Interview with Disney Infinity: Marvel Super Heroes’ executive producer John Vignocchi

Disney Infinity Marvel Heroes

Disney Infinity 2.0: Marvel Super Heroes is now available, and we had the chance to chat with executive producer John Vignocchi about the action-adventure sandbox video game. We discuss inspiration, concept design, upcoming characters and more.

Nerd Reactor: What’s the biggest update to Disney Infinity?

John Vignocchi: You mean besides adding over 20 of the world’s most iconic super heroes in the platform?

NR: Yeah, other than that. [laughs]

John Vignocchi: It all comes down to a couple of key things. First it was upgrading our combat system from 1.0 to 2.0. You know, Marvel fans have an expectation of how these characters are going to fight. [Second is] making sure that they are able to take on Loki and his frost giant minions in a way that resembles everything that you would come to expect from one of Marvel’s incredible films. [It’s] our number one priority.

The other key thing is making sure we got the look and motion right, the way the characters move inside of the game. You’ve got an expectation of how Iron Man flies, how Thor flies and how Rocket Raccoon dual wields gigantic guns. We wanted to make sure that we delivered on that fantasy.

And lastly it was about accessibility inside our Toy Box mode and making sure that people that play were able to build and create anything that they can imagine. So this year we added a new procedural generation feature that we call an “auto creator” that allows players to essentially with a simple press of a few buttons create an entire world inside their Toy Box that they can explore and customize.

So those are probably the three key things from a software perspective that we have implemented.

[There is also] the new skills and attributes system that we put into the game that allows you to level up your characters to enhance them with higher attack powers, more health, and even super moves. So it’s a little bit of an RPG-like system that we’ve integrated into the game as well, and that applies to all the new Marvel characters plus all the legacy Disney characters that are coming back to the platform. They are forward compatible.

NR: What kind of powers would the Legacy characters get for this version?

John Vignocchi: Yeah, so we’ve actually taken some of the same powers that we have bestowed on some of the Marvel super heroes and made it so that the Disney characters have those and where it made sense. We’ve upgraded the 1.0 characters with their own specific sets of moves.

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NR: With the Marvel heroes, they all have different powers. For example, Iron Man can fly, Spider-Man can swing, and the Hulk is really strong. Did the team have issues about whether the characters may be too powerful or too weak?

John Vignocchi: The answer is yes, and this became a huge debate internally when we were designing this game. Iron Man, for example, is incredibly versatile in terms of the amount of things he can do. He’s got a unibeam attack which should theoretically vaporize anything. He’s got repulsor rays which allows him to attack both short range and long range. He’s got a missile barrage that we’ve seen. He’s got small land mines that are like little grenades. He also has the ability to fly. When it comes down to it, the three characters that we focused on the most in terms of getting right during development were Iron Man, Spider-Man and Hulk. Those three characters got the most love initially when we were designing the game because we knew their powers were incredibly diverse, and that Marvel fans have an expectation on how those characters will play in-game. And to be honest with you, John, you probably have seen other super hero games just based on one franchise coming from other developers, and sometimes it’s hard for them to get one character right.

That’s why we started working with Marvel in 2011 because we knew if we were to integrate all these Marvel super heroes, we had to do it right and we needed the time in order to do that. Iron Man is a character that has an incredibly versatile set of powers that once he’s upgraded becomes very powerful. Spider-Man is another one. His web-slinging ability, his ability to freeze targets with webbing, his ability to climb on walls, and engineering our engine so that he could climb on any walls on the Play Set but also any wall inside our Toy Box was an incredibly difficult process. For example, we don’t know what people are going to build inside of the toy box mode, so creating a navigation mesh that is tagged into every single object that someone could possibly create in the Toy Box was a daunting task that our amazing development team at Avalanche software was able to do. They actually went back and took every single previous piece that had been created for the first version of the game and tagged it so that Spider-Man and other wall crawlers can actual crawl on it.

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NR: Who’s your favorite character?

John Vignocchi: It’s Venom. When he’s fully leveled to 20, he has the strength of Hulk and the traversal skills of Spider-Man.

