Q&A: Ted Price of Insomniac Games

We spoke with the president of Insomniac Games about Spyro: Year of the Dragon, the origins of the Spyro franchise, the company's next-generation plans, and more.

Sony Computer Entertainment America and Insomniac Games are preparing to release Spyro: Year of the Dragon, the third installment in the popular Spyro series, for the Sony PlayStation. This will be the final Spyro game developed by Insomniac Games. The license holder, Universal Interactive Studios, is planning to release a next-generation Spyro for multiple platforms and has secured an unannounced developer to work on the game. GameSpot spoke with Ted Price, president and CEO of Insomniac Games, to find out the details behind Spyro: Year of the Dragon. Price promises that this third installment will be the biggest and best Spyro yet.

GameSpot: What were your goals with this third installment? Did you want to continue the Spyro formula, or did you do some newer things with the gameplay and characters?

Ted Price: I think the critters and the real emphasis on minigames, things like boxing and skateboarding, are a demonstration on how we really wanted to increase the variety and depth of the gameplay. With the critters we wanted to give the players new control schemes and the use of new abilities without having to load Spyro down with all sorts of new abilities himself.

GS: There are other characters that come into play and this invariably leads to a smaller role for Spyro. Is he able to remain as the dominant character in the game despite this?

TP: Yeah, the story really follows Spyro, but throughout the story he is able to rescue and free four other creatures in the world. These creatures have their own levels they can play and they also have sections within Spyro's levels that you can use them in. Each critter has his own special abilities, and we've spent a lot of time trying to balance them so you have creatures with complementary abilities with very little crossover.

GS: This is the third time you have worked on Spyro for the PlayStation. Has the development team's familiarity with the hardware helped in optimizing any aspects of Spyro: Year of the Dragon?

TP: With four or five years on the PlayStation we've learned a lot of tricks. Things like how to keep the frame rate at a constant 30 frames per second while drawing more polygons from the game. Every time we do a game we've learned new things about what the PlayStation can do. As a good example in this game, you'll see a lot more special effects than you did in previous games. We focus a lot more on that and we've gotten better at it. We've also learned how to do cinematics a lot better and it shows up in this one. I think visually this game stands out more than its predecessors because we've tried to make the palettes even brighter and more saturated than in the previous ones. The levels pop more so than in the first two.

GS: Did Stewart Copeland do the soundtrack once again for Spyro: Year of the Dragon?

TP: Yeah, he did and it's great. I think it's by far his best work to date, and we really clicked. There are some great tunes.

GS: Spyro has always had some tongue-in-cheek humor. Does this continue with Spyro: Year of the Dragon?

TP: Oh yeah, we really tried to emphasize the humor, and there is a lot of slapstick humor going on in the background. It's actually everywhere. Sometimes it gets past most players because we're doing things that aren't readily noticeable, but everything in the world is kind of goofy.

GS: Can you give us examples of some of those cool new gameplay features in Spyro: Year of the Dragon?

TP: I think my favorite is the level we call fireworks factory, where Spyro is meeting up with a character he met in a previous game - it's Greta. Handle and Greta were two secret agents - they're little kids - from Spyro 2, and now they're on a new mission. Greta is a judo expert now, and she goes through the level in front of Spyro, kicking ass and throwing these other creatures around, which is pretty funny. At the end of that level we actually have a little Matrix sequence where we do all the stop-motion camera moves. It's really cool. Those are the kind of touches we add throughout the game that really make it different and make it stand out from the other action platformers.

GS: What are your next-generation plans, particularly on the PS2, as you move forward? What type of genres are you most interested in pursuing in the future?

TP: I can't really talk about specific genres. Because we are working on the PlayStation 2, I can't give away anything about our current project. But in working on the PS2 we found that our experience with the original PlayStation was invaluable, and that has kind of given us a leg up. It is a challenging machine, but its potential is amazing. We've just been scratching the surface now after working on it for a little over a year, but it is a great machine to work on.

GS: So, you have just one project on the PS2 console at this time?

TP: Yeah, we have one project on the PlayStation 2 right now.

GS: As a result of the Havas/Universal deal in August, the next installment of Spyro should appear on multiple platforms, including the PS2 and Xbox. Will Insomniac be involved with future Spyro games?

TP: Nope. We had the opportunity. I mean we created Spyro the character, and we created the whole franchise, but Universal owns the license to it. We decided that we wanted to move on and explore other characters and create new stuff. You know when you have a team that has been working on the same thing for almost five years you definitely need a change at some point. This is the perfect opportunity for us to move on.

GS: Do you plan to come back to the Spyro franchise at some point in the future?

TP: Well, certainly not right now, and we'll see what happens. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that Spyro 4 ends up being a good title, but right now we don't even care about that. We're so pumped about having finished up Spyro: Year of the Dragon and the fact that it is a game that's twice as big as either of its predecessors and I think twice as good. We are looking forward to seeing what the general public and the critics say about Spyro: Year of the Dragon.

GS: What were the inspirations in creating Spyro in the first place? You have to admit he and the rest of the characters in the game are certainly unique.

TP: Well, we came up with Spyro just randomly. We were trying to figure out what we were going to do after Disruptor. I don't know if you remember that game. It was a first-person shooter. We knew we wanted to do something that wasn't violent and was a real-time 3D game. One of the artists said one day, "Hey I've always wanted to do a game about a dragon," and that's when the light bulb went off in everybody's head. We were like, "Yeah, that makes sense."

GS: So how did the kid dragon come about? Was that a result of wanting to do something nonviolent as you say?

TP: It was partly a result of that, and it was partly a result of trying to look ahead to where the PlayStation was going to be when we released the game. Our assumption was that at that time the average age of the audience was dropping a little bit, and we realized that doing a younger character would not be a bad thing. It would help set us apart from the other games out there and address a rapidly growing younger segment of the market.

GS: Anything else you'd like our readers to know about Spyro: Year of the Dragon?

TP: Well, Sparks the dragonfly is now a playable character in the game. So there are a total of six playable characters in the game, and Sparks has these really cool, kind of retro, Gauntlet type of levels. When you play them and win them, Sparks gets these extra abilities that are very helpful in the game.

GS: Thanks for talking to us, Ted, and good luck with the release of Spyro: Year of the Dragon.

TP: Nice talking to you.

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