Dive behind the colourful scenes of Toy Story 3: The Videogame with Avalanche Software's senior producer, Jonathan Warner.
How did Toy Story 3: The Videogame come together?
We wanted to give Pixar choices rather than dictate play, so we offered two pitches when we went to the studio with ideas in 2008. The first was a more traditional treatment of a movie licence game, where you retell the film and hit the big beats of the story. The second pitch was this free-form mode which we called the Toy Box mode. Pixar loved the ideas and suggested that we develop both. [laughs] It was a lot of work. Easily the biggest game we've ever built.
We still wanted Toy Box to be the centrepiece of the experience so we built a story mode which is more of a companion to the Toy Box mode. Pixar does such an excellent job of telling its stories that we didn't feel like we needed to retell the story line-for-line, but we wanted to hit its high points and let you play around in the environments you see in the movie.
How much involvement did Toy Story co-creator John Lasseter have in the game's creation?
He had a lot to do with it, along with the film's director, Lee Unkrich and others. So if we started to go down a path which made sense for a game but wasn't quite right for Toy Story then they were there to correct it.
We showed them one version of the Toy Box and they said it was a really cool idea - a toy game mixed with a game about toys - but it wasn't really a Toy Story game. So it was cool to work with them that closely and hopefully create something that's authentic.
What about the cast of the film, have they seen much of the game?
Yeah, we got a lot of the voice actors from the movie and it's been interesting to hear them talk about the game and be involved in the project, especially since the Toy Box mode doesn't follow the storyline of the film. So it gave them a chance to play their characters in a completely different way and setting. So that was cool.
Wallace Shawn [who plays Rex] was excellent. It was amazing to listen to him deliver his lines. He was really curious about the game because he started asking questions like "what are the players doing in this instant?" and "what are they experiencing or the emotions they're feeling at this time?" It was really interesting to hear him work.
How much focus testing did you do for the game?
We focus tested and play tested the game extensively. Over 60 groups of kids, boys and girls, from ages six to 14. We found that the game appeals across the demographic. One of the interesting things we found was that as kids were playing it they were earning a ton of coins but not spending them! So we had to figure out ways to entice them to buy new toys. We started making in-game spoof commercials for the new toys - "Come on over to Al's Toy Box for new missions and toys to buy!"
We really felt like we had to test the game with the audience as much as we did. We had the idea of the Toy Box which we thought was really interesting, but we didn't really know what that meant. There was no other movie based title out there that was like this. So we made it and asked ourselves if it was actually cool or not, because an idea can sound really good on paper but when you actually try it you realise it's not. So we've gone through a ton of versions of the Toy Box, from ideas that we thought would be cool to something that actually was fun to play.
Were there any ideas you had to scrap or leave out due to things not quite working out as originally planned?
The original idea for the Toy Box was more like an exercise in plate spinning, where you would start to build up your town and then the bandits would come in so you would have to keep performing tasks to make sure everything was still going. We thought it would be a fun and interesting idea, but it turned out to be more like hard work!
So we've gone through a lot of Toy Box versions, probably about ten completely different iterations. One of the things Pixar really believes in is making change easy. You never know what you've created until you've actually created it and played it. So you need time to change it, watch people play it and react to that, which is invaluable.
What's your favourite part of the game so far?
In story mode there is a Buzz Lightyear level which is homage to the opening of the Toy Story 2 movie, and when we first came to create the game that was the one thing we said we had to make, because it was a Toy Story videogame inside a Toy Story film. It turned out really well, so that's got to be one of my favourite bits.
What's been the funniest thing that happened during the development of the game?
Just watching kids play it and seeing the things they would do. One particular mission came straight from the focus testing. One kid just wanted to find cows and throw them from the highest place he could get to. That's all he wanted to do. He thought it was hilarious! So we created a mission where you can throw cows and we give you credit for it. [laughs]
It was very cool to watch people play it because out of all the play testing we've done I've never seen two games come out exactly the same, which was amazing.