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.


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.

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,, "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?

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
IGN: Can Toys Breathe Fire Back Into Spyro?
GamePro: Skylanders Spyro’s Adventure

Correction: TFB made Skylanders: Spyro's Adventure

The Internet has spoken! TFB is behind Skylanders and I will write more when I get the time.

TFB Rumor Alert!

It all started with a tweet:

“To be fair to Spyro, Toys for Bob seem to be really excited about, so it could potentially be a good game.”

It’s no secret that the TFB guessing game is still on.  Unfortunately, I’ve never played any of the Spyro games.  I know that Insomniac originally made it and has a diverse fan base of its own.  The idea of a new Spyro game came from some recent domain name registrations related to “Spyro” and “Sky Landers”, a possible spin-off.

Activision has made a few unexpected announcements:

  • No more Guitar Hero or DJ Hero sequels will be made due to declining sales
  • Sledgehammer Games will be making the next Call of Duty game
  • True Crime: Hong Kong has been cancelled during development due to quality and marketing concerns.
  • A Nintendo DS game based on the Squinkies toy franchise will be made.  Activision will announce another game during the 2011 Toy Fair, February 13-16.

In addition to the toy fair, Activision also mentioned this in their December Quarter and Calendar Year 2010 Financial Results:

"...a new property from Bungie and an innovative new universe with broad appeal that will be revealed at Toy Fair later this week and will bring the world of toys, video games and the Internet together in an unprecedented way. These investments should better position Activision Blizzard for long‐term growth and enable it to continue expanding its position as the largest digital publisher."
‐ Quote from Company Outlook section

There are 2 images of dragons created by Laurie Ann Franks, an artist at Toys for Bob.  Since one of the images is a purple dragon, people have speculated that the next Spyro will be much older in his next game.

Laurie has removed the two images from her website and added this statement:

"There used to be some pictures of dragons on this page.

I do fan art like a lot of other gamers who are also artists....and I suppose any sort of fan art I do because of my job at Activision leads to speculation, so I took it down.

The stuff here is purely my own off‐hours fan‐art type stuff: NOT PROFESSIONAL!"
‐ Laurie Ann Franks

I’m glad to see TFB’s name popping up in the news and spreading like wildfire. However, I do not believe that TFB’s project has anything to do with Spyro.  However, I am curious about what Activision will announce at this toy fair.  What are the chances that Toys for Bob will be making a game directly related to toys?  The closest thing I can think of is the Toys Story levels and characters in Disney’s Extreme Skate Adventure.  However, I highly doubt that Activision would announce a child-friendly game such as Squinkies and announce something else that is the exact opposite.

Although the toy fair is not open to the general public, I will be looking out for any Activision-related news from this.  Here’s some info I found about the NYC Toy Fair:

  • Examples of famous toys debuted in previous Toy Fairs: Silly Putty (1950), Mr. Potato Head (1952), Barbie (1959), Tickle Me Elmo (2006)
  • Activision's booth falls under the following categories: "Action Figures", "Components - Toy & Game, Electronic", "Interactive Toys (not plush) (Interactive, Plug-and-Play TV Games)" and "Video Games & Accessories"

In conclusion, there is most likely a Spyro game in development.  I do not believe that TFB is behind it.  Laurie has stated that the art on her 2D/Concept is not related to her professional work for TFB.  With the announcement of no more Guitar Hero and DJ Hero, this could be a sign that Activision is looking at different video game peripherals or something that involves collecting.  For example, when Pokemon was released, it was financially successful in the form of video games, toys and playing cards.

Do you think Activision will reveal something epic at the Toy Fair?

Toy Fair Website
Joystiq Article about Activision at the Toy Fair
Laurie Ann Franks’ Website
Activision’s Booth Information
Activision Blizzard Reports December Quarter and Calendar Year 2010 Financial Results

Thinking About Activision Again

I apologize again for the quiet blog.  However, something’s been running through my mind.  Sometimes I mentioned the aftermath of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 which resulted in a lawsuit between Acitivision, Vince Zampella and Jason West and Electronic Arts.  However, something else has happened which surprised me: A new development studio formed in 2009 called Sledgehammer Games.  Some of the staff members have been directly involved in the development of the Dead Space series.  They have announced that they are currently working on a next Call of Duty game instead of alternating between Infinity Ward and Treyarch.

