The Happiest Game on Earth – An interview with Disney Infinity Producer John Day
In just a couple of days in North America and next week here in Australia the world of Disney Infinity will be unleashed upon stores, signalling the emptying of wallets worldwide.
Last week we were lucky enough to speak to the game’s producer, John Day to ask him all about the game, how the game works, play-sets, the toy box, how it works on the Wii U, Wii and 3Ds, how DLC will be happening and that comparison to Skylanders. Everything you wanted to know about Disney Infinity is below.
Vooks: Hi John, thanks for your time. In just under minute, can you explain your game to someone who knows nothing about it?
John: Disney Infinity is a game about playing with toys. We give the player both physical and virtual toys they can use to experience existing Disney Universes and also build some of their own and when you’re building your own, you can mix and match these universes together to create these totally new experiences.
That’s kind of the essence of Infinity. It was inspired by watching how children play with toys. They put them on the floor, they match them up, they don’t really worry about the rules about who plays with who and they make up their own games and they tell their own story. It’s kind of this beautiful fun thing.
Vooks: The ‘play-sets’ being the main story mode, how much play would you get out of a single play-set?
John: We plug each play-set at approximately about a six hour experience, like four to six. There are little side missions and activities and kind of customisation things you can do in each play-set that you can spend longer on if you really wanted to, but I think a pretty safe estimate is four to six hours each.
Vooks: Still on play-sets, the starter pack comes with Mr. Incredible. If you buy Mrs. Incredible, does she get her own missions?
John: The story and the missions are largely the same. Most of what you get from her is that you get different abilities and you get a substantially different personality, right, so she has – like, all of our characters are fully voiced and so they’re going to be talking to the player throughout the game. But the tone and the flavour of that conversation changes dramatically with each character.
You can even play through The Incredibles with Syndrome. He is actually the bad guy and he’s the bad guy in the play set and so you actually can fight Syndrome with Syndrome which is a little bit ridiculous and so Syndrome actually has some things he’ll say about, like, “I’m not that Syndrome. I’m a different Syndrome.” which kind of refers to what’s going on.
Vooks: Disney Infinity has platforming, brawling, cars and racing. What kind of genres do you think we might see in the future?
John: We’re definitely trying to touch on a wide variety of gameplay. I mean, sort of our big emphasis is sort of our combat, platforming, but every universe in the world introduces special unique mechanics.
In the Pirates play-set for example, it has a pirate ship with the ocean and everything which is just very unique. Monsters, Monsters University relies on the mechanics of scaring which is not really a typical gameplay mechanic, right, it’s not something you generally see so a lot of these things were developed really kind of new from the ground up to suit the universes. I’m not really prepared to discuss anything that we’re releasing after launch but we are always looking at Infinity to kind of increase to a broad variety of stuff.
Vooks: So the Toy Box sounds pretty incredible. Can you give a quick rundown of that?
John: The toy box is, well to compare the play-sets, the play-sets are all the building. You have the story, you have the missions, it’s fairly structured and you get to kind of experience this piece of a world whereas the toy box is kind of the flip side of that where the story is yours to create and the world is yours to build. We give a whole host of these digital toys in addition to physical toys.
That’ll allow you the change the way the world looks, the way it’s laid out, you can build the terrain, you can place buildings, and we even have toys that allow you to change the rules of the game. We have toys that do things like keep the time and keep the score and let me spawn enemies and open and close doors and so using tools like this can create this world that looks beautiful that is themed after any number of Disney properties. We can theme our world over Pirates of the Caribbean, or we can theme it after Tangled, or we can theme it after TRON and when we do all these things, we can start setting up these rules in the world which changes the way the world plays, all in the toy box. And all of this is totally sharable. You can play multiplayer, you can play four players online, you can play two players on split-screen, and you can even publish what you’ve created through Disney and you can be downloading other people’s creations as well.
Vooks: The Toy Box has online sharing, is it cross platform?
