Disney creative chief John Lasseter details the unique game design of Disney Infinity.
By John Gaudiosi
Disney Interactive is hedging its bets on a brand-new type of interactive experience. The game publisher, which closed the doors of Disney Epic Mickey developer Junction Point Studios, is working with Avalanche Software on a brand-new convergence of toys and video games. Taking a different approach than Activision’s similar and hugely popular Skylanders franchise, Disney Infinity is blending characters from some of its biggest live-action and animated movies into an original experience.
The title’s overall concept was spawned in part from the Toy Story 3 game, which featured a virtual Toy Box. Disney Infinity is taking its “toys” from a variety of the studio’s biggest films including The Incredibles, Monsters, Inc., Cars and Pirates of the Caribbean. The game, available across all platforms on August 18, will allow gamers to explore original adventures through each film universe using collectible action figures and power discs through a Play Set. Gamers will be able to mix and match characters and game worlds in the Toy Box mode. There will be over 40 characters — yes, including Jack Skellington — available at launch with the ability to add new movie characters to the mix on a regular basis.
Disney creative chief John Lasseter, who has worked closely with game developers since the first Toy Story film in 1995, has watched interactive entertainment “catch up” to Hollywood on many levels. In this exclusive interview, he talks about how new technology opened the door for Disney Infinity.
GEEK: Where did the idea for Disney Infinity come from?
Lasseter: It came from this idea that we had in developing the Toy Story 3 game, working with Avalanche Software. They had the idea of doing half of the game like a traditional title, where the gameplay is pretty much parallel to the story that went on in the movie. Then they said, “Why can’t we just create a world where the player can interact with the toys in the way that Andy or Bonnie would be interacting with them and do whatever they want with the toys?” They’d have non-sequitur play, have fun with it and be very creative. We’re excited about that.
In the past, Disney has had rules about mixing characters and worlds, even in games.
I’m usually against taking characters from multiple movies and putting them in the same world, because they’re not from the same world. The Incredibles are not from the same world as Sulley and Monsters Inc., but if they were the toys from The Incredibles and the toys from Monsters Academy and you start playing with them together, that makes sense. I buy it that they can come together that way. That was the foundation of the storytelling and bringing Disney Infinity and all of these characters in the world together. We came up with a design aesthetic that was very beautiful; it was a stylization of the characters. We wanted to bring them together so that you could play in a unique way.
What excites you about the potential for this game?
What I get excited about Disney Infinity the most is what has yet to come. What we’re going to see when it gets out there with the users all over the world, young and old, boys and girls, men and women, coming together and creating something that we can’t even imagine. That’s pure creativity and that’s so exciting. I believe in doing everything we can to help promote creativity with people, so we’ve built this section of Disney Infinity that lets you build the worlds and do whatever you want. You learn about these things, and can keep adding on to it.
How have you seen the advent of technology enhance today’s toys?
To me, play is creativity and creativity is play. I love bringing new technology in to enhance the creativity of play. So often we’ve seen toys that do everything for you and the child just sits back and watches it. To me, that’s not promoting the child’s creativity. I love it when technology is used to really let kids expand their play in ways that are so inventive.
How have you seen the shift from games being based on a movie to games expanding on a film’s experience play out over the years?
When we started creating video games based upon our movies, the story of the game was following the story of the movie. Then when we started recognizing that we created a pretty special world and we have this appealing character with very special abilities — why not give them an adventure in the video game, the interactive world, that’s different than just the story that they’re told and try to expand beyond that? I think the Toy Story 3 game, and the part that’s the Toy Box, took that to a level that I’ve never seen before in the way that you can interact with everything in your world. Disney Infinity takes that to the next level — beyond infinity, really — in how you can interact with this world in a creative way. It reflects the storytelling that’s in each of the movies it came from, especially the worlds that we’ve created and the unique abilities of each of our characters because of those stories. But it makes it so you can do whatever you want in that world in the same way that you can on a bedroom floor with a pile of toys and just make-believe. It’s just like that, but the stuff moves, explodes, there’s water, you can fly and there’s physics and stuff. You can knock things over. It’s fantastic. It’s amazing how far you can push this.
How has game technology evolved compared to what Disney Animation Studios and Pixar can do with CGI?
It’s pretty impressive to see how great the images look these days in the interactive world; the texture mapping, lighting, animation and all that stuff. I have five sons and they love playing video games. One of my favorite things is to sit and watch them play. They’re much better than I am, so I don’t play; I just watch them. I’m blown away by how good the graphics are. That’s what excites me, because those are the tools now that we get to use to create games from our characters in our movies.
Developer: Avalanche Software
Publisher: Disney Interactive Studios
Platforms: Xbox 360, PS3, Vita, Wii, Wii U, 3DS, PC
Street: August 18