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John Vignocchi on Bringing STAR WARS to DISNEY INFINITY 3.0 and Why Darth Vader Doesn’t Run

Disney Infinity 3.0 launches this weekend, and the latest version of the game that mixes together all of Disney’s properties in a fun and animated blender is taking it to the next level. In fact, you could say the game is taking its first step into a larger world. Yes, characters, settings, and vehicles from Star Wars are being introduced to the game—and not just the usual suspects from the original trilogy. Characters from the prequels, the original trilogy, Star Wars: The Clone Wars, and Star Wars Rebels will all be incorporated into Infinity alongside familiar faces from Disney, Pixar, and Marvel films. As the title of the game suggests, the possibilities are endless.

We spoke with Disney Interactive Vice President of Production John Vignocchi about the galactic additions to Disney Infinity, why Darth Vader doesn’t run in the game, the importance of including Ahsoka Tano, and the changes Disney Infinity 3.0 is bringing to the table.

NERDIST: What is your first memory of seeing Star Wars?

JOHN VIGNOCCHI: My first memory of seeing Star Wars or one of my oldest memories of seeing Star Wars is actually being curled up next to my father and terrified during the trash compactor scene, of those walls coming in and also those creatures that were underneath the trash there on the Death Star. That’s one of my earliest memories. And Star Wars for me and for my family has been almost a bit of a guidebook to life. My father, to this day, still continues to reference it over and over and over again. And of course was thrilled to find, out after the acquisition, that we’d be integrating Star Wars into Disney Infinity.

N: Have you been working on bringing Star Wars into Infinity since the announcement that Disney acquired Lucasfilm? How long have you been developing this?

JV: We actually were able to meet with the team and Lucasfilm in the fall of 2013. It was shortly after the announcement of the acquisition. Like probably a lot of your readers, we found out when we read about it in Variety. We didn’t even know it was happening internally. It was a great moment and I’ll never forget it because people were jumping up and down and worked stopped for almost half a day as everyone said, “Oh my goodness. We might actually be able to work on a Star Wars video game.”

But at the same time, it wasn’t a shoo-in. Obviously the team at Lucasfilm has been working with a lot of video game developers over the years. And so much like them [the other developers], we actually had to go in and pitch to the team at Lucasfilm why integrating Star Wars characters and content inside of Infinity was the best thing for their business as opposed to working with one of their many licensees. And that’s not to say that Lucasfilm won’t be putting out licensed games as they have in the past.

N: I know Lucasfilm is very aware of branding and keeping to certain guidelines with their characters. What’s it been like working with them to find out how the Star Wars fits into the Disney Infinity world with all these other characters?

JV: I have to say it’s been interesting and it’s been eye-opening, but it’s not any different than the experiences we’ve had in the past with other creators. We’ve had the opportunity to work with the likes of Jerry Bruckheimer and Tim Burton and John Lasseter and other great storytellers. And the one thing that’s been most important for us is that we know if we make those creators happy with the way that we’ve integrated their characters and content inside of our game, ultimately we’ll be making the fans happy. One thing that was a very interesting, anecdotal backstory is when we got the call from Lucasfilm who said, “We’re reviewing the latest version of the game and Darth Vader is running. And we have to tell you guys that you’re going to have to cut that from the game because Darth Vader doesn’t run.” And we said, “Well this is a video game and so we want to make sure that Darth Vader is just as strong and can do just as many things as the other characters can.” And the Lucasfilm team said to us, “While we respect that from a gameplay perspective, your fans will appreciate more that you’re being true to that character than anything else.” So as a result, Darth Vader does not actually run inside of Disney Infinity 3.0, but he does walk relatively quickly.

N: That makes sense. Vader doesn’t need to run for anybody.

JV: Exactly. He’s a Sith Lord. It’s been a blast learning all these small intricacies of all the characters.

N: When you set out to bring Star Wars into Infinity and you were working with Lucasfilm, was it a given that you have sets from each era–prequel, original, and sequel?

JV: No, it wasn’t at all. In fact, when we went in and had that initial meeting, at the time, Star Wars Episode VII had just been announced, although the title had not been revealed. We had gone into the team at Lucasfilm and said that we would want to create a playset for Disney Infinity 3.0 that was based on Episode VII. And in a very Jedi-like fashion, the heads of Lucasfilm waved their hands in front of us and said, “You will do characters and content across the entire Star Wars saga.” And we nodded and said, “We will do content across the entire saga.” So, that’s what’s led us to our content distribution plan for Infinity 3.0.

