We here at Killer Instinct Central recently had the unique opportunity to interview Chris Nicolella, the Senior Project Manager at Ultimate Source. If you recollect, Ultimate Source is the company developing the highly anticipated Killer Instinct figure line that was announced in July at EVO 2015. Read on to learn about Chris and his role in the development of the figures, how the creation of the figures came to be, and much more!
Killer Instinct Central: So tell us a bit about yourself and Ultimate Source in general.
Chris Nicolella: I’ve been fortunate enough to work in both the videogame and toy industry for over 20 years. Over the years I’ve had the pleasure to work on some great AAA gaming titles and on the toy side, I’ve worked on some fantastic license programs which include Star Wars, Pokemon, Marvel, etc. At Ultimate Source, I manage the Killer Instinct collectible figure line from concept planning all the way through production. I work directly with the KI Microsoft team on product line ideas, approvals, and work directly with our digital sculpting team at Ultimate Source. While Ultimate Source is a relatively new retail company, our team is well seasoned within the highly detailed collectable figure market. I would say on the average, our digital sculptors have 15+ years of experience, making the coolest and most detailed figures. Their skill set is unmatched along with their passion for of detail. Each sculptor has a special skill set that aligns perfectly with how unique each KI character is and what we are creating for the entire Killer Instinct line. I could not imagine another team or company that will create collectible figures like these.
KIC: Taking into consideration the fact that you’re doing figures for Killer Instinct, then you must be a big fan of KI. So what was your first experience with the franchise like? Did you play the games in their original arcade iterations back in the early 90s or is the new Xbox One version your introduction to the series?
CN: I was introduced to KI from the very beginning. In the mid 90’s I was the Arcade and the Fighting Game editor for GamePro, which was one of the biggest videogame magazines at the time. One of the first test locations for KI was Golfland Arcade in Sunnyvale CA…about 20 miles from the GamePro office. I was going to the arcades almost daily working on preview and review articles for upcoming arcade games. I clearly remember the day Killer Instinct showed up. I heard it was coming but I was not prepared for how different it was from all the other fighting games. Like everyone, I was blown away by the pre rendered graphics and 3D backgrounds, but what really got me was the music. It just blew me away. KI became an instant favorite and I’ve been hooked ever since. Over the next several months I played KI nonstop working on strategy guides on the combo system and move list for the magazine. After work hours, I would go back to the arcade and play the game as a fighting game fan and enter local tournaments. Regarding the release on Xbox One, when the PS4 and Xbox One were both announced I was originally going to take a wait and see approach. However, that quickly changed when I saw the KI announcement. I made sure I bought an Xbox one launch day.
KIC: Why did you decide that you wanted to develop figures for the Killer Instinct franchise?
CN: Originally we pitched a collector’s edition box set, but when we got early word back that rights were available for full a product line, we jumped at the chance to make the entire line. KI has such a great history and each character is so uniquely different from one another, making a full product line made perfect sense to us. We also looked closely at the KI community, and we can easily say the KI community and fans are the best. The timing just felt right to us and we know the fans have been asking for figures far too long. I can’t tell you enough how happy we are to finally deliver! Is it 2016 yet…haha.
KIC: How did the project for the creation of Killer Instinct figures first get started?
CN: Internally we started working on the full KI product line concept back in late Nov of 2014. We created an entire product line and then flushed out the details over the next several months. It’s interesting to go back and see where we started. Originally all the figures were going to be 9” inch…then we moved them to 7” inch, then we split the line into set categories and price points. So for year one we have a 6” line, a diorama set with Spinal first, and a 9” electronic line.
KIC: What’s the process taken in the development of the figures themselves?
CN: So much goes behind the actual development of the figures. Early on we set very specific goals. We first start with the look for each KI figure. The figures have to look perfect, they have to look as close to the real in-game model as possible. Once we finalize the look we then work on the best articulation for the standing pose we give them. If the articulation doesn’t fit or we have to change the look of the actual model we don’t add it. Our reason for this is very simple. Anyone can add lots of articulation to a figure, but the more you add the less detail you will get and in many cases the figure starts to look much different than the original model you start with. We didn’t want to go down that road. This is why we pose the character first and base the character articulation around their pose. So many of the figures will have weapons based articulation, but there are some exceptions. Fulgore and Spinal will have full articulation and this is based on how their characters are designed. Fulgore has very clean break point/joints so adding lots of articulation doesn’t take away from his look. Same goes with Spinal, he will also be fully articulated. Once the figure pose and articulation is locked, next we start working on their bases and accessories. We have had a lot of fun working on the bases. While all the bases are from each character’s in-game environment we have had a lot of creative freedom. You can see this with all the bases but Sabrewulf, Fulgore, Hisako, and Spinal’s diorama sets have a very organic feel to them.
KIC: Currently, you’ve announced figures for Jago, Shadow Jago, Hisako, Sabrewulf, Fulgore, and a Spinal Diorama. What the decision behind choosing those particular characters first?
CN: Months of planning, internal reviews, collaborations with both Microsoft and Iron Galaxy led to these choices. We wanted to pick fan favorites but also have figures based on the coolest character models. Hisako is the best example of this. While you may not run into her a lot in rank or tournament play, we know she is a fan favorite and makes an awesome looking collectible figure. You will see this with each wave assortment we introduce in the line.
KIC: How many iterations did you go through before the prototypes that we have seen? Was there one character in particular that you were having a problem nailing down the look? Did you find the characters translating well into figure form?
CN: Several, we went back and forth on. Several on the digital size. I would say each figure had six or seven different poses before we even showed them to the Microsoft KI team. Once we had our digital review, we made adjustments again. The detailed work on the digital size was very important and helped us create the first prototype models everyone saw at EVO. For model challenges, Spinal was tough simply because he doesn’t have a full body, you are only working with bones and accessories. We also did a lot of rework on Sabrewulf’s fur but I think the end results on both look great. We think all the figures from wave one translated well into prototype figures. We are now very deep into development on the Wave Two figures and there are some new challenges we are running into now but I think we are close to solving the problem with “her” pose.
KIC: Where you surprised by the huge positive reaction from the fans when you announced the figures?
CN: Wow were we ever! When you work on a product line that hasn’t been officially announced, in most cases, you work with only the core team on the program. The goal is always to make the best product that not only fully supports the license but also delivers what the fans want and are excited for. EVO in that respect, was the best day for us. The fans of KI and the entire community are the BEST. Hands down! We love this community so much and their feedback and how they openly welcomes us will never be forgotten. The Killer Instinct EVO panel and entire EVO event is hands down one of the best moments not only from a product development standpoint but also on a personal level for me. The EVO excitement made us even more determined to make the Killer Instinct collectible figures even better. We can’t thank Microsoft and the fans enough for all positive feedback and support.
KIC: When can fans expect the figures to be available purchase and will there be more figures for other characters in the future?
CN: I’m excited to announce here first with KI Central, our plan is to have the first wave one assortment of figures available around the same launch window as Killer Instinct Season 3. So our goal is to have the figures in market by March of 2016. However, we still have a lot of work to do and the exact date might change but that is our goal. We are planning a few different wave assortments for each product line. The 6” figure line will have the most wave assortments and figures released. Our goal is to release 3 to 4 wave assortments each year. We will also be sharing more details on the wave two assortment with KI central soon.
I do want to personally thank Chris for the privilege of being able to conduct this interview! And stay tuned as in the near future a second part will be coming that will provide even more insight into the development of the Killer Instinct figures as we interview Mo Flint, the Director of Sculpting at Ultimate Source!