More surprising is the inclusion of a comprehensive set of 30+ Disney Infinity toy figures. These characters, which usually span different Disney franchises, work in a similar way to Skylanders figures. Place them on the Infinity Base USB peripheral, Disney’s very own Portal of Power, and they provide instant access to characters in the game.
Although this means there is a reduced sense of progressing your toy character - something that kids quickly warmed to in Skylanders - it cleverly opens the door for these inexpensive discs to be provided in a variety of ways. Along with selling them "blind" in sealed packs like LEGO mini-figures and collectable card games, it’s not a huge stretch to imagine them turning up in boxes of cereal or packets of crisps - and perhaps more healthy snack products too.
John Blackburn, founder of Avalanche Software, the game's developer, explained the different approach to upgrades: "A lot of it came down to technical reason as well as user experience. If you are connected you can save elements with your Disney ID and then it can potentially get confusing - where is my stuff really saved, on the toy or in the cloud?"
The game itself offers similar play to Toy Story 3: The Video Game. Play Set pieces are placed on the Infinity base to access various campaign modes, or players can create and share their own games with no Play Set present in the impressively fully featured Toy Box mode. A slight dampener here is that it appears that only certain figures will be able to be used in particular play sets.
Blackburn also described the multiplayer experience. "Playing together was important to us, we provide two player split-screen as well as four player online in drop-in drop-out network play," he said. The inclusion of this split-screen and online multiplayer modes for both Story and Toy Box play, as well as the ability to jump, will please many players who have criticised Skylanders for lacking these features. It seems to indicate that Avalanche Software has its eye on both casual and hard-core young gamers.
Disney Infinity represents a considerable risk for Disney Interactive, which has not been profitable of late. A big part of this risk is the toy figures themselves; getting them right and triggering a collection craze will be no mean feat. But Blackburn has obviously enjoyed the process. "It’s actually been really cool because we got to work with a lot of the content creators out of Disney - Pixar on Monsters University for example as well as Jerry Bruckheimer’s team on Pirates."
Although less of a concern for older gamers, a big part of Skylanders' success was the willingness of children to play with the figures away from the game. Blackburn described how Avalanche tackled this. "We wanted this to be highly collectable. John Lasseter who was really one of the sponsors of this inside Disney wanted to be sure we were respecting the collector and doing right by them. We spent a lot of time on paint passes, poses and ensuring that all the characters look like they belong together while also looking like themselves."