"Disney Infinity 2.0" Expands Toy Box, Looks Past Marvel(ous) Launch

"Disney Infinity 2.0," which introduces Marvel's heroes and villains to the popular toys-to-life video game, is headed for release in the United States on September 23, and there's a lot to be excited about -- both for early adopters and those just jumping in. The platform will add the Avengers, the Guardians of the Galaxy and characters from the Spider-Man side of the Marvel U to the game, which already includes fan-favorites from "Toy Story," "The Incredibles," "Frozen" and much more. The roster is continues to grow with each passing month, with both Falcon and Yondu recently announced as playable characters.

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As the game nears its release, CBR News spoke with "Disney Infinity 2.0" executive producer John Vignocchi about the upcoming second installment in the "Disney Infinity" franchise, and the goals that the team had when developing the game. Plus, he discusses integrating Marvel characters into the series, the key principles of development, finding ways to help both Disney and Marvel characters interact in structured gameplay content and the importance of the Toy Box mode to continued support. Also, if you're having trouble finding a particular figure from the original "Disney Infinity" set, he tells you how to get ahold of it!

CBR News: John, Disney Infinity just revealed both Yondu and Falcon as playable characters. How long have the designs for those two been in the pipeline?

John Vignocchi: What's funny is that we had seen early previews of "Guardians of the Galaxy," working with the great guys at Marvel. We knew that we wanted to expand the support we wanted to do for "Guardians" and we had asked them about adding an additional character, and they had said they thought that Yondu was going to be a very popular character from the film. We jumped right in designing a character based on their recommendation.

In respect to Falcon, he was such a great character in of "Captain America: The Winter Soldier," and we thought it would be a shame not to support him as a playable character inside the Avengers playset. I don't know if you saw, but we do have a power disc that allows him to change into his costume from "The Winter Soldier," so that'll be really cool.

It was also pretty exciting to see that the Rocket Raccoon figure has outpaced sales for any other figure that Disney Infinity has put out yet. Is that data accurate?

It's true! Isn't that crazy? It's exciting. We had said that Rocket is the number one character in terms of preorders, followed closely by Venom because of how varied he is inside the game in terms of skills. Once he's fully maxed out, he's got the strength of Hulk meets the web-slinging skills of Spider-Man, so we think the comic book core has keyed in to what a powerful character he's going to be. Number three is Groot, so clearly "Guardians" being a number one hit film has brought them to the forefront of consumers' minds, and people are excited to play as these characters in the game.

At any given time, how far ahead does the Disney Infinity team look when it comes to content, whether it's physical figures or gameplay additions?

Right now, we have a content plan that extends to the end of 2016.

Wow. That's almost on-par with how far ahead the Marvel movies look. [Laughs]

[Laughs] Well, I think they look a little bit further, but we were lucky enough to be able to take a peek into their playbook. We understand what their priorities are moving forward, and we're excited to support all of the Marvel character inside of the "Disney Infinity" platform.

After playing 2.0 at San Diego, I actually booted up the original "Disney Infinity" and was really impressed at how big of a jump ahead -- both technologically and gameplay-wise -- 2.0 feels. What was the central goal when it came to improving the core "Disney Infinity" experience when 2.0 was first being developed?

First off, our key principle is that the most important thing we can do is not forget that we're a video game. Making sure that we focus on the software and innovating the software was the number one development pillar.

That actually breaks down into three different things. The three core elements we focused on this year were integrating great combat and making sure that players felt like the combat inside the game and the characters they are controlling that fans know and love feel like the best version of these characters that's been inside of a video game before. Whether that's playing as Iron Man and flying around Midtown Manhattan; web-slinging as Spider-Man -- making sure that we had the combat down was really, really important.

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The second thing, which plays more into the examples I just gave, was the locomotion, the way the characters moved inside of the playsets, was critical. Whether it was taking a character like the Incredible Hulk and adding his bounding skills, or making sure the flying felt just right for characters like Iron Man or Thor, making sure that characters people are just now familiar with like Star-Lord and his rocket boots felt right -- that's really the core of the superhero experience.

