Q&A: Summer Fun Edition, Now With Added Video Game Rantings

By Adam Pawlus — Sunday, July 10, 2011

Does the Star Wars line lack internal toy compatibility? We explore! Will Hasbro make Star Trek 3 3/4-inch figures? We'll explore that too! And are big-box retailers skewering variety? It's entirely possible! At the end I ramble about my just-now-getting Force Unleashed II, so read on!

1. One thing that seems lacking in the SW line at large is inter-connectivity. We finally got those great pods for the sides of our gunships, but why not work it so that they could be used with our Turbo tanks? Why have a droid gunship, and not put simple pegs to use it as a troop carrier for the droids? ( they could use the hole in the backs from the backpacks.) They could also put peg holes on the small tanks for adding additional gunners stations, like the ones from the deluxe 2-pack offered not long ago. Do you think that this will be addressed in the future? ( Sure would be cool if some of the upcoming mini-rigs could be used as cockpits for the Attack Shuttle!)

Hasbro teeters back and forth here-- sometimes, they're all about compatibility and upgrades, while others, it's all about a complete play pattern in one box (see: Battle Packs.)

The interesting thing about connectivity in the modern Star Wars line is that it's there, but it's not always obvious. For example, the 2000 Dejarik Champion Chewbacca figure has a chess table you can swap out with the 1995 Millennium Falcon's as an upgrade. The 2002 Republic Gunships actually had smaller gun pods late in that year, packaged with single-carded pilots. (The gunships were also compatible with Speeder Bikes with Clones sold at the same time.) The Jedi Starfighter of 2002 had a tiny port on it to plug in a radar dish sold with the Pilot version of Obi-Wan Kenobi released a few weeks later, plus the Arena Playset connected with the deluxe C-3PO Droid Factory and the deluxe Super Battle Droid maker. Heck, if you look around Hasbro from 2002-2004, they were all about play-- one toy upgrades another. G.I. Joe 3 3/4-inch figures were outfitted with special "Sound Attack" weapons which could plug into compatible vehicles, while Transformers had the one-two punch of Mini-Cons during Armada which could connect with and upgrade larger toys, and during Energon we saw more of that plus the ability for most Autobot figures to combine with other similarly sized Autobot figures. This sort of thing has faded away quite a bit as Hasbro continued to cater more toward an older audience with its character-based action toys, but we still see hints of it here and there with the Cantina bar sections released with Elis Helrot and M'iiyoom Onith in 2007 plus other odds and ends.

Before that, there was a lot more of "put the whole play pattern in a box," as best evidenced by the Micro trends of the 1990s. (Playset + figure + vehicles, can connect with other playsets.) So where were we? Ah yes, today.

So why no Turbo Tank gun pods? Well, they actually did sell those in 2009 as a separate product-- the Turbo Tank Support Squad already saw production, and fans were mixed on this one. Some saw it as a pleasant upgrade, others felt that these items should be included in the box of the $100 toy but the core of the issue probably came from the design of the tank-- the larger 2009 gunpods had to be compatible with the fasteners used on the 2002 gunship, which, for whatever reason, Hasbro elected not to use on the Turbo Tank. My guess it has to do with gravity bringing down the doors and sagging plastic/stress over time.

Why not make the Droid Gunship into a troop carrier? Probably because it wasn't meant to be one. Heck, I've got lots of bones to pick with this one. (Why not make the cockpit wide enough to fit a non-Battle Droid figure? Why can't Ventress fit in there? Lame.) I see where you're going, but when you have an airborne craft that zips through the sky and is being shot at, having Battle Droids standing on the hull would probably be perceived as a design flaw. (Their addition on the Clone Republic Fighter Tank is a bit more sensible as a low-to-the-ground vehicle, but I also think they serve a purpose for attacking figures to jump on and shoot it.) So here, as the decision to not make the Droid Gunship a proper carrier goes, that makes sense to me. It'd be nice if you could pop it open like a pizza box and cram some inside, though. (I'd say the same about the Y-Wing Bomber.)

