- Associated Press - Wednesday, June 1, 2016

SANTA MONICA, Calif. (AP) - The population of Skylands will be booming come fall.

Activision is introducing the option for “Skylanders” players to create their own characters in the series’ sixth installment, which is set to debut Oct. 16. The toys-to-life franchise mimics real-world figures in the virtual video game world of Skylands.

“Skylanders Imaginators” will add 10 crystal-shaped toys to the lineup that can be used to assemble heroes from scratch by picking their body parts, wardrobes, voices, superpowers and other attributes on-screen. The various crystals each represent the different elements found across the Skylands, such as air, water and light.

From animal heads to armored suits, “Skylanders” associate producer Lou Studdert said there are about 18 sextillion - and growing - possible aesthetic combinations of Imaginators.

“We don’t just want to make the same game,” said Studdert. “We’re making sure that every year that we’re innovating and pushing forward. As weird as it sounds, kids now expect their action figures to come to life in a video game. They didn’t five years ago.”

In a demonstration of “Imaginators,” Studdert constructed a fiery Skylander with an itty-bitty noggin and a giant guitar used to battle bad guys. He declined to comment if Activision will provide a way for players to order physical versions of their custom characters.

“That would be cool,” he said.

The next “Skylanders” entry will also add 31 new “sensei” characters to the roster of more than 300 heroes that have been released since the original “Spyro’s Adventure” in 2011. They include reformed villain Golden Queen and dinosaur-inspired smasher Tri-Tip.

The “creation crystals” will cost $10, while the “sensei” characters will be priced at $15.

As with past “Skylanders” installments, previously released character figures can be employed in “Imaginators.” The air, land and sea vehicle toys introduced in last year’s “SuperChargers” entry will also work in an “Imaginators” multiplayer racing mode.

Paul Yan, associate creative director at “Skylanders” studio Toys for Bob, insisted that just because the game developer is now allowing “Skylanders” players - or “portal masters” as they’re known - to unleash their own creativity doesn’t mean they’ve run out of ideas.

“I think part of the appeal of ‘Skylanders’ is the discovery,” said Yan. “It’s a journey about committing to a character and understanding its full potential. With these Imaginators, it’s the ultimate mystery because you’re creating the character and learning more about it as you go.”

Activision is hosting an art contest for players to submit designs of potential Skylanders on social media for a chance to have their creations represented in “Imaginators” at launch.

“Skylanders” could use a boost. Activision Blizzard Inc. noted in a February financial report that last year’s “SuperChargers” edition performed weaker than expected. Other past “Skylanders” entries have included the villain-focused “Trap Team” and switchable figure-filled “Swap Force.”

“Skylanders” pioneered the toys-to-life category. The competition now includes “amiibo” from Nintendo and “Lego Dimensions” from Warner Bros. Interactive. Disney announced earlier this month it was shuttering its “Infinity” toys-to-life franchise because the market is too risky.

Activision Blizzard Studios is scheduled to release an animated series alongside “Imaginators” this fall called “Skylanders Academy.”

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Online:

http://www.skylanders.com

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Follow AP Entertainment Writer Derrik J. Lang on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/derrikjlang. His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/derrik-j-lang.

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