In a few months, Rapunzel, Jack Skellington and Captain America could be in the same video game; what a marvelous age for childhood fantasies.
This fall, the current Avengers roster from Marvel’s cinematic universe — Iron Man, Hulk, Black Widow, Thor, Hawkeye and the aforementioned Captain — joins "Disney Infinity: Marvel Super Heroes." The game is a sequel to last year’s open-world "Disney Infinity," which lets players control an already wide cast of Disney characters, including Elsa from "Frozen," Sully from "Monsters Inc." and Capt. Jack Sparrow from "Pirates of the Caribbean."
Avalanche Software, headquartered in Salt Lake City, developed the first game and is working on its sequel, due out this fall. While only the six established Avengers from the movies will be available at first, the developers anticipate releasing more than a dozen additional characters.
Though the Avengers roster matches the one from the 2012 movie, it’s clear that the game will include characters from well beyond the Marvel cinematic universe. Footage from the announcement of the game last week included characters who have not been used in the movies — such as the villainous MODOK — and two characters that Marvel Studios does not have the cinematic rights to: Spider-Man and Green Goblin. The web-head and his nemesis, on the big screen, are owned by Sony.
To make sure that the characters retained their voices and that their stories feel like authentic Marvel adventures, Avalanche brought on Brian Michael Bendis, an award-winning writer who has scripted Marvel comics for more than a decade. Bendis, whose name is familiar to most any reader of superheroic sequential art, was happy to join "because I watched my kids play [the game] and I saw how much they loved it."
It’s that eye toward the new generation that inspired the writer, and the developers, to try to make an engaging game.
"This game could do for this generation what comics did for us when we were kids," Bendis said at an announcement event last week. "Stan Lee, everybody, they painted a picture inside the pages of the books with the Bullpen Bulletins [editorial sections] that was really the first interactive experience — like we felt we were part of Marvel."
Similarly, it’s recreating analog childhood experiences in the digital plane that inspired John Blackburn, Avalanche vice president and general manager, to improve the game’s Toy Box mode — which lets players make their own levels.
After the first version of the game came out, Blackburn’s nephew Logan was eagerly showing off and explaining the city he had made for his characters in the game, and how the characters interact with it. Blackburn realized then that they had duplicated the experience from his childhood of playing with toys on the floor and coming up with worlds for them to inhabit. But unlike a child’s imaginations, Logan’s digital version was limited.
With this in mind, Avalanche added "builders" to the new game’s Toy Box mode. The builders will autonomously add items to the level you’re building, based on its theme, fleshing it out and making the world feel much more fully realized. Players can then edit or delete what the builders have inserted. The studio also added building interiors that players can customize with furniture.
The characters will be more robust as well. Players can customize their abilities and skills as they level up, giving a more unique feel to characters who the developers felt lacked distinction in the first game.
"The addition of the Marvel characters and stories has allowed us — in fact, it’s forced us — to think very differently about this game and the game play," Jimmy Pitaro, president of Disney Interactive, said at the announcement event. "For us, it wasn’t just about dropping Marvel’s superheroes into ‘Disney Infinity.’"
The starter pack for "Disney Infinity: Marvel Super Heroes" will come with three of the Avengers, as well as the new tower defense and dungeon crawler-type game play to use them in. The new levels will include at least Asgard and Manhattan, which is about four times larger than the previous game’s largest area — Metroville from "The Incredibles."
The game will be available for the PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 3, the Xbox One and Xbox 360, the WiiU and PC and iOS tablets and smart phones. The first version of "Disney Infinity" will be compatible with the new one, Blackburn assured at the announcement.
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