NR: What was it like working with Brian Michael Bendis.

John Vignocchi: It was incredible. We had started talking to Marvel about who was going to assist us in making sure that the stories that we were telling were all at a level of quality that Marvel fans had come to expect from the brand. Joe Quesada had mentioned that Brian Michael Bendis would be the exact right person to work with. [Bendis] works very closely and collaboratively with our team at Avalanche to make sure that the stories were on point in terms of quality but also correct according to contemporary Marvel canon.

NR: Which one is your favorite Play Set?

John Vignocchi: That’s a tough one because each of them is like [my] children. I love inside of the Avengers the fact that our team was able to capture the humor of that franchise. Inside the Spider-Man Play Set I love the introduction and the boss battles. And the Guardians of the Galaxy Play Set I love because it’s developed by one of our external development partners, Studio Gobo, and they have once again done an amazing job to bring that exciting new franchise to interactive platforms in a way that only Disney Infinity could. I can’t choose one. I just have to tell you the great qualities of all three.

NR: How was the process for designing the Play Sets pieces?

John Vignocchi: Our concept artists at Avalanche developed about 15 different looks for what those play set pieces could be. We had initially done a concept for the Avengers Tower one that was just going to be the Avengers logo. It was going to be just the Avengers logo, Spider-Man would be just the Spider-Man logo, and Guardians would be just the Guardians logo. We turned over though around 15 designs for each particular franchise, and those are the ones that Marvel chose. They asked us for some modifications though. They chose the Avengers Tower but then asked us to put the little frost edges at the bottom to signal what the story was all about. For the Spider-Man one, they asked us to modify it to make it look like Venom’s tongue attempting to eat the Spider-Man logo. For Guardians they said the one thing besides the characters themselves that is incredibly iconic and will be incredibly iconic about this franchise is their ship, the Milano. So they asked us to not do the logo and instead do the Milano.

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NR: How do you go about choosing the designs for the Marvel characters? For example, the Guardians of the Galaxy designs are based on the film version. 

John Vignocchi: We essentially choose a franchise to focus on and then we take the characters and the style from the franchise and adapt it to the Disney Infinity art style. The Disney Infinity art style of the characters are all toy versions of themselves. It was an interesting challenge for the team because in the case of the Avengers, we looked at the Avengers Assemble animated series as our inspiration and actually used the voice actors from the animated series as well.

For Spider-Man, we went to the Ultimate Spider-Man property as our inspiration and used some of those voice actors, but partway through development, transitioned away from Ultimate Spider-Man and into our own version of Spider-Man that’s unique to Disney Infinity. That’s why, for example, Nick Fury is inside of and part of the Spider-Man franchise in Disney Infinity and is voiced by Sam Jackson. So that one actually became a little bit more internal and a little bit more just Spider-Man as opposed to Ultimate Spider-Man.

And then for Guardians of the Galaxy, since that film was going to be out a month before our game and we knew it was going to be a summer blockbuster hit, we wanted to make sure we were leveraging the style and designs of the characters that were in the forefront of consumers’ minds, which would be everything that they’ve seen from the film. That is how we brought all those characters to life.

This year we have introduced new power discs that are Marvel themed. Those are the little chips that you put either underneath your character or on the hexagonal slot of the Disney Infinity base to instantiate new vehicles or weapons. Now you can do costume changes as well. For Captain America, we’ve got different costumes that are inspired by the film. Same thing with Iron Man and some of the other characters. Even though we might have used inspiration from Avengers Assemble, that doesn’t preclude us from using any of the films as inspiration to do costume changes.

NR: Will we see X-Men characters soon?

John Vignocchi: The way that we go about choosing our characters are what the strategic priorities are for Marvel and what makes great gameplay. We are continuing to have conversations with them on what characters they want to make relevant to gamers and what characters we believe would be a lot of fun in terms of gameplay. We actually ran a poll just recently on social media and asked fans of Disney Infinity what characters they would like to see join the platform. We have since taken that list to Marvel and we’re in deep discussions with them about what characters will be priorities for them moving forward, but we can support as the platform continues to grow.

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