The PlayStation library is home to countless iconic games, but few are as synonymous with Sony's first console as Spyro the Dragon and Crash Bandicoot. Last year, Activision remastered the Crash trilogy and it was a massive success, but the company has since set its sights on Spyro the Dragon with the Spyro Reignited Trilogy. As one of Sony's historic flagship franchises, the purple dragon has a substantial legacy, which has understandably made the task of modernizing his most well-known adventures a tall order for California-based studio Toys For Bob.
There's a great deal of challenge involved in remastering the visuals and mechanics of the original Spyro trilogy. How do you imbue new life into worlds and characters who were originally created under the pressure of hardware limitations? Technology has advanced astronomically since Spyro's debut in 1998; you can't just touch up these graphics and hope the same charm is expressed. According to the Reignited Trilogy's developers, the solution is far more complex.
"When you look at the original game and you squint your eyes at it, there's a lot of imagination that you had to do at the time to fill in the blanks." said Toys For Bob co-studio head Paul Yan. "For us, it's taking the game, and asking: What do people remember about this? It was important to start with the memories as opposed to how do you interpret exactly what's on the screen."
It's undeniable that memory plays a huge part in our fondness for 3D 32-bit console games. From a visual standpoint, you can argue that graphics from this generation have not aged well at all. Yet we still possess an unwavering affection for these 3D games. Call it rose-tinted glasses, but it's precisely this view that keeps games like Spyro front-of-mind for so many.
Fortunately, Toys For Bob has steered clear from interfering too much with our fondest recollections of Spyro, instead opting to harness the personal accounts and memories of both fans and the game's original creators to create a new yet familiar vision of Spyro and his world.
"We didn't approach [the games] with, 'How can we add all these new ideas?'" commented Yan. "It's really about, how do we understand the truth of them and then bring that up and find opportunities to embellish and add more lushness and detail?"
There's an intensity and boldness in the Reignited Trilogy's remastered visuals, as if an otherworldly force motioned its hand to sprout an abundance of life and color across every inch of the original environments. These new details seem to close the gap on what our minds once filled in, enhancing and making real everything we once imagined for ourselves staring at the primitive polygonal edges of Spyro's world.
This is reflected best in the way Toys For Bob has approached redesigning the first Spyro game's 80 collectable elder dragons. In the original, they had some size, shape, and color diversity, but their designs eventually started to blend together. To combat this, Toys For Bob has given each of the elder dragons their own unique design and personality. For example, Beast Maker dragons act more shamanistic and speak in Cajun accents due to their home being much like the Louisiana bayou. Additions like this elevate our understanding of Spyro's cast and better connect us to the worlds in which they live.
"Our philosophy was to try to understand the key style points of the character, and understand what the intention was," Yan said. "We'd ask what was the story Insomniac were trying to tell? Once we felt like we understood that, we'd then try to inject as much new storytelling as we could into both the environments and the characters."
We didn't approach [the games] with, 'How can we add all these new ideas?' It's really about, how do we understand the truth of them and then bring that up and find opportunities to embellish and add more lushness and detail?Paul Yan, Toys For Bob co-studio head
While visuals have been enhanced with new details and narrative threads, other aspects, like environment layouts, had to remain exactly the same. "The one thing that we were always extremely adherent to was the feel and the gameplay because we wanted that to be as referential and one-to-one to the originals as possible," Reignited Trilogy art director Josh Nadelberg said.
And it's not just the level geometry that needs to stay the same, it's the sounds too. Prolific voice actor Tom Kenny (Spongebob Squarepants, Adventure Time) reprises his role as Spyro for the Reignited Trilogy, and from early footage, he hits the notes we all expect him to. But even he faces his own unique struggles in the remastering process. According to Kenny, matching line reads he did 20 years ago, while trying to incorporate lessons he's learned since voicing Spyro in 1998, has proved difficult.
"You want to be very respectful of the way people remember Spyro, but you still want your acting to be zesty," commented Kenny. "You still want Spyro to live. But you don't want to be so concerned with matching syllable for syllable that it becomes a total left-brain exercise."
It's a tough balancing act that those involved in the remastering process must follow. But there are moments when the solution is simply to go both ways. The Reignited Trilogy faithfully recreates the instrumentation of the original soundtracks but adjusts them to dynamically shift with the player's actions during gameplay. However, if players want a more faithful experience, they can choose to switch back to the original scores composed by music legend Stewart Copeland (The Police).
Even for a high-profile musician like Copeland, Spyro has a special, unshakable meaning. "When I went down [to Toys For Bob], I was hugely relieved because I was actually very emotionally invested in the Spyro series, musically and with the visuals too," said Copeland when asked about his thoughts on the remaster. "I went down there with my hackles up and left with a glow of joy. It was actually kind of emotional to see it brought forward in this way."
There's always the original games that they could play and have that experience, but what we've done is we've tried to make the game richer in a way that we feel is honoring the spirit of the originals.Josh Nadelberg, art director
Reignited Trilogy music remixer Stephan Vankov and the team were intentional in their approach to offer players options in listening to the series' iconic musical score. "We wanted to provide a fresh way to experience the same music tracks where both new and old players can hear the work and it would be clearly transparent, the updates we've done to the music, and to take advantage of the latest technologies in game audio," said Vankov. "But we also wanted to give players the ability to switch back because the original soundtrack was so beloved, and we know that maybe not everybody's going to like the work that we've done."
It's a hard-hitting truth that not everyone is going to love the changes made, a reality that Toys For Bob has come to terms with. In a remastering process as deep as the Reignited Trilogy, there are changes that simply won't fly with some fans. A game like this will inherently trigger division, and after a while, there's only so much you can do to accommodate the tastes of everyone. When working on any creative project, tough calls need to be made, but what ultimately matters is that these decisions are made from the heart and with the best of intentions.
"There are folks that really don't want things to change. We respect that," concluded Nadelberg. "There's always the original games that they could play and have that experience, but what we've done is we've tried to make the game richer in a way that we feel is honoring the spirit of the originals. We hope that the fans give that a shot and fall in love with the world as much as we did while we were recreating it."