An Interview with Disney’s Real Marvel Super Heroes

Earlier this week, the landscape of “Disney Infinity” changed forever. Thanks to the addition of Marvel Entertainment to the Disney family, the folks at Disney Interactive were able to include a number of iconic heroes in the latest version of their popular game. From super-powered heroes like The Incredible Hulk and Thor to fellow Avengers Iron Man and Black Widow, there’s a hero for everyone. Following Disney Interactive’s epic reveal of the expanded “Disney Infinity 2.0: Marvel Super Heroes,” we sat down with the game’s Executive Producer John Vignocchi and Marvel’s Vice President of Production for Games, TQ Jefferson, for a quick Q&A.

Xbox Wire: Obviously the Xbox One rollout is something we’re super-excited about. How is “Disney Infinity 2.0” going to be changed for the new console generation?

John Vignocchi: I’d say, specifically related to Xbox One, the graphical prowess of that system is incredible. So, we’re looking at what we can do to make sure the game looks incredible on [the Xbox One]. From a features perspective, I’d say the thing we’re most excited about is that players are going to be able to create Toy Boxes now that are much, much larger than they were before.

Xbox Wire: We saw some glimpses of characters in the teaser video you showed that aren’t going to be immediately available for “Disney Infinity 2.0” gamers to purchase. We saw Loki, we saw MODOK, we saw Spider-Man. What can you tell us about who else is coming down the pike?

TQ Jefferson: Well, I think what we can say to Xbox fans out there is that the Avengers are just the tip of the spear for the Marvel characters that are going to be part of “Disney Infinity 2.0.” You saw characters from many different parts of the Marvel universe [in the teaser video], and we’ve got a very broad selection of characters that we’re going to talk more about in the very near future. But what you’re going to see are some characters that you’re very familiar with, like the Avengers here, or, you know, a certain, friendly, neighborhood web-slinger of ours, and you’re going to see characters that may not be as well-known — but they are selected because of the process that was involved at Marvel. Guys like myself and Marvel’s Joe Quesada and [Brian] Michael Bendis and many of the creative people focused a lot on what characters were going to offer the strongest story, what characters were going to bring narrative to the table, but also what characters were going to give the strongest gameplay.

It’s a conversation we had with our counterparts at [“Disney Infinity 2.0” developer] Avalanche Software, and we arrived at a roster that is going to give people a lot of familiar flavor, but that’s also going to push Marvel and allow people to sample characters that they’re not as familiar with. So, it’s really a great opportunity to learn about new characters through gameplay, which I think is a very interesting evolution of our IP — whereas, it used to be that the only way people learned about our characters was from comic books. Then it was the cartoons. Then it was the films. Now, it’s an era where you’ll have Marvel fans that know a character just because they played him in this game, that game, or the other game. And that’s a great opportunity for us to roll out characters that are not just going to be compelling, but are going to become the Marvel superstars of tomorrow.

The team [at Avalanche] has done a really great job of realizing these characters within this context; they’ve had to evolve the engine, they’ve had to push the engine in different directions that would allow Marvel characters to feel authentic in a video game like this: destruction and flight, and all these things that needed to be added or tweaked into “Disney Infinity” – hovering, and so forth. And all of these are advances of the engine that have now been put into the game to accommodate the myriad skills of all the Marvel characters you can play. It’s no easy feat, but they’ve done it, and the characters feel powerful, they look good onscreen, and they are utterly believable in this context.

Xbox Wire: John, you also mentioned during your presentation that you’d hired one of the most active members of the “Disney Infinity” community to come make free, downloadable levels for “Disney Infinity 2.0.” Tell us about that.

John: Yeah, we’re doing a lot to evolve how we handle user-generated content in “Disney Infinity 2.0.” We were taken aback, I would say, by how the community responded to the Toy Box feature, and being able to upload and download Toy Boxes. In response to that, we created a weekly web series that we call Toy Box TV, where we highlight the best creations of the community. For players on Xbox 360 and Xbox One, they can look forward to brand-new Toy Boxes that are created by the community, using all the new tools that we’ve integrated into “Disney Infinity 2.0.” Additionally, we’ve modified our user interface in such a way that players can now filter and sort for exactly what type of Toy Box they’re interested in.

So, if you’re interested in a Toy Box that’s great for tank characters like the Incredible Hulk, you can do that. If you’re interested in one that’s all about racing, you can do that as well. We’re also going to be focusing even more on highlighting our Toy Box artists, inside of the game and on our website. We just hired community member “CrazybyNick” to a full-time position on the team. He’s moving his entire family to Salt Lake City, to begin working on “Disney Infinity 2.0,” and I think that speaks very much to our commitment to our community.

Xbox Wire: That’s kind of the ultimate gamer’s dream, right? You’re doing what you love, being awesome at a game, and the studio actually notices you and hires you. What made you choose to hire this guy in particular?

John: Each week, we average between 5,000 and 7,000 Toy Box submissions from the community, based on themes that we challenge the community with. [Disney Interactive President] Jimmy [Pitaro] mentioned the Toy Story challenge and the Frozen challenge during our presentation, for example. So, we run these weekly themes, and what we began to notice was that there was a group of about 20 or so Toy Box artists that were consistently creating some of the most incredible Toy Boxes we’d ever seen. They were doing things with our tool that we didn’t even imagine players would do. And so, as we began seeing those Toy Boxes come up, we began to take notice.

Eventually, as we started talking about making sure that we had a robust amount of “Disney Infinity 2.0” content for players to interact with at launch, we began thinking that we should reach out to our best Toy Box artists to create that content. And then we just began thinking, “you know, we should probably just bring some people onto the team.” We opened up five head counts on our team to relocate them to our Salt Lake City office, to begin working on Toy Boxes that will be available to download for free for Xbox 360 and Xbox One users, right out of the gate, for “Disney Infinity 2.0.”

Xbox Wire: Now, Xbox is more than just a gaming system, it’s a full-on entertainment platform, so we have to ask: Do you have any plans for a “Disney Infinity” crossover TV show?

John: [laughs] That would be awesome. I would say that what’s fantastic is that Marvel has an amazing presence in all forms of media, whether it’s cartoons or feature films or even what they’re doing with their Netflix series, or now with the “Disney Infinity” platform. We’re super-excited to see players enjoy the content that we’re providing, and then head over to the other media outlets that Marvel is a part of, and enjoy other content coming from their company.

Xbox Wire: Thanks guys, really appreciate your time, and we are definitely excited to get our hands on a “Disney Infinity 2.0” starter pack later this year!