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:

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: 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.

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.

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.

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?

E3 2011: The Big Games List
E3 Website

Boris Vallejo's Star Control Print

Star Control by Boris Vallejo
Print dimensions: 18 x 24 inches

A while ago, I was browsing through Boris Vallejo and Julie Bell’s website, Imaginistix.  They have lots of art prints for sale and even original paintings for sale.  I searched for Star Control and I was lucky to discover prints for the Star Control painting are for sale and I decided to order one.  I have finally received it in the mail.

Accolade ported some of their games to the Sega Genesis, including Star Control.  Included with the game was a form that could be mailed out to order a Star Control poster of Boris Vallejo’s artwork for the game.  While the poster for the Genesis version is virtually impossible to find, buying a print of his painting from the Imaginistix website is a great alternative for anyone willing to pay for it.

Did you know that Paul and Fred were not told who was working on the cover art for the Genesis ports?

“This was the box‐cover for the Genesis version of Star Control I. As we were porting the PC version to the Genesis, Accolade came to us and said, “We got an artist to do the Genesis cover. What would you like him to do?” Not knowing (unless we were psychic) that it was Boris, we said, “Well, just have him make the claw cooler.” And Accolade said, “Uh, Okay.” It was only much later and to our dismay that we discovered the opportunity that had been lost.”

‐ Fred Ford

Boris and Julie still create art for movies and video games to this day.

I bought the largest print (18 x 24), which cost $150 USD plus shipping.  It was shipped via USPS Priority Mail, which may vary in delivery time depending on its destination.  There are also other sizes available: 8 x 10 ($30),  11 x 14 ($50), and 12 x 18 ($70) in addition to 18 x 24.  It is a great quality image printed on photo paper; it is glossy with a matte finish.  It was shipped in a flat cardboard box, with the print sandwiched in layers of additional cardboard to keep it flat.  Each Star Control print has a signature from Boris Vallejo himself.

Boris Vallejo's signature in gold marker

I am aware that this may be considered expensive for an art print like this.  Keep in mind, this is being purchased directly from Boris Vallejo’s site and it is supporting his work.  I do not consider myself an art collector by any means and it’s definitely worth buying for anyone who wants to add something new to their Star Control collection.  I could not find the original painting on the site and I doubt I’d be able to afford it considering the prices of other original paintings on the site.  I plan on buying a frame for this and hanging it on my wall.

What do you think about this?

Imaginistix - Star Control (B-695)
The Hand from Star Control

The answer to "What game made you dream of the stars?"

Star Control on
Star Control 1 & 2 was released as part of GOG's "New wave of Atari games"

I just logged into my computer yesterday and saw various tweets and articles about how Star Control 1 and 2 were both available on for $5.99. It was one heck of a surprise.

The extra items available after purchase include the manuals of both games, guides and maps for Star Control 2.  There is also a soundtrack which includes audio of the intro from the 3DO version of the second game.  Most of the stuff I glanced over, is available for free.  However, it’s nice to see everything in one spot without having to “google” everything.

I remember reading a forum thread about getting Star Control on GOG and I initially thought it wouldn’t happen due to the legal technicalities between Toys for Bob and Atari.  After all, Atari owns the title; TFB owns the most important part of any video game, the content itself.

I sent an e-mail to Paul and Fred about what they think about this addition to GOG.  They informed me that “Atari’s right to publish these games expired years ago” and they were not contacted before the game was added.  They’re not getting their share of the profits.  In addition, Paul said that he made an attempt to contact GOG about this and hopefully resolve this.

I bought the game to see what the extras were like.  I think GOG’s a great service; hundreds of games available for low prices, better compatibility, DRM-free and beautifully packaged.  I bought many games from them.  I feel a little guilty about buying the Star Control pack and I really hope that TFB can turn this around in their favor.

In conclusion, it’s nice to see that the news about Star Control on GOG is spreading around.  I think Matt Barton’s interview had some kind of influence.  I think this is an interesting coincidence; 9 days after Matt Barton’s final part of the interview with Paul Reiche and Fred Ford, GOG surprises us with Star Control.  I wasn’t sure if TFB was getting their cut of the profits and I was even more surprised that Atari didn’t even have the rights to publish this in the first place.

I wish TFB the best of luck and I hope this turns around in their favor.  I’d also like to thank the reviews on GOG that mention The Ur-Quan Masters; it really means a lot to the Star Control community.

Links - Star Control 1+2 - Star Control 1 & 2 re-released on
Shacknews - Star Control 1 & 2 re-released on GOG
The Ur-Quan Masters

Matt Chat 97: The Horde and More with Fred Ford and Paul Reiche

Matt has uploaded the third and final part of his interview with Paul Reiche and Fred Ford.

