Toys for Bob Character Director I-Wei Huang is arguably the most recognizable person on the Skylanders development team outside of CEO Paul Reiche. He recently sat on the Skylanders panel at San Diego Comic-Con and has developed or had a hand in developing the artwork and designs for every single Skylanders character to emerge from Toys for Bob dating back to Spryo’s Adventure.
I-Wei’s cubicle is a treasure trove of Skylanders figure prototypes in various stages of development. On one side rests a small army of baby blue Trap Masters figures fresh off the 3D printer that took every once of self restraint imaginable not to photograph, which media had been instructed not to under no uncertain terms. Elsewhere are various previously announced Trap Team members and other figures dating back to previous games. Deliberately absent are figures or artwork from what’s yet to come, a stark contrast to my visit two years ago.
Spending 15 minutes with I-Wei and his genius creativity for what amounts to a canned presentation — lifted partially from his Comic-Con presentation — doesn’t do his work justice. I-Wei is the kind of artist you want to talk freely with about what’s on his mind now, not what he concocted over a year ago. You also want to pick up any figure and ask, “why did you design it this way?” and not be restricted to talking about only three, in this case Food Fight, Chopper and Head Rush.
Every Skylander character — and villain for that matter — starts out as a doodle or three on a sheet of paper. Ideas are lifted from each doodle and retooled over time until something starts to stick and evoke the promise of delivering a stimulating tactile experience in physical form. Then the idea is tweaked and massaged until a final design emerges that can be passed on to Animation Director Paul Yan and his team so they can give the character a skeleton and start to determine how he or she moves and fights within the game.
Head Rush started off as a cow concept as I-Wei was trying to create a new direction for the strong female protagonists Toys for Bob loves to produce. The cow angle wasn’t working, so instead I-Wei shifted gears to explore a charging character like a ram. That idea had merit so instead of quickly tossing it like the cow, he moved forward with new doodles and eventually the design evolved through a goat phase with pupils and into the final Head Rush figure with her massive Traptanium horns and elf eyes.
Once a new character has been worked out on paper, he or she gets a 3D computer model to further tweak the appearance. One click of the mouse changed Chopper from red-skinned to beige, for example. These new tools, combined with multiple 3D printers less than 20 feet away, allow I-Wei to create characters that ultimately work in-game and as well-balanced toy figures.
Back in the original arm of Toys for Bob’s studio where the working Tiki Bar stashed with delicacies is readily accessible, producer Alex Ness returns to not only pen the Trap Team story, but also lend his voice to several characters including the infamous Chompy Mage trappable villain. It took over 100 voice actors to bring all the Skylanders, villains and NPC characters to life through Alex’s witty dialogue. The inside word is that Trap Team aims directly at the funny bone and has more laughs than any of the previous games.
Alex realizes that the franchise is now four Skylanders games in and it is time to raise the narrative stakes beyond Kaos’ ill-fated schemes to take over Skylands. “There’s only so many times that taking over Skylands can be that threatening,” offered Alex. “At the very end [of Trap Team] we take the next step there.”
Where will that step be? Wherever it is, the odds are highly likely that Vicarious Visions is well on the way to taking kids and adults alike there in the fifth Skylanders game.
Skylanders Trap Team Tidbits
Activision is taking the dissemination of Skylanders Trap Team information quite seriously so I don’t have as many neat facts to share as year’s past. Here’s what I can share based on my few hours roaming the halls of Toys for Bob.
The third and fourth Eon’s Elite figures are Elite Whirlwind and Elite Trigger Happy. These were confirmed on the back of the Eon’s Elite Spyro the Dragon and Elite Chop Chop final packages.
Speaking of the Eon’s Elite packages, there’s a nearly two inch gap between the figure and the package base. This raises the question of whether an Eon’s Elite Skylander will work on the Traptanium Portal of Power while still housed in its package. The only way to find out was to test it and that’s precisely what I did.
The good news is that Eon’s Elite Spyro and Elite Chop Chop were read by the Portal while still in their packaging. The bad news is the Toys for Bob police were quick to pull the figures off the Portal so I couldn’t see them fully load up in the game.
Clues in various videos have already hinted at this and I can confirm it. Yes, single Elemental Gates are back and scattered throughout Skylands. Unfortunately I was not able to enter one as they were strictly off limits. In fact, the demo figures provided by Toys for Bob deliberately did not align with the accessible Elemental Gates in chapters 5 (for console demo play) and 12 (for tablet demo play).
Kaos in the Plastic
As I’ve done the past three years, I bought up the idea of a playable Kaos figure to Skylanders developers. This year the lucky targets were CEO Paul Reiche and Senior Engineer Robery Leyland. Reiche explained that Skylanders were designed to be heroic so kids could put heroic figures on the Portal of Power to play as, not bad guys. Fair enough. Leyland was a bit more optimistic saying anything is possible and not to write off the idea for the future.
There’s More to Come
Surely any Skylanders fan by now has laid eyes upon the Trap Team characters poster with several characters masked by a question mark. By accident I saw a glimpse into what hasn’t been announced, and while I can’t talk specifically about it, rest assured that what’s coming is more than just another wave of figures delivering a few new faces to the roster.
Be patient, Portal Masters.
Be sure to check out Part 1 of my Skylanders Trap Team visit to Toys for Bob.