Lastly, it was about ease of use. Last year, we saw that our fans really engaged with the Toy Box mode of the software. They loved the fact that they could build, create and become the Disney storyteller. This year, though, it was about empowering the players to all feel like they were master Toy Box artists -- that everyone could get inside the platform and begin to create. That's where our new auto creator feature comes into play, where we actually focused a feature on procedural generation to allow players to create a Toy Box for them to play inside of and customize within a matter of seconds.

It was about innovating the software, and those are the three key pillars.

The Toy Box mode has seen a huge improvement from the original "Disney Infinity." It seems like the type of feature that will be continuously evolving throughout 2.0's lifespan. How much is the team going to be paying attention to what players needs are after the launch?

Very, very, very closely, actually. The fact of the matter is that with 1.0, we saw that more than 60 percent of our users' time was spent inside the Toy Box, so improving that mode of play was something we spent a lot of our development time on. With respect to continuing to sustain engagement, there were a couple of things: we've done a huge overhaul to our user interface to allow players to find user-generated content more easily and interact with user-generated content in a way that we had not done before. For example, players can now vote up and vote down Toy Boxes they think are great or should be featured.

We'll continue to feature the latest artist creations on Toy Box TV, and of course we'll be issuing new challenges, but another thing that we did that's part of our commitment to community is we actually hired members of our community to join the development team. I'm not sure if you've heard about this story, but at launch, we had opened up five head counts to bring in people to work on that game. We had already fulfilled one of those head counts, and we have since hired the other four members of the team, and they've actually quit their other jobs and relocated their families to Salt Lake City, Utah where they have their dream job of designing a video game for Disney. That particular team is all sitting inside of an office together and collaborating on creating episodic content that will be released each week and beyond. We'll be featuring the content, which will be posted each week and available to download for free on Toy Box TV. It's just another way that we're doing everything that we possibly can to continue to support our fans that are engaging the platform.

There will also be themed Toy Box modes by the Disney Infinity team that replicate more traditional gaming experiences like Tower Defense and Dungeon Crawler that are accessed by a special Power Disc. Are there more of these themed experiences in store from the team?

To take one step back, the way that this works is we've got a total of four Toy Box games this year based on two gaming experiences. Two of the Toy Box games are Marvel-themed and come with the Marvel starter pack. The dungeon crawler, "Escape the Kiln," which takes place in the prison that you've probably seen from the film. That's a dungeon crawler a-la "Neverwinter Nights" or "Diablo," that all your Marvel or Disney characters can participate in. Then, we've got a tower defense game that's themed to Asgard called "Assault on Asgard." Both of these are about three to four hours of repeatable, structured gameplay content. The reason why we did these is last year, our fans said, "It's great that you're releasing characters like Ralph and Vanellope Von Schweetz and Anna and Elsa from 'Frozen,' Sorcerer Mickey and Phineas and Agent P, but they're only playable inside the Toy Box mode. We'd really love some structured content around these characters. That's where the idea of these Toy Box games come from.

They're themed and take place in the Toy Box, and they utilize the Toy Box tools in order to form games, but think of them almost like arcade games. You're going to be able to play these, put these down and have fun with them. The two that I just mentioned come with the Marvel starter pack, and there are two others: "Stitch's Tropical Rescue" and the "Brave Forest Siege" come with the Disney original starter pack. Those are also a dungeon crawler and tower defense game, but themed to Disney properties.

There's a total of four skins based on two different genres of gameplay. They will not be mixed in to the standard Power Disc packs. Initially, they will come out with the starter packs, and then, over time, our intention is to release them in packs of two. We'll have the two Marvel Toy Box games, and the two Disney Toy Box games, depending on which starter packs you came in. For example, if you came in through Marvel, you will be able to eventually purchase the Disney Toy Box games separately. And the reverse: if you came in through Disney, you will be able to purchase the Marvel Toy Box games separately.

