Playsets

Eternia: The Ultimate Battleground Comes To Life! (1986)

Eternia is by some margin the largest playset produced in the vintage Masters of the Universe line. I don’t remember ever seeing it in stores back in the 1980s, and I didn’t know anyone who owned one. My only brief introduction to it was where it was in references in one of the 1986 minicomics. Eternia is often compared to the G.I. Joe U.S.S. Flagg, a playset that was even larger and more expensive:

The Tampa Tribune, Nov 26, 1986

Design & Development

The initial designs for Eternia (called Mount Eternia at first) were done by Ted Mayer. In my interview with Ted, he said:

I was given the project to design a playset that would dwarf Grayskull. I just stood at my drawing board and started sketching. I remember for some reason that I wanted to do a big drawing. It came out at 40″ x 40″.

Early Eternia Playset design. Note the flying vehicle on top of this drawing. This was an early version of the Talon Fighter
This later update to the design features the Blasterhawk and Fright Fighter vehicles

Ted continued:

Everyone liked the design, and it was decided, by someone, to do a size mock-up. We started hacking foam and the result was the photo you can see on my website.

According to the Power and Honor Foundation Catalog, Mount Eternia was supposed to be located in the mountains between Castle Grayskull and Snake Mountain. Ted Mayer’s first version featured towers with three creature heads. Each head would open up to reveal a feature underneath – a gun turret, some falling boulders, or dripping slime.

The second concept featured a Grayskull Tower, a central tower with a wolf motif, and a volcano tower, The foam mockup changed the wolf motif to a demon motif; the final playset would feature a lion on the central tower.

Mike McKittrick was an engineer at Mattel who worked on the playset. A recent article at Pop Insider gets some background information from Mike:

“The Eternia Playset was a huge project and I was assigned to it as the lead engineer,” McKittrick recalls. “The project was so big in scope that my manager assigned two other engineers to assist me. At that time, MOTU had already peaked and overall sales were starting to decline. Marketing wanted something big to keep the momentum and increase sales.”

…“Not only was this set meant to be enormous, but it was also meant to expand by having the existing Castle Grayskull and Snake Mountain playsets attach to its sides for an even larger footprint,” McKittrick says.

According to McKittrick, the initial cost estimate was “through the roof,” and the company made its way through a list of more than 20 intended features in favor of replacing them with only a handful of features that were better. Still, the playset was extraordinarily elaborate and ended up with the highest tooling bill that Mattel had ever seen.

“I recall the original estimated production quota in round numbers was 60,000 units and break-even, I believe, was around 40,000,” McKittrick says. “As we progressed with final engineering and started making tools, the quota dipped down to around 40,000. As we approached the start date for production, the quota dropped to 20,000 plus or minus. Ultimately we produced a little more than 4,000 units.”

Image source: Pop Insider

According to an old interview with Ted Mayer on the Roast Gooble Dinner podcast (sadly, no longer available online), the sculptor working on the Central Tower was taking quite a while to finish the prototype. As a practical joke, a few of the others working on the project hid the unfinished prototype, made a quick rough sculpt copy of it, and then knocked the duplicate into the floor. When the sculptor came back into the room he thought his work had been destroyed!

Playset & Packaging

The production Eternia playset was enormous. The Central Tower is over 30 inches tall. Three towers are included, along with Laser Blaster, weapons rack, the track, three vehicles and more. You can see the hand painted hard copy in the catalog images below. Also note that the Laser Blaster is gray rather than the red of the retail toy (Update: per Bryce W. the US version was red, but the version available in the UK was flat gray). The paint on the towers looks carefully airbrushed:

Image Source: Nathalie NHT

You can get a pretty clear idea of everything that’s included by looking at the parts list included in the instructions:

I don’t own an Eternia playset myself, however my friend and frequent contributor to the blog Øyvind Meisfjord has shared a number of videos and images to help give a clear picture of all of the features. To begin with, here is a picture of the playset, flanked by Castle Grayskull and Snake Mountain:

In the above image you get a feel for the playset’s size and also its ability to integrate with the existing major playsets via two connecting ramps.

Below is a nice view of the front of the playset, compete with background and Masters logo:

In the video below, we get a good look at the Grayskull Tower section of Eternia, and we can see how the prison gate can be made to close when the Jet Pak Fighter vehicle passes by on the monorail.

In the video below, we get a better look at the Viper Tower (which bears a closer resemblance to the Filmation Snake Mountain than the actual Snake Mountain Playset), and how the snake head can be rotated by reaching into the back of the tower:

One of the main features of the Central Tower is, of course, the lion mouth and claws. Working together, you can capture a figure, push away a figure, or capture and toss a figure away. Øyvind demonstrates using Tung Lashor as his victim:

The Central Tower features a Laser Blaster turret on top. However, the base can also accommodate the disc-shooting Blasterhawk vehicle, also released in 1986:

The base of the turret allows you to adjust the angle of the Laser Blaster so you can point in any direction:

Of course if you choose you can also display the included weapons rack at the top of the tower, too:

Moving down the back of the Central Tower, there are a few more features, including a working elevator and a movable Command Seat. There are four floors total:

The monorail coils around all three towers. Three separate vehicles can connect to the battery-powered Power Module, and each of the three vehicles has a different look and play pattern.

