Toys for Bob

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Toys for Bob
IndustryVideo games
Founded1989; 31 years ago (1989)
FoundersPaul Reiche III
Fred Ford
Terry Falls
Key people
Paul Reiche III (CEO and creative director)
ProductsStar Control series (1990–92)
Skylanders series (2011–16)
Number of employees

Toys for Bob is an American video game developer, founded in Novato, California by Paul Reiche III, Fred Ford and Terry Falls in 1989.


The name Toys for Bob was invented by Laurie Lessen-Reiche; it was chosen to stimulate curiosity and allude to Paul and Fred's appreciation of real toys.[1][2] According to Reiche, when people frequently asked who "Bob" was, he instructed everyone at the company to come up with their own Bob, and swear that is the only Bob, "to confuse people".[3]


Toys for Bob was founded by Paul Reiche III, Fred Ford, and Terry Falls.[4] Reiche and Ford's enterprise would begin as a partnership, before evolving into a division of Crystal Dynamics, a corporation, and eventually a studio within Activision.[3]

Origins and Star Control success[edit]

Reiche and Ford both attended University of California, Berkeley together, with each entering the game development industry in the early 1980s.[5] Reiche had worked for Dungeons & Dragons publisher TSR, before developing PC games for Free Fall Associates.[6] Ford developed games for a Japanese personal computer before transitioning to more corporate work.[3] By the late 1980s, Reiche was seeking a programmer-engineer, and Ford was seeking a designer-artist. Some mutual friends arranged a gaming night to help the pair get re-acquainted.[6] One of the mutual friends who encouraged the meeting was fantasy artist Erol Otus.[7]

Reiche and Ford's first collaboration was Star Control, released for MS-DOS in 1990.[8][9] Originally called Starcon, the game began as an evolution the concepts that Reiche first created in Archon: The Light and the Dark.[3] Star Control would adapt Archon's strategic elements into a space setting, with one-on-one ship combat inspired by the classic game Spacewar! from 1962.[10] As Ford and Reiche were still building their workflow as a team, the game took on a more limited scope compared to the sequel.[6] Upon release, Star Control was voted the "Best Science Fiction Game" by Video Games and Computer Entertainment.[11] Decades later, it is remembered as one of the greatest games of all time, "as a melee or strategic game, it helped define the idea that games can be malleable and dynamic and players can make an experience wholly their own".[12]

The success of their first game led to a more ambitious sequel in Star Control II, with Reiche and Ford aiming to go beyond ship combat to develop a "science fiction adventure role-playing game".[3] Their goal of creating a dynamic space adventure would draw large inspiration from Starflight, created by Greg Johnson.[6] A few years earlier, Reiche had been friends with Johnson during the creation of Starflight, inspiring Reiche to offer creative input on Johnson's expansive science fiction game.[13] This friendship and mutual admiration led them to hire Johnson for Star Control II, who they credit as one of the game's most significant contributors.[14] The story for Star Control II would vastly expand on the story and characters from the first game.[3] As Reiche and Ford designed a first pass on the game's dialog,[6] the vast need for writing and art forced them to enlist the help of friends and family.[14] In addition to Johnson, they recrruited long-time friend Erol Otus, who contributed music, text, art, illustrations for the game manual, and (later) voice-acting.[6] Through mutual friends, they also acquired the talents of famed fantasy artist George Barr.[15] The project eventually went over schedule, and the budget from publisher Accolade ran out.[6] During the final months of development, Fred Ford financially supported the team.[16]

Star Control II would become one of the best games of all time, according to numerous publications in 1990s,[17][18][19][20] 2000s,[21][22][23][24] and 2010s.[25][26][27] It is also ranked among the best games in several specific areas, including writing,[28][29] world design,[30][31][32] character design,[33][34] and music.[35][36][37] The game would also influence numerous other titles, most notably the open-ended gameplay of Tim Cain's Fallout,[38] the world design of Mass Effect,[39] and the story events of Stellaris.[40]

Development under Crystal Dynamics[edit]

After finishing a Star Control II port to the 3DO Interactive Multiplayer (with additional voice acting and game improvements),[41] Accolade offered Ford and Reiche the same budget to produce a third game, which they turned down to pursue other projects.[3] As Ford and Reiche had retained the rights to their characters and stories from the first two games,[42] they licensed their content to Accolade so that the publisher could create Star Control 3 without their involvement.[43]

The studio would develop a number of video games for Crystal Dynamics from 1993 to 2002.[44] Their next game was The Horde in 1994, a full motion video action and strategy game.[45] The game would receive awards from Computer Gaming World, including Best Musical Score for Burke Trieschmann's music, as well as Best On Screen Performance for Michael Gregory's role as Kronus Maelor.[46] By 1996, Toys for Bob released Pandemonium!, a 2.5D platform game for consoles.[47]

In the lead-up to their 1998 game The Unholy War, Crystal Dynamics was acquired by Eidos Interactive.[48] Unholy War combined a fighting game with a strategic meta-game, once again drawing inspiration from Reiche's two-layered game design of Archon.[49] Reiche and Ford thought the gameplay could be re-purposed to work with a Japanese license such as SD Gundam, and Crystal Dynamics helped them get in touch with Bandai, who promised them an "even bigger license".[3] Bandai would ultimately have them make Majokko Daisakusen: Little Witching Mischiefs based on Japanese anime from the 1960s,[50] with several characters based in the majokko character archetype.[51] The choice of license came as a surprise to Toys for Bob, and the development process was fraught with translation challenges.[3] Majokko Daisakusen was released exclusively in Japan, and Toys for Bob never found out how well the game performed.[50]

