The Origin of the Skylanders Portal of Power

Geek Culture

If you’re a Skylanders fanatic — and we have a lot of those here on GeekDad — be sure to check out Blake Maloof’s post on Make, Alt.GDC: Developing Skylanders‘ Innovative “Portal of Power,” in which he interviews Robert Leyland and I-Wei Huang of Toys for Bob, who developed the game for Activision.

There was a period there where we said “But how are we going to connect it? Will we need to mount a Wii-mote in it?” And right around that time, on Make or Instructables, I can’t remember where – we saw it on Gizmodo, somebody published a hack about how to use a Wii Nunchuck to control an R/C helicopter and we thought: Whoa, that’s really pretty cool. And we looked and sure enough they weren’t just wiring to the potentiometers in the controller, they were using the output signals and there was a bunch of software published that showed that you could get the signal data from the Nunchuck controller. And I thought that was neat that they’d done that, but I also thought, if I can pretend to be a Wii Nunchuck controller I can talk to the Wii and we can go the other way.

Somewhere along the line, somebody came up with the idea of “making toys come to life” and we thought: That’s good, that’s fantastic, in hindsight the best idea we’ve ever had. And we looked at different ways of connecting the toys. We looked at little contacts on the toys, different RFID techniques, and we finally settled on one of those, partly because it was an ISO standard, and partly because there were open source libraries published to access the RFID controller.

Blake’s great post interviews the guys and really gets in-depth into the process of developing the game, in particular the Portal. The image above shows the prototype in all its hacked-together glory, including part of a kitchen sink!

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