The Disney Infinity franchise is still in its infancy. Though it may be barely over a year old, the original title has managed to become one of the most profitable new games in recent memory. As of this month over 3 million of the three-figure starter sets have been sold worldwide and even more stand alone figures, power discs and add-ons have found their way on to gamers' shelves.
While the inclusion of classic Disney franchises like Monsters Inc. and Pirates of the Caribbean is a big draw, a game like Disney Infinity is nothing without the right people calling the shots. John Vignocchi (pictured above) is a veteran of the gaming industry as well as one of the brilliant minds behind the Disney Infinity series. Vignocchi has held the title of executive producer since Infinity's creation and has become arguably it's biggest spokesperson. He was kind enough to sit down and give me the scoop on the newest wave of Disney Infinity goodness coming our way, this time with a superhero kick.
GBD, TAY: Hello John! What is your role on the newest Disney Infinity title? What do you oversee on your day-to-day?
John Vignocchi, Disney Infinity: I'm the executive producer on the project, so I oversee development and manufacturing. I oversee the Disney Infinity franchise as a whole.
GBD: How does Disney Infinity 2.0 improve on the features of the first game? What's different? Why should people be excited?
Vignocchi: I would say there are three key things. The first is that we've greatly enhanced the combat experience of the game. So when you start playing with characters like Iron Man and Hulk and Rocket Raccoon you notice an immediate difference to how visceral combat feels. The next big thing is locomotion, how all these characters move and fly throughout the world has really been enhanced. I think the last key point would probably be "ease of use". We have this mode inside the game called Toy Box Mode that lets players use their imagination to build worlds and create games and things like that. We worked really really hard to make it so that it's easier for anyone to become a toy box master artist. We've done that by integrating what we call the "Auto Creator". It's actually a procedural generation system that allows players to create terrains very easily, create cities very easily, and add in lots of other content. Those are really the three key improvements from Infinity 1.0 to 2.0.
GBD: Characters have a skill tree this time around, don't they? How does this affect combat and abilities?
Vignocchi: Absolutely. We integrated a new skills and attributes system in the game this time around. Every character now has about 40 different skills that they can level up. Every level that you earn nets you skill points and you can use those points to unlock the skills on your characters tree. At level 20 you can unlock a max of about 30 skills. Our hope being that players start making conscious choices about how they level up those characters and why they leveled them up the way they did. But your Iron Man is going to be different than my Iron Man.
Additionally, we actually went back and integrated skills and attributes for all of the 1.0 characters as well. So now Mr. Incredible, Buzz Lightyear, Sulley - they all have skill trees as well. That, to be honest with you, is something that I think will separate our strategy from other products on the market place. We've been focused on innovating our software and the functionality of the Toy Box or implementing game play systems inside of Disney Infinity. The thing is that we know every single year there's going to be a new five year-old who sees Toy Story for the first time and we want to make sure that when they join the platform and they pick up their favorite character they're just as relevant in the latest version of the game as when they were released. A character like Elsa is going to be just as strong as a character like Drax and just as relevant.
We need to make sure that as the platform evolves all the different gameplay systems are aligning and that all our characters are taking advantage of them.
GBD: So let me make sure I have this right. All past figures and all past discs will work with Infinity 2.0?
Vignocchi: That is correct. They take advantage of new gameplay systems as well.
GBD: The first Disney Infinity featured the Incredibles, but what has it been like designing playsets that are focused on more established superheroes and more mature content? Has it been drastically different?
Vignocchi: It has been an honor and a privilege to create a video game that features some of the most iconic superheroes of all time. I think the main thing for us has been making sure we get these characters feeling just right. You know, because there are other superhero games out there where it's difficult for the developers to get just one character feeling right and inside of Infinity we've been working with the guys at Marvel since 2011 to get more than 20 of their superheroes integrated into the platform and feeling like they belong.
GBD: Twenty heroes seems like a lot, but there are dozens and dozens, actually probably thousands and thousands of Marvel superheroes out there. How did you-
Vignocchi: There are over 8,000!
