The Hidden Geek Street Cred Behind Skylanders

Greg Tito | 12 Sep 2014 14:00
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He founded his own studio Toys for Bob with Fred Ford in 1989 and the firm worked on the Star Control series, Pandemonium and The Unholy War before taking on contract work for licensed games through 2000s. Toys for Bob finally scored a major hit with Skylanders: Spyro's Adventure in 2011, but Reiche believes there is a through line in all of his work.

"Archon is sort of about two teams of very symmetrical monster characters, and then Mail Order Monsters [lets you] create your own monster characters, and then Star Control - lots and lots of crazy spaceships fight each other with crazy aliens, and then the Unholy War - monsters who fight each other and jump and run," said Reiche. "All roads lead to Skylanders, effectively. Creating monsters is just about my favorite thing. What I liked to at TSR more than anything else really was invent monsters."

The conceit behind Skylanders is that physical toys, when placed on a USB accessory, enter the digital world of the game's software. You control whatever hero is on the portal through a linear mission-based story and each hero levels up abilities in the game independently. The three titles released so far in the series focused on the heroes, called Skylanders of course, and iterated on the original idea by introducing larger figures (Giants) and heroes with interchangeable halves you can mix and match (Swap Force). For this fall's Trap Team, however, the monster-designing roots of Paul Reiche are coming through a bit more.

"In many ways, the series villain, Kaos, is almost the protagonist," he said. "The Skylanders do what you want, and it's hard to put words into your mouth, because you know what you're going to say and if we put words in your mouth it may not come out right. Kaos, on the other hand, is this extremely emotional, high-strung, talkative dude who really wants to explain exactly everything that's going through his head, even if it's stupid. And so people really like Kaos. Even though he's the bad guy."

On top of that, many of the named mini-bosses of the games have become popular with fans. "People like the Chompy Mage, and some of the others - Brock has his fans," he said. "How should we address villains? Should we just let you play them? Should we you know, have them be autonomous characters?

"What we really hit on was that we want to let you reach into Skylands - we sort of think of this portal as this sort of semi-permeable membrane that you have a special magical ability to reach through - so instead of taking a toy and shoving it through and having it come to life, we really wanted to give you the ability to reach in there and grab the most interesting things out of it," he continued. "For us, that was the kind of, the fancier villains, including Kaos."

With Trap Team, you'll have a new portal that will allow you to trap a villain in a plastic gem through the course of play. You can then play with the crazy villains as characters for a short amount of time - one example is Painyatta, a villain "who barfs candy and whacks people with a giant lollipop." Trap Team has essentially given the designers the license to reach truly Fifth Element levels of wackiness - "We get to break some of our rules that we normally have for making Skylanders."

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