[Tooth & Arrows] The Evolution of Gaming Part 2

Monday, August 29, 2016

I don’t remember when it was, exactly, that I received my original Playstation (now referred to affectionately by gamers as the PS1). I think it might have been my fourteenth birthday, or the preceding Christmas. Either way, I vividly remember my first game.

As everyone who knows me probably knows, I love dinosaurs. In pretty much all forms. As a result, when Disney’s Dinosaur came out in theaters, my parents and I went to see it. I fell in love with it, but it wouldn’t be out on video (that’s right – this was BEFORE DVDs) for several more months. Wanting to experience more of the movie, I played the game at our local FunCoLand (not an arcade, actually – a now long-gone buy/sell/trade game store, one of the first), which always had consoles set up to play. disneys_dinosaur

I was thrilled to find that the game had actual film cut-scenes! I really wanted it badly. So when my parents got me a used Playstation, that was the game they got for me to go with it.

The game was actually a lot of fun, despite what I now recognize were fairly clunky controls and a lack of explanation for why there was a pteranodon in the “party on-screen. Honestly, they basically took the pterosaur at the beginning of the movie and made it into some loving mother-character who followed Aladar and his lemur buddy around to help them, when in reality the creature had less than five minutes of screen time and was visibly shown to be planning to feed Aladar’s egg to it’s own young. Still, it made for entertaining gameplay, and I did enjoy the ability to fly around in the game.

I still remember when I first beat the game and saw the ending of the movie play. It was less than a month later that we got the movie on VHS, and I got to watch all the in-between scenes that I hadn’t gotten to see since the theater. However, I still have the scenes that were in the game memorized – because once I’d beaten the game I would play it through again and again to watch the cut scenes.

disney_dinosaur_02_medDisney’s Dinosaur may have been my first PS1 game, but it was by far not my last. Other games I fell in love with were Scholastic’s Animorphs, based on what is still one of my favorite YA book series of all time. I love it so much that I wrote an entire Retro Gaming Wednesday post about it…when I wasn’t actually able to play it at the time. Hopefully I’ll find my external disk drive soon and I’ll be able to play it for you.

But since I already wrote about that, I think another beloved series deserves the attention of the rest of this blog post. That series is none other than the original Spyro The Dragon.

In the original trilogy, Spyro is very different from the dragon that launched the Skylanders series today. First of all, he’s a PS1 render, so he’s very…ah…angular. Second of all…well, I admit – I never finished the games that lead up to the redesign of Spyro for Skylanders. I don’t know if there’s a different back story for him in the Gamecube and subsequent games, as I never got to play them. But the Spyro I played was irreverent, wise-cracking, sarcastic, and a whole heck of a lot of fun.spyro1

This trilogy of games was my bread and butter for awhile. I admit that I never actually beat the second two at 100% (or whatever ridiculous percentage over 100 they were – Spyro’s original game completes at 124%, or something like that), but I did beat all three games.

Unlike other games and movies that suffered from sequels, Spyro only seemed to get cooler and more fun – and more complicated. With each additional game, Spyro’s abilities grew. The games even had a time-line between them so you knew Spyro was growing up through the course of the games. This is why it made sense that in the first game he couldn’t swim – and he could in the second. And why in all three games, though he got very very good at gliding and learned quite a few tricks to extend those glides (as well as magically flying whenever possible), Spyro never actually learned to fly within the narrative of the games.spyro2

Having played World of Warcraft, I can tell you that this was a deliberate decision by the game creators at Insomniac Studios. Being able to fly makes a huge, expansive world seem tiny. And also negates all the awesome tricks you had to figure out, learn, and use in order to navigate that world the way they intended you to – mostly on the ground. Still, as Spyro was obviously growing up, they did feel the need to explain his inability to fly as well as his relatively small size throughout the series. (Even if it was only tongue-in-cheek mentioned alongside a vaguely fourth-wall breaking joke that one of the characters made about Spyro’s size, color, or other attributes.)spyro3

The characters introduced in the sequel, Spyro: Ripto’s Rage, aren’t just fly-by-night characters we’ll never see again (like most of the ones from the original game were). In fact, they become permanent additions to Spyro’s little family. A faun and an anthro cheetah, as well as their compatriots, become people the player gets to see again and again – even into the trilogy’s ultimate installment, Spyro: Year Of The Dragon.

These three games were bridges between the side-scrolling platformers of the Genesis and SNES eras, into the massively immersive 3D games played so widely today. While still employing platformer performance and physics, the game allowed you to immerse into the world with Spyro in a way that you couldn’t even in Animorphs (basically a platformer with depth), or Disney’s Dinosaur (3D, but with a top-down view and inability to jump or climb most things that made it lack depth). In this way, I credit Spyro with making me the gamer I’ve become today…and with paving the way for the next console I would receive in my gamer journey: the Playstation 2.