Used to be that fans who loved superheroes made their own hand-drawn comic books at home, starring the Hulk, Spider-Man or Batman in stories that never passed through an editor's office. In 2014, those fans might just be making their own miniature Marvel Comics video games.
Making Toy Box levels is going to be different in Disney Infinity 2.0: Marvel Super Heroes and with good reason. According to executive producer John Vignocchi, Disney's stats show that 60% of player time was spent in the first Disney Infinity's level editor. But Infinity developers heard feedback about how complicated the Toy Box tools felt. So the team came up with the Auto Creator, a procedural generation feature that can do a lot of the heavy lifting in Toy Box Mode.
I saw the Auto Creator in action last month during a meeting with Vignocchi in New York City. All players need to do is draw a box inside a Toy Box environment and the Auto Creator can spontaneously craft a whole landscape inside of it.
What's more, it can also automatically drop in gameplay components, too. Put a pin down in one place and another pin down further away and, after a few button presses, floating planks, spinning disks and deadly pendulums pop up. You can create an instant platforming challenge in minutes, not hours. These procedurally generated levels can also be edited, so you can tweak them just how you like.
People already made weird, awesome or surprising things in the Toy Box Mode of the first Disney Infinity. Stuff like BioShock Infinite, Super Mario Brothers and Grand Theft Autolevels. Or impressively meta creations like an environment based on Andy's Room from Toy Story 1. But these user-generated levels faced one big problem: why would anyone want to play them?
Oh, sure, there's the joy to be had in finding and appreciating someone else's artistry. But, after you go through a really impressive retro homage in, say, Trials Fusion, you really don't have anything to show for it. It's pretty much the same for lots of other games where players are encouraged to create playable content.
The people making Disney Infinity 2.0: Marvel Super Heroes think they have the best possible answer for the player-incentive problem: loot. One of the new wrinkles in Infinity 2.0's updated Toy Box Mode will be the ability to drop in a Storefront Toy into a user-created level. This virtual building block will be able to dole out weapons, gear or mounts to the players who complete another person's Toy Box level. So, theoretically, somebody playing through a racing Toy Box could win Captain America's motorcycle if they finish in first place.
Aside from automatic level creation and in-game rewards, Infinity 2.0's Toy Box Mode will also be adding NPC quest-givers. You'll be able to create text bubbles for those quest-givers, filled with dialogue that directs players to complete tasks in a Toy Box level. To combat potential impropriety, the text bubble feature will require an internet connection to check inputted words against an online database.
Vignocchi told me that, in his experience, previous games that had heavy user-generation components made players jump through loads of hoops to tell comparatively simple stories. It's his hope that Disney Infinity 2.0 ups the ante for games that players make games inside of — by making level creation easier, allowing for rewards and talking secondary characters.
Maybe you dreamed up notebook paper epics starring your favourite superpowered people back in in the day. The Toy Box tools in Infinity 2.0 aim to let players scratch that same creative itch inside a big-budget video game, along with incentives that give players a reason to sample and complete user-generated levels. The next great Dr Strange story might not be one you read but one you play through.