We're at a point when we could definitely stand to see an influx of "toy" thinking on more of Hasbro's brands. If you look at Dark of the Moon Transformers, it seems there's more play going on in there. We're seeing some of it in Star Wars, but the thinking behind the design of the figures betrays the overall design philosophy-- these are still being designed with collecting (if not collectors) in mind, with the (say it with me) inability to sit and some fairly fragile elements on the toys. Things like sitting and standing are no longer considered essential, and this bleeds into the other releases of the line. (Thankfully much of Transformers-dom's compatibility is forced with a semi-uniquitous 5mm peg which is used to connect weapons, Mini-Cons, and other gizmos to the toys.)


2. I'm one of those rare breeds of fan as I like both Star Wars and Star Trek. In 2009, Playmates released a line of 3 3/4 figures for the Star Trek reboot movie. In my opinion, the figures could not compare to Hasbro's SW figures in likeness, paint scheme, articulation or overall quality. A second wave of the figures was planned but never released.

Assuming Playmates has no license for the Star Trek sequel coming out in 2012, do you feel Hasbro would ever throw its hat in the ring for the action figure license? While I think it would be a potentially great opportunity, I would tend to think they don't want to annoy LucasFilm or potentially create a line that competes with its bread and butter line, namely Star Wars.

The short and cruel answer: Star Trek as a character-based toy license is not a lively one. Nobody wants Star Trek action figures in 2011.

Having heard many, many presentations by Hasbro it seems the company is quite satisfied with its current license line-up as it relates to action figures. Unless they're going to develop more of their own IP as action figures-- like the G.I. Joe (and presumably other) on deck-- I don't expect many new acquisitions in the licensing department. (Personally, I'd love to see Hasbro tackle Star Trek die-cast ala Titanium Series.) For the time being it seems Playmates may be taking a break from Star Trek and the rumor going around town is that many companies are discussing it. As it's seemingly proven to not be a kid-friendly toy license as super-hits go (like Star Wars), odds are Hasbro won't get it. (Although they do have a relationship with J.J. Abrams/Bad Robot via Cloverfield.) I'd like to see what they would do with it, but it seems since the failure of Indiana Jones and the Toyline of Substandard Quality to ignite a new collecting segment, it seems increasingly unlikely. That, and it seems with Trek it's the hardware-- and not the people-- that collectors go for. Phasers, communicators, model ships, people love this stuff-- but the action figures seem to not be as popular. (Interestingly, the same could be said about Star Wars to some extent in the late 1980s and early 1990s, as vehicles were the hot thing for a while. And the 12-inch line.)

So yeah, were I a betting man, I would not bet on Hasbro grabbing Star Trek for action figures. But they do have numerous other segments which may make sense for Trek-- heck, Hasbro does Cars 2 board games despite Mattel having the Pixar/Disney toy license. Operation: Spock Edition? Augment Edition Scrabble? Klingon Othello? (I'd say Mr. Potato Head, but someone else is already doing sub-licensed Trek spuds this year. Hello, PPW!)

I think-- and I could be wrong here-- that the time for a comprehensive Star Trek action figure line was in the 1990s. Believe it or not, Star Trek under Rick Berman's watch on UPN and in syndication did, for a time, grab a decent kid audience-- elementary school and junior high kids are some of the main drivers behind successful TV sci-fi franchises like The Next Generation and Doctor Who, so without a strong pre-collector component, I think a lot of companies are going to be very gunshy about giving Trek another chance at a 3 3/4-inch toy line. Playmates had a "classic" line planned to follow-up the movie, as well as more movie figures, but you see where all that went. Nowhere. Because it's still at Toys R Us for 25% off all clearance items two years later, and several nearly-completed waves of figures were flushed.