John: That’s correct. So when you play multiplayer, you need to be on the same platform but the idea is this: once you built a toy box that you’re really happy with, you’ve got all the decorations where they need to be, you have all your rules kind of set-up properly, you can save and submit the world to Disney through your console across the internet.
We have a team that will review those, we’ll open them up and we’ll review them. We simply don’t just list them all but they’ll be looked at and they’ll be filtered out based on content and quality. We’re looking for really high quality, interesting, and innovative things and then the best of the best will be published regularly. So this is some content that is going to be turning over frequently and you’ll see a list of these toy boxes inside Disney Infinity within the game and you can select one of these and downloads it and it doesn’t matter which platform you’re on. So if I got one that was published and I play on an Xbox and I submitted it from my Xbox, somebody else can still download it on their Wii U and play it.
Vooks: Will the original Wii will still be able to handle all the same levels as the bigger HD consoles?
[pullquote_right]The Wii does have some limitations. The Wii is not nearly as connected of a console as the others…[/pullquote_right]John: The Wii does have some limitations. The Wii is not nearly as connected of a console as the others so for example, the uploading and downloading of worlds does not work on the Wii because it has console limitations and what it can do on the internet and the Wii also, from a sheer technical standpoint, the Wii is not quite as sophisticated as the other consoles but we’ve adjusted some of the features of the game and some of the content but for the most part, on the Wii you still have the toy box, you still have a bunch of toys, you can still place a bunch of toys and you can still build the worlds that way so the Wii is maybe tailored a little more specifically for it’s hardware needs, but it’s pretty much the same game.
Vooks: Is that the same with the 3DS version as well?
John: The 3DS version is a companion product so the 3DS will support all of the toys and all of the power disks and all of everything, just like any other version of the game but the game is quite different. It’s a companion product that’s more suited to kind of the capabilities of the 3DS but there is a game on the 3DS that works with other toys.
Vooks: The Wii U version has the GamePad there so that’s got the toy box fully on that. So how did you find the Wii U to work with the GamePad?
John: The Wii U has some interesting capabilities and I think we’ve leveraged them pretty wisely. So, every character of course has an inventory of tools and packs that they can use and normally on every other console we’d have to press a button on the controller and then this opens up a menu and then we can select our tools and packs from that menu and scroll through this wheel of stuff and it works pretty well, but you do have to kind of stop what you’re doing, if you have a really large inventory, it can take a minute to kind of scroll through and find what you’re looking for whereas on the Wii U, on the gamepad, your inventory when you’re just playing is up on the touchscreen the whole time so you can easily switch between your tools and packs just by moving your thumb and touching what you want on the screen without ever stopping the action.
This is extremely useful – you can see what you’re doing and see so much information all at the same time because the screen is so big. You have like this extra screen and none of it clutters up the TV where you’re playing which is really pretty awesome. We also do support the takeaway play feature (Off TV Play) of the GamePad where you can use the gamepad as the screen and take it into an adjacent room or something. Now additionally, when you’re constructing in the toy box, you get something similar where rather then you script the interface off-screen to do all of your building and selecting all of your toys, you have all of the toys displayed on the touch screen on the gamepad and so it’s really easy to quickly select the toys that you’re trying to place on the Wii U. It’s a really great way to play the toy box.
Vooks: In six months time there are two figurines out, will people have to buy a new game disk or will content be downloaded or how will that work?
John: I mean, it’s really a good question. I don’t honestly know exactly what we’re going to do in the future. I think ultimately our focus is just to make getting new content as easy and seamless for players as possible. Whatever makes more sense from a ease of use standpoint is what we’re going to do but especially with the technology changing so rapidly, I’m not entirely certain what we’re going to do the next time around.
Vooks: Currently there are a lot of more modern franchises on Disney Infinity. Will there be some older franchises, things like Mickey Mouse or even like Aladdin from the 90’s. I ask about that purely selfishly.
John: You’re not alone. Aladdin actually comes up a lot. We see that a lot from the fans. So ultimately yes. We are looking to include not just purely the most current content but also things from kind of the back plastic catalogues of Disney, even some of the obscure stuff. Now, considering the work involved and kind of the limited resources we have for the game, we don’t have a figure or a play-set for everything nor do I expect that we will get to absolutely everything but we have tried to hit on as many Disney universes as possible in at least some small measured way.
