Just a year ago, we were anticipating the second edition of Disney Infinity, due to add Marvel Comics’ cast of heroes to the virtual (and real) toy box. Today, we’re seeing the final two Disney Infinity Marvel Heroes 2.0 Edition characters released, rounding out a hefty collection with star of animation and live action (and current comic book Captain America) The Falcon and the villain teased months ago, Loki.
To celebrate the occasion, it was clearly time to speak with John Vignocchi, the VP of Production for the game, and get his insight. We looked back at the victories of 2.0, the surprises and challenges of adding in another disparate property to an already successful formula, what it took to make these final two figures, and got tiny and subtle hints about what’s to come in 3.0 Edition which has previously been teased as containing Star Wars characters (JV told me last year that “2015 isn’t so far, far away now” when asked about it late last year), coming later this year.
So John, Disney Infinity 2.0 Edition…
John Vignocchi: They got you on the phone to talk to me about these last two characters, Loki and Falcon, huh?
Yes indeed. So I got these in the mail a couple days ago, and holy cow, that Falcon mold is just so awesome!
JV: I’m so glad you have said that. I wonder how much people know how much TLC went into making that. To me, it’s one of my favorite figures from a design standpoint. There was so much time spent on making those wings.
Yeah, they are awesome. I really think this is the best figure you guys have put out yet.
JV: Thanks man, I’ll tell the team!
The translucency of the wings, and the pose, where he looks like he’s just about to take off… it has such a feeling of action to it for a non-poseable statue type figure.
JV: Yeah, it’s crazy. I don’t think people realize the type of considerations the team has to go through to create something like that. If you close your eyes and you think of Falcon, and the comic books, and when he appeared in Winter Soldier, you imagine this guy with big wings, spread out. You imagine him flying. But when you start thinking about “what is the pose going to be” and you start thinking about the dimensions of the box you have to play with, these are the things! I don’t think people know! As we were working on it, then, too, obviously this is the Falcon from the animated series, Avengers Assemble. So we looked at that design and thought “how do we do this for Infinity?”
So those wings, the translucent pieces, that’s the first time we’ve ever done something with translucent or transparent pieces. So that was quite a bit of additional R&D to make sure we could make something that would look good on that character and fit within the Infinity style. So I’m glad to hear you appreciated it, because it was a lot of work for the great art team at Avalanche.
So this being the last couple of figures for 2.0, for Marvel, is that why you put a little more into it? So you had an idea of what you could pull off in future editions?
JV: (laughs) That’s an interesting way to ask that question. The answer, unfortunately, is no, this wasn’t directly planning for the future. We try put 110% into every character we design. There’s a whole bunch of backstory too about Loki that we’ll talk about.
But I think if you look at the entire Marvel line in Infinity 2.0, you’ll see that they all got a lot of love from a pose and overall quality perspective. Even Venom – did you hear the story about Bendis? They’re changing the design of Venom in the comic books to match Infinity! We heard about that from IGN and our jaws totally dropped. That we can provide Marvel with a brand deposit with some of the explorations with some of our characters is awesome.
Obviously you’re pulling from the animated series, but was it more his Winter Soldier appearance that made you decide to pull Falcon into the roster? A happy combination of the two?
JV: Yeah, it was a happy combination of the two. We had approached Marvel with a list of characters, when we had a little bit of extra production bandwidth, that we thought would be great from a design and gameplay perspective. Then we asked for their recommendation for characters they thought would be fun and popular and that Marvel fans would want to see. Obviously, with Falcon appearing in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, he was top of mind when we were having the discussion, but also because he is on Avengers Assemble, which Infinity’s Avengers is based off of, it was natural that he could come in.
So he’s now popular in the MCU, and also popular on the animated series. That is also what led to the discussion of us having the costume change disc for Falcon. That changes him into his Winter Soldier costume and look. So animated series fans can enjoy the figure molded after that look and playing in game with him in that style, but the power disc will change him into the Winter Soldier costume for those fans.
Loki is a little easier to figure out why you made him: he’s probably the most popular comic book supervillain of the last ten years!
JV: (laughs) Yeah, good point!
Why save him for the end of the production cycle here, then?
JV: It’s kind of the same story as with Falcon at first – we had the extra bandwidth and approached Marvel about doing him.
The key thing, if you’ll recall 1.0, we had villains like Davy Jones and Randal and Syndrome, and fans really enjoyed that. So when we were talking about these characters, we figured that based on the popularity of villains in the first version, it was natural to have villains as part of the Marvel line as well, and Marvel agreed. Certainly, Loki, as a character in Avengers and Thor, he’s risen in popularity considerably. I think the way you just put it is perfect and I’ll probably steal that for my answer the next time someone asks me, “why Loki?”
But also his gameplay is a lot of fun. So in terms of when he’s being released, there’s no magic there. We wanted to do the villains and we thought it would be great, but this was the earliest time we could get him out. But in terms of gameplay, he’s just a really fun character. He’s also the first character that (developer) Ninja Theory did for Infinity.
So we signed Ninja Theory to start working on Infinity a year ago February. They have chops working not just on level design and combat mechanics, but on character rigging and animation. They were working closely with Avalanche on the tools and pipelines and processes they work on for characters, and we gave them Loki as the first character for them to work on.
If you’ll notice, they spent a lot of time on it – look at his combat moves, look at his cape animations; there’s a lot of TLC that Ninja Theory put into Loki. It’s not only because they’re a fan of Loki, but also to prove to Avalanche that they can make characters!
