A week or so ago I was fortunate to get a preview of Disney Infinite during Associate Producer, John Day’s visit to Australia. John was a very engaging guy, better yet he is a GeekDad. He shared stories of taking his eldest boy into work on Saturdays, who despite being slightly younger than the demographic happily played play-tester for the crew. And, when he does get time out from working on Disney Infinity you will find him tinkering with arduinos and exploring the usual maker/engineering stuff.
I’m telling you about John because I think communities like Geekdad want to know a bit about the people who are behind the pop culture and games and tech that we engage with. But, also I’m probably sharing this with you to offset the small indies in us who struggle at times when one of the world’s biggest entertainment companies wanders into spaces that we have been inhabiting for some time. What am I talking about? Well, you will understand shortly.
First, Disney Infinity bears very little resemblance to Skylanders. Yes, they both have figurines which sit on a device that communicates with your console. But, that is where the similarities end. The constant comparing of Infinity to Skyanders has meant that until now I wasn’t really engaged with the whole concept Disney are putting together, needless to say the Disney Infinity offering will make Skylanders look old very quickly. You see, the technology of getting the character to appear on the screen when you place it on a device is a just a magic trick. That is not really that interesting once you’ve seen it.
Disney Infinity has breadth! It is a breadth that only a company like Disney with the resources, the amazing back catalogue of content and characters (and recent purchases Lucas Films, anyone?) and the ability to put that into a vision could possibly achieve.
So, what is Disney Infinity?
- One part sandbox first person explorer game that is driven by missions and the desire to unlock new items and gather coins. (Except there is one of these games for each character set. For example:
- One part Garry’s Mod, the sandbox Physics game that offers a breadth of creative possibility (With some limitations of course, but also with a host of characters and potential mash-ups if you consider a future scenario where you design a race track upon which you race Lightening McQueen, Herbie the Love Bug and a Troncycle).
- One part play-based learning approach (not dissimilar to Lego) where you can exercise your creativity through design (aesthetic or play environments), programming (a whole host of basic logic programming space) or in collaboration with others (up to four players can play at once through a two-player split screen that can also connect to two others over wifi)
This all inter-relates in fascinating way offering countless hours in environments that many children and GeekDads are familiar with.
I know what you are saying. Yes, we have Minecraft and yes we have Garry’s Mod and yes we have LEGO Mindstorms. But, those of us who make these types of spaces our lives need to recognise that what Disney is doing is bringing these concepts that we love, and sharing the learning potential of them to a mass market in only the way that Disney can. Their characters and movies can bring everyday mums and dads into a space where they don’t have to think about installing mods or understand how to troubleshoot a simple programming environment, Disney Infinity offers a framework of movies and characters that means delightfully geeky kids who might not otherwise engage in spaces like this get the chance to. And, parents who don’t think they’d like to play video games with their kids find a way to engage through a space like the one being created in Disney Infinity.
What I love most is that Disney Infinity has embraced the idea of learning through play. This seems to be at the core of the design and development. All of the characters have been designed to be like toys, the open play and design space is referred to as the Toy Box and the games themselves aim to encourage and build on the idea of playfulness. This will help evolve our idea of a 21st Century Toy Box, where the stories and characters children engage with jump off the screen in the figurines and the environments both online and offline allow children to tell their own stories and begin to shape their own adventures.
The commitment to play came through when after an intensive demo, I asked John Day a question he may not have had much during his trip. I asked him why he stuck around on this project for many years, what excited him about it, what did he connect to. And, he went straight to the heart of what it is to be a GeekDad. John said this was a game that he could sit down and play with his children. This was a game where his children could both have fun and learn simultaneously.
I remember being so excited when my son built a house from cardboard for his first Skylander figure. I saw a potential for transmedia storytelling that was beyond the standard Hollywood approach of film, cartoon spin-off, figurines and lollies. Disney has managed to come up with transmedia that will clearly work on both counts, it will both drive revenue, but it does not sacrifice the chance for players of Disney Infinity to create their own stories and games. A community will evolve around this. There will be countless YouTube videos and sites about how to create new and fascinating things. I hope it will resonate with a traditional Disney audience because it shouldn’t just be the GeekDads and their kids who get all the fun. We need to celebrate when the capacity to create and play and design and laugh between parents and children is fostered and created.
Hats off Disney, I’m looking forward to watching where this one goes.