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 Disney Infinity 's creators find joy in making playful games
Disney Infinity's creators find joy in making playful games Exclusive
June 12, 2013 | By Kris Ligman

Warren Spector isn't the only one who has happily turned to Disney to get away from violent games.

John Blackburn, who began his career in the industry doing the SNES version of Mortal Kombat, found himself and the rest of his studio, Avalanche Avalanche, in the midst of a "crisis of identity" in the early 2000s.

"Like a lot of developers, I traveled violence first," says Blackburn. "But we're all parents now. We want to make games we can play with our kids."

Blackburn's Avalanche, now a fully-owned subsidiary of Disney, is hard at work along with Disney Interactive to bring to life Disney Infinity, its Skylanders-esque sandbox game which remixes various properties from the Disney and Pixar pantheon. To hear Blackburn say it, the game is about pushing boundaries with what Disney's brand direction has conventionally permitted.

"I can guarantee that Square Enix ran up against the same problems with Kingdom Hearts," said Blackburn. "Disney is averse to combining its properties." Without strict oversight, anyway.

Blackburn says that by leveling the playing field and working closely with the filmmakers associated with the franchises represented in Infinity, his team were able to strike a balance between maintaining brand identity and allowing free experimentation for players. In a gameplay demonstration, a Disney Interactive representative showed Gamasutra a couple of tools to turn Cinderella's coach into a monster truck, then attached (cartoonish, of course) machine gun turrets.

Blackburn says his team took the above model to Disney's brand management, who started chuckling nervously once the monster truck princess coach started doing flips. "See, you're laughing," Blackburn recalls telling Disney corporate. "They answered, 'Yeah, in horror.'"

According to Blackburn, what Infinity's toybox mode allows, in addition to a bit of absurdist humor, is a crossing of conventional gender lines. The various branded playsets have their isolated worlds but all import their assets into the centralized toybox mode, which allows players to mix and match at will. Boys can build princess castles and girls can design combat games.

"This is how kids play," Blackburn explains.

Blackburn appears content working on family games like Infinity after his tenure in more action-oriented, violent games. Certainly, he's not the first developer to find it a welcome change.

"I'd rather be a Pixar than a Miramax," says Blackburn. "Look for developers who share your values."

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Ramin Shokrizade
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Everyone I talked to here at E3 was very excited to see this product, even Disney's competitors. For me this seems to signal that the cold war between game developers and gamers may be coming to an end. I'm interested in seeing how they monetize it of course.

Michael G
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You mean the fact that developers can be excited about another company's games without biting anyone's head off or that a large company is actually capable of branching out from generic brown shooter mode?

Kris Graft
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Avalanche Software makes Disney Infinity; Avalanche Studios makes Just Cause.

Alex Covic
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... exactly. BIG difference, haha. Also Just Cause - not brown at all! Mad Max, on the other hand ... might be? But, hey.

I also could have read the headline like "Disney Infinity's creators find joy in making MONEY" - because, it's Disney. But one can find joy in both?

Michael G
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@Kris Graft: Yeah, noticed that. Studios is a very pro gamer developer though, Software, can't really see much evidence of that.

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They are not the same company.

John Flush
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I actually run into the same problem. With kids 9, 7 and 3 at home I have a very hard time to not only find games I want to play, but that I can also play in front of them - and heaven forbid if I can actually play it with them using local multiplayer instead of online only. This game definitely has been on my radar, albeit lightly because I'm worried about how they plan to make me pay for it as a parent over and over.... you could say I'm like Ramin because I want to see how they monetize it, but for the reason of actually buying it or not.

TC Weidner
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Big Fan of just good fun games for everyone, and kudos for the developers for following their hearts, just remember you dont need some giant conglomerate like Disney in order to do that however.