E3 2013: Disney Infinity Preview
Developer: Avalanche Studios / Publisher: Disney Interactive Studios / Platform(s): Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Wii, Wii U / Release Date: August 18, 2013 / ESRB: Not Yet Rated [No Descriptors]
Disney surprised everyone this January when it unveiled its project of similar scope and design to Activision’s Skylanders, Disney Infinity. It’s a toy figurine-based video game by Avalanche Studios that’s focused on two core features – multiple platforming and action-based games set in separate Disney universes, and a toybox of near-infinite scope and imagination that blends those character-rich worlds.
During our massive coverage sweep of E3 2013 this week, I sat down with a number of developers on Disney Infinity, from technical directors to digital artists, and played the game extensively with them, discussing the highly technical features of the game, its modes, and its excitingly creative toybox mode.
Play Sets – The Candid Campaign of Disney Infinity
Unlike the majority of games that are divided into distinctive modes like campaign, multiplayer and co-op, Disney Infinity has a way of incorporating all of these play styles into two distinct modes: the first of which is play sets.
With each play set you attain (ahem, “purchase”), you’ll unlock a “10 hour or so” campaign that includes story missions, activities, quests and sandbox levels to play around in. Of course, each campaign is limited to the world of the play set you buy – ‘Monsters University’ gives you a ‘Monsters University’ campaign, ‘Incredibles’ gives you an ‘Incredibles’ campaign, and so on. Only characters from those universes will be featured, and there will be no crossover of worlds or characters like there is in the toybox mode, which we’ll detail later.
I had the opportunity to play two different play sets: ‘Monsters University’ and ‘Cars.’ Aptly, ‘Monsters University’ was set in the world of the movie franchise, but specifically the university from the upcoming prequel. Missions involved scaring other monsters for points, completing quests like playing pranks on the rival monster college and hoarding collectables around the sandbox world. Two developers told me that each campaign will have roughly 10 hours of content for the player to enjoy, and that’s “if you rush through it all, not taking sidequests into account.”
Similarly, the ‘Cars’ campaign is based on Disney/Pixar’s animated movie series about, you guessed it, automobiles. This campaign was more obviously racing-based given its nature, but did involve meeting other charming, fully-voice acted characters around the level.
Buying new characters doesn’t net you new content, but it does allow you to use their distinct abilities and powers in their particular play set – allowing you to accomplish certain tasks in new ways than before. Content is only added through new play sets and power discs, the latter of which are bought in random you-don’t-know-what-you’re-getting-until-you-open-it trading decks, but are like trading cards – which is to say, fairly cheap.
The discs slide underneath your character on the NFC base and add new powers, experience upgrades, mounts/vehicles and more while in play. If you use these power discs in play sets, one of said power or object will appear each time, whereas one for each player in toybox’s multiplayer will appear, allowing everyone to enjoy your purchase while playing online. It’s in this Toybox mode that Disney Infinity has the potential for longevity with consumers, a place where custom content can continue to flow from within the community.
But it’s not as simple a task as it sounds.
Toybox – The Lovechild of Minecraft and Trolling Maneuvers
Unlike the worlds incorporated in 1-2 player co-operative play sets, where structured, conventional gameplay is abound, Toybox mode is all about goofing off with your friends. Compared to Minecraft and Halo’s Forge mode, Toybox mode features an impressive palette of usable, place-able items of astounding variety. Thus the name.
What can you create? Platforming puzzles, race tracks, flying obstacle courses, combat scenarios, traps, and more… much more. In the lengthy session I played, the developer created a racetrack in front of me out of themed items from ‘Wreck-It-Ralph’s’ Sugar Rush, crafted the powerful but simple tools to count laps, and the cherry on top: a trap that, when crossed by a player, drops multiple giant footballs onto the track ahead, causing a spinout upon collision.
All of this was done in minutes, right in front of me. And then, the dev realized that she wanted a ‘Tron’ racetrack where we all rode Recognizers instead. So, with the press of a button or two, the entire track was instantly ‘Tron’-themed. And what’s more, Daft Punk automatically plays for everyone riding a Recognizer, and the same thematic music approach applies for riding Dumbo, Cinderella’s pumpkin coach, and others. It’s impressive, and so is the mode’s astounding attention to franchise, universe and character detail.
It goes to show that Disney is really squeezing the content out of every juicy license they own, and it’s just dripping with quality fan service.
Among all of the thousands of items at your fingertips, you have neat player-level tools like the size increaser/decreaser, which shrinks or grows any object, mount or item you can place. For example, you can shrink a rideable horse down to the size of a fist, hop on it as Mr. Incredible, and gallop it adorably around the level. Even better is generating a magnificently large Dumbo and flying him around the level at a breakneck pace, ears flapping in the wind.
So it all sounds adorable, customizable and ridiculously goofy, right? What happens if you create something magnificent, like one player did with a ‘Cars’-themed skatepark? Disney Infinity has you covered – to an extent. It’s host-multiplayer-based, meaning one person must host a game for his/her friends, and is responsible for saving the levels (locally) and sharing them among friends. There’s functionality for that. There is, however, no uploading or downloading functionality for the community, not yet Disney has told me, but they’re planning on cultivating the “best of” levels the community crafts and redistributing them – sort of like Trials Evolution without the player control.
And since Disney Infinity is a platform, not a one-off game, updates in the future could ostensibly include enhanced sharing features. But Disney has their backs to watch, and a lot of kids will play this game. As one anonymous hardware developer put it to me, the TTD, or “time ‘till dicks” window is short, and they don’t want a bunch of life-scarring imagery hitting the Infinity community en masse, at least not in an easily accessible way.
But if the world wants dicks, they’ll find a way. That much is true.
And what’s also neat about the host play – any power discs used by the host are shared among the four players in multiplayer toybox mode, meaning you can enjoy that specific content applied by the host. If the host drops in a horse power disc, it’ll spawn enough horses for all four players to play. It just doesn’t follow you outside of that match, of course. Of course, the host can remove these physical discs at any time, in which case all objects spawned from it instantaneously disappear — which presents an endless opportunity space for oh-so-delightful death by power disc trolling. You’re gleefully riding Dumbo high above the ground, and then suddenly you’re not. Woosh. Splat. Thanks, jerk.
The amount of player customization on the docket here is, again, staggering, and the level of detail and thought put into each item, level, and character is pretty ambitious. So long as the game isn’t too dependent on expensive toy sets to expand all content, and Disney finds a way to ensure players have means of sharing their content, then coming back to the game time and time again should be anything but an issue.
Disney Infinity launches on August 18 on nearly all platforms – Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Wii, and Wii U. The Starter Pack, which includes figures and play sets for ‘Monsters University’, ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’, and ‘The Incredibles’, as well as the Infinity Base and the game itself, will cost $74.99.