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Will Disney Infinity prove that the third time actually is the charm for Disney Interactive?

Will Disney Infinity prove that the third time actually is the charm for Disney Interactive?

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Disney Interactive keeps trying to play catch up with the gaming industry but often misses out with gamers. The upcoming title Disney Infinity is another attempt for the company to reinvent themselves for audiences. The previous two high profile showings from the company have failed to turn heads.

In early 2010 the studio had touted the evolution of the racing game by marrying the reality TV show concept with the spectacle of big budget chase films like The Fast and The Furious, and Gone in 60 Seconds . The result was the mixed bag known as Split / Second. Developed by Black Rock Studio and published by Disney Interactive, many gamers and editors were likening the title to a game that would have been designed by Jerry Bruckheimer or Michael Bay. This was not necessarily a compliment. Both directors have been known for putting style ahead of substance.

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In the case of Split / Second the game played well and looked great on the gaming consoles. The "Powerplay" feature was supposed to set this racing game apart from the ones that had dominated the market, like Need for Speed and Burnout . Players and opponents could trigger a Powerplay which often meant a big explosion that ripped freeways apart, collapsed buildings and rained debris onto the streets. The sizzling effects created obstacles for opponents and revealed alternate paths for gamers. The spectacles created by the explosions were akin to the flashy effects used in films like Transformers. They were nice to look at but after a while audiences found them redundant.

As a racing game Split / Second was good but not great. The Powerplay feature wore out its welcome and Disney was left without an action game to act as the summer tentpole.

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Fast forward six months and Disney Interactive gave it another go. This time Epic Mickey was going to be the new flagship title from the publisher. The company spared no expense in acquiring Warren Spector and his Junction Point Studios. Spector had made a name for himself with hit PC titles like Wing Commander , Deus Ex and Ultima VII . He was easily the most knowledgable developer when it came to Disney history and IP and seems a perfect match to lead the new generation of DI titles.

Epic Mickey was a mix of ideas not tried before in most console games. It was not quite a role-playing game, not quite an action platformer and not quite an adventure title but instead something in between the three. The choice to publish it exclusively on the Nintendo Wii, the awkward control scheme and rigid camera left many players frustrated with the experience.

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The studio was given a second chance to get things right. They created a new engine, fixed the control and camera features and added all sorts of secrets and details that would delight serious Disney fans. The Holiday 2012 release of Epic Mickey 2: The Power of Two sold fewer copies than the original despite being released on multiple platforms and having the support of a large marketing push. Spector and Junction Point were let go while Disney restructured its gaming divisions.

To narrow down why the game failed would boil down to gameplay. The game never found its audience. It attempted to be too many things to too many people. The hardcore Disney fan was not necessarily a gamer and the gamer did not enjoy countless backtracking through the twisted version of the theme parks.

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

Split / Second and Epic Mickey had demonstrated that a solid budget and strong ad campaign did not equal success. A mixed bag of gameplay ideas and even the use of the most popular cartoon icon ever were not enough to generate sales.

This leads me to the first real industry showing for Disney Infinity. The game is combining the collectable figures of a title like Skylanders from rival publisher Activision, with the do-it-yourself gaming experience of indy sensation Minecraft. John Lasseter has appeared in the promotional videos to talk about what a great experience the title is. Unfortunately gamers are sitting on the fence. They respect what the man has done for Pixar, Walt Disney Animation Studios and the theme parks, however his name does not carry star power in the game community.

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

Hideo Kojima, Cliff Bleszinski, Shigeru Miyamoto and Warren Spector, on the other hand, do. Those designers have spent decades creating great titles. The development of a successful franchise had more to do with focusing the down the story, control, animation and music into a self-contained experience. None of the best titles had ever felt like a mixed bag of ideas.

Spit / Second and Epic Mickey suffered from a lack of focus. Disney Infinity seems to be going down the same path. But all judgment will be reserved for when editors and buyers get some serious hands-on time with the game at the E3 2013.

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