Battle Tram Vehicle:

Jet Pak Vehicle:

Sky Cage Vehicle:

Another look at the Eternia playset can be found on Pixel Dan’s channel:

The artwork for the packaging of Eternia was done by the late, great William George. There’s quite a lot going on in the battle scene on the front:

European version. Image source: Deimos

The three towers of Eternia stand between Castle Grayskull and Snake Mountain. Beast Man scales the central tower and Rattlor and Tung Lashor head toward the lion’s head entrance. Man-At-Arms fires the cannon at the top of the tower. Flying Fists He-Man and Terror Claws Skeletor do battle off to the side. A volcano erupts in the distance.

Battle Cat corners Stinkor at the Grayskull Tower, while several horde troopers rush up the outer stairs toward Snout Spout, who is dodging laser blasts from the Battle Tram. Rio Blast and Extendar stand at the top of Grayskull Tower, as the Fright Fighter flies by. Meanwhile, Moss Man drives Bashasaurus down the road from Castle Grayskull to Grayskull Tower.

Sy-Klone flies Blasterhawk near the summit of Viper Tower, and Megabeast rounds the corner at the base.

Here are shots of each side of the box from an old Hakes auction:

The playset also came with instructions and a very simple black and white comic called “The Eternia Story” intended to demonstrate the play features of the toy (note: Jukka Issakainen comments that it may have been illustrated by Bruce Timm):

Comics & Artwork

Eternia also came with its own minicomic: The Ultimate Battleground! In the story, King Hiss and Skeletor work together to raise the three towers of Eternia from beneath the ground. We learn that the towers, which predated both Castle Grayskull and Snake Mountain, had long ago been sunken beneath the ground by the Ancients. They feared that it would fall into the hands of their enemy, King Hiss. The story is more or less a means of introducing all of the playset’s features to the reader.

In The Search For Keldor, the presence of the three towers of Eternia allows the Sorceress to leave Grayskull in human form, and weakens the veil between dimensions:

In Enter… Buzz Saw Hordak, Hordak manages to enter the Central Tower. Initially it turns him good, but after he leaves the tower he finds that he has the power to shoot a buzz saw from his chest:

In Revenge of the Snake Men, King Hiss is able to use the power of Viper Tower to bring two Snake Men, Squeeeze (called Tanglor here, an early concept name for the character) and Snake Face, back from a nameless dimension:

In The Powers of Grayskull, The Legend Begins, He-Man and Sorceress travel back in time within the Central Tower to ancient Preternia, where they find the Snake Men, cybernetic dinosaurs and the three towers of Eternia:

The Eternia playset also shows up in a hidden picture puzzle featured in the Winter 1987 issue of the US Masters of the Universe Magazine:

The Eternia Playset features prominently in the 1986 Eternia poster by William George:

Ultimately Eternia didn’t get into many fans’ hands. It was a huge playset and it would have taken up a lot of space at retail, which may have played into Mattel’s decision to make so few of them – well under the number they would need to even break even. The track became fragile with age, so it’s quite difficult to find an original that is still intact. It’s something of a white whale for MOTU collectors.

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Artwork

Masters of the Universe Cross Sell Art: 1986

The artwork for this set comes from Axel Giménez, StarCrusader, Dark Horse’s Art of He-Man, He-Man World, eBay auctions, and my own photos and scans.

Unfortunately, I don’t know of any cross sell-style artwork for the Eternia playset other than the red line art featured on the back of the Eternia box.

Masters of the Universe Cross Sell Art:

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Interviews

David Wolfram answers fan questions

After I interviewed retired Mattel designer David Wolfram a few weeks ago, he graciously agreed to answer some fan questions. Many thanks to David and to all the readers who submitted questions!

Blaine H.:  I have a general question for Mr. Wolfram. If he can give us any details or secrets in the Eternia Playset. Like why did Mattel produce such a large playset at the end of the line when interest was waning. Also does he remember any parts or ideas that were scrapped during production? Why did they use such brittle plastic for the original tracks that break all the time? I have the repro tracks, but sometimes my support arms pop off the towers when the tram is traveling on them and it falls off. No toy is perfect I guess.

David Wolfram: Eternia was already well in the works, so I guess they decided to go ahead with it. It was actually produced in very low numbers, so I am pretty sure that Mattel lost a bundle on it; mostly because of the huge tooling bill, but also because of the extensive D&D (design and development) on it. One of the best engineers, Mike McKittrick, was the engineer on it. He was also the engineer that made Spydor work. Regarding the brittle plastic, all plastic will break down with age, which might account for some of your issues. I’m also guessing the vehicle ended up being heavier than originally planned for as well, after having to pass drop tests, etc.

Eternia playset

John A: [David] mentioned that he worked on the movie toys. Could you ask him sometime if he worked on any movie toys beyond Blade, Saurod and Gwildor? I know they went and took photos of Karg in costume. Would be nice to know what else was planned with the movie.

