If you’re standing in line for the Black Friday sales this week, chances are probably good there could be a Nintendo 3DS on your list or, at the very least, some 3DS game titles to pick up for under the tree.
If so, you’re in luck. One of the most anticipated 3DS titles this holiday season was released this week. Disney’s “Epic Mickey” franchise, created by legendary video game creator Warren Spector, now is available for Nintendo’s platform for the first time, and the game was brought to life by Orlando-based independent video game developer DreamRift.
“Epic Mickey: Power of Illusion” is a new side-scrolling 3DS game that sends Mickey and his magical paintbrush off on new adventures. The game was released on Sunday, the same day the second console version of the “Epic Mickey” game series was released. That game, “Epic Mickey 2: The Power of Two,” features a host of changes to the first release of the game in 2010.
[You can read about Warren Spector’s new console game ‘Epic Mickey 2: The Power of Two,’ the role of gaming, the use of creativity and Disney magic here.]
Though the “Power of Illusion” 3DS game has characters and game-play motifs familiar to ones found in “Power of Two,’ the Nintendo 3DS title offers its own unique environment and gaming goals. Most importantly, though, the game is practically a loving homage to Sega’s “Illusion” series of platforming games of the 1990s -- and especially “Castle of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse.”
Working with Spector’s Junction Point Studios, Dreamrift has created a game with a unique visual style and game play wholly separate from the console versions of the game.
Veteran game developer Peter Ong, the co-founder and creative director of DreamRift, has worked with bringing to life well-known games ranging from “Henry Hatsworth in the Puzzling Adventure” to the award-winning “Monster Tale” and others. He said his work on “Power of Illusion,” though, was especially inspiring to him, given his love of the Sega games of yesterday.
Recently, Ong answered a series of questions about the new “Epic Mickey” 3DS title.
Q. “Disney Epic Mickey: Power of Illusion” has been called a tribute to Sega's “Castle of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse.” How important was the Sega title to the evolution of video-gaming?
Ong: “The original game came out in 1990 for the Sega Genesis videogame system, and it was quite a milestone for many reasons.
“It gave Sega an amazing character-driven experience within the ‘platforming-game’ genre at a crucial time for the Genesis, before ‘Sonic the Hedgehog’ even existed. The game set new standards in quality of musical composition, and the controls with which the player guided Mickey through his quest were unprecedented in their responsiveness.
“Furthermore, it served as stunning proof that games based on existing properties could be phenomenal, defining new benchmarks for animation and color usage and truly capturing the artistry that Disney is known for.”
Q. Do you remember playing Sega's “Castle of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse” for the first time? What did you think about it back in the day and how did it influence you in what you're doing today?
Ong: “I vividly remember the first time I played the game, as it was one of the most exciting experiences of my childhood.
“I was just absolutely floored by what I experienced – everything about the way the game looked, played, sounded and more!
“At that point in time, I was a big Disney fan, especially the films, but not particularly of Mickey Mouse himself. That changed when I played ‘Castle of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse.’ The original game made Mickey Mouse ‘cool’ to a new generation of young players, including myself, and I never looked at him the same way again.
“Twenty-two years later today, the appreciation that I have for that game hasn’t changed. My admiration for ‘Castle of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse’ was a key element in inspiring me to eventually become a professional videogame designer.
“Throughout that career of over 12 years, I’ve always gone back to the game for research, no matter what game I’m making. It’s just an amazing example to draw inspiration from as a reference point for what a great game is.”
Q. Obviously, the 16-bit look of ‘Power of Illusion’ is an excellent homage to "Castle of Illusion," but isn't that a risky 2D visual move for the 3DS? It seems counterintuitive to what younger gamers might expect on this platform.
Ong: “Our team didn’t really worry about what might be risky or not with our visual approach to ‘Disney Epic Mickey: Power of Illusion.’ After all, if something isn’t risky, is it worth creating? Ultimately, it will be the audience who decides how the visual style is received.
“Our focus was only to find a visual style that best suits the type of game experience we were striving to convey. In addition to its relationship with the original ‘Castle of Illusion’ game, this game is also a celebration of Disney’s history. Our team’s fondest memories of Disney are of the wonderful hand-painted 2D masterpieces that Disney has given so many generations throughout the world, beginning with ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.’ Our team’s goal was for the visuals in this game to connect as intimately as possible with Disney’s classic imagery, so we decided that a 2D approach to the game would most directly translate those timeless Disney visuals that are so beloved to so many.”
Q. I've read that DreamRift convinced Disney Animation into turning over images from its movies in order for you to get the 3DS graphics as close as possible to the original. How important was this for the look and feel of the game?
