their studio are false and they will not be affected by this.  While the upcoming layoffs are saddening, this isn’t the first time Activision has done something like this.

It reminds me of the time when Shaba Games closed; their last game was Spider-Man: Web of Shadows, which mediocre ratings and did not sell well.

All I can do is hope for the best.  I keep wishing that people could simply work for somebody else and make other games.  However, I know the world is crowded and the economic recession is really throwing everyone off.  In closing, I blame Activision for pushing out too many Guitar Hero games.  Are they going to do something like this with Call of Duty?

Spyro Fan Rage Continues

Anyone who has been reading the Skylander news is well aware of fans not liking Spyro’s new image.

Unfortunately, Skylanders is not geared towards Spyro fans; it is geared towards children who like collectible toys and video games.  When a publisher looks at a potential game, they look at it’s “comparables”, other games that are similar.  An example of a comparable for Skylanders could be Pokémon which increased sales of their other products (e.g. cards, toys) which in turn spawned more video game sequels.

There is a rumor going around that other toys will be made that may include more characters from the Spyro universe and possibly other licensed properties.

With regards to the fan base, I’m glad they’re directing their anger towards Activision.  Toys for Bob made the game based on Activision’s demands.  Whatever a developer makes, the publisher can request any changes and the developer must do as they’re told.

Conclusion

There will be more layoffs announced in the future.  I really have no idea who would be next.  Many developers have contributed work to Guitar Hero or DJ Hero, even Toys for Bob.  There have been many reactions from the Spyro fan base about Skylanders; I have seen many videos of Spyro fans explaining their feelings about it.  However, I have noticed that many people are at least intrigued by the portal peripheral and the “inter-action figure” toys.

Links
50 staff gone from Vicarious Visions
Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure Fact Sheet
Eamon Urtone’s Vimeo page

Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure


In less than 24 hours, what was considered rumor is now fact: Toys for Bob has been working on Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure, an interesting game that utilizes alternate reality through collectible toys and a USB-powered device called a “portal”.

“The developers at Toys for Bob stated that every figurine is hand-painted; if Skylanders takes off though, they’ll surely have to find a quicker way to produce these figurines.”
– Andy Burt, GamePro.com, “Skylanders Spyro’s Adventure preview”

As of this post, a rating by the ESRB is still pending.  It is scheduled to be released this Fall.  Activision and Toys R Us are working together to promote the game.

I skimmed through various forums and blogs and noticed that Spyro fans have mixed feelings towards this. I have never played any of the Spyro games so I don’t know much about the series myself.  Insomniac Games made the first three Spyro games.  I think Activision put Spyro into this to make this part of the Spyro franchise which they own, much like why Sega threw Sonic into Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing, despite the fact he’s not them main character.  To TFB fans such as myself, I’m just glad to see what TFB’s latest game is and curious to see what they’ve done as they have expanded over the years to work on this incredibly large project.  I should try to understand Spyro is all about before Skylanders is released.

One thing that is obvious is that Skylanders is geared towards a younger audience.  This game reminds me of my own childhood days when I loved games such as Pokemon, Digimon and Magic: The Gathering.  I understand what Eric Hirshberg means when he explained that the wonderful people at Toys for Bob noticed their children playing with toys and video games and having different experiences.  Skylanders would bring these experiences together and “amplify them”.  It makes me wish I was a kid again.

As strange as it sounds, I want to buy this and check it out myself.  The last TFB game I purchased was Tony Hawk’s Downhill Jam.  I remember in one of Alex’s e-mails he told me that this game will have “some cool story and gameplay elements that feel more classic Toys For Bob”.  The game will be sold with three toys and the portal device starting at $70.00.  Although it is “multi-platform”, only the Wii version has been shown so far.  If it’s multi-platform, will it be cross-platform?  Can I take those same toys and use them on another console?  I’m still curious to experience it myself.

Joel Cohen and Alec Sokolow (writers of Toy Story) wrote the story behind Skylanders. Hans Zimmer composed the music for this game and previously composed music for The Dark Knight and The Lion King.

Activision seems to be developing an affinity for peripherals: Guitars, drums, keyboards, bass, turntables, microphones, skateboards, a fishing rod and this brand new portal device.  What are the chances of characters from Star Control or ToeJam & Earl showing up one day?

Keep in mind that the name “Toys for Bob” has no particular meaning and isn’t related to Skylanders.  They chose this name because they simply liked it and how it stands out.

What do you think about Skylanders?  Will you consider buying Skylanders and checking it out?

Links
Official Skylanders website
Activision to Unveil Skylanders
One of Swords: What I know about Skylanders Spyro’s Adventure
GameSpy: Activision’s New Franchise Brings Toys, Video Games Together
Blistered Thumbs: A New Spin on Spyro
IGN: Can Toys Breathe Fire Back Into Spyro?
GamePro: Skylanders Spyro’s Adventure