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June 18, 2013

Disney Infinity: My kids preview game with help from artist, designer

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Disney Interactive Studios invited gamers and Disney guests on both coasts to play its much-talked about new gaming system, Disney Infinity, this past week for the first time. At E3 (Electronic Entertainment Expo) in Los Angeles, players formed long lines to try their hands at the game that has been compared repeatedly to Activision's Skylanders. In Orlando, the game was set up for two days at Car Masters Weekend at Downtown Disney's West Side.

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There was no way my 10-year-old son wanted to miss out on the opportunity to preview Disney Infinity two months before its Aug. 18 North America release date, so we headed to Walt Disney World and braved the crowds Sunday afternoon. When we arrived, the line to play the game was shorter than I expected, especially considering that people who played the demos were given the Dash ("The Incredibles") character piece, which will sell for $13.

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The Disney Infinity booth had four gaming stations set up -- two for playset-only mode and two for Toy Box mode. We asked to play the Toy Box version each of the three times we stood in line because that is the key difference between Disney Infinity and Skylanders. The Toy Box allows players to mix Disney and Pixar characters and environments, each creating their own unique games that they can share with their friends. Play-set mode, by comparison, puts the game characters in their own self-contained world that is appropriate only to their movie or TV show franchise.

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Jared Bald, senior designer for Toy Box, was among the staff at Downtown Disney showing visitors how to play the game. He said the developers he has worked with for the last two years compare the Toy Box in the game to a physical toy box, albeit one that holds many more of toys, but the fascination by young players is the same. "Give kids hundreds of toys on a living room floor and they will play for hours," he said. "There is no end to what they can do with Disney Infinity."

It took my son, who is an avid gamer, a few minutes to get acclimated to the game, but once he did, he was excited about the Toy Box option. He especially wanted to race his sister's characters in vehicles or on mounts. Could his Buzz Lightyear Astro Blaster beat her Cinderella Coach?

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Disney Infinity concept artist Ben Simonsen

Ben Simonsen, a concept artist on Disney Infinity, said that designing the vehicles was, in fact, one of his favorite aspects of working on the Disney Interactive project. He said that my son's interest was indicative of what they had seen by other players at the demonstration: Kids seemed to be more focused on interacting with other players than progressing through a goal-oriented game. And Disney Infinity allows for that, to be sure.

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My 8-year-old daughter had one question, though, when encountering anyone affiliated with Disney Infinity: Will there be any Disney Princess characters? So far, none have been announced, but the coach vehicle and Cinderella Castle are available, as well as an environment from "Tangled" with Rapunzel, in the Toy Box. Although no one officially could confirm that any of the royal beauties will join the gaming system, it was suggested that they would be a logical progression, given their strong market brand.

Disney Infinity will have another booth with demo stations on Aug. 16 near Once Upon a Toy at Downtown Disney Marketplace. A Disney World cast member said that she hopes the game will be available for purchase at that time, and she expects developers to be there to answer questions and sign copies.

To read my previous articles about Disney Infinity, please click here and here.

Disney Infinity at E3


July 26, 2012

Finding the magic for kids at Downtown Disney's Marketplace

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If you're looking for some Disney magic without going into the Orlando theme parks, why not spend part of a day at Downtown Disney's Marketplace?

When my children were younger, one of their playgroups actually met at the open-air shopping district because there were so many free and low-cost fun things for the kids to do. And, although some aspects have changed, there still are plenty of activities to entertain the younger set.

First, be sure to bring a swimsuit, towel and sunscreen (or at least a change of clothes) for the kids because there are two areas with jumping water fountains. The larger one is located between Once Upon A Toy and Earl of Sandwich, and the smaller water feature is adjacent to the back entrance to Disney's Days of Christmas. There are benches around the fountains for parents, and bathrooms are nearby so changing afterward is easy.

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Little ones are sure to enjoy the train ride and a small carousel. Each costs $2 per ride per child, but parents are free. My children always sought out the lone "teacup" on the carousel because they thought that made the ride a little more special. All that spinning made me happy I was the one taking photos!

Nearby, Once Upon a Toy has play areas set up among the unique Disney-themed toys. Younger kids are likely to be interested in the tables set up to build Mr. Potato Head figures with the theme-park pieces, while the older kids will gravitate to the middle of the store where Nintendo DS, Wii and Playstation Station systems allow them to test the newest Disney video games.

Kids who are into Disney pin-trading can make a stop at the pin-trading center to see what cast members have to barter for their collections. (For tips on pin-trading with kids, please see my blog post.)

Ridemakerz, the custom remote-control car shop, is located inside Team Mickey. And while these cars can be expensive to purchase, there is an area bordered by bumpers that allows guests to test their new cars or other demo cars. Taking these souped-up cars for a spin can be entertaining.

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World of Disney, the largest store to carry Disney merchandise, also is home to one of the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique locations. At these salons, Fairy Godmothers in Training transform little girls into Disney princesses. These experiences typically require reservations and can be pricey. But the Fairy Godmothers in Training often are circulating in the store or standing outside the entrances, and they will offer kids a sprinkle of pixie dust for free. It's a small thing, but my almost-8-year-old daughter still loves to get the glitter in her hair.

Next door is the expanded Lego Imagination Center, where kids will find tubs of LEGOs to build creations and a raised slope to race them outside. Inside, the main room features a hub of computers where kids can design LEGO structures and play games. Parents also will find another play table filled with LEGOs tucked inside a separate room.

Don't forget to stop for lunch amidst all the fun! There are several places for a light bite, plus the always-fun Rainforest Cafe or T-Rex restaurants. If you're not familiar with the concept, these two restaurants transform while guests are dining. At Rainforest Cafe, a thunderstorm shakes the jungle and animals and a meteor shower descends on T-Rex. Afterward, pop into the Ghirardelli Chocolate Shop, where a cast member is always handing out seasonal samples.

Our last activity is usually to ride the water taxi from The Marketplace to West Side and back. It's free and the kids consider it an attraction, not just transportation.

I hope these ideas will be useful for guests with kids who want to dive into the Disney magic on a day they may not be going into the Disney theme parks. For my family, Downtown Disney is a fun way to get our Disney fix when the blockout dates are in effect for seasonal passes.

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About West Side

This page contains an archive of all entries posted to A Mom and The Magic in the West Side category. They are listed from oldest to newest.

The Marketplace is the previous category.

World of Disney is the next category.

Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.