One thing I am trying to understand is video game politics.  However, I am merely a consumer like everyone else.  Most of what I know about the industry comes from news online.  One thing that COD fans became used to is the COD dev responsibility shifting between Infinity Ward and Treyarch.  Fans may have different feelings towards the two studios and yet each incarnation of COD has been successful, through sales, ratings, downloadable content and online multiplayer.  There is also a strong ad-campaign with it.

What does this have to do with TFB?

Activision is known for publishing many sequels.  If a game sells enough copies, another sequel will be made.  TFB worked on the video game version of the first Madagascar movie.  It sold well enough for them to make a video game version of the second movie.  The contract between DreamWorks and Activision ended and THQ is now responsible for Madagascar video games.  So, whatever TFB is working on, it is not Madagascar and it has nothing to do with any of DreamWorks’ other licenses.

Whatever their project is, it is big and TFB itself has grown significantly since their last game.  If this game is successful financially, we can expect another sequel in the works.  Activision would naturally want these sequels to be released at a consistent rate and will trade responsibilities between TFB and another developer the same way Infinity Ward and Treyarch has before the aftermath of Modern Warfare 2.

As I write this, I’m excited for this project because Alex Ness described it as something with a TFB feel, it’s one of their biggest projects, they were given more time to work on it and there was an article from One of Swords where he mentions that developers for Activision have creative control.  I am definitely going to pre-order this.

I’d love to see a new Star Control game.  At the same time, I’d love to see what’s going through the creative minds of everyone at TFB.  Their years of experience can create just about anything.  If this game serves as a stepping stone towards Star Control then I’m all for it.  As long as they continue to be successful and show Activision they can get anything done, they’ll always be around.

As I wrote this article, I forgot about the 90-day period Activision had for considering what to do with Bizarre Creations.  They recommended selling Bizarre Creations.  However, there were many candidates for purchasing the studio but none were interested.  Bizarre has stated that they will accept the closure if they are purchased.  As of this post, Bizarre is still open and has not closed completely.  It is still possible for a publisher to put them back into action.

In conclusion, I hope TFB’s current project is successful.  I hope it becomes leverage for TFB to work on more projects that they have more control over.  I don’t know how much effort Activision will take to promote it and it may be up to us to spread the word however we can.

With regards to COD, it’s complicated and I wish the best for Infinity Ward, Treyarch and Sledgehammer Games.  I also hope for the best of Bizarre; their racing games have great reviews and their Geometry Wars series has a very strong cult following of its own.

I think we should watch the video games news closely for Activision, Infinity Ward, Treyarch, Sledgehammer and COD’s future in general.  It shows how Activision treats high-budget projects and how important ownership of publishing rights are.  It may even have an effect of how they see TFB’s current project and future ones.  Their publishing contract for James Bond will expire in 2014 and Activision is no longer publishing new DreamWorks-licensed games.

The Modern Warfare Fight: Your Guide to Activision Vs. Infinity Ward

The Lurg and Other Thoughts

Hello and happy belated new year!

I mysteriously lost my savegame for Project 6014. While I was testing out Fraps and tuning my PC to record better, I realized that the savegame was gone. I just started it anyways, so I went through the beginning and saved at the point before I began searching for the Shofixti scout that sent a distress signal.

While reading some stuff online, Elerium on the UQM forums posted a link to a video of a fan-created race in Project 6014: The Lurg.

