When you research big studios, often times you’ll find yourself regurgitating things in the form of “Did you know?” and “Huh, small world”. But in many cases, it’s hard to avoid, simply because the careers of some of the most influential people in a story have simply been around for a lot more than they may be given credit. But in taking a step back, and by looking at the moving parts that allowed just one experiment to exist, you may find yourself taking in greater forces, bigger ideas, and the uneven influence of powerful people in how well the experiment runs.
In the case of Universal Interactive Studios, it was a talent pool that brought together some of the most interesting resumes, and built even more interesting ones to follow. But it was also the product and victim of people with visions and money, and its fate was decided in part by how well it was funded and managed.
This is the culmination of several interviews with many of the people that made it happen, supplemented by statements made by the rest, to create a comprehensive story decades in the making.
I grew up with Spyro the Dragon, Crash Bandicoot: Warped, The Wrath of Cortex, and Crash Twinsanity. While they were far from the only games I enjoyed, Spyro in particular was like my favorite playground.
Like other fans, I would soak in details shared online from sources I didn’t have prior access to. Interviews, though, were very hard to come by. The only extant interview by Stewart Copeland was an upload of his piece to PlayStation Underground, up until a casual mention in a long interview with The Sessions in 2017.
That same year, I was at E3 with my brother and a colleague, walking the halls and checking out the booth for Crash N-Sane Trilogy. I took a balcony seat above the stage at E3 Coliseum, watching the Crash Bandicoot reunion panel in-person as the cameras hovered at ground level with the VIPs. Despite fresh accusations by the first game’s producer David Siller, the panel kept to familiar stories with a lot of focus on Sony and not much on Universal.
Thus began my journey to find answers. What was Universal Interactive, really? What did it represent, beyond what it might’ve actually supplied to these rising teams? Was it really vestigial, or was it merely the victim of something more.
Now, in this nearly comprehensive feature, I’ll explain everything from start to finish.
The author would like to thank Michael John, Kirsten van Schreven, Stewart Copeland, and Jackie Weyrauch for their participation. Special thanks to Amanda Sweet, Frank Cifaldi, Ethan Johnson, and the members of Agent 9’s Lab.
This feature was made possible in part by a grant from the Video Game History Foundation.