Disney Infinity Producer Talks Future Characters and Marvel Cosmic

It's been a busy few weeks for Disney Infinity 3.0 which is continuing for the second year in a row to lead the toys-to-life video game genre thanks to its second and third annual disc-based releases which introduced the key Disney brands of Marvel and Star Wars. Going forward, there are currently no plans for a full Disney Infinity 4.0 disc-based title since now all of the key franchises have been introduced. Instead, new playsets for each will continue to debut throughout the year as developer Avalanche Software (with additional work by Ninja Theory, Studio Gobo, Sumo Digital, and United Front Games) expand Disney Infinity 3.0's content and features.

The best example of that to date might be last week's release of the Marvel Battlegrounds playset which not only adds a new type of Marvel content with an original story built around arcade brawler gameplay, but it adds a whole new way of playing, allowing for four-player local gameplay - power discs included - with one standard two-player portal.

We spoke Ryan Rothenberger, Senior Producer of Disney Infinity, about Marvel Battlegrounds last week to ask the expansion and how it handles mixing and matching all of the Marvel characters while keeping them balanced. We also discuss the lack of female characters, the potential for more cosmic heroes from the comics, what other 4-player experiences the game could explore, and what Marvel Comics environments did and didn't make it into the game.

Disney Infinity 3 - Marvel Battlegrounds Poster

How do you guys balance all the maneuvers and the other moves they can do? Is that something you guy have to monitor going forward?

Ryan Rothenberger: It’s always something you need to monitor going forward and we do have some good BI hooks in the playset to kind of see which characters are winning the highest percentages compared to who is chosen the most. So we’re definitely keeping an eye on that.

But as far as balancing goes, that was something that we did literally day one. We knew we’re making a brawler. We’re making a fighting game. The way Infinity was originally built, I can’t have a level 20 Hulkbuster going against a Level 1 Rocket Raccoon, because there are moves just as far as what moves are available to the character at that time, it’s not going to make for a good game play.

So what we decided to do right from the get-go was basically take all of the characters at Level 20, if they were maxed and they had their entire move set available to them in the toy box, what would we pull out? So what we decided to start doing is we knew we wanted to have a three-hit combo as like a tap-tap-tap for triangle. We knew that everybody wanted to have a ranged attack, a charged ranged, or a slash and dash attack if you weren’t a range character, block breakers, throws…

So we knew what we wanted from a move set standpoint for kinda rock, paper, scissors. And then we took every character at Level 20 and we just picked out the best moves that we thought would behave the most appropriately. Then we just started play testing the hell out of it, honestly. And that’s how we ended up balancing the characters.

But what that made us do is, inherently, we created an entirely new move set for all 28 Marvel characters that it’s kind of battleground specific where you don’t have to worry about leveling. It’s just I come in and I know, depending on the character I choose and how I fight, I can fight the best person for me. That’s really how we approached it.

Disney Infinity Marvel Battlegrounds Ultron
Ultron Battle

Speaking of which, when did you guys first have the idea of doing battlegrounds as this four-player thing? It’s weird, because Marvel was Disney Infinity 2.0, and then you are moving on to a whole different brand and different playsets with 3.0 and Star Wars. So when in that process do you guys decide, “Let’s do this big Marvel thing and do it in a very different way?”

Ryan Rothenberger: It was, I would say, early in 2015. We knew that with 3.0 we’re bringing Star Wars in obviously, but we knew that we just came off of Marvel. There’s a huge fan base there. People invested heavily in the toys, the game itself. We need to support that, like we’re conscientious of that.

But, at the same time, we were actively looking to push Infinity into different genres. We did that with Inside Out, basically, with the launch of 3.0 where, up to that point, everything had really been kind of story driven, third-person, action-adventure style gameplay, which is great. We do it well. But Inside Out didn’t lend itself really to that. So rather than trying to stick a square peg in a round hole, we’re like, “You know what? Let’s make this a puzzle platformer. Some levels are completely 2-D. you’ve got to use co-op characters in order to solve puzzles and type of things.” And that got us thinking about Marvel: “OK. Well, what can we do with Marvel?” And it’s like, “Well, a brawler style of gameplay would be awesome.”

