Last year, Disney Interactive released their very own sandbox-style video game Disney Infinity, which combined elements of platformer video games with creation titles like “Minecraft” all with interactive action figures. Now the follow-up title is set to expand the world of Disney Infinity from the classic Disney characters such as Woody, Buzz Lightyear, and Jack Sparrow to include the world of Marvel with Disney Infinity: Marvel Super Heroes. We spoke with executive producer John Vignoocchi, whom you might recognize from the weekly Toy Box TV YouTube series, about the latest title, the changes and upgrades made to the software, and what we can expect from the future of the platform.
SuperHeroHype: How far along into the development of the first Disney Infinity did the idea of a Marvel sequel come about? I assume it was about the second thing out of your mouth when you’re discussing the game.
John Vignocchi: [Laughs] Yeah, as soon as the acquisition happened actually we had our first meetings with Marvel to discuss the integration of the Marvel superheroes as early as 2011.
SHH: Was the first Disney Infinity in development that early on?
Vignocchi: Yes actually, we began development on the first Disney Infinity in late 2010.
SHH: Talk about building the open New York map that players can explore in the game and how you make sure that yours is different from other Marvel games that might have done the same thing.
Vignocchi: Well you know it’s an interesting challenge, what we decided to do was create what we call “Marvel Manhattan,” so it’s not a true exact recreation of Manhattan but rather a version of Manhattan that has the iconic landmarks that fans of the comics, films, as well as TV series, have come to know and expect. From a level layout perspective inside of the first version of the game, the largest playset that we had was The Incredibles playset which was our “Metroville” location that was a city-scape. The Marvel Manhattan that we have, there’s actually two versions, there’s one inside The Avengers and one inside the Spider-Man playset, but each of those versions of the Marvel Manhattan are four-and-a-half times the size of the city we built for The Incredibles playset. So it’s quite large.
SHH: How does the map for the Guardians of the Galaxy playset compare to that one?
Vignocchi: Well that one is located in space. [Laughs] It’s also a large map, but it’s a bit different than The Avengers and Spider-Man playsets in that there’s still an open world to explore but it’s confined to the giant celestial head of Knowhere, which of course you saw inside of the film if you’ve seen it, but you get a chance to actually go in and explore the different districts of Knowhere inside the Guardians of the Galaxy playset.
SHH: How difficult was it to narrow down to the characters you ended up choosing as the playable ones for 2.0? I assume when you start out with a list of about 100.
Vignocchi: It’s an interesting challenge. Marvel has over 8,000 characters to choose from inside of their collection, and so getting the most relevant and most exciting characters that Marvel fans want to play as was an interesting challenge. Thankfully we were given access to the most senior executive leadership team at Marvel to help us make informed decisions about what characters were going to be popular and relevant when we released Disney Infinity: Marvel Super Heroes.
So we worked with Joe Quesada, whose the Chief Creative Offier, as well as Brian Michael Bendis, who is kind of the mother day Godfather of Marvel Comics, to help get an understanding of all the different characters we should represent inside the game. The Avengers was obviously a slamdunk because of how popular those characters are because of those incredible films that have been out, and Spider-Man has been for a very long the most popular Marvel characters. So including Spidey and his friends was a natural shoe in for us, and last but certainly not least the Guardians of the Galaxy. We were given access to the script as well as some early visual effects materials and quickly became convinced that this was going to be the summer blockbuster it has in fact become.
On the Disney side of it, we’re adding new Disney characters to the game as well and the Disney characters and their addition most of it has actually been driven by fans of “1.0” who we asked via social media what characters they wanted to see next. Stitch, Merida, Tinker Bell, Jasmine, Aladdin, and many of the characters that we’ve announced so far to date are actual characters that were requested by our community. So it’s something that’s important to us and we pride ourselves in making sure that we’re connected to our community and delivering what the fans want. What’s fun is now that we’ve got the Marvel Super Heroes as part of the Disney Infinity family we’ve hearing from all of the Marvel fans of all the popular as well as obscure characters that they want to see inside of the game.
SHH: I think this is true across most media, but especially with Marvel characters, people love the heroes, but they also really love the villains. You’ve got a few playable in the game, but do you foresee anymore playable villains being added to the roster later on?
Vignocchi: Well you know what’s exciting, not necessarily a villain character, but we did announce Yondu from Guardians of the Galaxy will be a character that will be playable inside the 2.0 edition of Disney Infinity. It’s interesting, because last year we had Davy Jones from Pirates of the Caribbean, Randal from Monsters University, as well as Syndrome from The Incredibles, but as we were doing our research about character affinity and who some of the most popular Marvel characters are, Loki of course was one that popped right to the top. So we knew we were going to support Loki as well as Green Goblin as well as Ronan the Accuser as playable characters inside of the game and we’re thrilled with the way they’ve turned out and think fans are really going to enjoy them.
SHH: I saw the article that the top three characters in pre-sales were Rocket, Venom and Groot. Does that surprise you that the least human characters in the game are the most popular?
Vignocchi: [Laughs] That’s interesting, I’d never thought of it in that perspective. What we do know is that in a lot of the conversations we’ve had, people have been asking the developers of “2.0” what our favorite characters are and Venom is certainly mine because his abilities and powers actually mirror that of the Incredible Hulk meets Spider-Man. So I think plays are anticipating that Venom will not only be a powerful character in his playset but also in Toy Box mode. With respect to Rocket and Groot though, I mean both of those characters were the break out stars of Guardians of the Galaxy and so we’re certainly not surprised to see them be really popular in terms of pre-sales.
