SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Disney’s biggest, most ambitious, most eagerly-awaited video game ever is in the hands of a Salt Lake City gaming studio. So you can just imagine the pressure the head of Avalanche Software is under.
“It has been intense,” said John Blackburn, general manager and co-founder of Avalanche, which is owned by Disney Interactive. “The reality is we’ve been working on the game for a long time.”
The game is called “Disney Infinity,” and for good reason. It’s an open-world, 3-D game of unlimited possibilities in which the player can control one of a myriad of Disney characters, including Capt. Jack Sparrow from “Pirates of the Caribbean,” Sully from “Monsters University” or Mr. Incredible from “The Incredibles.” “Infinity” also could refer to the infinite amount of money parents may need to spend to keep up with all of the game’s content.
That’s because “Infinity” doesn’t stop at just a video game. It also involves buying plastic figurines of Disney characters as well as plastic matchbook-sized “power discs,” each with embedded radio-frequency chips that unlock new digital game material when placed on a platform connected to the gaming console. The game was scheduled for release Aug. 18 for the PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Nintendo Wii and Wii U. The “Starter Pack” for the game will be $74.99. Each figurine will be $13.99, and a pack of two power discs will sell for $5.99.
The name “Infinity” also fits the game’s scope because it uses the power of Disney’s strongest asset — it’s licenses. It ultimately will involve all of Disney’s properties, from “The Nightmare Before Christmas” and all of its Pixar computer-animated movies, to its live-action movies, including “The Lone Ranger” and “Tron.”
And it’s the first game in Disney’s history that allows players to mix and match characters and settings from the different franchises. So Capt. Jack Sparrow, for example, could travel with Lightning McQueen from “Cars” in a world from “The Incredibles.” It even includes buildings, cars and other objects from Disney’s theme parks, such as Cinderella’s castle in Disneyland or the elephant-shaped carriage from Dumbo’s kid ride.
For older fans, unfortunately, the game’s first iteration does not use its most recently-acquired and arguably most powerful franchises from the Muppets, Marvel comics and “Star Wars” universes.
But this game, which the creators call more of a “platform” for Disney to continue working on, should provide continuous work for Avalanche’s team of artists and programmers for the game’s intended life cycle of five years.
“It’s intended to be a platform for all things Disney, past, present and future,” the game’s executive producer, John Vignocchi, told The Salt Lake Tribune. “Essentially, you’re getting many different games in one with ‘Infinity.'”
Similar to another popular family video game called “Skylanders,” with “Infinity,” you connect an electronic plastic platform to the gaming console (the platform comes with the “Starter Pack”). If you place a figurine on one of three slots in the platform, you can play as that character. The thin power discs also can be placed on the platform to unlock new objects or art themes in the game. The discs, which will be sold as packs, are meant to be collectible items like trading cards.
In single-player mode, the gamer can freely walk around in the world and unlock new objects as well as complete story-based missions. There’s also a four-player mode in which friends can explore the world together. But the game’s most ambitious section is a “Toy Box” mode in which players can create their own worlds to play in and even create their own games that can be shared with friends. There are thousands of objects that can be unlocked and used in the “Toy Box” mode.
“You go play and you go create these things, and Disney gives you the tools,” Vignocchi said.
The “Starter Pack” will include three playsets, or sets of characters, from “Pirates of the Caribbean,” ”Monsters University” and “The Incredibles.” Gamers will then be able to buy more figurines from three more playsets: “Cars,” ”The Lone Ranger” and “Toy Story.” In all, there are more than 25 figurines and 60 power discs. Other figurines sold separately will come from Disney movies such as “Tangled,” ”The Nightmare Before Christmas” and “Wreck-It-Ralph.”
Perhaps Avalanche’s biggest challenge in making the game, which took three years and involved about 300 programmers and artists, was working with and getting the approval from so many Disney artists and filmmakers. After all, these creators didn’t want their characters doing things they shouldn’t or couldn’t be doing.
The game’s developers had to seek approval from such people as movie producer Jerry Bruckheimer (“Pirates of the Caribbean,” ”Lone Ranger”), Pixar director and Disney’s creative head, John Lasseter, even star Johnny Depp.
“It was just insane,” said Avalanche’s art director, Jeff Bunker. “Everyone had something they cared about. It was both awesome and challenging.”
“Infinity” is the eighth game that Avalanche has made for Disney since the studio purchased the game developer in 2005. Before then, Avalanche was making not-so-family-friendly games such as a version of “Mortal Kombat” and a football game for the Sega Genesis and a clone of “Grand Theft Auto” called “25 to Life.”
Since Disney purchased the company, Avalanche has been producing games based on the studio’s movies, including “Chicken Little,” ”Cars” and “Toy Story.” “Infinity” takes all of what they know about producing family games and mashes them together into one massive sandbox to play in.
Said Blackburn: “We want to create a game good enough that you want to play with your child, that you can create those memories with.”