For all intents and purposes, the immediate future of Disney-developed video games is Disney Infinity.
While other non-Disney Infinity console video games based on Disney or Pixar or LucasArts of Marvel properties will be developed, few of them will be made at the House of Mouse. Instead, what internal studios remain at Disney Interactive — barring social and mobile developers — will concentrate their efforts on the upcoming launch of Disney Infinity, a title being positioned as more of a platform for video games than a single game, said John Vignocchi, executive producer on Disney Infinity.
When the title launches in August, it will be one part video game, one part creation tool, and one part trojan horse. Already Disney developers are looking at Disney's massive, eclectic library to see what makes sense to turn into a "playset" for the game. Playsets are to Disney Infinity what video games are to the Xbox 360, PS3 or Wii, sort of. While you'll still need a console on which to play these playsets, Disney Infinity hosts them. And each serves as expansive products that include not just a robust, 8-hour-or-so campaign, but also additional tools for the Toy Box — the user-created worlds of Disney Infinity — and of course, new plastic toys.
The decision to create a new playset for Disney Infinity isn't simply a marketing move. In fact, Vignocchi said, the team is carefully avoiding that approach. One sure sign that may be true is news that Planes, Pixar's upcoming movie spin-off of Cars, is getting a video game, but not a Disney Infinity playset. Planes will be developed by Behaviour Interactive as a standalone game for the Wii, Wii U, DS and 3DS.
Vignocchi said the decision to create a new playset is based more on what mechanics an IP can bring to the platform and less on what characters or story it adds. So The Incredibles, for instance, brings with it melee combat, while Pirates of the Caribbean adds swordplay and ship-to-ship combat.
While Disney Infinity undergoes intense focus testing and tweaks, not everything about how the game will operate has been decided. What purpose those toys will serve in the game, for instance, isn't completely nailed down yet.
The plastic toys are used to import a character into a game. The process, like Skylanders, seems almost magical but uses a bit of RFID technology.
The characters and the playsets are all activated by plopping a player piece onto the game's USB-connected sensor base. Currently, those plastic pieces serve as simple keys. The content, the levels, the characters, the playsets, are all already on the disc.
But in the future that won't be possible. The current plan is to have players download new playset content as DLC, using the toy as a way to launch the content. The team is also looking at whether storing the DLC on the chip is possible. Another, more controversial discussion going on right now is how the character's attributes and level is stored.
The toys save that info, tracking player progress like the current level of your character, in the chip embedded in the toy. What the team hasn't yet decided is whether they want to back that data up on the console or as a cloud save or simply leave it on the toy.
Not backing up the save would, the thinking goes, ultimately make the toy feel more important and tied to the experience. But it would also mean that if you lost a toy, you'd lose all of that time spent leveling up your character.
Right now, Vignocchi said, the team is split pretty evenly on which way to go.
Those toys have another value as well, they provide the fiction that makes mashing together Disney properties, traditional something the company doesn't like to do, OK.
"The conceit for Infinity is that these aren't the characters themselves, rather toy versions of the characters," he said. "That was the thing we would come back and say. 'After all, at the end of the day, these are the toy versions of the characters and who are we to tell kids that's the wrong way to play with their toys.'"