SHH: Now there are a few other video game franchises that utilize similar technology with the figurines used in gameplay, how do you make sure that what you’re doing is different and exciting for players compared to other games of this nature?
Vignocchi: I think that the key difference between Disney Infinity and other toy select products is first of all the IP. You’re talking about characters here that you likely have a connection with, whether that’s a Marvel super hero like Iron Man or Thor, or a classic Disney character like Aladdin or Tinker Bell. So of course there’s characters out there that you know, recognize, and love that you can play as. I think another key difference is that we really are focused on evolving our software and making sure that our software is something that allows players to not only experience great new adventures inside of the playsets but also to be able ot use their own imagination and creativity to make their own worlds. The fact that the toybox mode inside of Disney Infinity has resonated so well with our players is no surprise. To date we’ve had over 15 million Toy Boxes downloaded by our community, and we get between five and seven thousand submissions each week from our community for our weekly Toy Box TV show that we do where we actually highlight members of our community, and on top of that this whole phenomena of user generated content is something that is really exciting and puts Disney on the forefront of interactive entertainment with the Disney Infinity product line.
SHH: Building off what you said of that, is there any pressure on your side to innovate the figurine gameplay to maybe “one up” your competitors or do you think perhaps the Disney brands themselves are a good enough selling point for the game that people don’t expect that of the game?
Vignocchi: You know, to be honest, when you take a look at “2.0” we’re very, very proud of the enhancements that we’ve made with the software itself. That’s not to say that we won’t innovate on the actual figures themselves but lets not forget that what ultimately Disney Infinity is, and what these other producers are, are video games. So we want to make sure that we’re creating the very best game that we can and that each year we’re innovating and making something new and different, not just creating the same version of the game for a second installment. The key thing I would say is that with Infinity we’re really, really focused that the quality of our figures is the best that it can be in the category, and that’s something that has been recognized by toy collectors as well as members of the toy industry. So making sure that we’ve got figures that are high quality, something that attracts even the discerning eye of the Marvel collector, has been our priority as well.
SHH: One of the things you’re introducing with “Marvel Super Heroes” that I really loved seeing at E3 was the power discs that change the costumes of the heroes into an alternate outfit. Is that something you’re really going to build on more of in the future? Because it’s something that comic book fans are going to love and want to see more of.
Vignocchi: Absolutely, in fact it was those comic book fans and their desire to have all of those exciting costume changes inside the game that inspired us to do it. We have introduced via our power discs the ability to change and modify characters costumes and as the platform evolves, I think fans of the Marvel characters can expect to see more iconic costume change discs for their favorite Marvel characters.
SHH: There are a number of Marvel characters that are notably absent from the game. Is it a bummer from your standpoint as a fan to not be able to include some of them in development?
Vignocchi: We’re actually focused on what a privilege it is to integrate all of those Marvel characters that we have to the platform, and we worked really closely with Marvel’s senior management team to make sure that were were integrating the characters that are strategic priorities for them.
SHH: Will we ever see other kinds of characters pop up as playable for Disney Infinity such as characters from the theme park rides or perhaps The Muppets?
Vignocchi: Without giving away what our plans are, the thing about Infinity is that it’s just so much more than a one off game. Our intention is that this is a platform that evolves over time, and that means it is a platform for all things Disney. Inside of the first version of the game we had content from the parks, we had content from ESPN, and inside this version of the game, obviously you see that we’ve integrated the Marvel super heroes, but we’ve added even more Disney content new as well as classic. For example there’s a movie called “Gus The Mule” or “Gust The Donkey,” I forget, that I want to say is from the ’80s (1976) that was one of these Disney properties that was gone and forgotten that we were able to integrate into the game. The same thing goes for the Marvel Super Heroes. Brian Bendis likes to joke about how the next character he wants to see inside of the Infinity platform from the Marvel Super Heroes collection is Squirrel Girl. So without sounding too cliché, the possibilities are infinite.
SHH: If I can make a request I just want a Hitchhiking Ghost figure that I can use in the game.
Vignocchi: That’s such a great request! What’s funny is that you can actually look online, there are people that are taking our figures and actually doing custom modifications and they did the Hitchhiking Ghost from The Haunted Mansion. They actually modified Sully, Randal, and Mike Wazowski to be the Hitchhiking Ghost. But yes I think it’s fair to say that we’re a platform for all things Disney that includes ESPN, Disney Channel, Disney XD, ABC, ABC Family, Marvel, Lucasfilm, Disney, you name it it’s definitely possible to make an appearance in this platform
SHH: Now, based on discussions I have had with developers at E3 this year and last year, I know you guys are dying to make a version with characters from let’s call it a galaxy far, far away. I know you can’t really say anything, but how exciting is the idea of seeing Luke Skywalker wearing a Sorcerer Mickey hat and throwing Captain America’s shield?
Vignocchi: I think that Infinity is a platform for all things Disney and as time goes on, and as we continue to expand it, we’ll become a force to be reckoned with.
Disney Infinity: Marvel Super Heroes is now available for the PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3, Xbox One, Xbox 360, Wii U, PC and iOS tablets and smart phones.
Executive Producer John Vignocchi Talks Disney Infinity: Marvel Super Heroes, The Fan Community, and The Future - SuperHeroHype