‘In­fin­ity’ cre­ators have faith in ‘Force Awak­ens’

The China Post - - ARTS - BY DER­RIK J. LANG

It prob­a­bly would have been eas­ier to break into the Death Star.

For the video game mak­ers work­ing on “Star Wars: The Force Awak­ens” con­tent in the forth­com­ing in­stall­ment of the “Dis­ney In­fin­ity” toys-to-life fran­chise, get­ting their hands on the top-se­cret script in­volved high-se­cu­rity pro­to­cols ri­val­ing the Galac­tic Em­pire.

“We had to go through bio­met­ric scan­ning, and there were co­de­names for ev­ery­thing,” said John Vig­noc­chi, vice pres­i­dent of pro­duc­tion at Dis­ney In­ter­ac­tive Stu­dios and em­peror of the “In­fin­ity” fran­chise. “It was with­out a doubt the most com­pli­cated thing we’ve ever worked on in the five years I’ve been here.”

That’s prob­a­bly not hy­per­bole con­sid­er­ing the am­bi­tious “In­fin­ity” has fea­tured a wide va­ri­ety of char­ac­ters from across Dis­ney’s al­liance of in­tel­lec­tual prop­er­ties. Ev­ery­one from Iron Man of Marvel’s “The Avengers” to Elsa of Dis­ney An­i­ma­tion’s “Frozen” has ap­peared as playable char­ac­ters that can un­char­ac­ter­is­ti­cally play to­gether.

Sim­i­lar to Ac­tivi­sion’s “Sky­lan­ders” se­ries, “In­fin­ity” re­quires users to place a phys­i­cal toy fig­ure on a reader to vir­tu­ally por­tray that char­ac­ter on screen, ei­ther in fran­chise-spe­cific “play­sets” or in the open-ended “toy box” mode, which al­lows users to de­sign their own lev­els with an ar­ray of Dis­ney char­ac­ters, ve­hi­cles and props.

The brand-bust­ing in­tro­duc­tion of “In­fin­ity” in 2013 helped push Dis­ney’s in­ter­ac­tive di­vi­sion to be­come prof­itable for the first time in six years, though Dis­ney re­ported in its Aug. 4 earn­ings call that “In­fin­ity” sales have re­cently slipped. They are ex­pected to strike back Aug. 30 when a “Star Wars”-cen­tric third in­stall­ment is un­leashed. “Dis­ney In­fin­ity 3.0” will fea­ture col­lec­tion of char­ac­ters from

a across Ge­orge Lu­cas’ sprawl­ing sci-fi uni­verse, such as Luke Sky­walker and Darth Vader from the orig­i­nal tril­ogy, Yoda and Anakin Sky­walker from the pre­quels and “Clone Wars” an­i­mated se­ries, as well as all-new re­cruits from film­maker J.J. Abrams’ “The Force Awak­ens.”

Dur­ing a pre­sen­ta­tion at the fan­filled D23 Expo on Sun­day, ac­tors John Boyega and Daisy Ri­d­ley un­veiled the fig­ures of their “Force Awak­ens” pro­tag­o­nists, soldier Finn and scavenger Rey. The pair will be fea­tured in a play­set that will serve as the only way for fans to in­ter­ac­tively ex­pe­ri­ence the plot from the hugely an­tic­i­pated new film.

“It’s been a lot of work,” said Vig­noc­chi ear­lier this week dur­ing a break from the Toy Box Sum­mit, an an­nual gath­er­ing of top “In­fin­ity” play­ers. “It’s an honor but also a huge re­spon­si­bil­ity be­cause we’re the only game in town with ‘Episode VII’ con­tent on con­soles. We have to de­liver a video game ex­pe­ri­ence that’s just as great as the film.”

When “In­fin­ity” launched in 2013, Dis­ney dubbed it a plat­form — not just a game — and promised it would be a new way to give con­sumers in­ter­ac­tive con­tent based on films and TV shows, in­stead of typ­i­cal stand-alone ti­tles. That’s never been more ap­par­ent than in the com­pany’s de­ci­sion not to re­lease a sep­a­rate “Force Awak­ens” game.

‘You need to see the film first’

John Black­burn, gen­eral man­ager at lead “In­fin­ity” devel­oper Avalanche Soft­ware, said cre­at­ing “Episode VII” con­tent for “In­fin­ity” proved chal­leng­ing since the team se­cretly work­ing on it had to be kept small and test­ing the game be­fore “Force Awak­ens” footage was re­leased meant em­ploy­ing co­de­names for char­ac­ters and lo­ca­tions.

“We don’t want to show too much be­cause you need to first see the film,” said Black­burn. “The first time you see these char­ac­ters should not be in our game. That’s just a base­line belief be­cause we’re tak­ing it and putting it through a dif­fer­ent lens. The pal­ette we had to choose from was ba­si­cally of things that peo­ple had al­ready seen.”

It’s un­charted ter­ri­tory for “In­fin­ity.” Un­like most well-known Dis­ney, Marvel and Lu­cas­film char­ac­ters, these “Force Awak­ens” new­bies aren’t ar­riv­ing with fan clubs or back­sto­ries. Heck, Finn and Rey’s last names are still a mys­tery. ( Black­burn, how­ever, knows them. De­spite the clan­des­tine­ness, he read the film script over a year ago.)

“There is an aware­ness chal­lenge be­cause peo­ple aren’t as fa­mil­iar with these char­ac­ters, but there are other char­ac­ters from the ‘Star Wars’ uni­verse that are in the film and other play­sets,” said Matt Fill­brandt, ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer of fran­chise man­age­ment at Lu­cas­film. “There’s con­nec­tive tis­sue that I think will pique fans’ in­ter­est.”

Re­gard­less of the rise of “Star Wars” in “In­fin­ity,” it won’t to­tally choke the toy-game se­ries.

Dis­ney In­ter­ac­tive an­nounced at D23 that cave­boy Spot from Pixar’s “The Good Di­nosaur,” as well as rab­bit po­lice of­fi­cer Judy Hopps and pop­si­cle-wield­ing fox Nick Wilde from Dis­ney An­i­ma­tion’s “Zootopia” are also com­ing to “In­fin­ity,” while the Marvel su­per­heroes will re­ceive a rock-’em-sock-’em four­player mul­ti­player ex­pan­sion called “Bat­tle­grounds.”

“We have a plan for what’s next, and it’s not pred­i­cated on a huge fran­chise re­lease,” said Black­burn. “Op­por­tunis­ti­cally, are we go­ing to use those things? Yeah, def­i­nitely, but we’re hard at work on the next con­tent. When you look at it as a whole, we’ve launched ev­ery­thing, and now it’s like we’re go­ing into sus­tain­ment mode.”

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