When it first launched, Skylanders set a few precedents with a then-revolutionary concept of “Toys to life”. Collectible figurines that could be zapped into a fully-fledged game, Skylanders has done some damn good business for Activision so far. A new year, and a new game is on the horizon though, and after handling the handheld versions of the franchise, studio Vicarious Visions is bringing a new idea to the series with “dynamic swapability”.
Earlier this year, at an event for Activision games, I got the chance to talk to producer Patrick Wilson about the upcoming game. Skylanders Swap Force has a new hook for this year’s entry, in that the characters now feature distinct bottoms and tops which can be removed and re-combined with any other character.
Doing so grants you not only a new Skylander, but a character with new abilities as well. With over 250 combinations that’s a hell of a lot of concepts being thrown around. So how did Vicarious Visions come up with this idea?
“It’s something that the team has been working on for some time now, it took some RnD, but really the goal for the team was to innovate this toys to life, this concept that was sort of unique and innovative at the time”, Wilson explained.
And so the team settled on this concept of ‘take your toys’ and mix and match the parts.and it’s really proven to be a really powerful addition to this concept. It’s giving kids that sense of power of choice, mix and matching to work with your play style and it also gives kids that chance to experiment and see what wacky combinations you can make.
You want to be a vampire boxer or an ice-skating character, you can be.
We have so many different types of moves and abilities and now the player can configure their own character, to make sure they are not overpowered is certainly a challenge. We do a lot of testing, we have a huge QA team to test 250 plus combinations to make certain that it is a balanced experience.
One other aspect of Skylanders that will appeal to parents who have shelled out plenty of cash for the current entries in the franchise, is that regardless of platform, the figures collected thus far will work on any version of Skylanders Swap Force that has been purchased. It’s a platform agnostic game when it comes to collectibles.
“We want to make sure that it is accessible” Wilson said. “You can play right out of the box, and have the core experience”. But that doesn’t mean that not buying a few of the new Swapforce characters isn;t encouraged. After all, Activision is a business. Although in this case, it might prove beneficial in the creativity department.
“With some of the setups and enemy configurations, we want to make you think,” Wilson said.
Do I want to use a character that is fast, or one that can teleport? We really want to provide kids with that opportunity to meet this challenges, and with what character and combination will make the best choice to tackle with.
But one other aspect of the game that really shines forth, is how gorgeous it looks now. The visuals finally match the ambition, and much to Geoff’s delight when we attended a private screening, Skylanders can also engage in Y-axis movement. Or in other words, jumping.
As for the swapping of torsos and legs that this Skylanders makes very heavy use of, each part is designed to reflect its respective skills so that players know what they’re getting when they pick up a new figure.
“We have a certain set of powers that are associated with the top half of the toy, we try our best to reflect that in the toy design,” Wilson said.
So Washbuckler is the squid pirate character, you’ll see that he’s holding a pistol and he has his cutlass. So in the game he has sword attacks, and he can shoot bubbles .
The bottom half of the toy is meant to reflect its own set of combat abilities. You can use the tentacles to attack or lay down a trail but it’s also meant to denote how this character moves.
Unlike other annual franchises, Skylanders Swap Force is looking like a decent bunch of fun. It’s a game for families, and it’ll launch later this year with the a new version of Stealth Elf, Washbuckler and Blast-Zone included in the introductory pack.
Last Updated: June 11, 2013