Friday, June 14, 2013

E3 Skylanders Swap Force: Notes from the Backroom and Private Game Play Screening Session!

This is just a record of what I wrote shorthand from our ultra cool trip backstage with Activision!

If you prefer video formats, here you warned, it is long:

Going Backstage

We were taken from the E3 floor of the Swap Force booth to a hallway that led to a backroom filled with an assortment of media insiders, high profile figures, Activision staff, and more...It was absolutely bustling and just as crowded as the main floor.  The only difference was the area was like a large oasis (see lounge setup) and had food and water on hand.

Entering the Private Screening Room: No Cameras!

All along the back hall of this room were separate, smaller rooms.  These rooms are the private screening rooms.  Close doors, seats 10-12 comfortably (stadium style for optimal viewing) and no cameras or recording.  Lucky for you, I took short hand notes of the entire thing!

Why so tight?  Quite simply put it is because they are gracious enough to show us (myself and some other Skylander fans) never before seen gameplay elements that are still in what they called an "alpha build."  To put that in laymen's terms, the game will look great, but it could have a few issues etc.

Potential Level Settings and Environments

They covered a few basics and actually began with Crusher.  Giants work just fine in Swap Force.  They mentioned a few locations like the Old West, a snowland, and Lush Jungles (which you will see some gameplay of from others).

Legacy Skylanders: Activision is Honoring Your Past Collection

One of the first things mentioned was how they plan to honor existing collections.  Every Skylander you currently own will work in Swap Force.  It is that simple.  Nothing to argue, no ifs, ands, or butts...they will just work.  Take it for what it is, don't argue with common sense, and accept it.  This is great for fans and collectors of the series and Activision is 100% committed to maintaining this attribute.  They realize we have put in a lot of time and money into acquiring the different characters and upgrading them and they appreciate that.  To prove it, they refer to all returning characters as "Legacy Skylanders."  This is not to be confused with Legendary Skylanders, but is a stand alone term.  If the character has previously existed it has a legacy they are going to preserve.  I know a lot of people will aruge this and mention Activision is a huge company, and makes tons of money.  I will counter that is true, and they have the business sense to know it is smart to keep previous figures active.

Vicarious Visions: New Graphics Engine and Game Play Elements

The next topic was Vicarous Visions and how they created a brand new graphics engine...It truly looks amazing.  If you have followed along on the blog or my YouTube Channel, you know I play games for the gameplay itself, not the graphics.  Great graphics are a bonus to me...Swap Force looked incredible...I've said it many times and I can not stress it enough...I may finally buy an HD TV just to fully enjoy the depth of the scenes.

New Game Element: Jumping--Hey, It Solved a Glitch in the Alpha Build!

What was hilarious and awesome at the same time was a glitch that popped up...keep in mind this is the alpha build.  I've actually had it happen in SSA and Giants.  It is basically where a move (Crusher's Rock Slide in this case) netted the player outside a fence at the edge.  They tried pulling him and placing him back on (ha, same things we do!), but it worked to no avail.  As a last ditch attempt to keep from resetting, they jumped...It worked.  I don't know if they planned this (I truly believe it just happened), but the biggest and most flaunted core improvement (Jumping) saved the day!  After this the Alpha Build performed flawless.

Why Are We Just Now Jumping?

As far as why jumping wasn't included in the first few titles there response was they "wanted each character to feel different."  I assume this means they wanted players to use other moves to get to bounce pads.  For example all characters can walk to the bounce pad, but they each have unique abilities.  Terrafin can burrow, Warnado has the tornado to get around, Stelth Elf has her tertiary move...Zap can slide, Thumpback can slide, Sunburn can teleport etc...You get the general idea.  They really wanted players to USE THE ABILITIES to navigate Skylands, not just walk.

Swap Force Alert!  Undead Element Night Shift: The Vampire Boxer

After this, they pulled Crusher and put on a new Undead Element Swap Force Character named Night Shift.  He was acclaimed as a Vampire Boxer with a killer upper cut (I saw it...I think it must have been fully was along the lines of a Soul Gem to me...just like a charged up attack that released a giant glove cutting up through the screen...very cool!).  I believe it was also mentioned he could teleport, which makes sense given the "Shift" part of his name.

New In-Game Character: Willowbark

We then saw a nice, vivid cut scene where a guy I dubbed Tree Ranger, although I think his name was Willowbark, (just an in-game character, think Arbo) approached and mentioned some crystals had been stolen.  He had  great personality....He is like a Stump Smash looking guy with facial hair and what I equate to a Canadian Royal Mounted Police Officer...very official and a distinct voice.  He has the prototypical army/cop vibe going on...

Drop-In, Drop-Out Coop Game Play

They then highlighted the Drop-In, Drop-Out Gameplay Mechanic...It worked flawlessly and the two helped clear the area...Naturally, to finish the demo the main speaker dropped out.  While in he used the new Air Element Swap Force Skylander Free Ranger...he kind of had lasers that he shot out and got around by way of tornado...looked really good.

Swap Force Alert!  Air Element Free Ranger: Jet-Vac Meet Warnado

Shortly after, Freeze Blade, the new Water Element Swap Force Skylander was introduced.  He has great projectile attacks.

Swap Force Alert!  Water Element: Freeze Blade

To highlight to us the "Swapability" we saw them mention a scenario where you would want Freeze Blade ranged attack coupled with the speed and mobility of Free Ranger's tornado lower half...So, a quick press and the figures are apart....We now were introduced to Freeze Ranger.  They used this swap combo to make quick work of the enemy at hand.