This may be painful to hear, but quality isn't always why a line fails-- some iffy toy lines last forever and quality is subjective anyway. Generally

3. My question is regarding the shortage of in-demand figures such as the Gammorrean Guard, Wicket, etc. So I have always read that figure molds are what costs Hasbro a fortune, especially on all new figures that do not re-use parts. That said, they go out and make quite possibly the best mold ever for a figure (gammorrean) and then they appear not to make very many of them. Doesn't toy economics suggest that the way to recoup the cost of the mold, is to produce/sell as many of the figures as possible? Given the demand is so high, shouldn't Hasbro be inserting at least one/two in every case for a while, until supply catches up w/ demand?

With troopers-- and sometimes other characters-- Hasbro misses the boat. Or unfortunately, catches the boat, as we saw with far too many Malakili figures in 2009. (Which is to say, any.) It's extremely difficult to tell what Hasbro is doing with vintage right now, as waves 1 and 2 are still available to some extent, with a mix of wave 3 hanging round regionally. (The Gamorrean was made in roughly the same numbers as everybody else, and the hanging Wooof figures show.

With the lack of the Gamorreans, this could be due to a variety of things but I think it's a very simple pattern Hasbro has followed-- fat figures tend to be shorter run. They take up more space in the case and can be an awkward fit at times, so it seems hot thick bubble figures do not come back a lot. (See: Ephant Mon, Hermi Odle.) This may just be my imagination, but it could be very true that they do not want to alter the dimensions of cases with thick "carry forward" figures for whatever reason. I don't get why else they would elect to bring out the seemingly one-or-two-per-army Rebel Commando instead of the at-least-six Gamorrean Guard in later assortments. (Also interesting: Wave 3 Revision 11 is shipping to online retailers now, I do not know if any brick and mortar stores will get it, but it has more of all wave 3 vintage plus Wedge Antilles in it.) So Hasbro did make a new case for 2011 to make an effort to get more out there... it's just like so many cases this year (*cough* Transformers) they are not getting to the brick and mortar stores you crave.


4. I have a beef to pick with you! I am a pretty big star wars fan, have been since i was a kid. Well one other interest of mine as a kid was the Transformers line. I had given that up long ago but could never give up on the Wars! After reading your article a few weeks ago, you had mentioned how great the new Cyberverse line was. So that weekend I was at the grocery store with my son and saw the Optimus Prime Cyberverse figure and thought why not, im sure my son will have a blast with it.... Well two weeks later we now have 10! I really did not need another thing to collect, but these things are GREAT! It brings me back to my youth, much like the Star Wars vintage line (which is beyond great!).

Anyways, my question is I see that Hasbro made these cyberverse figures under another title prior to the dark of the moon line, they were called "reveal the shield" and were recreations of the G1 characters (i have already ordered Prime, megatron and starscream from ebay... like i said, im addicted now!). Do you know if Hasbro will continue these G1 characters once the dark of the moon line ends? I would love to see the dinobots or other characters from the 80s!


Speaking of the aforementioned Transformers in the previous question... a number of items flat-out did not ship to major US retailers. It's not a matter of "I am one person who did not see them," but it seems Hasbro produced roughly 15 or so toys in this brand that never, not once, hit a regular retail toy or big box store, with others in numbers seemingly much lower than anything Star Wars collectors have had to deal with. (Basically, there were a few toys with a roughly one-week window thus far.) But on to your question.

The six Reveal the Shield-class Legends toys were essentially online exclusives in the USA, although I have heard of ONE grocery store sighting and ONE Wal-Mart sighting about six months after they first hit. Other than that, they got dumped at the likes of TJ Maxx, Ross, and Marshalls stores. (These are tiny transforming versions of the original Trailbreaker, Prowl, Optimus Prime, Gun Megatron, Starscream, and Goldbug... more or less.).

