'Lightseekers' Smart Action Figures Look To Redefine Toy-To-Life Gaming

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Toys-to-life, or toys that interact with video games, don’t take full advantage of a toy’s potential. Games like Skylanders and Lego: Dimensions use use RFID chips on the bottom of the toy that  interact with a base connected to a video game. That’s about as far as companies have been willing to go with the “toys interacting with games” idea, but one company thinks there’s so much more that could be done.

Playfusion, a brand new company spearheaded by former Jagex CEO Mark Gerhard, wants to make an even bigger impact on the video game scene. On Wednesday, the company released a Kickstarter to fund a brand new game called Lightseekers , which plans to redefine the toys-to-life genre.

Lightseekers is a free-to-play app game that uses a device’s built in bluetooth, microphone and camera to interact with special Lightseekers action figures, television shows, comic books and even actual toy boxes themselves. It’s a level of immersion that’s never been attempted before. The game itself is completely free, with no microtransactions or hidden fees popping up, you can play the whole game without ever having to buy a retail good.

Playfusion is making an action figure that does more than sit around and do nothing. A Skylanders toy, once it’s put on it’s pedestal, can’t do anything else in the actual game. Besides it’s RFID chip, there’s nothing in Shroomboom besides some plastic and a couple of LEDS. A Lightseekers action figures is full to the brim with gyroscopic sensors, vibrating motors and internal speakers. A Lightseekers action figure is smarter than your television. The action figures are meant to keep small children, ages 7 to 12, engaged while also offering them a new way to play.   

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Tyrax and Mari, two of Lightseeker's action figures at launch. Photo: Playfusion

Along with TOMY, the manufacturer of Pokémon toys including the brand new Z-Ring, Playfusion plans to release the most high-tech action figures that no sane 8-year old could resist. Gerhard, along with Sarah Moen, senior marketing director at TOMY, came to the iDigitalTimes office last week to give me a hands-on look at what Lightseekers can do.

I got to play with two action figure prototypes: Tyrax, the cog-covered dinosaur, and Mari, a blue water nymph with eyes larger than its legs. Even though they were just prototypes, the figures felt sturdy and the plastic didn’t feel cheap, something I can’t say about any of the Skylanders toys. If you give a five-year-old a Skylanders Spyro figure, it’s either getting ripped off its base or broken against a wall. You won’t be able to drop a Lightseeker off a roof either, but if your kid is doing that maybe you have bigger issues to deal with.

Lightseekers toys can interact fully with their companion video game. They aren’t as complicated (or evil) as the toys from Small Soldiers , but it’s a step in the right direction. Playfusion and TOMY have created a figure that uses Bluetooth to connect directly to a device, moving past the clunky RFID to something more innovative. The figures light up when danger is nearby, or provide helpful hints when the player is stuck at a difficult level.

Dinosaurs With Jetpacks Make Dreams Come True

After connecting Tyrax to the Lightseekers app, Gerhard stuck a plastic plug into the back of the dinosaur, called a FusionCore, causing him to light up and start talking. Nothing too special about that, right? My old Furby used to do all of that, and it only made me want to throw it out a window.

Then, Gerhard took a tiny handheld chainsaw attached to a stick and plugged it directly into the figure’s hand. Immediately the game recognized what Tyrax was holding, and the character given a giant new chainsaw stick to wield in-game. If used enough, this new weapon would level up and give Tyrax new powers. Definitely more impressive than my old Furby.

TOMY and Playfusion have come up with more unique ways to integrate their toys into the game. Gerhard plugged a jetpack into Tyrax, which then turned the figure into a controller. A flying mini-game popped up, where I had to collect rings and race Gerhard, who was controlling another figure. I could not believe how smooth the flying felt; the figure was as responsive as a Wii remote. Every turn, dive and acceleration was recognized with pinpoint accuracy as I waved the figure with my hand.

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Some of the cards featured in the Lightseekers packs. Photo: Playfusion

The Future Of Toys-To-Life Gaming  

Gerhard and his team at Playfusion have big plans for Lightseekers . If connected to the internet through a device’s Bluetooth, the figures can be updated to have new voice lines and abilities. Gerhard assures me that he’s not going to make his toys say creepy things Son Of Sam style, but they will provide players with basic game information, such as telling them there’s a new level in the game or there’s a new product to buy.

There will be a full card game released alongside the figures, with over 300 cards ready for launch. All of these cards have special codes that can be scanned using your device's camera, providing unique items in-game.

When scanned, these Lightseeker cards pop to life using Augmented Reality, but can do something other AR cards can’t. After they have been scanned, the creatures on the cards can then be transferred to another flat surface and controlled in the camera’s view. Gerhard scanned a golem card and then put a dollar bill up to the camera. The golem could be controlled while on the bill the same way it could on the card. Once a creature is scanned, it joins you in-game to help you fight stronger monsters. The actual dollar bill gimmick is cute, but doesn't actually contribute to anything in-game.

The folks over at Playfusion  blew me away with Lightseekers . The company is employee-owned, meaning the people working on the game are the ones putting up the money.  There aren’t any corporate overlords figuring out what big game idea to copy to make the most money. These guys truly believe what they are doing is the “next big thing,” and I’m inclined to believe them.

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Lightseekers has an array of weapons to beat baddies with Photo: Playfusion

These figures have no exact price-point yet, but on Kickstarter you can get one, along with a weapon and some augmented reality cards, for $50. You can sign up for the Lightseekers beta right now and be ready for when the full game launches somewhere in the first quarter of 2017.

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