Lightseekers turns action figures into game controllers

Lance Ulanoff
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Lightseekers by Play Fusion opens the door between the physical and virtual worlds and never truly closes it.

When it ships early next year, it may stand in stark contrast to games like Skylanders and Disney Infinity, which brought the fanciful world of RPGS to the real world. Finally, real gameplay figures you could hold in your hands and play with on a digital battleground. But once you placed, say, a Skylander character on the dedicated NFC reader, its job was done and all action shifted to the screen.

Each starter Lightseekers kit will include two physical gameplay characters, which will be made by toy manufacturer TOMY. They will match the characters in the iOS and Android Play game. But unlike Skylander, each toy will be packed with technology, including a Bluetooth Low Energy radio, Dual ARM processors, accelerometers and RGB LEDs. 

The technology is there to, if you want, make the posable figures a part of the action. The ones I saw were attractive, but oversized and maybe a little beat up from their long road trip. The final ones will be smaller and more polished. Even so, I was able to hold one of them and use it to control the onscreen character. I imagined a kid holding one of these figures in front of his TV, using it as a game controller to, as I did, fly the character on a big screen. Play Fusion execs told me that they are working on an Apple TV version of the game.

The brains of each figure plug into a small slot in the back. Each hand will also be ready to take control of accessories. We put a Level One tech canon in the hand of one figure and the canon instantly appeared on screen. When we switched the canon to the other hand, it switched on screen, too.

Play Fusion’s Mark Gerhard told me he has big plans for these figures and hopes to add more and more capabilities. The goal, he said, is not to go wide with a ton of new characters, but rather go deep to further enrich the blend of real and virtual playability. He wants the toys to be “almost sentient” so they know when they’re thrown or left alone for a while and can react by screaming and welcoming you back.

Lightseekers will include the game, playing cards, characters and more.

Image: play fusion

Lightseekers will also include a fair amount of augmented reality. There’ll be a standalone card game that can be used to add digital characters to the game. Even the packaging will launch AR interaction. Things you do in AR, but the way (even beating a panel in an AR-infused comic book) will impact the Lightseeker’s mobile app as well. 

Unusual in this combo RPG and MMO is that it can be played offline, as well.

Play Fusion is also playing a bit with transmedia. The final game will have the company’s own brand of listening technology – think Shazam on steroids – to listen for integrated TV shows that trigger new interactions and unlock activities and levels in the Lightseeker game.

Gerhard explained that the technology is similar to what Shazam does (looking for recognizable sound bites), but adds a sort listening Z-axis to generate a 3D audio wave, one that I saw trigger an action in the still-in-development game.

Play Fusion hopes to ship Lightseekers early next year for $69.99 (you’ll get two characters). Additional characters will cost $29.99 and accessories and weapons will cost $15 or less. In the meantime, they've launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund the game's development.

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