With the figures themselves, and I’m literally looking at my giant Disney Infinity shelf right now – you have a lot of characters in very iconic, but relatively static poses. Some of them, like Drax, Hawkeye are in very ready poses – but both of these last two in particular, Loki and Falcon, you can see the action, you can see their next step. Was that a goal, or again a kind of happy accident?
JV: Yeah, you know, it’s interesting that you identify that. So, the entire line was developed in conjunction with Marvel’s feedback, specifically Dan Buckley (President of publishing, tv, film) and Joe Quesada (chief creative officer). They had seen the original Infinity figures, and as we began working with them, they instructed us on heroic poses for their figures and ideas of where we should go with it based on what they’d worked on in the past, in promos and the covers of comic books and what have you. In terms of what we’ve worked on closely with Marvel over the course of this game, we’re continuing to understand and improve and affect what their line of figures should be when it comes to those poses.
What you’re seeing there, though you might not have put a word to it, is the sense of anticipation. That’s what we were trying to capture with the look of those characters, and with the look across the line of Infinity. It’s always interesting – the Disney side of it speaks to the personality of the character. The Marvel side speaks to the heroic nature and this sense of anticipation – if that character was alive in real life, the next thing Falcon would do is fly off the ground. That’s the thing we want, when people look at it, is to feel that emotion. You’re picking up on that, and it takes a detailed eye to see that, and I’m glad that you do!
I’m glad my powers of observation are not failing me! (laughs)
JV: (laughs) To give you more context with Loki, too, his pose was chosen in conjunction with the giant Frost Beast display we have as part of the Sony exclusive…
Right, where you revealed his prototype really early on Instagram!
JV: Yeah, that was… another genius John Vignocchi moment. Thanks a lot for reminding me of that! (laughs) That’s why I always have a handler with me now.
Disney PR: He’s got two of them on this call! (laughs)
JV: Yeah, I’ve got two of them right now. Oh man. I’m very well guarded.
Yeah, when we were doing training, it was “John, we know you’re passionate, but think about what you’re saying!”
But yeah, with Loki, it was the Frost Beast display, that was part of what influenced his pose. The other thing that was interesting, like Falcon and his wings, with Loki’s horns, having him do a more traditional pose, his Chitauri scepter and his horns would actually break through the packaging! So part of his design for his pose was influenced by that, alongside his character. We have all these elements to remain true to his character, but how do we also get him into a pose that fits within the dimensions of the box?!
Some of the pose explorations we did with Loki made us realize they wouldn’t fit inside the box.
Yeah, that’s something that I doubt a lot of fans are thinking about, how characters would fit in the box dimensions.
JV: Right? And believe me, we’re a bunch of video game dorks. We’re learning about how to make high quality figures as time goes on, so we’re learning these lessons too.
You did manage to fit both of these characters into the Avengers playset, as well – how important was it to put them in there rather than just having them as Toy Box characters?
JV: We heard loud and clear from Infinity 1.0 fans that they wanted characters that not only played inside the Toy Box, but fit into playsets as well. It was important for us. As you recall, last year, even villains like Randall and Syndrome, they played in their playsets. So we wanted people to have the experience of enjoying that Avengers story and flying around Manhattan as Falcon. And of course, playing the hero story as Loki, fighting against Loki! Ultimately, the conceit is that they’re all toy versions of themselves, so you’re not breaking any fiction there, right?
But it’s fun to play as Loki, with his mechanics, fighting against Loki and the Frost Giants.
So now that you’ve had this experience of bringing in the Marvel Heroes, you’ve seen the feedback and the way they’re playing with these characters, or even playing with them alongside Disney characters… what would you say you’ve learned that you can take going forward as you bring new things… I’m trying to dance around other hints you’ve given me, John. (laughs) But as you continue to bring in new experiences and characters and things into Disney Infinity, what have you learned here?
JV: Heh, I know. Well, what we’ve noticed, and what we’ve heard from our fans, is that the ability to bring the Disney and Marvel characters together in the Toy box is a total blast, and something they absolutely love. It goes back to the original promise that the Toy Box is your parents’ living room floor, and you can play with things however you want to. It’s been a total blast to see the things that people have been creating. We highlight them all the time on Toy Box TV (Disney Infinity’s Youtube show), and it’s staggering. This is one of the things – not only the Toy Box mode, but the brands, the IP that we have inside of Disney Infinity, that makes it so much different from any other product on the Toys to Life market.
The thing is that, as long as the Walt Disney Company and all of our divisions are continuing to make great content, we’ll continue to put it inside Infinity. So there, I managed to dance around your question in regards to 3.0! (laughs)
From a design standpoint, what about the process has become easier, what have you learned about making the disparate properties work together, sharing design elements?
JV: Ultimately what we’ve learned is that if you make the creator or controller of that IP happy, chances are, fans of that IP will be happy. That’s always been our number one rule. We have to make Johnny Depp love his character, and chance are, if he does, people will love Jack Sparrow in our game. We have to make sure Joe Quesada loves the look of Captain America, and we know that if we do that, the loyal fans of Captain America will be happy. So that’s what we’ve learned form a design standpoint, that the most important thing is making the person who plays the role, or the creator, or the people working on them now happy. If we make them happy, the chances are the fans will be happy, and that’s the most important thing for the Infinity line.
Very cool, man. If you had to tease 3.0 in one sound effect, what would it be?
JV: Uhhh… uhhhh… (Vignocchi silently drops his jaw open) So my jaw just dropped, and whatever sound that makes, that’s hopefully what fans will be doing when we make an announcement.
With that, Disney PR laughingly yelled at me for asking such an entrapping question, we all laughed, and that was that.