I was surprised; there was additional voices which is awesome! The animations are nice and the color scheme and art style matches the quality of the other races during dialog. I was surprised once again when the player chose the response “You look strangely familiar. You have a face I don’t think I’d forget.” I thought to myself, “That’s the one from the original box art, isn’t it?” This alien was drawn by dczanik who also posted a high-resolution image of DeviantArt with some interesting info in the description:

The Lurg. The Lurg are intelligent parasites that burrow in and grow inside its host. The size of the Lurg is determined by the size of its host. They travel in genetically engineered organic ships bred, grown and harvested for interstellar travel. The Lurg uses 2 electrodes to stimulate the muscles to control the Prawn. While looking quite vicious, the Lurg are actually quite intelligent and master manipulators. Based upon the box art monster of Star Control 2 as seen here: I believe I'm the only person on the planet who has created fan art from the box. The alien was supposed to be another artist's interpretation of the Ur-Quan. Typical of box art of the day, it looks nothing like the game art.

The Lurg by *dczanik on deviantART         (High-Resolution)

Dczanik also has experience with 3D modelling.  Here is a HD mock-up he made of Commander Hayes:

I have been looking at tweets online of people who mention Star Control. There have been tweets about supporting a HD remake of Star Control II. With HD versions of Monkey Island, Banjo-Kazooie, GoldenEye, Perfect Dark, Beyond Good & Evil and even Call of Duty 1, there’s certainly a place for Star Control II.  However, it becomes more complicated with legal issues, TFB approval, convincing someone to publish it and having enough time for the developers to finish it and make sure it’s polished.

Thanks dczanik for sharing some information from the Lurgs; it was really fascinating and I really felt like I have seen that alien from somewhere and the fact that it’s included as a response really makes them stand out.

You can also follow me on twitter: @starcontroller

dczanik’s DeviantArt
dczanik’s YouTube

End of 2010 Thoughts

We are getting closer to 2011 with lots of gaming surprises coming up.  Before the year ended, I wanted to create a quick video showing off the easter eggs in  The photo gallery is my favorite one.  There button for jobs just redirects to the jobs page on Activision’s Taleo site so there’s no easter eggs there.  The list of random links for the “Don’t Push” button can be seen at

Eth posted a nice cartoon of an Umgah, Ilwrath and Spathi caroling, which is hilarious.

There were also some Star Control cartoons from Saria for the 12 days of Christmas. They are really cool, colorful and make great use of some quirks from the plot to add to its humour.

Captain talking to Slylandro Probe by Saria
Captain talking to Slylandro Probe by Saria

There’s one more thing we’ll have to cross our TFB guesslist: Their current project probably will not be released this year.  I remember last year, I was under the impression that their current project would be released just before the holidays like Madagascar 2 was.  Well, if TFB is continuing to grow and work on this game, then their project is continuing to grow and evolve.  With regards to Activision, the legal aftermath of Modern Warfare 2 continues to shine in the spotlight and I’m very curious about how this would affect future contracts with developers.  Video game politics always surprise and confuse me at the same time.

With that in mind, I’m hoping for the best in 2011 and I’d like to wish everyone happy hollidays and a happy new year!

Saria’s DeviantArt Page News Forum
YouTube - Dwe Wish Yuubuu a Merry Christmas

Support Humble Indie Bundle 2

I remember wanting to write about the first bundle and I was so busy with work and I didn’t have much time to go to my blog and write.  In a nutshell, the humble bundle gives players the chance to pay any amount they choose (minimum $1), decide where the money goes and receive a link to download all 5 games  for Windows, Mac OS X and Linux.  The humble bundle will continue for the remainder of this week; the website has a counter on the top of the page.

These games are:

  • Braid
  • Cortex Command (work in progress)
  • Machinarium
  • Osmos
  • Revenge of the Titans (work in progress)

The two games that are currently in progress, Cortex Command and Revenge of the Titans, their betas can still be downloaded.  When the games are updated or completed, the versions on the humble bundle will be updated.

Arne did the art for Cortex Command.  Arne is also a fan of Star Control.  His posts can be seen in the PONAF and UQM forums.  There’s even a cameo by the Spathi in the intro of Cortex Command:

The Spathi is hiding on the left side.