We have a playset that’s dedicated to Episodes I-III as well as The Clone Wars animated series that we call “Twilight of the Republic.” Now, that particular playset features Anakin, Ahsoka, Yoda, as well as Obi-Wan Kenobi and Darth Maul. It’s an original story. So kind of an interesting side story is that we have just as many females playing Disney Infinity as we do males–and from a variety of different age groups. When we had agreed with the team at Lucasfilm that we would do characters and content across the entire saga, we had said that Ahsoka Tano, who appears in the Star Wars: The Clone Wars, was a very, very important character for us to integrate into the game because she’s a very strong female Jedi and one that resonates with our target demographic. So that was actually what allowed us to work with the team at Lucasfilm to tell an original story set during The Clone Wars era. Then, with respect to filling out the rest of the saga, we created a playset called “Rise Against the Empire,” which is a playset that retells iconic moments of Episodes IV-VI.

Then of course we have a playset that’s based on Star Wars: The Force Awakens, which has been a huge honor but also a huge responsibility because Disney Infinity is the only place that you’re going to be able to play Star Wars: The Force Awakens characters and content on console. So, as people go to the movie theaters and see J.J. and Kathleen’s incredible new film, we have to make sure that we’ve delivered a great gameplay experience and we hope that fans and your readers agree that we’ve achieved that when they get a chance to play it this holiday.

N: And how much of a look did you get at The Force Awakens in order to develop content?

JV: After signing an NDA that is probably the equivalent in terms of size and scope as any big deal recording contract or action contract you can imagine, myself and six other members of the team were allowed to read the final version of the script almost a year ago. We were given access to that as well as early looks at the characters and new vehicles and locations from the film. Additionally, we actually got to work with–and we just announced– John Boyega and Daisy Ridley. They’re actually reprising their roles inside of Disney Infinity as their characters Finn and Rey from The Force Awakens. We were given quite a deal of access, and it’s been a bit of a burden because there’s no one that we can talk to about just how incredible J.J. and Kathleen’s new film is going to be.

N: The launch of 3.0 brings Star Wars but also new features. What kind of additions can players expect compared to 2.0?

JV: Infinity 3.0 has a lot of new features that we’re integrating into the game. I think it’s important to point out that while Star Wars certainly has a large fan base, at the launch of Disney Infinity 3.0, it’s not the only content that we’re supporting. We’ve always envisioned Infinity as a platform for all content across the Walt Disney company, and that includes Lucasfilm as well as Marvel and Disney and also Pixar. So also at launch, we’re going to have a playset for Pixar’s new film Inside Out and also legacy Disney characters that will be playable inside of the Toy Box, including Mickey, Minnie, Sam Flynn and Quorra from Tron: Legacy, Olaf as well as Mulan, and of course new Star Wars Rebels characters.

When I go in and look at all the new features of the game, there are a couple that really stick out to me. First of, being able to work with Star Wars has allowed us to integrate a weapon-based melee combat system that’s above and beyond anything that we’ve done before. Last year in 2.0, we put special focus on making sure we had skill trees and individual character abilities. And that was important for Marvel because all those Marvel superheroes are so much different. Thor behaves, acts, and behaves so much differently than a character like Iron Man. We focused a lot of our development efforts last year on making sure that we created a system that could support having characters with different personalities and different types of moods. Now, bringing in Star Wars, of course, two big things that we focused on were lightsabers and lightsaber combat as well as vehicles and vehicle exploration. And those are two huge key new features that we have integrated into the game.

We’ve brought on a development team in Cambridge, over in the U.K. by the name of Ninja Theory. They worked on Heavenly Sword, they worked on DMC, Devil May Cry, as well as a game called Enslaved. Those are all M rated games, by the way. So, years ago we approached them and said “We’re working on a really exciting addition to Disney Infinity, and we think you guys would be a great development team to lend you expertise to make our game even better than it was before.” We explained to them this idea of working on Star Wars and translating a lot of their knowledge that they had for the sword play that we see in Heavenly Sword and Devil May Cry to lightsaber combat inside of Infinity. They worked very, very closely to do that, and it was great. Actually, the team at Lucasfilm told us just recently that the lightsaber combat inside of Infinity is some of the best that they’ve ever seen inside of a Star Wars game.

Disney Infinity 3.0 is available on August 30 on multiple gaming platforms.

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