According to Hasbro at BotCon, the future of Legends (specifically Cyberverse) is a mix of Dark of the Moon and Transformers Prime characters, with no overt characters from Generation 1, but there will be toys which allude to them. (See: Movie Cyberverse Guzzle.) So as far as new items go, don't expect much, unless the new versions of Wheeljack or the Ark are "close enough." Wal-Mart presently has a $10 3-pack with a Rodimus toy in eye-searingly bright colors, but largely based on a "classic" sculpt. Also, dollar stores are getting a series of Dinobot-themed Mini-Cons with new names but old-fashioned colors, so if you don't mind Grimlock going by the name of Dualor, that may be an acceptable small-scale substitution for you.

If you're willing to go back a few years, as far as 2006, you're in for a treat. Hasbro repainted several molds in G1 colors in this size, giving fans a mini "Trypticon" and "Perceptor" and numerous others-- if you can get past the fact they aren't always a perfect fit, they're pretty nice. In 2008-2009, Hasbro went hog wild and made new tiny molds for Jazz, G2 Megatron, Hound, Wheelie, Cosmos, Warpath, Bumblebee, and many others-- it's all very Autobot-heavy but if you're into this sort of thing, be sure to research "Legends" sized toys from 2005 onward. Outside the movie line, there are some real gems to be had.


5. Your answer about children's play patterns [a few weeks ago] was very interesting. You make an excellent point that there are few or no action figure lines that aren't otherwise attached to a huge, established property. I hadn't really thought about it until now.

I wonder if it really is because the segment is dying or if market competition itself has changed. In the '80s, it seemed like a new figure line would pop up in stores every few months and get a respectable amount of shelf/peg space. Sectaurs or Power Lords got a fighting chance alongside behemoths like Star Wars or He-Man. Some would bomb, but others (like Battle Beasts) would become must-haves for at least a little while. I'd like to think that the constant introduction of new figures, mythos and play features was a rising tide that lifted all boats. Kids bought more action figures when there were more types to buy.

Now, toy aisles are a microcosm of the big-box retailers themselves. Wal-Mart squeezes out the local toy store; likewise, Hasbro and Mattel squeeze out the smaller companies and lines. I'm sure the big-boxers have deals guaranteeing a large amount of space to the biggest toy companies, so there's just not a lot of available space from the get-go. And with toy-cartoons all but dead, smaller companies or non-entertainment characters don't have that easy way to grab kids. I'm not necessarily saying there's a ton of awesome new figure lines that can't get a foot in the door—rather, there's less incentive to even create them knowing how ossified the toy market is and how little chance of success you'll have.

That's my thought, anyway. Sorry if this is a random comment…your answer just really got me thinking about the action figure heyday.

I know it's a cliche to say this, but 2011 is a very different toy world than 1991, or 1971. Did you know kids used to play with corn husk dolls? That's pretty messed up. Score one for progress.

It's really amazing when you look at the boy toy business since Hasbro introduced G.I. Joe in 1964-- back then, "action figure" was a nice way to say "doll for boys" and sales patterns included a lot of dress-up through the end of the 1970s, with Mego and Captain Action figure lines essentially just being a spin on the Joe play pattern. (Remember: if you can dress it, it's a doll, and dolls are for chicks.)

If you go to the toy aisle in a Target or Wal-Mart-- and by "toy aisle" I mean the boy's toy action section-- you can see that the bulk of the items there come from Hasbro, Mattel, Spinmaster, McFarlane, BanDai, and Jakks Pacific. Cepia's Kung Zhu line was DOA and LEGO seems content to be on its own safe little aisle. I wish I had a better grip on the late 1980s on a given day but then we had Kenner, Playmates, Hasbro, Mattel, Tomy, LJN, Coleco, Revell, Galoob, Tonka, Toy Biz, Panosh Place, and bunches of others who weren't around for long. That and today's Hasbro refuses to experiment with its brands much-- they have a few brands they know work, and that's what they stick with. (They do, however, seem quite interested in TV and the movies.) We're seeing the same thing with movies and to some extent, video games.