Is the team looking at continuing these themed Toy Box games for the future as well?

Absolutely. Our plan is that we want to be developing more of these, and without getting into too much detail, we definitely have a plan for other exciting game genres that we want to represent for Toy Box games for all characters on the "Infinity" platform to play inside of.

Playsets were a big part of 1.0, but there don't seem to be any announced non-Marvel playsets so far for 2.0. Are Disney playsets coming down the line, or is the biggest focus for 2.0 more Marvel-oriented?

We believe that with 2.0, the big news and the big announce is that we've got the Marvel super heroes joining the platform, and we want to give them a chance to shine as those super heroes are introduced. Over time, "Infinity" is a platform that we'll be adding more content to. I think it's safe to say that over the course of 2.0, you'll see a lot of focus, coming especially from our Toy Box mentors that we hired, on creating content that's exciting for all the "Disney Infinity" characters available on the platform.

In terms of older figures, you mentioned in San Diego that all of them have upgraded functionality in Disney Infinity 2.0 -- but some of the 1.0 figures are pretty difficult to find, like Violet from "The Incredibles."

Yeah, she's one of the popular ones!

Very popular, and super difficult to find in the real world. With that in mind, are there plans to do a rerelease of the 1.0 figures that might be a little harder to find?

Yes. We're definitely taking a look at how we're refreshing all the 1.0 characters as we wave in all the new 2.0 character. The nice thing is that retailers are able to make requests to Disney about what particular characters they want to stock. We're happy to fulfill any of those orders. Characters that are a little more popular and a little harder to find, like Elsa -- given the popularity of "Frozen" -- if players just tell the store the characters they want, they can request it and we can fulfill those order right away.

So, the intent for a lot of these characters is to keep them available as long as there's a demand for them.

Absolutely! I think what's exciting is that as players create user-generated content inside the Toy Box, and as our Toy Box mentors create some of this episodic content, we're going to start seeing characters that may be waning in popularity reinvigorated by the creation of user-generated content.

The playsets from 1.0 will not be compatible with 2.0, correct?

That is correct, although we're providing value for all our players that have purchased the 1.0 playsets in that, if you place it down while playing in the Toy Box mode in 2.0, it will unlock all the virtual toys that otherwise would have been unlocked if you progressed through the entire story in the 1.0 playset. For example, if you put down "The Lone Ranger" playset piece, it will automatically unlock the dozen horses, the stagecoach, the train and all the virtual toys that you would have otherwise unlocked playing through the first version of the game. While it doesn't load into the playset per se, they do provide all the toys you would have earned by otherwise playing through it.

Since you've already done playsets for The Incredibles, Toy Story, Monsters University and Cars, will there be an opportunity for them to return to those worlds in a playset experience for 2.0?

It's off the table for now. You will not be able to return inside 2.0 to the 1.0 playsets. The reason why that is, is that we've done such significant improvements to the engine, whether it's from a graphical fidelity standpoint or from a user interface perspective that to go back and rehash these playsets to be compatible with the 2.0 engine was too daunting at the time considering we're integrating over 20 Marvel characters and over a dozen Disney characters. That's not to say that we won't get to the point where we sustain the platform and do, perhaps, HD remixes of those playsets for the current-gen consoles like PS4 and Xbox One. But more on that later.

You worked as Development Director on another incredibly popular Disney video game franchise, "Kingdom Hearts." Disney also has access to Star Wars and the Muppets. As "Disney Infinity" continues to expand, what's on the table for content?

I would say that anything that falls under the Disney umbrella is potential for "Disney Infinity." Whether that's content coming from Walt Disney Resorts, Disney Channel, Disney XD, ABC, ABC Family, ESPN, Marvel, Lucasfilm -- anything that's under the Disney umbrella, there's a potential opportunity for us to include in the "Disney Infinity" platform.

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