Disney Infinity features real world toys that can drop into a video game mash-up of Disney's most popular creations, but that's not the most intriguing thing about the upcoming game.
It is also a powerful creation engine, like Minecraft and LittleBigPlanet, designed to allow people to invent their own complex games, play them within Disney's many worlds and then share those creations with everyone who owns the game.
The developers of Disney Infinity have already managed to recreate playable Disney-fied versions of a slew of popular video games in Disney Infinity's Toy Box mode using the game's "logic tools."
"We've created games inspired by Donkey Kong, Mario Bros 1-1, Ironman Stewart's Super Off Road, Gauntlet, Contra and Joust to name a few," said John Vignocchi, Disney Infinity's executive producer. "A team of guys went in and recreated the Bowser's Castle level from Super Mario Kart. [Developer Avalanche Software's head] John Blackburn spends a lot of his free time re-creating the Wario's Stadium level from Super Mario Kart as well — He is such a big fan."
Disney Infinity is broken down into two modes: Play Sets are based on a specific property like Cars or Pirates of the Caribbean. The initial game, which sells for $74.99, will include the base game, three figures and three play sets. Each new $34.99 Play Set will include two characters and a roughly eight hour campaign. The Toy Box mode is an open world in which players can build their own adventures out of the virtual play sets they've purchased and then run around with characters from those sets.
While the Toy Box mode includes a myriad of ways to play, like racing around in vehicles, building elaborate Lego-like structures or flying through the world on jetpacks, the mode also comes with something called logic tools.
The logic tools allow players to add specific rule sets and link them to toys in the game. For instance, a player can drop an over-sized soccer ball into a massive stadium they created, and then use those logic tools to tell the game that every time the ball rolls into a red goal, the scoreboard should show a point for the blue team.
I spent about an hour inside the game, first checking out a bit of the Pirates of the Caribbean playset and then exploring a toy box filled with creations made by the developers.
The campaign was a colorful, kid-friendly adventure game that had me wandering around the piratical setting for the first Pirates movie as a cartoon Jack Sparrow. While the gameplay was relatively simple, it's a pretty, graphically detailed game that features some neat gameplay mechanics including swordplay, sailing and ship-to-ship combat. For instance, players have the option of boarding a boat with three other players and then have each player take different positions on the boat, controlling guns and steering, as they sail around the game.
"We take the Pixar approach," Vignocchi said. "Where we are creating content for us but accessible to kids."
While the campaign was fun, in a light, pick-up-and-play way, the game's sandbox mode is Disney Infinity's real selling point.
"We hope that our Infinitoys and the logic tools inside of Infinity inspire the game developers of tomorrow."
Vignocchi said the team wasn't initially focused as much on the the toy box mode but they shifted their attention to the free-play mode once they realized how compelling it was.
"We created an area where kids would come in and play the game," he said. "And we started noticing that people were having more fun in the toy box mode."
The toy box I visited had already been packed with an impressive array of developer creations. The landscape included the building from Wreck-it-Ralph, Cinderella's castle, Spaceship Earth from Epcot, Scrooge McDuck's treasure vault and the Matterhorn from Disneyland, all created from scratch inside the game.
I was able to take control of a variety of characters including ones from Cars, Toy Story and Pirates of the Caribbean.
Characters can sprout fair wings, don Buzz Lightyear jetpack wings, hop into a monster truck pumpkin coach and shoot laser guns at one another.
Because the game is geared toward children, the toys never die, they just temporarily break.
Running around in this eclectic mix of Disney settings, toys and characters felt like the video game version of dumping a toy box onto the living room floor, and that's the point, Vignocchi said.
Logic toys take that experience to an entirely new level.
With a couple of button pushes, players can create rules to turn their play into more structured games. It can be as simple as creating a pressure plate on the ground that triggers a confetti canon every time you step on it. Or as complex as creating your own shooters, football, platformer, or racing game within the confines of this world.
Vignocchi said the game will allow you to link up to 50 toys together with these rules. Layering the rules on top of one another can make for incredibly complex creations, like a functioning calculator.
Players can also set the camera angle to help solidify the gaming experience, turning the typical 3D perspective for most modern games into a flat, retro top down perspective for a recreation of a game like Gauntlet.
After the game launches on most platforms in August, Disney plans to start running in-game events that will challenge gamers to design specific types of experiences. The creations can then be submitted to Disney for moderation and approval from the pause menu.
"Kids can participate by submitting their design to Disney, at which point our customer service team will take over to review and curate the content," Vignocchi said. "The best designs will then be made available for Infinity fans to download for free."
Vignocchi said he thinks this user generated content will be a "significant part of our strategy with Infinity."
"Engaging kids and Disney fans to use their imagination will help grow our platform and provide infinite user value over time," he said. "We hope that our Infinitoys and the logic tools inside of Infinity inspire the game developers of tomorrow."
Good Game is an internationally syndicated weekly news and opinion column about the big stories of the week in the gaming industry and its bigger impact on things to come. Brian Crecente is a founding News Editor of Polygon.