So for example, one of my biggest passions in terms of Disney movies is TRON. I like the original movie, I like to current movie, and I was really plugging hard to get a playable TRON figureine which we do not have but we do have the ability to make the entire toy box look like TRON. We can bring in the cars from TRON. We can bring in a Recognizer from TRON. We can change the music to be from TRON in the game. So, we have bits in there kind of associated with that even though we don’t have a play set or a playable character. Speaking of Aladdin, we give to the player all of the pieces, all of the component pieces of like the Agrabah Palace so you can build your own Agrabah city and Agrabah palace in the toy box and kind of make it look very much like Aladdin. So we don’t have Aladdin himself yet but it is within the realm of possibility someday do that. We’re not focused exclusively on the modern and we look at delivering just a good mix of stuff to the fan’s want.
We’ve also got power disks that give toys associated with certain movies so like speaking of Aladdin again, we do have Abu the elephant in the power disk. You can bring him into the game by playing a power disk on the base and we can use the power disk to also touch on some of these movies that we may not be making an entire play set of right now. So we’ve got a lot of ways to kind of include those universes both modern and classic.
Vooks: Every time I talk about Disney Infinity to someone, Skylanders comes up. Do you get sick of of the comparison?
John: No, because it’s such a beautiful comparison that I’m so confident in. No, I mean, so Skylanders and us, I certainly can understand the concern, right?
[pullquote_right]Skylanders has toys and you guys have toys and you both have kind of a base of sorts that you use on a console to use those toys and that’s all true. It’s just that after that, that’s where everything else is completely different[/pullquote_right]Skylanders has toys and you guys have toys and you both have kind of a base of sorts that you use on a console to use those toys and that’s all true. It’s just that after that, that’s where everything else is completely different. I mean you’ve seen the game at E3. I’m sure you’re aware of how different it is to the way Skylanders is played.
Vooks: Yeah, it was really funny I thought that, when I first saw it I thought Skylanders, but after playing the game E3, I don’t think that. It was one of the better games there that I played.
John: I’m glad you enjoy it. Honestly one of my very favourite things, well not very favourite, but something that I thoroughly enjoy about doing a lot of these media demonstrations and interviews is that particularly earlier on when we were first trying to raise awareness about the product, it was a big concern. There’s another product kind of like this. How is this kind of different? And it was great that after the demo I like to turn around and ask them the same question.
They’re like, oh geez. It isn’t anything like this. It’s completely different. It offers a completely different way to play. Never mind the power of the intellectual property of Walt Disney Company that nobody has; all these characters, all these universes are leverage.
Vooks: So just one final question. What’s your favourite Disney property, I guess?
John: Well, I think I’ve already played that card. I think I played my TRON fanatics kind of earlier. I do really love TRON.
I am also an Incredibles fan. I was one of those, when we first internally decided to do an Incredibles play-set and with the Incredibles characters, I was really pleased. You’ll notice that a lot of us were pretty fanatical about it because it is the only play-set currently that has five characters associated with it so the Incredibles is something we all really loved as well.
Vooks: Yeah, you have to kind of nearly do the whole family otherwise it’s kind of pointless.
John: That’s definitely what we were saying because we just wanted more and more Incredibles because it’s such a great property and it’s so well suited to a game, you know? It’s not – I mean like Monsters U, Monsters Uni which I’m quite proud of is a very – it was a bit difficult to come up with exactly how we were going to take advantage of scaring as a mechanic. There’s no combat in Monsters at all hardly, right? It just doesn’t fit that universe and so we had to get really invested whereas I mean, superheroes, superheroes were what video games were made for, you know?
So there was so much that we could do. I mean the hard part with Incredibles was deciding where we had to draw the line because we were running out of time.
And just like that, as fate would have it we were out of time too. Thanks to John Day for his time and answers!
Disney Infinity is out in Australia on August 22nd.