While Disney might be one of the biggest forces in the film and
television industries, it has always been something of an also-ran in
the gaming world. Despite a deep catalog of characters and properties
to draw from, the company has licensed out potential hits to other
publishers and focused mainly on the kid and tween market.
That's changing fast these days. The company has tripled its
investment in video games and staffed up to over 1,200 people (notably
bigger than Microsoft's internal game-building team). It's also
bringing on high-level talent, like industry legend Warren Spector
(Deus Ex) and Bungie Studios co-founder Alex Seropian (Halo).
The result: Disney Interactive Studios is now a force to be reckoned
with. Original properties by the gaming division -- like overlooked
racing gem Split/Second -- are still finding their footing, but the
company is finally discovering that by leveraging its own assets, it
can become just as big in gaming as it has in other entertainment
fields. A few upcoming (and recent) examples:
Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep - Disney Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep
The Kingdom Hearts franchise, in many ways, brought Disney around.
Teaming with Square Enix for this action-adventure/role-playing series showed there was a significant demand by older gamers for quality games using Disney characters. The next installment -- Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep -- is due out Sept. 7. It's a PSP exclusive title, featuring
characters ranging from the Seven Dwarves to Snow White's Evil Queen.
This is the sixth game the two companies have worked on -- and two more
are in the pipeline already.
Epic Mickey - Disney Epic Mickey
Perhaps the most anticipated title in Disney's lineup, this Mickey
Mouse-centered game brings the world's most famous rodent back to his roots as a mischievous guy whose actions sometimes get him in trouble, instead of the straight man to Goofy, Donald and Pluto. The game digs deep into the Disney archives, using discarded art and forgotten characters, including Oswald the Rabbit, Walt's first cartoon creation.
Crafted by the well-regarded Spector, it could make serious waves when
it releases this holiday.
Tron: Evolution - Disney Tron: Evolution
In the 1980s, there was no arcade game cooler than Tron. And with
'Tron: Reloaded' hitting theaters this winter, the gaming division is
hoping to recapture that glory. Tron: Evolution, due in November for
the Xbox 360, PS3 and PC, will incorporate role-playing elements with
light-disc battles and the ubiquitous light-cycle racing. Best of all,
you'll be able to race your light-cycle against friends in the game's
online multiplayer mode.
Toy Story 3 - Disney Toy Story 3
Historically, games based on Pixar-created films have been handed
off to competing publisher THQ — which has made a fortune off of them. When that contract ended, Disney decided to go a new direction. The developers of Toy Story 3 ended up making a title that was popular not
only with young players, but entertained core gamers as well, a feat no
one would have believed possible two years ago. The inclusion of 'Toy
Box' mode -- giving the game an open-world adventure component --
caught gamers by surprise, resulting in unusually high reviews
for a film tie-in. It also sent a clear message that while Disney
wasn't going to stop making games for kids, that didn't mean they
couldn't incorporate elements for older players at the same time.
Pirates of the Caribbean - Disney Pirates of the Caribbean: Armada of the Damned
Disney has tried bringing 'Pirates' to gamers before, but with
limited success. It's making a real run with the upcoming Pirates of
the Caribbean: Armada of the Damned. This action/role-playing game for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC is set before the events covered in the hit films, giving the developers a lot more room to work with. You'll determine the type of pirate you want to be -- Legendary or
Dreaded -- nd the way you interact with non-player characters will
determine the course of the game's plot. If all goes well, this could
be quite a treasure.