We were then reminded that 16x16=256...As the slogan goes, our new power is choice definitely rings true!

Dual Element Zones: Twice as Nice

The next portion of the level highlighted a brand new game component: Dual Element Zones.  This is NOT YOUR SWAP FORCE AREA.  The Dual Element Zone is basically your garden variety Elemental Gate, but with two elements.  The one we saw was Fire and Magic.

So how do you get in this Dual Element Zone?  There are two ways...First, if you have a SwapForce Character say like Hoot Loop (Magic) and Blast Zone (Fire) you can option them out together and the gate will open.  If you are playing coop you could enter in as one player being Ignitor and the other being Spyro.

The coolest thing to me is not the method of opening the gate, but the look inside.  It is a very visually stimulating look that equally divides the path through conceivably the entire area.  One half looks like your Fire Zone and the other looks like the Magic Zone...just in stunning HD thanks to Vicarious Visions' new graphics engine.

Character Brief

We then got briefed on the 16 Core Characters and 32 New Characters (no names or details, just the numbers).  They again stressed how the 100+ Legacy Toys would all work.

Magic Element LightCore Star Strike: LightCore AND Regular Pose?

We had all seen Star Strike, the highly questioned mystery Magic Element character.  The packaging at the Power A booth indicated her as LightCore.  Someone asked if she would have a regular pose and the answer was something along the lines of "I believe so."  Assuming that is correct, we will likely see the same set up as Giants where the 8 LightCore are reposed characters with light up effects.  I also heard Star Strike will be very cool (more on that later).

The Fate of the 8 Castaways from Spyro's Adventure

While we had some down time, we got to ask some very quick questions.  I jumped at the chance and asked, "Will any of the 8 original Castaways (Warndo, Boomer, Camo, etc) be back for Swap Force.  The answer was YES!!  I didn't get details on which ones, all, 1, 2, 4, 6, etc, but at least "some" should be back...This is big news for a lot of folks, myself included...Many of my favorite characters are amongst the 8 Castaways!!

Swap Force Alert!  Life Element Stink Bomb, The Ninja Skunk

They then got back into the demo and talked about Stink Bomb.  He is basically a Ninja Skunk who will use his musk to hide himself (think along the lines of Steath Elf's Scarecrows).  They said his bottom half combines very well with some of the other characters!

Willowbark and Evilized Sugarbats: New Enemies, New Kaos Plot

The next portion saw Willowbark (think that is his name...the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Stump Smash like character) introduce us to Sugarbats and Evilized Sugarbats...a product of Kaos Magic and attempts to take over the Cloud Break Islands.  You basically have to battle them to break the spell and return them to normal.  The character who took on this task was Stink Shift...and yes, it made for interesting gameplay!

Swap Force Introduces New Game Play Mechanics

We then caught the drill of the 8 New Gameplay Mechanics via the Swap Force bottom ends.  This led us to a very cool demo with Wash Buckler.  His bottom half has the Ladder Image to indicate he can climb.  This opened up the Swap Force area and what we saw was a long, chaotic wall you had to ascend...It reminded me a lot of some of the Super Mario Galaxy upward areas...You climb up while dodging obstacles, navigating blocked paths, and of course dealing with enemy items etc.

Puzzles, Mini Games, Bonus Missons, and More Platforming!

This led into the mention of new Puzzles and Mini Games and the chance to use the jumping ability to make use of more platforming.  They also mentioned the 20 Bonus Missions you can unlock.  They also verified there will be the Individual Screen for objectives to clear and review etc...basically the same thing you are used to seeing after clearing a level.

Battle Packs and Adventure Packs

As we got a little downtime before leaving, I was able to inquire about Battle Packs and Adventure Packs.  There will be two of each.  One is said to involve Cali if I understood correctly.

The End of Our Private Demo: The Fun Was Over All to Soon

This was pretty much it for the "behind closed doors, private screening of gameplay" end of things.  It was a blast and with the low number of people we had a great setting to see and experience the new mechanics and visuals from the team at Vicarious Visions!

E3 Exclusive Copper Metallic Hot Dog

Last but not least, before exiting we were all given the E3 Exclusive Copper Metallic Hot Dog!

Exiting the Screening Room and Private Back Room

I actually got to stay in the doorway a little while longer for my Portal question you wanted to be asked...They made every effort to find out, and they just couldn't confirm anything...Luckily, I got answers later in the evening...And yes, it should work with Skylanders: Spyro's Adventure and Skylanders Giants.

Private Viewing of the E3 Exclusive Swap Force Trailer

At that point I exited the screening room after chatting with the game player a bit, left the backroom, and returned to the main floor for our private screening of the E3 trailer, which you can watch here:


It was a killer experience and as much as I wish we could have filmed, all you really need to know is things looked great and there is going to be a lot to like about Swap Force!

More Swap Force Info to Come

Stay tuned for the next post as I'll highlight your questions and their respective answers in greater detail!


  1. Some of the characters for swapforce are I bit more vicious than previous characters ( rollerbrawl/ night shift compared to wrecking ball or hotdog) maybe they will start classifying the characters eg night shift - pg, hotdog - g

    1. I think based on what I saw and heard they will keep everything kid friendly. Some do seem a little more intense, but I suppose with this many characters you have to find ways to distinguish them, lol. Freeze Blade seems pretty aggressive as well.