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In 'Disney Infinity' video game, the 'Star Wars' universe can be upended, if you like

In 'Disney Infinity' video game, the 'Star Wars' universe can be upended, if you like
"The Force Awakens" gets the video game treatment in this add-on for Disney Infinity. (Disney Interactive / Lucasfilm)

Pretend, for a brief moment, that new "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" villain Kylo Ren isn't so bad. Perhaps he's good after all.

Welcome to the world of "Disney Infinity," where fans and players can remix the "The Force Awakens" to suit their imagination.

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J.J. Abrams' "Star Wars" vision isn't confined to movie theaters this weekend. Disney Interactive and Lucasfilm on Friday released a "Force Awakens" addition for the popular kids- and family-focused game "Disney Infinity." It adheres to the guidelines set up by the film — to a point.

Fly the Millennium Falcon on the war-torn desert planet of Jakku, or engage in a blaster battle on a lush forest green planet. Or maybe make that a lightsaber battle. Like previous iterations of "Infinity," the game will twist and turn depending on which character is used. That means Adam Driver's Kylo Ren can be re-imagined as a hero, or Daisy Ridley's hardscrabble Rey can participate in scenes in which her character wasn't present for the film.

And even those characters who aren't in the film — hello again, Yoda — can visit the universe of "The Force Awakens."

Although this is par for the course in the toys-to-life game "Disney Infinity," it represents a relative recent shift for licensed interactive entertainment, where film and video game properties are increasingly treated as separate entities that don't always have to reflect the needs of the other.

"We talked a lot about not making strictly the game about the movie," says Lucasfilm senior executive Ada Duan. "People have seen the movie. We want there to be some freedom and creativity where people can play. What was important for us was making sure we got certain key cinematics that accurately reflect the film so it's familiar. But then it's really about freedom and having agency within the game world itself to just explore — to fly the Millennium Falcon, to explore Jakku."

To experience "The Force Awakens" on "Disney Infinity," which is available for all major video game consoles, isn't cheap. Players first will need a $64.99 "Disney Infinity" starter pack, which comes bundled with a game inspired the prequel and animated "Clone Wars"-era "Star Wars" worlds. Then expect to spend about $35 for "The Force Awakens" playset. Included are figures based on Ridley's Rey and John Boyega's Finn (the cast of "The Force Awakens" lent their voice talents to the game).

Staff writer Tre'vell Anderson discusses first "Star Wars" memories with actors and filmmakers at the premiere for "Star Wars: The Force Awakens."

When the figures are placed on a plastic disc, they spring to action in the game. Additional toys, such as Kylo Ren, are available for about $14. Players at various points during the game will gain abilities that allow them to use past and present "Star Wars" heroes and villains with "The Force Awakens" playset, allowing for the narrative to be altered or remixed at will.

In one of the film's scenes, for instance, ace pilot Poe Dameron, portrayed by Oscar Isaac, is leading an X-wing in battle with evil First Order fighters. Feel free, however, to use Dameron instead as part of the game's ground assault. He, after all, has a handy special ability, one that allows him to use the faithful spheroid droid BB-8 to distract Stormtroopers.

"We try to figure out what is the best thing for the players and fans without breaking what we consider our brand guidelines," Duan says. "We do take good care in playing through the playset and not just having every single character thrown in there. You have to actually go through the story and unlock certain characters, and then you can bring those players in.

"We didn't want an experience where you've invested in the game and you get a character and you can't play it."

It's also recognition that when it comes to interactive entertainment, players expect a certain level of control.

Though it was odd, at first, to see Kylo Ren attacking the very armies he commands, "Infinity" gets around any narrative incongruities by stressing that the characters used in the game are digital toys rather than by-the-book interpretations of their cinematic counterparts. Think of it more as kids playing with video game action figures rather than running through a straight adaptation of the film.

" 'Infinity' has more than 100 characters across the entire company," says John Vignocchi, vice president of production for Disney Infinity. "They're all toy versions. No one is confused that this is Yoda from 'The Phantom Menace.' That's the 'Disney Infinity' Yoda. It looks like a toy, acts like a toy, breaks apart like a toy."

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Vignocchi was allowed to read the script for "The Force Awakens" in August 2014 after pitching an "Infinity" version of "Star Wars" to Duan and her team in late 2013. The plan, at the time, was to make a game of the upcoming film, but Lucasfilm, says Duan, wanted all iterations of "Star Wars" — the new Abrams-directed film as well as the original trilogy and the prequels — to be represented in "Infinity."

"We look at the research, and when we look at the demographics certain characters resonate more with certain fan groups," she says. "We found that in certain games, in which we only focused on the classic trilogy, some of the teens and tweens were saying, 'Where's my favorite character? Where's Darth Maul? Where's Qui-Gon?' We can't have them miss out."

After Disney acquired Lucasfilm in 2012, there was a brief lull in "Star Wars" video games as the Lucasfilm game division was essentially shut down and reconfigured. But there has been more activity in the interactive space this year, with the release of the more grown-up shooter "Star Wars: Battlefront" by Electronic Arts and now three "Star Wars"-focused "Infinity" products. An additional narrative-focused "Star Wars" game has been announced; it's in development at Electronic Arts studio Visceral Games.

Just as Disney and Lucasfilm have plotted out "Star Wars" movies for the foreseeable future, there will be no shortage, says Duan, of "Star Wars" games.

"With all the new films coming out," she says, "there's going to be a lot more new narrative space to play with and a lot more content."

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