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Disney Infinity brings physical toys into cross-platform sandbox game

Michael McWhertor is a journalist with more than 17 years of experience covering video games, technology, movies, TV, and entertainment.

Disney Infinity, due out this summer, will combine the best of Pixar and Disney worlds in a sandbox video game empowered by plastic toys, Disney Interactive co-president John Pleasants announced during a press conference in Hollywood today.

The game, set for a June release, will integrate collectible physical toys into a sandbox game that can include the best of Disney's and Pixar's brands. Infinity will launch first on consoles, and will gradually become available on mobile and online devices throughout the rest of 2013. While no exact date was announced, a countdown on the game's official website ends June 1.

Disney Infinity's characters can "exist and interact in one game across" Windows PC, PlayStation 3, Wii, Wii U and Xbox 360 versions, as well as on tablets and mobile phones. The game will also support two-player co-op in "structured adventures" and up to four players in Toy Box mode.

The Disney Infinity platform will include an initial line of 40 collectible interactive pieces that will allow players to expand and customize their play experiences, as well as 17 character figures that can be used to bring new characters into the Toy Box mode of the game. Both items and characters will use an Infinity base to add experiences and worlds to the game. Disney Infinity Power Discs, 20 of which will be available at launch, can also be placed on the base to power up characters with unique abilities, customizations and gadgets.

The Disney Infinity starter pack — the game, the base and three figures — will sell for $74.99. Play Sets will cost $34.99, with three-packs of figures selling for $29.99, individual figures selling for $12.99 and blind packs of two random Power Discs selling for $4.99. Disney showed Power Discs today for Aladdin, Mickey Mouse, Brave, Bolt, Frankenweenie, Tangled, Kermit the Frog, Finding Nemo, Dumbo, Cinderella, Peter Pan and Tron: Uprising.

At the reveal event, Pleasants announced the game, calling Disney Infinity a "magical gaming experience."

"We are here to announce Disney Infinity," Pleasants said, calling it a "new interactive gaming platform" that brings together the best of Disney's IP from the "past, present and future."

"Disney Infinity is not a single game," he explained, calling it a platform that will grow over time. Key to the experience are action figures that unlock Disney Infinity worlds known as Play Sets, each with its own storyline. Those characters can play together in existing games creating by Disney, or in worlds that players create on their own, worlds dubbed the "Toy Box."

Disney Infinity will launch in June with three Play Sets based on The Incredibles, Monsters University and Pirates of the Caribbean.

"Who would win a race between Lightning McQueen or Dash?" Pleasants asked, to explain to the crowd the scope of Disney Infinity. "Who would win a sword fight between Jack Sparrow and Phineas Flynn? This is the promise and magic of Disney Infinity. It's up to you to unlock the heart and soul of Disney Infinity."

John Lasseter, principal creative adviser of Disney Imagineering, took the stage and explained that Toy Story 3: The Video Game developer Avalanche Software's free-form approach to gameplay was the inspiration behind Disney Infinity.

Lasseter said Disney and Pixar toys and characters have been reimagined for Infinity with a stylized approach that brings a cohesive aesthetic to the varied characters, boasting that even if you're not into video games, the toys are cool enough to stand on their own. Beyond the toys, Lasseter said he's more excited about Disney Infinity players getting access to the game's creative toolbox, to see what players create in the game beyond what Disney Interactive and Avalanche Software have envisioned.

"This is one of the most creative things in the interactive world that I've ever seen," Lasseter said. "I'm really excited."

John Blackburn from Avalanche Software took the stage after Lasseter, explaining the path to Disney Infinity. Originally, the team was working on a video game sequel to Toy Story 3 focused more on Buzz Lightyear. That game later grew in scope when John Pleasants joined the group, which saw Avalanche "blowing out" the design of its pitch.

Blackburn then rolled a concept video showing Jack Sparrow, Sully, Mike and Mr. Incredible interacting, merging their three worlds — and others, including The Nightmare Before Christmas and Toy Story — to create a massive, colorful playground.

Blackburn then detailed how Disney Infinity's combination of action figures and software will work. Similar to Activision's Skylanders, players will place each action figure on a sensor to import a character and its respective Play Sets into the world. Those Play Sets, based on Disney properties, will stay true to their respective worlds.

"You will never see Mr. Incredible go into Pirates or vice versa," Blackburn explained.

Those restrictions won't hold for Toy Box mode, where players are free to mash up the worlds and characters of various Disney and Pixar properties.

Players will be able to unlock toys and gadgets in Infinity's Play Sets, which they can then import into Toy Box mode, letting players mix and match vehicles and accessories across properties. All of Disney Infinity's modes feature a multiplayer component, Blackburn said. He later showed building and gameplay featuring a Play Set based on Monsters University, including the building of the monsters' "frat row" and racing through a ramp-filled quad on mounts and bicycles. Blackburn also stressed that the Monsters University Play Set is focused on fun and customization, and less so on combat.

The Pirates of the Caribbean Play Set was more combat-heavy, featuring sword fights and ship-to-ship sea battles aboard customizable ships.

Blackburn next dove into Toy Box mode, showing Mr. Incredible performing stunts on a race track, then Jack Sparrow, Jack Skellington and Wreck-It Ralph racing in Disney Princess-inspired chariots. He then showed Jack Sparrow crafting a new world with a magic wand, using building blocks to create levels with pieces from Wreck-It Ralph's Sugar Rush and the world of Tron. Zooming out, we saw a custom-built world shaped like a guitar floating in a blue sky box, a unique playground designed from the ground up.

In addition to world building, Disney Infinity will have a simple logic editor built around pressure plates that helps to define custom game rules. Blackburn then showed how Power Discs interact with the game's Toy Box mode, showing characters from Dumbo and vehicles from Cinderella dropping into the worlds of Monsters University and Pirates. The Toy Box mode will offer drop-in, drop-out cooperative play, letting users share their custom worlds with others online.

Lasseter, Blackburn and Pleasants called Disney Infinity a collaboration that touches the entire Disney Interactive organization.

The folks behind the game also tell Polygon that they are in discussions about one day including Star Wars and Marvel.

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