Behind the Scenes at Activision’s Vicarious Visions: Skylanders Superchargers

Recently, the creators of Activision’s mega successful Skylanders series invited a group of journalists from around the globe to check out their latest creation: Skylanders SuperChargers, the fifth iteration in the toys-meets-video-games franchise.

Located a few hours north of NYC, Vicarious Visions is housed in a nicely renovated old warehouse. Level designers, story writers, and more were on deck to answer questions. The new game was, of course, demoed, and plenty of cool new plastic figurines were passed around. There was even a fun little tournament in which to partake.

Before hitting it big with Skylanders, Vicarious Visions was known as the company that produced handheld games based on popular Activision IPs like Guitar Hero, Marvel Ultimate Alliance, Crash Bandicoot, Spider-Man, and even Tony Hawk. Walking around the studio is like a trip through the past two decades: framed posters and glass cases housing previous titles showcase just how many games they have made. (A lot.)

Visiting the workstations of the employees is a different matter entirely as it appears that everyone has only one game on their mind: Skylanders SuperChargers. The co-founder of the company, Guha Bala, says that probably upwards of 80% of the staff is focused solely on it. Indeed, the upcoming September 20th release date is fast approaching.

The staff at Vicarious Visions, at least to a guest of this out-of-the-way developer, is a down-to-earth bunch. Several love to speak about the highly informative and often-hilarious sessions where children are brought in to test out the game. One particular video shown featuring two tykes having their minds blown by a level where Skylanders get Godzilla-sized was quite endearing. What kid doesn’t want to spend an entire level stomping around, causing mayhem?

Several of the employees have kids themselves so they know how obsessed children can be about the series. Input from these little experts proved fruitful as a peacock-inspired Skylander seemed a tad too plain to one tester. Thankfully, the resulting final product has the kind of detail any fan of the series comes to expect.

Throughout the visit at Vicarious, breakout sessions were offered: twenty-minute classes where a member from a specific team would explain the creative process. My favorite focused on the development of new characters, which starts with brainstorming and eventually making prototypes made from a 3D printer, a process I witnessed firsthand.

The new game introduces vehicles to the series so it was imperative that any toy with wheels would be able to run across a floor as any old-school Hot Wheels car would. The tires felt right: slightly rubbery but sturdy. There are also air and sea vehicles, although tossing them in the air or getting them wet is not encouraged.

For the first time in Skylanders history, two of Nintendo’s iconic characters—Donkey Kong and Bowser—will be featured. Interestingly, DK and The Turtle King will be playable in both SuperChargers and select amiibo-compatible games. Nintendo encouraged the team at Vicarious Visions to have their own take on the infamous ape and the turtle—for one, Bowser is not a villain here. Turbo Charge Donkey Kong and Hammer Slam Bowser will also be exclusively playable on Wii U, Wii, and the Nintendo 3DS.

Skylanders SuperChargers introduces 20 new characters and 20 new vehicles. The previous Skylanders will, of course, be supported. So that tally is over 300 now. Any character can pilot land, sea, or sky-based vehicles.

Speaking of which, the highlight of the tour was the aforementioned contest dubbed the “Kaos Cup Tournament.” (Kaos is the diminutive, evil villain of the series.) The prize was Stanley Cup-like trophy. Alas, it was not destined for my grubby hands. The competition was basically three races: land, sea, and air. I’d like to say that the lack of inverted controls for flying is why I lost the race. Yeah, let’s go with that.

As a nice memento of the day spent at Vicarious Visions, each of the visitors were given a hardcover version of a Skylanders comic featuring a hand drawn picture of our favorite character. For the record, mine is Fiesta, the Day of the Dead-inspired dude.