The good thing is that manufacturers are increasingly placing more eggs in its successful baskets, with lines like Star Wars, DC Universe, Marvel Universe, G.I. Joe, and Transformers being several times the size of their 1980s equivalents. The bad news is that things like special movie lines, like Avatar or Indiana Jones, are given a big push but don't have a lot of time. (Indy seemed DOA at retail.)

I know a big part of it is the shifting dollars-- back in the 1980s we had the likes of Lionel Play World, Kay-Bee Toys, and Kmart as real players in the industry. By the 1990s it was a tug-of-war between Wal-Mart and Toys R Us for the #1 spot, each had about 20% of the marketplace until eventually Wal-Mart tipped it and that was that, but those two companies were responsible for much of the hegemony on the shelves today by demanding more variety in smaller assortments, which lead to the direct cancellation of numerous Toy Biz figures. When a single toy seller can command more than 20% of the market, their approval can (and will) end toy lines. And one or two buyers make those decisions. That's pretty scary stuff, not just as a collector, but as someone who makes toys-- your fate at your job could be on the bubble if you make a toy line that doesn't appeal to some suit at some other company. (And by day, I'm a much smaller version of one of those suits.)

It's fascinating to see just how much variety was around in the latter half of the 1980s which is completely absent from modern toy shelves. It could be the big box guys squeezing out variety in favor of only bringing in what they know works, which means (much like what we're seeing at the movie theaters) it's more about the blockbusters and less about something new. A super-hit line has to be a tentpole of sorts, so Hasbro can experiment with girl and baby and games.

A rising tide lifts all ships, or whatever the saying is-- the success of the Nintendo Wii a few years ago bolstered the entire game industry. Tons of money came in and we saw massive amounts of new software, some great, some not so great, exploding into stores and online distribution channels. In many respects, it's a lot like the action figure aisles of the 1980s where we saw companies experiment with Visionaries or Bravestarr after making boatloads of cash off Transformers and He-Man. Today's Hasbro has seemingly lost their marbles, with new waves of vintage Star Wars and numerous super-hot G.I. Joe action figures flat-out never shipping to certain chains, thus leaving R&D and tooling costs on the table. Forget about anything new and innovative-- Hasbro seems to be having problems ensuring their A-game even makes it to store shelves. (I'm specifically singling out Transformers and Iron Man 2 product here-- a lot of it never hit the top 3 toy retailers, or Kmart, or Walgreens.)

It's bizarre to think how experimental the Hasbro of 2003 was relative to today-- back then they were trying out Zoids and MicroMachines and Stikfas in addition to most of the brands we enjoy today. (Not Marvel, obviously.) Today, Hasbro's a much more structured place where brands are elevated to godhood. Monopoly and Mr. Potato Head are king, a new idea like the now-dead 2004 Xevoz range won't have a prayer. The past five years make me feel that the "action figure" as a toy is slowly winding down. Dolls and Hot Wheels and LEGO sets and yes, even Transformers still seem to have a place but small plastic men were always a gateway drug to playsets and vehicles, and other higher-priced toys. Hasbro has phased those out to some extent, we still get a few but creativity in the entry-priced vehicle price point has been pretty weak up until the just-released batch of "Mini-Rigs" hitting Toys R Us as you read this and the odd annual vehicle at above $30 (AT-AT, Millennium Falcon, etc.) At this rate, if Star Wars fails as an action figure brand, I'm beginning to think it's because action figures failed kids first. Where's the Magna-lock awesomeness of StarCom? Where are my heat sensitive Battle Beasts rubsigns? Where is the cheapskate insanity that was the one-mold-with-a-dozen-sticker-body Super Naturals? Kids today don't have it easy. Toys seem to be getting more and more boring. I'm not one to sing the praises of rocket-firing weapons but it helps if the toy has more play built-in-- G.I. Joe has reduced the action features in favor of posing or-- and this is where it starts to get weird-- dress-up play where you can swap out gear at the 3 3/4-inch scale. That's just not right! We shouldn't be having to deal with pieces that fall off.