GBD: Over 8,000?! That's amazing. So there are over 8,000 Marvel characters to choose from. Obviously everyone knows franchises like Spider-Man and the Avengers, but how did certain individuals like Iron Fist and Nova make the cut for the first wave of heroes?
Vignocchi: That's an interesting question. To be honest with you it comes down to two things. It came down to working with the senior executive team at Marvel to identify their priorities and to make sure we are courting their most relevant priorities. It all comes down to what they're doing inside of publishing, or inside of theatrical, or inside the animated series. Then the other side of it for us was making sure that the characters we choose provide fun and varied gameplay for our users. Whether that's a character like Thor, who's a flyer and uses the Mjolnir as a mid-range attack weapon, or a character like Rocket Raccoon who has a small size and range combat with his duel wielding blasters, it's important to make sure we get the details just right. That was what we decided to do. In the end it came down to their strategic priorities and what hopefully will be best for gamers.
GBD: I'm sure we'll like them. Who is your favorite new character to play as?
Vignocchi: Mine for sure is Venom. I wonder if we haven't done enough balancing patches on him, because at level 20 he's incredibly powerful. He's got strength that's similar to the Hulk and then he has the traversal abilities like Spider-Man with his web slinging. He's one of my favorites for sure.
The other one inside the office that everyone is crazy about is Iron Fist. Mainly because of how much damage he does and how fast he moves from target to target. When you're overwhelmed with enemies he's a great character to use to get a five or six hit combo and then you can quickly switch to another character on the other side of the screen. Those seem to be the ones that are most popular inside the office, but in terms of pre-sales Rocket Racoon is the number one most pre-ordered character. Of course that has to do with the benefit of Guardians of the Galaxy being number one at the box office again and the biggest superhero film of the summer.
GBD: Of those 8,000 0r so Marvel characters that have yet to be announced which one would you want to see in the game?
Vignocchi: What a great question! Let me think... you know which ones is quirky and everyone keeps asking about? Howard the Duck. [laughs]
GBD: That seems like a nice middle ground between the worlds of Marvel and classic Disney.
Vignocchi: I'd love to see the eventual team up between Donald Duck and Howard the Duck. It would be a duck duck win.
GBD: I'm not sure if you can answer this one, but if you had to pick a non-Marvel superhero to be featured in Disney Infinity who would you choose?
Vignocchi: A non-Marvel superhero? Well, can I say Captain EO? Because he's a superhero as far as I'm concerned. Of course Captain EO is an attraction at one of the Disney parks. Captain EO was played by Michael Jackson. It was a great 3D film and one of the first of its kind. It was created by Francis Ford Coppola, Disney, George Lucas, Michael Jackson and Martin Scorsese. Though it might be difficult to clear that character and get him on the Infinity platform.
GBD: That's certainly an interesting choice.
Vignocchi: I know you want me to say Batman or Joker, but I'm not going to. [laughs]
GBD: I figured you would go with someone really unlikely like Hellboy. Though Captain EO is pretty out there. Back to Infinity 2.0, it's coming out soon, right?
Vignocchi: Yes, September 23 is when the Marvel Super Heroes collection hits and then in November we have our Disney original starter packs and we'll be releasing the digital version of 2.0. We're trying to give buyers lots of options, just in case they aren't a Disney fan, or they aren't a Marvel fan, or they just want to play with the 1.0 figures.
GBD: Well that's all I have. Thanks so much for taking the time to talk with me.
Vignocchi: Absolutely, thanks for the opportunity to let me talk about our game. I'm really excited to see what people think, especially fans of the first game.
Disney Infinity: Marvel Super Heroes will launch September 23 and features (deep breath) Thor, Iron Man, Black Widow, Captain America, Hawkeye, Hulk, Spider-Man, Nova, Venom, Iron Fist, Nick Fury, Star-Lord, Groot, Rocket Racoon, Gamora, and Drax the Destroyer. That's just wave one, even more characters are coming by the end of the year and in early 2015.
GiantBoyDetective (also known as Ben Bertoli) is a long time Kotaku regular and a daily contributor to the Talk Amongst Yourselves blog. He can be found wallowing in gaming news and silliness on Twitter as @SuperBentendo.