When it was announced earlier this year that character creation would be introduced for the first time ever in a Skylanders game with the upcoming Skylanders Imaginators, I don't think I was alone in thinking that 3D printing of player-created characters was the obvious next step. It seems all of our hunches were right, with Activision today confirming that 3D printing will indeed be made available for Skylanders Imaginators, although the supply will be limited.
While Activision did confirm that some players will be able to buy 3D prints of the Skylanders they make within Imaginators, they didn't specify how many would be available outside saying numbers would be "limited." How people will even get the opportunity to buy a 3D print is also unclear as of now, but Activision did say it would be running promotions and competitions during the game's launch.
But it won't just be 3D printing of player-created characters. Players will also be able to order a credit-card sized item that will have all of their characters' details (and can be used on a portal in lieu of a real, 3D printed character), as well as T-shirts. I spoke with Toys for Bob co-founder Paul Reiche about why the Skylanders franchise finally went down the 3D printing route, and what challenges they faced in making this feature.
GameSpot: The idea of physical products based on the Skylanders people create in Imaginators must have obviously come very close to the start of production, is that right?
Paul Reiche: It did. It was one of the most aggressive parts of the plan. No one has ever done this where, from a console game you create a playable character, you bring a physical realization out of it, and then that's playable back in the game. We're making toys-to-life even more toys-to-life and life-to-toys because you get to think about something, create it virtually, and then generate a physical incarnation.
We've had to pioneer some technology and software here because a character in a 3D game has no physicality. If you want to make an infinitely thin wing, you can. If you want to have some armor floating on the surface, that works out fine in a video game. When you print it, it all falls apart. We don't want to compromise how the characters look in-game, so there's a translation process when they become printable.
In the same sense that people take Skylanders back to their bedroom and play with them, we wanted to give people other ways to show off their character design and their tagline and their name. T-shirts, I actually love them. I'm going to have a lot of them. They look good and they're very unexpected. I think a lot of people will see these crazy characters with these funny taglines and wonder, "Where did those come from? Who is that character?" Then that the card is just a much more portable collectible. You can get as many as you want and I think it's going to be practical for some families in ways that lots of 3D prints might not be.
The 3D print is very exciting. Were you ever at a stage where you weren't going to go with 3D printing? Obviously T-shirts and the cards are a little bit easier to do, so did it ever get too difficult and you went, "We have to just leave this to the side for now"?
We knew we had to do it the whole time. Now there were certainly debates about it because, again, no one had ever done this before, but we knew it was essential. For us, that coming to reality is part of what it's all about.
So obviously the fact that you had 3D printing in mind right from the start influenced how you build a character in the game, in terms of the different templates and shapes available, is that right?
I think, depending on who you talk to in our studio, we actually didn't limit character creation on it. We consciously said, "Make cool characters in the game, and we'll figure out how to make them printable." Our poor guys who were responsible for that, they kept saying, "You know, if you would just limit how these things look it would make my life a lot easier." And you'd say nope. The creating of the character in the game has to be on its own and we'll just figure it out.
It was one of the things that, I think, kept us fired up. We knew we were doing something that hadn't been done before. There's a fire in your belly, a sort of tension and, "We have got to pull this off." There are times when you need that passion and that moving into the unknown that's a big part of what motivates us.
You're using a pretty interesting technology to transfer people's Skylanders data. How did that come about?
We have been working, pretty much the whole time, to figure out how it is that we can make a choice where a relatively young person on a console creates the character and has options about getting a 3D print, or getting a T-shirt, or getting a cool playable character card. The problem was, not all kids had network connections from their consoles, so we said, well, what can we do?
I said, okay, well, if we get them over to a mobile device, get their character there, there's all kinds of things we can do. We looked around and we eventually found an audio trick that's called chirping. It sort [of] sounds like R2-D2. It's this funny noise that goes on for a few seconds, and it actually transmits through sound, and then the phone's microphone picks it up.
So it's data, basically.
Just data. You don't need any kind of connection from your console. It will do it purely through sound. It's kind of funny and magical, too, which is important to us. Your character then appears in what we call the Skylanders Creator App. The Creator App's free. You can download it, and actually it has the full creation system built into it. You can build your own characters there. Then you can also chirp from the console to the app. It saves the characters that you create there.
Something I forgot to mention is the character card that has a unique render of your character with your name and everything on it and a 3D print, those are playable. Those have all of the same electronics and are programmed so that when you put that on the portal, your character appears.
What are your expectations for take-up for this? It seems like a lot of folks who play Imaginators will probably want their own 3D printing.
The world is not quite ready to do 3D printing in the millions, which is what we would love to do. What we're doing is making sure that we do it well and that we're starting this process. I believe in 3D printing. I believe that having a reflection of what you like in your own imagination in Skylanders and in Imaginators and in other things is the way of the future. We're the pioneers in this, in many ways. I believe that there's [a] great future to this and we want to make sure that we do it right in a limited sense first, get that sorted out, and then see where we go from here.