An Evening With Vicarious Visions

A chat about the Nintendo side of SkyLanders SuperChargers.

By Robert Marrujo. Posted 09/01/2015 09:00 Comment on this     ShareThis

It’s not often (okay, never) that I get wined and dined, but Vicarious Visions has been doing just that for the past 24 hours. One of the developers behind the beloved Skylanders series (along with Tony Hawk and Guitar Hero over the years), Vicarious Visions has flown in a plethora of gaming journalists to New York in order to preview its newest toys-to-life title, Skylanders SuperChargers. Before the official showing tomorrow at the developer’s headquarters, Vicarious Visions held a reception at the Albany Marriott where many of the team members behind the game sat down with us to answer questions about the title. After a long day of flying, I was a sweaty mess and had to dash off to Target to snag a nice shirt and make myself presentable before heading to the festivities.

I was glad I did. It was a beautiful night, calm and warm with just enough of a breeze to keep me from boiling in my chair. We were seated at the patio outside of the main lobby of the hotel, where a small group of caterers served refreshments and hor d’oeuvres. The crowd slowly began filtering in, moving toward the bar for drinks and gathering plates of food. It wasn’t long before my table began to fill with fellow writers, followed quickly by Rob and Devon of the development team. After some brief chatter with the table, Rob sprang into talk about SuperChargers, which is clearly a passion project for him and everyone else at Vicarious Visions. The conversation immediately swung to the Nintendo side of development for SuperChargers, specifically the inclusion of Donkey Kong and Bowser as playable characters, a first for the franchise.

Surprisingly, and as touched upon during Nintendo’s E3 broadcast, Nintendo was more agreeable than one would think when it came to Vicarious Visions playing with the looks and usage of both characters… to a point. Rob described the team experimenting with a number of different moves and features that would have drawn from both characters’ rich histories, but there were limits to how far Nintendo would let the designers go. For instance, Donkey Kong originally was intended to have Diddy trailing along with him like in the Donkey Kong Country games, but Nintendo axed the idea, saying the focus needed to be squarely on the original ape; after all, the developers weren’t going to be making a toy of Diddy. While incorporating Diddy, and even DK’s animal buddies such as Rambi, into SuperChargers seemed like the perfect way to represent the character, ultimately Nintendo wanted as clean and streamlined a take on him and Bowser as possible. Gameplay was also especially important to Nintendo, which wanted ease of play to come before anything else. Donkey Kong at one point was going to have actions tethered to bananas, but when Nintendo gave the feature a look, it deemed the mechanics too complex, and the team scrapped it.

Bowser didn’t escape similar retooling, either. The design team had wanted to use Giga Bowser in SuperChargers, partially thinking it was a safer bet than making their own take on the character, but ironically Nintendo said the transformation was a Smash Bros. mainstay and that they should do their own thing! There were changes besides, of course. One of the Koopa King’s attacks utilizes launching Koopa Troopas, but in order to keep the action varied and interesting, Vicarius Visions wanted to have some of the underlings scurry back into their shells after a certain amount of time. Originally, the team animated the Koopas teasing Bowser as they evaded his attempts to send them flying, but the developers determined that Nintendo wouldn’t be too keen on the low-level baddies poking fun at their boss. Sure enough, Nintendo did indeed object, stating that the Koopas would be too frightened to do such a thing. This all might seem like nit picky alterations, but as Rob intimated, Nintendo is like Disney and other companies that want to make sure the representation of its characters is seamless and uniform across all media and games. Considering Nintendo’s track record of success with its first-party titles, it’s hard to fault the company, though I personally would still be interested in seeing the unfettered version of DK and Bowser that Rob and company might have produced.

Nintendo was open, however, to Vicarious Visions crafting dark versions of the characters, a variation that other Skylanders have seen in the past. Rather than doing simple palette swaps, the team was able to come up with their take on “dark” versions of the two Nintendo mainstays. This seemed to be partially in response to Vicarious Visions having its own needs for the characters, too. For instance, the team was firm in making sure that the duo were portrayed as true Skylanders, with elemental abilities just like any other character in the series as opposed to something unique for each. I asked Rob about the potential availability of both Bowser and DK at retail, to which he responded that Activision would be producing the toys and not Nintendo, and that he couldn’t guarantee any numbers, but that fans shouldn’t expect to have to go to extraordinary lengths to buy them. No promises, but that got my hopes up, certainly. He also stated that the Wii U and 3DS/Wii starter packs would be coming with either DK or Bowser, respectively, further making it easier for fans to get a hold of the toys. Fans can also anticipate the 3DS and Wii versions of SuperChargers to be focused on the racing experiences, only, as both games are fundamentally the same.

Interestingly, when asked if there were other Nintendo characters that the team wanted to include in SuperChargers, Rob stated that they’d looked at Kirby, but that his rights aren’t completely under control by Nintendo (presumably falling under the purview of HAL Laboratory, naturally, and thus also presumably existing in a state along the lines of how Pokémon is shared between Game Freak and the Big N), causing him to be a no-go. The team even played around internally with the idea of creating a warrior Peach! Mario himself was also off-limits, though it’s not entirely clear why. Sentiment amongst the Vicarious Vision workers seems to be that Nintendo is testing the waters with this initial partnership, seeing how fans react to these two characters being in the game and possibly moving forward from there. I chimed in that Bowser and DK, from a visual standpoint, are a couple of the most natural fits for Nintendo characters within the Skylanders shared universe, which the team seemed to appreciate. The Donkey Kong and Bowser toys actually represent the first console-specific figurines the series has seen, and I asked Rob what would happen if either was attempted to be scanned into SuperChargers running on another platform. He smiled and got very cagey when responding, simply saying that I would have to try it out, and noticeably deliberately emphasizing that there are no Nintendo assets running on any other version of the game. Curious!

As evening shifted into night, the sky began melting into an inky black and mosquitoes started to swirl around, but my talk with the team was so engaging that I didn’t care. I have yet to go hands-on with SuperChargers (that’s coming tomorrow), but having this opportunity to hear about the game’s development from the men and women actually making it was illuminating. I’ll be delving into Vicarious Visions’ overall goals with SuperChargers, how the team settled on the particular mechanics and designs for the new title, and much more over the next few days, so stay tuned to Nintendojo for further news on this unique collaboration between Nintendo and Activision!

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