One last thought-- many of the most successful action figures of the 1980s were actually accessories in the grand scheme of things. Star Wars figures, M.A.S.K., Dino-Riders, and even 1982 G.I. Joe to some extent existed as a (ha ha) vehicle to better sell playsets and vehicles. Today the focus is largely on the figure, rather than making the figure a sort of gateway sale to a larger toy for Christmas or a birthday. There are plenty of toys, but few big things a kid might aspire to for a special occasion-- those things were pretty important in forging today's generation of late 20-something or early 30-somethings. Part of the reason for this is that 1980s children's television existed primarily as a vehicle to market brands-- many successful boy's toy lines in that decade had a TV show and many TV markets had between 4 and 6 channels. It's entirely possible that the proliferation of the Internet and of cable television could be ultimately why today's toys are, on some level, nowhere near the kind of thing we enjoyed in 1987. The web didn't help deliver us unmatched variety in the toy aisle, but it did help us make Star Wars the biggest and best licensed movie property in ever.



I found a Wal-Mart with a treasure trove of clearance games about a week ago, including The Force Unleashed II in regular (PS3/Xbox 360 $15) and deluxe (Xbox 360 $25) varieties. I sprang for the more expensive one because "exclusive DLC" and "USB drive" and "digital art book" are things that make me excited. I cracked it open a week ago Saturday night and-- while writing articles for you guys and doing normal weekend outing things-- beat it in about two days. I dunno if you (like me) waited because you were gambling on all games going down in price within 6-9 months, and not wanting to pay $60 for anything, but if you were I can say it's worth the cheaper price.

While significantly less frustrating than the original and (to me) considerably less repetitive, it's really lacking in fresh faces. The first game brought cameos galore and several new characters, while the sequel had a new Imperial guy right off the bat and... well, that's pretty much it. I won't spoil the ending, but (as of writing this part of the column) I just saw the Light Side version and I dunno if I buy how that played out. Maybe if there was a precedent in the movies for this kind of activity, but it does set us up for a sequel which I haven't heard jack about yet. Maybe it'll just be adapted into a comic book, who the heck knows.

There seem to be a few opportunities for toys, mostly new outfits of familiar faces or straight repacks. No wonder Hasbro didn't jump on this one for toys, which, last I heard, were still on deck for some point in 2012. I'd happily buy "Rebel Alliance" versions of Starkiller or Juno or Kota, and some of the new droids and Jedi/Sith-esque enemies were neat, but it definitely lacks the crazy imagination of the first one. In the original Force Unleashed we got Felucians, giant neon-bedecked Rancor monsters, new flavors of Stormtroopers, and Maris Brood. This time around, there was one massive creature (seriously, hugeness) and some of the prettiest looking levels I've ever seen in a Star Wars game. Cato Neimoidia was really neat to walk around, and exploring Kamino was a mix of gorgeous scenery and me sitting here wondering why the Kaminoan architects seem to be big fans of platform jumping.

I liked the first one a lot, but the gameplay was weak. The second one had refined gameplay, but it feels shorter and was a whole lot less meaty, and a couple of the cameos were pretty much tacked-on. I was also hoping for more flavors of Stormtrooper than white, but I guess as it's closer to the original Star Wars film that would be unlikely. Darth Vader's armor still looks more like the sequels (and prequels) so maybe in the third game we'll see him get severely damaged and rebuilt to match his appearance on the blockade runner.

For $15-$20, get it-- it's fun enough, just don't expect a lot from it. If you consider what you'd get out of a Star Wars graphic novel (a couple of hours of fun with a story that has a low chance to add to your love of the franchise), it's a fun enough diversion and worth the price of admission. For $60 I think I'd be disappointed, though.

--Adam Pawlus

Got questions? I bet you do. Email me with Q&A in the subject line.