Two small boys sat in the front row have spent the past 30 minutes ‘oo-ing’ and ‘ah-ing’ through this reveal presentation for Skylanders SuperChargers. It’s the reaction that Guha Bala, co-founder of Vicarious Visions, was looking for.
“I’m a lifelong gamer myself, so when I’m developing a game, I make something I would enjoy, but there isn’t any meaning to that if you don’t get those ‘oo’s’, ‘ah’s’, gasps and that kind of thing because those guys are the target demographic for us.”
Out September 25 on PS4, Xbox One, Wii U, PS3 and 360, SuperChargers will be the fifth main entry in the Skylanders series, and it brings with it the biggest change to the core gameplay so far; vehicles. Cars, bikes, planes, boats and submarines will allow you to traverse levels in an entirely new way, and when you’re done not using them in-game you can take them away and play with them.
They haven’t been mindlessly shoehorned in however. As Guha explains, a lot of thought went into how to make a Skylanders vehicle game.
“For us we started with what does a vehicles game look like and how can we make it uniquely Skylanders, and uniquely memorable as well. We wanted to make sure that the Skylanders themselves had their moment in the sun and really played well and effectively, so it’s a seamless blend of on-foot and in-vehicle play.
“Then we started thinking about vehicles and we were like: “Well, land vehicles, cars and motorcycles, they’re just one type of vehicle and that’s not where our imaginations stop,” so going above water, underwater and deep sea diving feels completely different than what it does on land, and flying is completely different than anything on land or sea as well, so the areas are very distinct that way.”
With 20 vehicles, roughly split evenly between the three types, there’ll be plenty for you to choose from, but only a land vehicle will be needed to complete the game.
“The starter pack will have the Hot Streak car and the characters Spitfire and Super Shot Stealth Elf, and it can be completed that way. Every Skylanders is an epic adventure, it will take you through a whole variety of levels, each with their own unique twists and attributes, and all of that can be enjoyable just with the starter pack, just on-foot and on-land.”
Despite the new vehicles and characters – with each vehicle pairing with a new character to provide special bonuses – all 300 existing Skylanders characters will be compatible with every vehicle, an important target for Vicarious despite the hard work.
“It’s always a question that comes up, because supporting our entire catalogue is a big investment and a lot of work and that kind of thing, but we always remind ourselves that the consumers at the centre of this experience are children, and in a way if you or I were the customer we may understand: “Well okay I can’t support these things anymore,” but if it’s a child that’s the customer can you really explain why their favourite doesn’t work anymore? So yeah, it’s worth the effort each time.
“One of the kids [at the presentation] made a point about the Giants and how they’re going to fit in vehicles, and we’ve made them fit in a really fun way, but doing that is a lot of work, it’s not like any of this automatically works, it’s all new work, and we’ve really put the effort in to make it special because making it special, making it magical, is at the centre of the experience for us.”
Of course this year Skylanders faces even stiffer competition, with Lego Dimensions joining Disney Infinity and Amiibos in the toys to life genre. Despite them having massive brands such as Star Wars, Lord of the Rings and Mario on their side, Guha isn’t particularly worried.
“Well fortunately Skylanders has been the market-share leader on a global basis, so the awareness has been very high for Skylander itself, especially with the people that matter the most; the kids. But in addition to that we have three things we really commit to every time. One is innovation and quality. That shows up in the ratings of the games each time, but it’s also a fundamental value we have: make sure everything we do is great, make sure the toys have great build quality, that they’re playable, and now for the first time vehicles are playable, they articulate, they’re fun to zoom around with, that kind of thing.
“We offer a huge variety of play experiences that are tailored to that fantasy, whether it’s on foot, varied experiences in the sea, in the sky, on land, the game is just massive and value is at the centre. Supporting 300 toys it at the centre of that value equation as well.
“And finally our vehicle toys are unique, nobody else has vehicle toys, and they’re awesome, so they’ll be really fun to collect and play with, both in the game and outside.”
Skylanders Superchargers looks set to be another great entry in the series – and you can find more details about it here – but I couldn’t let Guha go without asking the most important question of them all, where does he keep his ketchup?
“If it’s open, in the fridge.”
Thanks to Guha for his time.