It's no secret that we're big Skylanders fans here at Everybody Plays - ever since we picked up our first Giant, Hot Head (affectionately known as Mrs. Fire Fists), from an O2 Rewards promotion at the local GAME shop, it's been a slippery slope. They were switfly followed by Springtime Trigger Happy, a £2 second hand Wrecking Ball and a cheap Whirlwind - followed by every triple pack we could find for under a tenner on Amazon. Now we have a box filled to bursting with more than a hundred different figures, including four different Trigger Happys, and three different Whirlwinds, with Superchargers' Splat being the most recent of addition.
But have you ever wondered where they get the ideas for the hundreds upon hundreds of characters, both collectable figures and in game? Have you ever pondered how a particular character might develop along the way, from concept to completion? Well now you have your answers, as Vicarious Visions, the folks behind the latest installment, Skylanders Superchargers, have released a ten minute video detailing the process:
Interestingly, it seems the most challenging part of making Skylanders isn't so much the game development, but actually making the collectable models, as it places a more physical restriction on what you can do. Kevin Dobler, the Character Artist Lead at the studio, reveals that, as an artist, you can "get away with things in games that you can't in a physical toy", and that every year they try to make their toy offerings better and better - for example, this year he mentions how they've focussed on giving each character "really exaggerated poses, really dynamic, fun shapes" with plenty of "new fun little details" too.
Each Skylander starts life as a funky 2D drawing, which then gets modelled into 3D and put into the game - at which point everyone, kid testers included, offer their thoughts on the character, while they think about the finished character's powers, abilities and moves. From there, it gets turned into a real-world figure, by taking the in-game model and 3D printing it into a prototype, where any revisions and reiterations are made before it heads off to mass production, and into stores, ready for you to pick up and add to your collection. Each Skylander is designed so that there's something for everyone, with "really colourful, fun personalities" that shine through, in both their models and their in-game animations.
The amount of detail they put into the Skylanders in-game is insane too, with our friend Kevin from two paragraphs ago showing off things we'd never even noticed while playing - the way the metal of Jet-Vac's gun has nicks in it from battles gone by, High Volt's armour and it's scratches and scrapes, and the leathery look of Smash Hit's arms. He also explains how they try to make sure each new character has a single coherent idea, such as with Smash Hit, a rather buff squirrel-like character with a huge wrecking ball for a weapon. "Every bit about him is that ball" Kevin says, "how much bigger it is than him, he's going to smash things with it and it's going to be a lot of fun."
But the new Superchargers characters is just one aspect of the latest game - the main hook of the game this time round is the fact your characters can now drive vehicles. Each vehicle has a real-world equivalent, but is made in such a style as to be as "crazy and over the top as our characters", and required a lot of work to get right, especially in the cases of those vehicles with moving parts. Senior Producer Nicholas Ruepp reveals that Buzz Wing was perhaps the hardest vehicle to get right, because of it's articulated parts, which meant that "making the wings expand out and also flap in one smooth, push-button mechanic was really tough". We must admit, it does look pretty funky when he shows it off in the video too!
While we would have appreciated a bit more of a closer look at some of the characters - how Trigger Happy's design evolved, or perhaps a Skylander that never made it past concepting, it's still interesting to see how much work goes into designing the hundreds of characters they cram into the games. It also makes us wonder what kind of things they'll come up with next, for the inevitable sixth Skylanders game for this year, too...