And we started looking back to some of our favorites from back in the day, like Power Stone, Power Stone 2, obviously Smash Brothers. And we’re like, “This seems like it’s a good fit.” So that’s where we started that sort of genesis of the idea, was very early in 2015, or even a little bit before that I should say. But that’s really when we kind of started thinking about that’s what we were wanting to do.

And then sort of coupling that with we get a lot of parents’ feedback coming in saying, “Guys, listen. We’ve got more than two kids. They love playing all of them together in the toy box. That’s great. But, at the same time, we would love it if they could play in the playset together with one of your franchise experiences type thing.”

Once we were thinking about pushing it into a different genre with brawler, we were like four players, couch gameplay, that’s the money—getting people talking smack, pushing each other off the couch, teaming up on your brother type of thing if it’s kind of cheesing you with Groot or something. And we were like, “OK. This is kinda where the magic is.” That’s what I said—that’s kind of where the genesis sort of took place and then we ran with it from there to start solving the problems of, “OK. How do we balance characters? How do we use all the power discs from before and reimagine them? How is four-player going to work when you only have a base with two slots on it?” So we just started solving those big, pileable problems and then the snowball kept rolling and now we’re here.

Disney Infinity Marvel Battlegrounds Brooklyn Trainyard
Brooklyn Trainyard

Now that you guys have cracked the code on having more than two players, and even dealing with multiple power discs for multiple players, can we see the four-player experiences for Star Wars or other Disney brands?

Ryan Rothenberger: You know, again, it’s going to be a case by case basis. I think obviously we want to see how well the community and the fans and the consumers respond to battlegrounds in general and that style of gameplay. But I think as far as the four player goes, we know that that’s something that we want to sort of push on. Is it going to be able to work in every playset the way that we had it work in battlegrounds where you kind of load characters in and have the character selection screen? Probably not. That’s something that’s unique there. But can it be done in other places? Absolutely. I think the question is where and when, and kind of the sky is the limit right now as far as how we’re going to do it. But I think it all, again, is going to derive back to how battlegrounds is received.

There is some buzz about the quantity of female characters versus male characters and all that. How much of that dictated by what’s coming up on the docket from the Marvel movie front?

Ryan Rothenberger: When it comes to Marvel specifically, a lot of it is obviously. It’s more difficult to pull characters, be them male or female, completely out of obscurity. It can be kind of tough to pull them out of obscurity when there is nothing really on the slate moving forward, where it’s like, “Hey, we’re going to feature blah or whomever in one of the next films.” So that’s a struggle.

As far as the female characters go, we really truly like making female characters. Honestly, in battlegrounds, Gamora, like between you, me, and the fencepost, is one of the strongest characters in the game. And it wasn’t like we consciously made her so, it was just the skillset in which she has both in the film universe and in the comics actually makes her a pretty damn good brawler. Like, she’s actually really good. I’m like, “Oh, wow. This organically just kinda fleshed out this way.”

But, no, as far as who you choose to do for characters, yeah, a lot of that is completely driven by what’s coming up on the slate, and rightfully so. I mean it’s what people are going to know, and see, and identify with, so we have to kind of support those things. But we are always looking to bring fresh, good, interesting characters, be them men or women, into the game at all times.

Disney Infinity 3.0 Marvel Battlegrounds lineup March 1 2016
No new female Marvel characters means 26 males, 2 females

I’m going to get real geeky with you for a second here. From the new characters that are added, I’m a big fan of the Hulkbuster. But what really got me excited are the Marvel Battlegrounds power discs because you reference Darkhawk and Nova Corps., and I’m a big Marvel Cosmic Abnett-Lanning guy. So I have to ask just for my friends, is there any chance we get Darkhawk or an original Nova - like Richard Rider style - down the road?

Ryan Rothenberger: Great question. I have to give my Disney answer. I cannot confirm or deny any character will be created. But yeah, I think the Darkhawk energy blast power was kind of us throwing that little people in the pond to see how many ripples would sort of transpire of like, “What do you think about this sort of thing?” So we’ll see what happens. But yeah, as it stands right now, I obviously can’t confirm or deny any future ideas. But the power disc, like I said, is a good sort of toss into the river to see what the appetite might be.

