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Disney Infinity 3.0 showcases its design & development process at E3 2015

Disney Infinity 3.0 showcases its design & development process at E3 2015

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As the E3 wraps up we find ourselves exhausted yet also enthusiastic about the next year of gaming. There were many great titles announced for all of the major platforms. Several sequels, including the big names like Call of Duty, Assassins Creed and Fallout that will be fighting for game of the year honors. The front-runner seems to be Fallout 4 but the year is still young.


Photo by Noe Valladolid

Meanwhile over at Disney, rather Disney Interactive. the train is picking up speed. This past week in Los Angeles was the first chance to get some hands on time with the latest version, Infinity 3.0. This build will be expanding on the previous Disney, Pixar and Marvel franchises and will be introducing Star Wars into the mix as well. Before we get into all of those details we should recap the road that took the focus from films and television from Disney to a more complete entertainment empire. In 2000 Bob Iger was sitting as President but by 2005 he took the helm as CEO and steered the company in a new direction, away from the waters that Michael Eisner had charted.


Photo by Noe Valladolid

To continue the naval analogy an aircraft carrier does not turn on a dime. It takes many miles to get the course changed. Now imagine the ship is thousands of employees, hundreds of divisions and countless companies in size. Change was not going to happen quickly under Iger's watch, it did not take miles but rather years for the company to grow into a new entity. In 2006 Disney acquired Pixar, in 2009 they got Marvel and in 2012 they picked up Lucasarts. Along with the various big-name studios that joined the family they also added smaller studios that specialized in gaming, social media and mobile development. Iger had let the business outlets know that Disney had acquired Club Penguin for example to help build its social media awareness. He also noted that the face of entertainment was changing and he wanted to make sure that Disney would be poised to reach its audience on all of the available channels.


Photo by Noe Valladolid

One of his most insightful interviews was conducted with Beet.TV in 2008 where Iger said "We're not really embracing technology, we're embracing consumers. Consumers are using that [social media] technology in order for us to be relevant to consumers. In order for us to make the product either more valuable, or more accessible or just better." Iger knew that traditional media like movies and television were no longer the main forms of entertainment. The internet and gaming had long been important to audiences and Disney needed to address that change. Video games in particular were a format that Disney had to become relevant in. 


Photo by Noe Valladolid

Disney Interactive was founded in 1988. The studio mainly focused on adapting Disney animated films and television shows to gaming consoles. Original characters and original games were rarely, if ever, seen. There were some exceptions. Maui Mallard, a game from 1995 for example was an attempt to transform Donald Duck into a gaming mascot. The game was well done but it arrived too little too late for the 16-bit console generation. It failed to get the gaming public behind Disney.


Photo by Noe Valladolid

While the studio did not develop a franchise gaming series it did end up being the training ground for the designers, animators and even musicians that would become titans in the industry. David Perry, the founder of Shiny Entertainment and creator of Earthworm Jim was a former animator working at Disney Interactive. Michael Giacchino film composer and Academy Award winner wrote music for early Disney Interactive titles.


Photo by Noe Valladolid

Bob Iger knew that in order to make the mascot characters, like Mickey Mouse and his friends relevant to audiences he had to reach them through gaming. Around 2006 with the return of Oswald the Lucky Rabbit from Universal Iger began looking at ways to get Oswald back in the minds and hearts of fans. An idea was developed by a Disney Think Tank where Oswald and Mickey would be featured in their own big-budget title. They would get a chance to become big gaming mascots like Sonic the Hedgehog or the Mario Bros, or to be more contemporary like Nathan Drake from the Uncharted series. Game designer Warren Spector was called in to help produce Epic Mickey.


Photo by Noe Valladolid

The game was set in a dystopian version of Disneyland, suffered from some control issues and received bad word-of-mouth from press and gamers. The first and second titles failed to garner the sales that Disney had hoped for. As a well-respected designer, and animation historian, Spector was extremely passionate about the Disney company, about the characters and potential for them to become as well regarded as the biggest gaming icons. His studio was taken apart and he was let go from Disney, much to the chagrin of his fans. If ever there was a creative type that could demonstrate what Disney Interactive was capable of it would have been Spector.