When $1 million was raised with the last humble bundle, source code for Gish, Lugaru, Aquaria and Penumbra: Overture were released.  For this humble bundle, John Graham (president of Wolfire Games) did not make any statements whether or not anything will happen if this bundle should reach $1 million like the first one.  Actually, John kept a lot of secrets about his plans on the bundle.  He did mention that he has considered getting Minecraft into the humble bundle.

Please support the Humble Indie Bundle.  Pay $1 or more, decide where the money goes and get 5 cross-platform games with no DRM.  As of this post, they have raised over $795, 000 with only 4 more days remaining.  Support indie developers and check out Cortex Command and Arne’s artwork.

The Humble Indie Bundle
IndieGames: 25-minute interview with John Graham of Wolfire
Data Realms
Arne’s Android Arts Page
Arne’s blog
John Graham: “Star Control III sounds like it could be pretty sweet”

EDIT: Minor correction. Source code for 4 of the 5 games for the last humble indie bundle were released by the developers.

TFB: Population Growing

As this year comes to a close, I felt like doing a crazy clue hunt:

  • Kept my eye on Activision's game release calendar; hasn't updated, but shows that they are releasing multi-platform versions of a few franchises and World of Warcraft Cataclysm.
  • Activision's investor page also lists the price of their stock.  As of this post, it is roughly around $12.00.
  • I skimmed through Activision's annual investor reports, which are beautifully laid out by a third-party.  Unfortunately, I do not understand these statistics.  What I do understand is that Activision is clearly making profit.  Did you know that they have the publishing rights of James Bond until 2014?
  • Re-read the news of Activision purchasing Toys for Bob back in 2005.  I learned that a Quebec studio, Beenox was also purchased by them around this time.  They worked on the PC version of Madagascar while TFB worked on the home console versions.

After skimming through plenty of text and facts, I wrote a letter to Alex Ness, our favorite TFB producer and asked how things were going.  He replied:

Hey Anthony!

We are doing great over here, albeit busy as all get out. Since releasing our last game, Madagascar 2, we have more than doubled in size!!! Our current project is gonna' be a big deal, we hope, because we are spending more time and manpower on it than ever before.

Hope it's not too cold up there and you are maybe enjoying some pre‐Christmas snow.

Take care,


Congratulations on the continued growth, TFB!  As of this moment we know it is not Star Control, not a sequel to any games they have made before and not related to any of the Dreamwork properties.  Alex previously mentioned that this game will have more of a classic TFB feel to it and is their biggest project yet.

I’ve been thinking of their unannounced project for a long time.  I decided that if I can, I will preorder it.  I don’t preorder many games but this is something I’d like to do to show my support.  Whatever this game is, I really hope it’s successful; it will show that TFB still has the magic touch and unleashing their imagination is critical to Earth’s survival.

With that said, expect many video game related surprises in the future.  Thank you Alex for taking the time to write back to me.

Activision’s game release calendar
Activision’s annual reports

Paul Reiche III's D&D History

"Erol, Mat and I wrote the text, Erol penned all the illustrations and my mom Georgiann (the world's first Star Control II fan), typed the whole thing on her Selectric II."

A Google Alert popped up that I found really interesting.  James Maliszewski from Grognardia, a tabletop RPG blog, interviewed the great Paul Reiche III about his beginnings as a Dungeons & Dragons writer, how he met Erol Otus in high school.  Paul jokingly states that of all the answers he gives, “less than half of them are pure lies.” :D

"I have always struggled to bridge these artificially created divisions, both in theme and in structure, as with the strategy/action hybrid video games, Archon and Star Control."

On a personal note, I have played Dungeons & Dragons, although it was very limited.  I was in Grade 9 and I hung out at a friend’s house and we played a couple of games.  I remember he even showed me the manual for the original Baldur’s Gate manual, which evolved into an excellent RPG series currently available on  As school became more complicated, I had less time for D&D and my tabletop RPG experience ended quickly.

It’s a really cool interview and definitely worth reading.  It was a combination on Paul’s D&D experience, creativity and the friends he made along the way that contributed to the legacy he has now.

Interview: Paul Reiche III