Here they discuss things such as abandonware, The Horde and Little Witching Mischiefs, probably their least-known title with a strange development history.

While Paul was talking about the language barriers they encountered while developing this game, it made me wonder if the company that translated Star Control II to Japanese dealt with similar barriers.

And Paul Reiche mentioned a few brief thoughts about how he would approach a Star Control II sequel:

"Let's call it Star Control Returns"

"This would be a game for people who like Star Control II and who wanted to continue that experience.  So,I think we'd pick up pretty to close where the story ends and keep enough of the races and ships that you'd feel familiar and then introduce as the game goes on, the new races."

"I still want to know what the Druuge are up to.  I mean our technology has changed so much since that time that the game has to reflect the fact that people are walking around with way more advanced computers in their hands than we imagined people owning 200 years from now.  The whole issue about movies would be different 15 years ago if people had cell phones; entire movie plots would just start falling apart.  I think we'll have to reflect the change in our understanding of technology."

‐ Paul Reiche III in response of Cameron Goble's question "How much of Star Control II will you bring back that game [Star Control III] and how much will be brand new?

Interesting how Paul mentioned that movie plots from 15 years ago would fall apart if cell phones were commonplace like they are now. College Humor made a couple of skits about this.

Paul and Fred’s closing statements include “Stay in school and don’t do drugs”,  “have a good time”, “cut each other some slack”, “hopefully we’ll be here again in a few years”, “hopefully we’ll be talking about how much people love the new Star Control”.

It raises my hopes about a new Star Control game.  However my older writings about video game politics still linger in my mind.  I hope that TFB’s relationship with Activision continues to grow to allow them to work on Star Control Returns.

And that’s the conclusion to Matt’s interview; an hour of awesome insight from the Star Control gods themselves.  Passing the one-hour mark, it’s definitely a great contribution to the fanbase and lots of information.

Thanks Matt, Paul and Fred for taking the time to arrange the interview and to Cameron Goble for contributing his question.  I cannot stress how awesome this is.  Please, go to YouTube and give these three videos a thumbs up to help promote the videos and get more views.

Matt Chat 95
Matt Chat 96
Matt Chat 97
Armchair Arcade
If All Movies had Smartphones
If All Movies had Cell Phones

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.

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

Arianna's Article About Female Gamers

"…we shouldn’t be having to hide online, and this is unfair. I should be able to tell people I’m female and not expect crazy to come out of it."
‐ Arianna Reiche

A while ago, I came across an article that Kotaku posted by Arianna Reiche, Paul Reiche’s daughter. It is about harassment towards female players in online games and how women should not need to hide their gender.

Her article states some interesting statistics:

  • "A 2006 statistic from the Consumer Electronics Association revealed that women ages 25-34 were out-playing men in “casual” (non-console) games by 30 per cent."
  • " the UK, women have been projected as made up 48 per cent of World of Warcraft players"

While I cannot personally relate to this article, I understand the issues Arianna raises and I have seen other players say offensive and vile things to female gamers.  I do report abusive people online whenever I can.

It is issues like these that make it difficult for me to talk about video games with women.  If I mention games such as Call of Duty or Mass Effect to a man, I can at least have a decent conversation, even if that person doesn’t play video games.  However, if I try to talk about this to a woman, it will have a complete opposite effect.  Of course, this also raises issues towards how strongly these games are marketed towards men versus women.  On the other hand, I have played Mario Kart with female friends and family and was lots of fun.

I thought briefly about Greg Johnson’s studio, HumaNature Studios.  Greg is a personal friend of Paul Reiche and created ToeJam & Earl.  HumaNature is a studio that is interested in creating games that “appeal to non-gamer types and women”.  From what I’ve read while writing this article, they have finished creating a Facebook app called Deko-Deko Mail.

I also thought about the Nintendo Wii.  I remember it was being marketed as a console that would convert non-gamers to gamers and encourage families to play together.  It’s Nintendo WiFi Connection was designed to deter harassment; for example, nobody can send out text messages or speech unless both parties add each other’s lengthy friend code.  To block another person from sending messages, all the player would have to do is remove their friend code.  Casual games that appeal towards women have been selling well on the Wii.

Check out her article.  It shows an example of the bad side of the gaming community and how women should not have to hide who they are.

Kotaku: I’m an Anonymous Woman Gamer
To Be (Anonymous) or Not to Be (Anonymous)
Arianna Reiche’s website
HumaNature Studios

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.

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