For a company of Disney’s size and stature it’s perhaps surprising that it’s taken them this long to wade out into the game space with any intent. And Disney Infinity is nothing if not a statement of intent. Having seen the game in action, Strategy Informer spoke with Executive Producer John Vignocchi about why it’s taken Disney this long to make Infinity, how closely the company has worked with Disney’s other departments and how the family orientated House of Mouse intends to tackle Xbox Live and its unscrupulous patrons.
Disney’s presence in the videogame space hasn’t matched that of its presence elsewhere. What lead to the decision to develop Disney Infinity now?
John Vignocchi: We began working on this project about three years ago as a spiritual successor to the Toy Story game. When we started this off we were creating a Buzz Lightyear game. As our new executives came within Interactive they asked us to start thinking big. They didn’t want just one game, they wanted something huge that would be at the level of quality that Disney does in every other line of business in the company. And so they challenged us to think big. It wasn’t just us either, it was every one of the game directors around the company, they wanted huge ideas, innovative ideas that were really push Disney forward. Part of it came with an executive change, there was this mandate of, ‘you guys are some of the best at what you do and we’re one of the biggest entertainment companies in the world, why aren’t we innovating in the game spaces?’ Having that mandate given to us, to then be able to go and think big and not just think about making a game based on Tangled or making a game based on Tron but rather change the perspective and say what if we made a platform, what if we made something where all of Disney’s interactive content could live? And that’s one of things we approached John Lasseter about, he’s kind of been our executive sponsor on this particular project. We worked with John on Toy Story 3 and we worked with John on Cars 2. When we initially approached him with the idea of taking lots of different Disney and bringing them into a central platform he did not like the idea. Filmmakers don’t like the idea in general.
You mentioned the relationship between you the developer and the Disney film studios was unprecedented. I’d be interested to know just how close you work with Pixar, for example, with the Monsters Inc or Incredibles sets play?
John Vignocchi: Our art and story teams work closely with the talented folks not only at Pixar, but other groups such as Jerry Bruckheimer films, Disney Animation Studios and more. For example, our play set scripts have had input from the story teams at each of these groups. We have had many partners from these groups out to our studio several times to work directly with the team on the game design and foundational conceit behind each of the play sets. All of our characters have also gone through the various production and environment designers as well. We also have weekly collaborative meetings with many of our filmmaker partners and the bond between our studio has grown strong over the course of development.
How much effort has gone into creating the toys themselves? Are they designed to be played with on their own or is it more a case of collecting them all?
John Vignocchi: A lot of effort has gone into creating the Infinity figures. Each of the figures was designed by our team at Avalanche and carefully reviewed, revised, sometimes multiple times, and approved by the various actors and directors responsible for those brands and characters. Our team at Avalanche also worked alongside Disney Consumer Products and The Disney Stores to take our 3D models and make them ready for toy production. It was truly a collaborative effort across multiple divisions to bring Infinity to life.
Each of the characters are designed to be interactive game pieces that specifically work with the Infinity game, however we believe that we have reached a level of quality that will make them sought after collectables as well.
Is there any concern that the price might act as a barrier to entry? Are you anticipating people will want to collect everything or dip into the parts or franchises that interest them most?
John Vignocchi: The starter pack for Disney Infinity offers a ton of content right out of the box. Each starter pack comes with three collectible figures, the Infinity base, a playset toy, a power disc, webcodes to allow access to all of the content on digital devices, plus the software that powers the system. All told, each Infinity starter pack represents well over 25 hours of game play and our Toy Box mode is almost unlimited because it is fuelled by players imaginations.
How much freedom does the toy box offer? Are we talking Minecraft – literally shaping the world – or something more like LittleBigPlanet where creating games is more the goal? Or am I being too square, is it anything you want?
John Vignocchi: Ha, you’re not being square at all, it all comes down to what type of player you are. There are many different types of players from all over the world that play with the Toy Box in a variety of different ways. That’s just it though; there is no wrong way to play Infinity. If you’re the player that enjoys an open sandbox story game based on some of the most popular characters and brands of all time, we have that inside each of our playsets. But if you are the type of player that enjoys using your imagination to build vast worlds, or creating your own games, or just experimenting around to see what happens when you give Jack Sparrow the chance to fly around using a jet pack, the Toy Box is the mode for you. It’s just like your parents living room floor, no one is there to tell you what you can and cannot do, and you can play however you want to play.
How important are social features to Infinity? With the Toy Box and local and co-op online, has it been designed primarily as a social game?
John Vignocchi: Social features are important to Infinity, and fostering a strong user community is one of our main goals. At Disney we love, cherish and honour our fans and with Infinity we are working hard to make sure fans of interactive games have a great place to enjoy AAA-quality Disney content with friends.
Disney Infinity is a great single player experience and fans of each play set will have a great time immersing themselves in the magic… but where Infinity really shines is in co-op either local or online. Infinity is the most fun with friends. Having you and three of your close friends battling for control of the seas in Pirates, stopping the diabolical Syndrome inside The Incredibles, or making sure those pesky Fear-Tech punks aren’t TPing your trees in Monsters University is a complete blast. Multiplayer rocks!
…But where the multiplayer experience really shines is inside the Toy Box mode, where you and three of your friends can edit the entire world simultaneously. This is so much fun and opens up for such amazing emergent game play experiences.
How will moderation be handled?
John Vignocchi: On Xbox Live, Nintendo Channel or Playstation Network as long as we’re verified friends I can invite you to my Toy Box or you can invite me to your Toy Box and we can experience content together. Something worth mentioning is four players can build at the same time over network play, so when you’re inside of a toy box everyone can be building which leads to a lot of emergent gameplay. We noticed people do things that we never even thought of with those tools. But with respect to how moderation is handled from peer-to-peer there is no moderation because you guys are friends and were verified through XBL or PSN. With regards to actually posting content, again, we’ll be running these contests where we’re asking users to submit designs and as users submit designs we’re going to push down, once we’ve approved them, those designs. The big thing is, as Disney we’re very, very conscious of making sure that all of our content is family friendly so we’re not planning on having a central server where anyone can post anything because who knows… you know what people will post, right? But if we do these contests we can do moderation that way we feel that’s the correct approach.
You’ve touted it as a platform not a game, how long are you planning to support Infinity?
John Vignocchi: We are envisioning Infinity as the gaming platforms for kids and families for the next several years. So long as there are Disney fans that are willing to enjoy quality content based on their favourite films of yesterday and today, we will be there to support them with great game content as the years go by. What can we say? The possibilities are infinite.