LOS ANGELES — It felt like a wrap party for a big-budget Hollywood flick at Disney’s El Capitan Theatre, complete with fancy food and big names like Pixar chief John Lasseter in attendance. But Disney’s Infinity announcement on Tuesday was a massive project in which Pixar, the Disney-owned digital animation studio that once belonged to Steve Jobs, played only one of the major roles.
As it was revealed, Infinity is an amazing, massive, cross-platform, multiplayer game system based on figurines from the Disney catalog of movies — right now most of them specifically from Pixar titles.
“It will be global, and it will live across all platforms: console, mobile and online,” Lasseter said on Tuesday.
All platforms? Unfortunately not. Perhaps Disney has forgotten that Steve helped build Pixar into the powerhouse it is today; because while a Windows version will be present along with versions for all the major console systems at Ininity’s June launch, there won’t be a Mac version — at least, not at first.
Infinity will come to iOS, however, although everyone was very tight-lipped about any information relating Infinity on iOS or Android, waiting instead for a mobile-specific Infinity conference in about a month. More about that later; first, a look at Infinity itself.
Each $75 Infinity starter pack comes with a “reader,” — a pad three figurines (to begin with, this will be one from each of the three featured worlds — The Incredibles, Pirates and Monsters Inc.) and a variety of character buffs, Play Set Pieces and accessory pieces, the latter three in the shape of disks. The way the figurines work is very similar to the way figurines are used in the Skylanders games; plop one down in one of the round recesses on the reader, and the system recognizes the character and Scully or Jack digitally into the game, along with all saved information, which is also stored on the figurine. Up to two buffs disks can be placed under each character, enhancing strength or increasing the amount of coins collected from successfully completing tasks or defeating enemies. There are also accessory toys like jetpacks that can be added to the character via a disk.
A hexagonal Play Set Piece disk can also be placed on the pad, allowing for beautiful background customization based on the worlds represented in the starter kit; for instance, you could choose to play in the Monsters Inc Skydome, or against the backdrop of the Caribbean — even if you’re not playing strictly within those worlds.
On the software side, there are two basic game modes. The first is a campaign mode, where everything stays true to the world in which you’re playing. You won’t see Mr. Incredible popping up on Jack’s ship here, for instance.
But the most eye-popping aspect of Infinity is its Toy Box mode — a crazy, anything-goes, sandbox that lets all your characters, set pieces, buffs and accessories mix together, in one big joyous mashup. Disney says it tried to make this half of Infinity like an actual toy box, playing with all your toys in the box all at once. And it’s multiplayer, so you can play with up to three of your friends online, or one friend in split-screen mode (on the console version, anyway).
For instance, I watched a surreal four-way soccer game between Jack Sparrow and Hector Barbossa from Pirates of the Caribbean, and Violet and Mr. Incredible from The Incredibles, on a soccer field replete with pinball bumpers and giant pendulous mallets. One of the characters was riding Abu the elephant from Aladdin. At some point, one of the players tried to set down a mountain in the middle of the field, which barely fazed the Avalanche player explaining the game to us.
There’s a stunning degree of flexibility and use of imagination built into Toy Box mode. To demonstrate this, we were shown what Avalanche employees had already made while playing around in Toy Box mode. One had apparently built the Enterprise; another had created a spaceship in the shape of a guitar; yet another had crafted one of the tracks from Mario Kart using a Play Set that looked like it came from Disneyland’s Fantasyland.
Disney has covered every base beautifully. There’s a lengthy tutorial system that’ll walk you through all the different physics systems in the game. That’s a good thing, as there seems to be an almost overwhelming variety of skills to master, like swordplay, flying, driving/drifting, sailing a ship and firing cannons and toilet-paper guns. Customization is also ridiculously detailed; for instance, Frat Row at Monster University can be customized with a variety of colored facades.
Expect to see much of Disney’s vast catalog of characters and worlds represented. “There will be additional Play Sets at launch — yes, I said Play Sets, plural…over 20 characters and toys at launch,” Lasseter said. Obviously, more Pixar worlds like Cars and Toy Story are a lock. But there were also a few hints that The Nightmare Before Christmas will eventually make an appearance, perhaps even at launch; and I saw at least one reference to Tron.
So what about iOS and OS X? I chatted with Bill Roper, a Disney VP and general manager of product development, and he made it very clear that iOS is a big part of Infinity. “It’s really important we’ve got that mobile experience on day one.”
OS X is different story. Roper was very vague about Infinity coming to the Mac. On the other hand, Roper was a VP at Blizzard, an extremely Mac-friendly game outfit; perhaps the most Mac-friendly. Hopefully that’s a good augur of things to come.