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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
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.
Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc.All rights reserved
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
. 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.
Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved
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
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
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.
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.