Playing as your favourite Disney and Pixar characters in one awesome game world will soon be a reality with Disney Infinity, a new action game from Disney Interactive Studios.
Disney is making toy playtime virtual.
Following last week's announcement, we had a chance to speak to John Blackburn, Studio Vice President and General Manager of Avalanche Software.
MMGN: We understand that the Play Sets are essentially their own games, is that correct?
They [Play Sets] are essentially standalone games, if you want to look at them that way.
John Blackburn: Yeah, and there’s not just one character in each one of those, each Play Set has multiple Disney characters in it. In The Incredibles, there are five different characters that you can play as, plus you’ve got Syndrome as a villain and a bunch of the other characters like Edna Mode, Rick Dicker and Mirage in there, so they are essentially standalone games, if you want to look at them that way, but everything’s been designed to actually be able to be brought together.
Would you say that this is essentially bringing Toy Story to life?
That’s what we’re trying to do. When we were talking to the guys at Pixar, particularly John Lasseter [CEO at Pixar and Disney Animation Studios] when we had worked with them on Toy Story 3, they had told us about all the things that matter to toys and the whole idea that your toys come to life when you’re not there. We used the idea to bring the Infinity alternate franchises together.
So yes, it’s very much like Toy Story 3.
Were there any concerns bringing all these different characters into one universe?
There were a lot of concerns based on Disney’s history. The franchises in Disney have historically been against combining a lot of these things. I think it’s a healthy concern because if you do it in the wrong way it kind of cheapens the franchises, but there are things that everybody loves about it.
If all of a sudden any character goes into another character’s world, then that world doesn’t feel the same anymore. I think you can see some ways where Disney has done the combination of characters that worked, like the theme parks, but we really needed to come up with a way to make this work for all of the creators [of the characters].
Disney is very proud of their creative heritage and very protective of that. When we started talking about this, as toys, the entire game isn’t always about this idea of a mash-up. If you’re a fan of a franchise, and you don’t want it changed, then we’re giving you that experience in a lot of the game. Then we’re also allowing you -- if you want to -- to bring all those things together. It’s essentially a cool way to offer the best of both worlds, but to do it very respectively to the properties themselves.
There were a lot of concerns, and that’s how we were able to work it through with the creators.
With such a wealth of Disney characters, where did you start? And how did you pick the first characters to be in the game?
The Monsters Inc characters were easy because we’re working on a game for that already, and that’s a lot of what this platform that we’re launching is about -- to handle a lot of the future content we’re going to be developing at Disney. Other than that, we went back looking at two different things. One was about how much the characters were loved and on the top of people’s minds and then we also took into account how easily could we make a game for it. If you compare Finding Nemo, which is a very loved property but it’s a little bit harder to make a video game about, with Pirates where there’s combat and high-action moments, it was easier for us to make a high quality game out of those aspects.
Both Pirates and The Incredibles were a shoe-in for allowing very strong gameplay and being loved franchises.
It’s treating all of the characters very respectfully so I think nothing is off limits to us right now.
Disney owns so many properties now. Were any characters off limits?
We haven’t found a limit yet [laughs]!
When we went through to talk to everybody, particularly as we got further along in the game development so that people could see what we’re doing, it became really apparent to everybody at Disney that it’s okay to have all the characters in here. Like I said, it’s treating all of the characters very respectfully so I think nothing is off limits to us right now.
How did you go about crafting the single-player versus the multiplayer experiences? Obviously multiplayer is very important.
The whole game was designed multiplayer and the Toy Box mode was primarily a prototype that we built based on the Toy Story 3 Toy Box mode, where we kind of pushed the boundaries a little bit just to see how much we bring in the idea of adding toys to your world.
When we did that, we made it a multiplayer demo and that was so much fun that we wanted to make sure that it was a central component of Infinity. There has been a ton of work going into making sure that this has four player network play and that the game design supported that all along.
The single-player gets a little more scripted. We expect people to learn to play in two-player split-screen or single-player and that’s where we put in a lot of tutorials to teach you how to use these systems -- like how to get better at combat and driving and that kind of stuff -- it’s been the focus of a lot of the designers here who have to make sure that they keep both modes in mind all the time.
What about the toys themselves? How much care has gone into designing those as collectables?
Oh man, it’s been a huge effort!
Our art director Jeff Bunker worked directly for months with some of the best character designers and art production designers at Pixar and Walt Disney Animation Studios. Once they found an art cell they liked, they went and worked with the Consumer Products team to make sure that the toys really were standing out as something that looked different and special within all of the different toys that had been made over time.
John Lasseter would frequently review these things and it was great because John always pushed for quality. The guys here at Avalanche had never made or designed toys before. We really didn’t know what we could ask for or what we could expect so I think there were some key wins that we had just because we didn’t know what to expect. On the other hand, having all the experience from the Disney Consumer Products team was invaluable.
It’s been months and months worth of effort, thousands of sketches and models just to make sure that the toys were collectable. I mean, just with the paint, there’s really more of a matte finish, we really wanted these to standout from any of the other action figures that you might have.
Finally, hypothetically, if you could include one more Disney character from the Disney universe, who would it be?
Oh man [laughs].
That’s kind of funny, because everybody on the team has their own favourite answer for different reasons so I’ll give you a few of those from the guys on the development team.
We’ve got Aladdin who’s come up quite a bit. Then it’s kind of all over the place. If we’re talking about anything Disney-branded right now then there’s Mickey Mouse, obviously it would be great to have him as a key character of the company.
I guess there’s some speculation out there because we haven’t announced all of the characters, but those are some of the main ones we’d like to see.
Thanks a lot for your time, John.
By Ben Salter