That’s a very fair answer. So the big news of course is there’s not going to be another standalone disc release, like no Disney Infinity 4.0 this year, because 3.0 is now a platform going forward. Is that something that could change? Could there be a disc-based release, whether it’s 4.0 or something else a year from now? Or is it sort of like, “Now all the brands are out there. We’re going to focus on specific stories, characters, and playsets”?

Ryan Rothenberger: Again, unfortunately, I can’t get into too much of the future plans as far as that goes. But I can say with battlegrounds, we’re at the tip of the spear as far as dipping our toe in the water as far as digitally distributed downloadable content is concerned in conjunction with retail, right? Because in order to get battlegrounds, you have to have an internet connection. But, at the same time, you have to go to retail and get the toys to play with it.

We need to see how that transpires. Then, from there that’s going to help inform our decision so that we can make the best decisions not just for us, but really for the customers, the people who are playing the game. And we want to make it as easy as possible for them not only to feel like they are getting value out of their investment, but also that they don’t have to jump through too many hoops in order to enjoy the content that we’re trying to give them.

Disney Infinity 3.0 Baloo The Jungle Book
Baloo from The Jungle Book joins Disney Infinity 3.0

I was going to talk about Baloo, but I don’t want to ask about any more future-related questions and get you in trouble. So my last question is this then: There are 12 levels in the battlegrounds - Were there any environments from the comics or movies that you love that maybe just didn’t make the cut this time?

Ryan Rothenberger: It was funny. I actually got a couple that I wanted. And we only did like eight arenas. So I really did want to do a Knowhere stage. Like, Guardians [of the Galaxy] was something for me that kinda came out of nowhere as far as how good the film was, I want to say. I was really surprised by it. So I really wanted to get a Knowhere level in there. And it’s such a chaotic level because you are basically on these floating platforms. It kinda feels like the last level of Smash Bros. where you are fighting against the hand sort of thing. You can kinda fall off at any moment both forward and backwards. So that was a cool level.

As far as ones that didn’t make it in that we were pushing for, there’s always discussion around, “How can we get a different Avengers, like, Stark Tower or something in there?” That was one that I was really trying to push for, like a cool interior level where it was like a cityscape in the background and you could kinda drive people through the glass and have them knock out and then somehow get respawned back in. so that was one that we were always talking about, like, “How can we do Stark Tower?” But it didn’t quite come all the way in. but you never know. Who knows?

Cool. All right. Thanks, Ryan. That’s all the questions I have for now.

Ryan Rothenberger: Ah, man. I really appreciate it, man. Thank you so much. When you get to play the game I really hope you enjoy it. We’re really proud of it.

Thanks a lot. Cheers.

Ryan Rothenberger: Yep.

Next: Exclusive Set Visit Report for Marvel's Captain America: Civil War

All Disney Infinity (2.0 Edition): Marvel Super Heroes characters and round Power Discs are fully compatible with the Play Set. Marvel Battlegrounds is available for a suggested retail price of $29.99.  Each Marvel character figure (MSRP: $13.99 each) and the Marvel Battlegrounds themed Power Disc Pack (MSRP: $9.99) are sold separately. The Play Set requires the latest Disney Infinity software update in order to play. Software updates require Internet connection.

In the original storyline of Marvel Battlegrounds, Ultron teams up with Loki in an effort to steal Wakanda’s most valuable resource, Vibranium. Captain America, along with the universe’s greatest Super Heroes, leap into action but before they can uncover Loki’s plans for the precious metal, their nemesis creates robotic replicas of the famed Marvel Super Heroes and turn them against each other. The Marvel Super Heroes battle each other in iconic environments such as a wrecked Brooklyn train yard, Wakanda mines and S.H.I.E.L.D.’s Lunar Base, culminating in a universe-shaking battle against Ultron. Players engage in the ultimate rumble and choose from more than 25 Disney Infinity Marvel Super Heroes and Super Villains, and battle through 12 levels across eight dynamic arenas.

Disney Infinity 3.0 is currently available for PC, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, Wii U, iOS, Android, and Apple TV.

The Marvel Battlegrounds expansion released March 15, 2016.

Game of Thrones Targaryen Prequel Spinoff
Everything We Know About Game Of Thrones' Targaryen Prequel

More in SR Originals