DW: Thanks, the only other movie toy that I can recall was a child-size role play Cosmic Key. I can’t remember if it was actually produced, or not. Martin Arriola worked on it. My recollections are very vague, but I think it had some electronics in it.

Unproduced Cosmic Key role play toy, from Mattel’s 1987 dealer catalog. Image source: Orange Slime.

Mark L: Awesome read. A great insight into the thought & design process. How proud you must feel to see your design on the shelves as a toy! I’d just like to thank David for his amazing creativity that led to awesome toys. I am truly inspired.

DW: Thanks, glad you enjoyed it. It’s a funny thing, but at least for me, there was so much time as a designer between when the toy is out of your hands, and when it finally hits the shelves, that it feels like ancient history. I do remember on the T-Rex and Bionatops that by the time they hit the shelves they were at Pick & Save (a discount store), priced at less than the original “A” price. I think I bought four T-Rex’s and gave three of them away to my family. The fourth I sold a few years ago on eBay in a slightly damaged package, when I was trying to make some room in my garage and storage areas, for over $900. Made me wish in retrospect that I had bought all that I could find!

When I left Mattel, I had a pile of toys in boxes that was at least six feet tall, six feet wide, and eight feet long. The need for space in my garage quickly overtook my sentimentality, except for a few rare exceptions.

Bionatops, Tyrantisaurus Rex, Turbodactyl

Dejan D: What was inspiration for Clamp Champ?

DW: I think that there were calls for a little more diversity in Eternia. As I mentioned in the interview, the concepts on the four re-themed figures had already been sold in before I started working on them, but that would be a logical conclusion. On the girl’s side they had done black Barbies, and other dolls for years. I don’t remember the background story very well, but I seem to recall he was some kind of guard or soldier.

Clamp Champ cross sell art. Image courtesy of Axel Giménez.

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Resource

Parts Reuse in MOTU, Part Five: 1986

Masters of the Universe, for all its diversity and creativity, was quite an economical toyline, creatively (and sometimes uncreatively) using and reusing the same molds over and over again throughout its run. Sometimes this was done fairly invisibly, and other times it was as plain as the nose on Faker’s face.

In this series I’ll be cataloging the reuse of existing molds, in context of what is known and what is likely about which figures were created in what order. For example, He-Man’s prototype was almost certainly finished before Man-At-Arms, so Man-At-Arms reused He-Man’s legs, rather than vice versa. I’ll also include parts that were reused from other toylines.

Sometimes existing parts were modified for use in new toys. For example, Beast Man’s chest seems to have been based on He-Man’s chest sculpt, albeit with a great deal of hair added to it. This didn’t save money on tooling, but it did save some time and effort for the sculptor. I’ll point this out whenever I see it. Whenever a modified part is used again, however, I’ll refer to it as belonging to the toy that used it first (for example, Stratos and Zodac reuse Beast Man’s chest).

I won’t comment on “invisible” parts, such as neck pegs or waist springs that are normally not seen.

First, the toys from 1986 that had (at the time) all new parts:

Eternia


Image via He-Man.org

King Hiss

Horde Trooper

Mantisaur


Image via Lu Lu Berlu

Multi-Bot

Monstroid

Slime Pit

Stonedar

Snout Spout

Extendar

Rio Blast

Blasterhawk


Image via He-Man.org

Laser Bolt

Fright Fighter

Jet Slet


Image via He-Man.org

Megalaser

These toys from 1986 reused some existing parts – some of those parts were first created in the same year, however:

Flying Fists He-Man

Terror Claws Skeletor

tc1

Hurricane Hordak

Rokkon

Rattlor

Tung Lashor

Dragstor

Stilt Stalkers

As you can see, there is a great deal more new tooling and much less reuse of existing parts in 1986 than in previous years. Ironically, for all the money pumped into the brand, as I understand it 1986 was the first year that sales for the line started to slip. It is true that stylistically the 1986 lineup was much different than anything that had come before, especially in the heroic warriors lineup. I have to wonder if that had anything to do with faltering sales. It may have had nothing to do with it, but I know that the 1986 toyline did little to catch my eye as a kid, outside of the Snake Men.

There are a lot of limbs in the 1986 lineup that look awfully close to the original He-Man’s arms and legs. However, if you look very closely you’ll see that the musculature is subtly different. The sculptors may have used He-Man as a model, but I don’t see that existing parts have been modified in the same way that was frequently done from 1983-1985.

Update: Øyvind has informed me that only the front half of the armor was reused for the Stilt Stalkers. Thanks Øyvind!

Lastly, there were the Meteorbs- a frequently overlooked bunch of transforming egg toys produced by Bandai under the name Tamagoras in 1984, and rebranded for the MOTU toyline as Meteorbs. Not having held these in my own hands since the 80s, I’ve done my best to catch parts reuse, but I trust that if I’ve misrepresented anything here someone will correct me (images below are from www.he-man.org):

Cometroid

Gore-illa

Dinosorb

Crocobite

Astro Lion

Orbear

Rhinorb

Tuskor

Ty-Grrr

Comet Cat

Parts Reuse series:

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