E3 2014 Interview: Building the perfect Skylander

The toy- to-life genre is a new one, but has kids in a frenzy. With more and more companies jumping into the mix, all eyes are now focused on Activation and Toys for Bob to see what they will do with the next installment of their creation, Skylanders with Skylanders Trap Team. We got a chance to see the new game, but also got some time with Paul Yan, Animation Director at Toys for Bob about the latest iteration and why everyone should be excited this holiday season.


Paul Yan
Paul Yan


Comics Gaming Magazine: When designing Skylanders, how hard was it to manage to create life-like aspects of the toys, or other way around, do you design the game and then the toys?

Paul Yan: The process starts with the toys first. From there we have to get a 3D print prototype and feel it in our hands before actually going through with the game.


CGM: Are there some toys you’ve made where you’ve said that this can’t make it into the game?

PY: Yes, there’s a lot of those. It’s amazing what looks great on screen, and then once you’ve printed it out and feel it, it has such a different and very significant feel to it. It’s really hard to articulate what it is, but you can tell what’s working and what’s not.


CGM: So you’ve worked on every previous Skylanders games and this game, was that a challenge?

PY: Yes, it was a significant challenge.


CGM: What challenges did you face when doing this?

PY: I believe the total number now is over 175 playable characters over the previous three games, so just the sheer amount of support to make that happen is challenging. The other part is balancing all of the other characters so that it makes sense.


CGM: Are there any characters from the previous games that are too powerful now?

PY: That’s not actually my speciality, but I’m sure there’s a lot of that going on, and that we have to account for it.


CGM: When designing the game, how were you trying to aim it at younger audience, and what are you doing to aim it at a universal audience, so a parent can play it and their kids can too?

PY: I think our official demographic is 6-12, but we’ve found that there’s a lot of families playing with gamer moms and dads playing with their kids, even hardcore players and collectors too. We first try and make the game for ourselves as developers, and then we try to make it as accessible as possible.


CGM: Was it fun to work with the villains this time to be able to play and design them rather than just the heroes?

PY: Absolutely, who doesn’t want to play as the bad guy? This is the first time we’ve been able to do that. We went through a lot of different iterations to find out what felt best, and what we tried to do was make sure the villain experience feels distinct for the Skylanders experience. The Skylanders have a very specific upgrade tree, and the villains are overpowered for a temporary amount of time. They have a charge meter and after that expires, they go away and it slowly charges back up. They’re kind of like these crazy boosts of power for a limited amount of time.

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CGM: You designed the characters, so what else do you do specifically for Skylanders?

PY: I lead a team of animators and technical specialists. The modellers and concept artists come up with the designs for the characters and it’s our job to bring them to life, and to give them personality when we design their attacks.


CGM: Beyond the other challenges when figuring out what characters work, what challenges go into making Skylanders what it is right now?

PY: The biggest challenge is to make them unique. We have over 175 characters and we want to make sure that we’re carving out new spaces and giving people something new to see and even feel.


CGM: Did you find that working with next-gen consoles gave you any more power with things like facial animation or are these versions basically the same game, but with better graphics?

PY: We want to make sure that we support all previous consoles—we even support [the] Wii—but we do take advantage of all the new consoles like the Xbox One and PS4. Visually there’s a lot of enhancements, like one thing you’ll notice is how crystals have a new material look to them.


CGM: A colleague who reviewed the game talked about how the jump was one of the biggest things that has come to the series. Why wasn’t that implemented earlier?

PY: For Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure and Giants what we were trying to do is to keep things simple like a top-down dungeon crawler style. While adding jumping in Swap Force we wanted to be really careful because everyone wanted to add the jump since it was really fun. We also wanted to make sure it was easy for our younger players to understand spatial perspectives. We added it, but we’re being very careful with guiding you as to where you can go, and where you cannot jump.


CGM: Why should parents be excited about this title over past titles?

PY: Skylanders Trap Team supports all of the existing toys, so if you had toys from the previous games, they still work. So now you still have a new experience in playing tag-team with villains and with the new trap masters.


CGM: For parents who want to be involved with their kids playing, will there be co-op elements to kind of work with them?

PY: Yes, there is a button to trigger tag-team, that’s where you can swap in and out. In co-op mode, players have access to the same villain, so you can play as one and assist the other player.