Photo by Noe Valladolid

The studio should have created a gaming Brain Trust with Spector in charge similar to what Pixar has with John Lasseter, Pete Docter and other senior members at Pixar. But I digress. There was a Plan B in place at Disney Interactive. Gaming and collecting was a trend that was becoming increasingly hard to ignore. Activision had released a game called Skylanders in 2011 where players would collect little figures that could be connected to a platform and used in games. The franchise had spawned several sequels and had earned Activision $1.5 billion dollars through its lifetime.


Photo by Noe Valladolid

If Activision could generate such success with unknown characters then surely Disney could improve upon the formula by featuring the mascot characters in a similar format. Disney Infinity was announced at the start of 2013 and by the end of the year Disney had its own platform and collectable figures on store shelves. It was apparent that the company had gone "all in" as the studio created games based on the Pirates of the Caribbean, Cars, the Lone Ranger, the Incredibles and Monsters University films.


Photo by Noe Valladolid

The various games could all be enjoyed on different consoles. Part of the reason that Epic Mickey failed to grab the attention of gamers was because the first title was exclusive to the Nintendo Wii. Disney learned from that and made sure that the Sony and Microsoft players could join into the Infinity experience right away. Disney also began improving on the formula introduced by Skylanders. They made figures that could be used universally but required each console to have its own unique platform.


Photo by Noe Valladolid

They made a game that allowed players to build virtual worlds, or Toy Boxes, that they could then enjoy with their friends. They also began collaborating with the most talented members in the community and even hired a few to keep the content focused on what audiences wanted. In 2014 Disney Infinity 2.0 was released and added the Marvel characters into the universe. The big announcement for 2015 was the inclusion of the Star Wars franchise into the family with Disney Infinity 3.0.


Photo by Noe Valladolid

Disney was working hard to stay a step ahead of their rivals. Nintendo had joined the collector craze with their own "Amiibo" figures and during the E3 they announced a strategic partnership with Activision so that some Nintendo characters would also appear in Skylanders. This was a battle brewing for Disney but at the same time a challenge that excited gamers. Collectors were eager to see the latest expansions for the Infinity universe. Each new release was accented by highly detailed figures that captured the spirit of each franchise. Live action actors were caricatured but always instantly recognizable.


Photo by Noe Valladolid

Cartoon and comic book icons had fresh updates but retained their trademark costumes or looks. The style of each figure was uniquely "Infinity" and unlike any other game, toy or collectable on the market. During the 2015 E3 Disney Interactive created a gallery to celebrate the creative process and artists responsible for developing the figures. The publisher created an archway featuring the figures and even a dividing wall made up of hundreds of Power Disks hanging from the rafters. Think of it like an old bead curtain from the '70s but with thousands of dollars worth of disks instead of beads.There were dozens of concept illustrations hanging on the gallery walls. From rough pencil drafts to technical renderings and even paintings of the various Disney, Pixar, Marvel and now Star Wars characters.


Photo by Noe Valladolid

In several display cases there were prototype figures, original sculpts and even 3D printed drafts in various sizes. This was a chance for fans to see the process that went into many of the most popular characters. It was apparent that the creative process was not an easy one. A familiar face like Yoda the Jedi Master required many stages to complete. The artists working on the figure had to have the right sense of scale and proportion. One that would not necessarily lock him into the live-action films nor in the Clone Wars animated series but instead something in between. It was the same process applied to the Incredible Hulk, Sam Flynn and even to Mickey Mouse.


Photo by Noe Valladolid

In most cases there were many iterations, poses and looks that were experimented with until the right one was found. These examples were right in front of visitors to study alongside the finished figure. In rare instances an artist could find the right balance early on. Several of the icons had even made it to the sculpting phase before a new pose was selected. Attendees to the show spent countless hours in the gallery photographing the figures and art. Hopefully this gallery would find its way to the D23 Expo in Anaheim as well as in Japan later this year.


Photo by Noe Valladolid

As for the game itself I had a chance to play through several levels and try out some new figures. Disney Infinity 3.0 has improved on the previous builds in every way imaginable. The action seems to run at a high frame rate. The animation is very smooth and fluid, there is no "choppiness." Even when things get chaotic on screen I did not see any discernible lag. This was something that mildly effected the previous builds but only during the most frenzied combat portions.


