Disney Infinity's creators find joy in making playful games
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."