Ong: “Once Disney realized just how serious we were about making a game that does justice to Disney’s legacy of timeless classics, they placed a vast amount of trust in DreamRift by supporting our project with their most guarded resources and techniques.”
“This Nintendo 3DS version of ‘Epic Mickey’ is different from all others because it focuses on famous and beloved Disney characters and films, in contrast to the other Epic Mickey games, which focus on Disney’s forgotten and rejected history. As a tribute to Disney’s history of iconic characters, stories, and settings, we’ve attempted to draw from a huge range of Disney animated features.
“We have early classic-Disney period films in the game such as ‘Peter Pan’ and ‘Sleeping Beauty,’ then we also bring in the middle ‘renaissance’ period of Disney with, for example, ‘The Lion King’ and ‘The Little Mermaid,’ and finally, there is more recent material in the game with the film ‘Tangled.’
“Due to that fact, DreamRift and Disney agreed from the start that this game absolutely must faithfully represent the many different Disney films and characters within it. Whenever an environment or character from a specific film is experienced in the game, it had to look and feel like it was created by the original artists who made the original.
“We were overwhelmingly honored the first time that Disney gave us their actual original source assets that were created by Disney’s artists during the making of its classic films. Even though we grew up watching our favorite Disney films so many times in our lives, the realization that we were holding the actual working material that Disney’s own legendary artists constructed in order to put together the finished film masterpieces was a larger-than-life moment. Disney and DreamRift’s close partnership in creating this game was vital to ensuring that everything in the game has that genuine Disney magic.”
Q. Can Mickey in ‘Power of Illusion’ perform differently from his counterpart in the ‘Power of Two’ version we'll see for the console platforms?
Ong: “The signature concept of the ‘Epic Mickey’ universe is that the player can create and erase objects in the environment using Mickey’s magical paintbrush. Although this concept is in both games, the way in which the idea is actually used differs greatly.
“For this game, DreamRift’s goal was to make a game that was uniquely built for the Nintendo 3DS and its specific capabilities. Therefore, the way that the player creates and erases objects in this game involves physically painting them using the Nintendo 3DS’ touch screen. This connects the player very intimately with the specific object being painted or erased, and gives players the opportunity to participate in the creation of beautiful and iconic Disney images.
“Additionally, most of Mickey’s other abilities in ‘Disney Epic Mickey: Power of Illusion’ are completely different than in the other ‘Epic Mickey’ game. One of Mickey’s main moves in this game is the ‘Bounce Attack,’ where Mickey bounces off of enemies, both defeating them and allowing Mickey to reach higher places. This move is actually inspired by Mickey’s main move in the original ‘Castle of Illusion’ game.
Q. Warren Spector has said that music is an important part of communicating a game's storyline, and it's a crucial aspect of his ‘Epic Mickey’ creation. What would you want readers to know about the music behind ‘Power of Illusion’?
Ong: “I couldn’t agree more about music being extremely important in a game experience. I’d go so far as to say that music ideally should encompass all aspects of a game, even beyond the story.
“Even though audio and music is a constant part of the game playing experience, it’s something that’s unfortunately often neglected, especially on handhelds such as the Nintendo 3DS. Oftentimes it seems that game-makers just don’t take what they’re doing seriously enough especially when they make a portable game.
“We set out with quite a few very ambitious goals for the music in ‘Disney Epic Mickey: Power of Illusion.’ We were sure that it should definitely have that special Disney feel, but at the same time there were other things it had to capture.
“If the player is playing a part of the game that’s based on certain Disney film, our aim was for the music in that area to feel just like the music from that film. For example, when you’re in Never Land, which is from the film ‘Peter Pan,’ you feel like you are in the film, not only because of what you see, but also from what you hear.
“The soundtrack to the original ‘Castle of Illusion’ game was phenomenal. In fact, I’ve known every tune in the game by heart since I was a boy. We were super eager to bring back many of those same songs. So we ended up studying the melodies and composition of the original songs, and then our brilliant composer created new arrangements of the songs using all the benefits of more current technology and instrumentation. He did a fantastic job, which I strongly believe has met the incredibly high orchestral standard heard in Disney’s best films.”
Q. Finally, what does this project mean to you personally?
Ong: “It’s really difficult to put that into words! This project means so much to me because I feel as though it actually started 22 years ago when I was a young boy playing the original ‘Castle of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse’ videogame.
“The sheer wonder and joy that I felt playing that game have stayed with me throughout my life and my videogame-making career. It’s as if all of those events have led me to this point where now I have an opportunity with ‘Disney Epic Mickey: Power of Illusion’ to express my appreciation for the original ‘Castle of Illusion.’ … I only hope that some amount of my joy will come across to both new and familiar players when they play the game.”