Photo by Noe Valladolid

The developers did a great job of having the Jedi characters perform their trademark moves. The combat system in the series has greatly expanded and characters can yield lightsabers as well as use the Force with very few button strokes. It truly has come a long way since the first release of the series. It turns out that Disney Interactive and the developers at Avalanche Entertainment have had some help along the way. Developers at Ninja Theory, Sumo Digital, United Front Games and Sudio Gobo helped make the combat system, game editor and other features within Infinity more intuitive and easier to use. Many were actually pushed to work on Infinity because their children were fans of the game and several families even played Infinity together. But the graphics and combat were not the only things that received considerable polish. The racing mechanic in the Toy Box also received some help. There were now themed tracks set in places like Sugar Rush from Wreck-It Ralph and Halloween Town from the Nightmare Before Christmas.


Photo by Noe Valladolid

The ability to mix and match riders with vehicles, like Darth Maul on Mr. Toad's Wild Ride attraction car, was something that no other game could boast. The racing in the game allows for "power ups," or offensive and defensive weapons that can help get players catch up to and pass opponents. Additionally each lap on a course changes and becomes slightly more difficult. Racing in Infinity 3.0 is certainly comparable to games like Mario Kart by Nintendo and Sega All-Star Racing. The level of work that Disney has been putting in the series does not end there. To be fair The Guardians of the Galaxy release for Infinity 2.0 gave audiences a hint as to what Disney had in store for them. 


Photo by Noe Valladolid

With a solid visual backbone Infinity 3.0 was able to push the envelope and have some enormous set pieces on screen for the players to run in, around, over and through. Think about how fun it would be to have the Star Wars characters run up to and take out a gigantic AT-AT walker as it makes its way across the frozen wasteland of Hoth. Infinity 3.0 makes this dream a reality. As I understand when the studio was working with Lucasarts they were given leeway to allow gamers to play with any Star Wars character from any timeline in the game.


Photo by Noe Valladolid

So players were welcome to use Darth Vader and Anakin Skywalker at the same time without ruining the storyline of the game. After all, these were figures in a toy world and not meant to be an accurate retelling of the films. But with that said Disney will be introducing the Star Wars icons in two distinct releases. The first is Twilight of the Republic which is set within the continuity of Episodes I through III. Anakin Skywalker is still on the side of good and is joined by Ahsoka Tano, his Padawan or apprentice from the Clone Wars animated series. The second Star Wars Play Set is titled the "Rise Against the Empire." It is set in the continuity of Episodes IV through VI. That one will feature the classics including Luke, Leia, Han Solo and Chewbacca as well as visits to Tatooine, Hoth and Endor, the alien planets that should be familiar with long-time fans.


Photo by Noe Valladolid

The characters from the Star Wars Rebels animated series on Disney XD were announced for Infinity 3.0 just a few days ago. The series takes place between the events of Episodes III and IV. There was no word on whether they would receive their own Play Set as well. I would be sorely disappointed if Chopper, the C1-10P Droid did not have a figure planned for the future along with C-3PO and R2-D2. There was not any news if the next film would be considered for future Infinity updates. There is no reason to doubt that another announcement is just around the corner, perhaps around the time of the D23 convention.


Photo by Noe Valladolid

One of the biggest surprises of the Infinity 3.0 reveal was how the Toy Box has evolved. Players no longer have to try and entertain themselves by creating their own puzzles and games. The Toy Box has come to life and challenges the player almost as much as the individual Play Sets do. It turns out that Syndrome, the villain from the Incredibles, took over the Toy Box and convinced all of the Disney bad guys to fight players as they make their way through the world. Players can now complete missions inside the Toy Box and earn new prizes in the process. It is an interesting mechanic that will surely evolve over time as well. In addition to the Star Wars Play Sets there are figures for Disney, Marvel and Pixar ready for 3.0 as well.


Photo by Noe Valladolid

characters from Inside Out are not only superb in toy form but they also have their own Infinity 3.0 game as well. Unlike the other Play Set games which use a third-person (behind the back) camera system the Inside Out game is a classic side-scroller, like the Mario Bros. Inside Out for 3.0 is actually a co-op puzzle adventure that requires gamers to figure out how working with the various emotions can help Riley, the young girl from the film. This is a perfect title for families to play through.


Photo by Noe Valladolid

From what I gathered this game is not set during the events from Inside Out film but instead shortly after. More details will be revealed as the game nears release. Disney infinity 3.0 is scheduled to come out Fall 2015. Perfect for a head start on Christmas as well as all the big movies that Disney has yet to release.

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