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For multiplatform Skylanders Swap Force, the toys are the key (update)

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A number of games that span the generational divide, particularly Electronic Arts titles including Madden NFL 25 and FIFA 14, will allow players to carry over some progress from the current generation to the next generation. For Skylanders Swap Force, which was released last month on current-gen platforms and is a launch title for both PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, partial carryover isn't a concern — it's all in the game's magical little toys.

"You can take your favorite character over to your friend's house, and play on whatever platform that they have and gain the experience, store it on the toy and then come back and have basically the same experience," said Nicholas Ruepp, senior producer on Swap Force at developer Vicarious Visions, in an interview with Polygon today.

The progress that Skylanders players care about is how far their toys have ranked up, and that data is stored within the Skylanders figures themselves. The toys are platform-agnostic, so progress made on any version of Swap Force gets embedded into the figures. Players can take the toys with them wherever they go, and use them with all versions of the game. That also applies to toys from the previous entries in the franchise, Skylanders: Spyro's Adventure and Skylanders Giants.

"Kids' entire collections are able to come forward with the progress that they had into, say, PS3 and then PS4, and they can just continue forward," Ruepp explained.

progress made on any version of Swap Force gets embedded into the Skylanders figures

Swap Force is essentially the same experience across all console versions, including the next-gen versions. But we played the PS4 version today and came away impressed with its visual fidelity. In-game models for Skylanders themselves as well as non-player characters boast much higher detail than before, and the entire game looks about as impressive as in-engine cutscenes.

According to Ruepp, the new engine that Vicarious Visions built for Swap Force was designed with next-gen development in mind — it's scalable, with rendering components that the studio can turn on and off depending on the power of the platform the game is running on. And the studio created all its assets in 1080p to ensure that the next-gen versions, both of which are running at that resolution, would look as good as possible. (Vicarious Visions developed Swap Force on all platforms in-house, except for Wii and Nintendo 3DS.)

"The engine and the renderer allowed us the capabilities to make all these phenomenal visual improvements with the time that we had and with the resources that we had — so, without having to get six more studios to help out [in making] the game," said Ruepp. "So in that sense, it made it a manageable effort."

Update: We checked in with Swap Force publisher Activision to ask a few follow-up questions. An Activision representative told Polygon that Swap Force customers on PS4 and Xbox One must buy the $74.99 Starter Pack, which includes a new Portal of Power, if they want to play the game. According to the Activision rep, the next-gen versions' "enhanced gameplay experience requires a compatible portal and game."

Activision isn't offering any upgrade deals at this time for players who already own the PS3 or Xbox 360 versions of Swap Force. And it won't be available digitally, since next-gen buyers are required to pick up the Starter Pack for whichever version of the game they want to play.