In 2000, their next release was102 Dalmatians: Puppies to the Rescue, another major license that was considered higher quality than a standard licensed game.[52] By 2002, the company announced that it was parting ways with Crystal Dynamics and Eidos Interactive, and would seek a new publisher.[53]

Acquisition by Activision and Skylanders breakthrough[edit]

Paul Reiche III and Fred Ford reflect back their careers, at GDC 2015.

Soon after parting ways with Crystal Dynamics, Reiche and Ford released the source code for the 3DO version of Star Control II as open-source under the GPL, and enlisted the fan community to port it to modern operating systems.[54] The result was the 2002 open source game The Ur-Quan Masters, released under a new title since the Star Control Trademark was owned by Atari (which Atari acquired from Accolade).[55] An intern at Toys for Bob began porting the game to various modern operating systems, and the fan community continued the project with further support and modifications.[56] Reiche and Ford would retain the original copyrighted content within the first two Star Control games,[57] while granting the fan-operated project a free, perpetual license to the Star Control II content and the Ur Quan Masters trademark.[58]

After searching for a new publisher,[53] Activision offered Toys for Bob the Disney license for Disney's Extreme Skate Adventure, which led to a 2003 game release.[5] This successful relationship led to Toys for Bob being acquired by Activision in May of 2005. Toys for Bob became a wholly owned subsidiary, and the management team and employees signed long-term contracts under their new structure.[44][59] Working with Activision, Toys for Bob continued to focus on licensed video games, such as Madagascar.[5] However, the market for these types of games began to dry up,[50] in part due to the negative reputation created by other typical licensed games.[60]

The company searched for new opportunities.[5] One such idea came from Toys for Bob character designer I-Wei Huang, who had been creating toys and robots in his spare time.[61] The company saw the potential to adopt these toys and character designs into a game, with technical engineer Robert Leyland applying his hobby in building electronics.[5][62] Coincidentally, Activision merged with Vivendi Games in 2008, and asked Toys for Bob to create a new game around Vivendi's Spyro franchise.[63] The team saw the potential for toy-game interaction, and suggested to Activision that it would be ideal for Spyro's rich universe of characters.[63] Activision CEO Bobby Kotick responded well to the idea, and gave the team an additional year of development to really refine the technology, the manufacturing process, and the gameplay.[5] This led to the 2011 release of Skylanders: Spyro's Adventure, which became a breakthrough success for the developer, their most notable game since Star Control.[64][65]

The next year, they followed up with the release of Skylanders: Giants, creating a franchise with a billion dollars in sales just 15 months after the first game.[66] Toys for Bob would go on to create a severral successful Skylanders video games.[5][67] including Skylanders: Trap Team.[68] This culminated with Skylanders: Imaginators in 2016,[69] where slower sales suggested that toys-to-life may have hit their peak.[70] In late 2018, Toys for Bob donated hundreds of Skylanders toys to the Strong National Museum of Play, who planned to use it as an exhibit to document "one of the most significant game franchises of the last decade".[71]

Toys for Bob would continue their development for important licenses under Activision. They worked on Spyro Reignited Trilogy with "updated music, sound effects, visuals, and voice-overs", and its 2018 release was considered one of the best video game re-makes of all time.[72]


Games developed[edit]

Year Title Platform(s)
1990 Star Control[4][81] Amiga, Commodore 64, MS-DOS, Sega Genesis
1992 Star Control II[4][82] 3DO, MS-DOS
1994 The Horde[4][83] 3DO, MS-DOS, Sega Saturn
1996 Pandemonium![4][84] Microsoft Windows, PlayStation, Sega Saturn
1998 The Unholy War[4][85] PlayStation
1999 Majokko Daisakusen: Little Witching Mischiefs[4][86]
2000 102 Dalmatians: Puppies to the Rescue[4][87] Dreamcast, Game Boy Color, Microsoft Windows, PlayStation
2003 Disney's Extreme Skate Adventure[4][88] GameCube, PlayStation 2, Xbox
2005 Madagascar GameCube, Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 2, Xbox
2006 Tony Hawk's Downhill Jam PlayStation 2, Wii
2008 Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 2, PlayStation 3, Wii, Xbox 360
2011 Skylanders: Spyro's Adventure Microsoft Windows, OS X, PlayStation 3, Wii, Wii U, Xbox 360
2012 Skylanders: Giants PlayStation 3, Wii, Wii U, Xbox 360
2014 Skylanders: Trap Team Android, iOS, Nintendo 3DS, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Wii, Wii U, Xbox 360, Xbox One
2016 Skylanders: Imaginators Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Wii U, Xbox 360, Xbox One
2018 Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy Nintendo Switch[89]
Spyro Reignited Trilogy PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Microsoft Windows, Nintendo Switch
2020 Crash Bandicoot 4: It's About Time PlayStation 4, Xbox One


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External links[edit]