The Wii U is going to claim the Nintendo spotlight this Christmas, but that won't stop the 3DS in looking to back up its strong showing from November last year, which kicked the slow-starting handheld into life.
Epic Mickey: Power Of Illusion, arguably the biggest third-party 3DS game of the year, harks back to the 16-bit days of Castle of Illusion.
We had a chat with Peter Ong, the lead developer at DreamRift on Epic Mickey: Power Of Illusion, about the upcoming Disney adventure that returns to the simple yet challenging world of 2D platformers.
MMGN: The first thing that jumps out about Epic Mickey: Power of Illusion is that it's not only its own unique game, but that it's totally different to Power of Two. Why did you decide to make more of a traditional side-scrolling platformer?
Peter Ong: At DreamRift, we are always interested in exploring what types of new experiences can be made by considering the unique features of a particular videogame system’s hardware as a fundamental part of a game’s design. When we sit down to brainstorm about a new game, our ideas at the beginning are more game-mechanics-focused, as we typically start with a novel idea for how interactions work in gameplay instead of some other aspect of the game such as the appearance, setting, or story. There has to be something special about the way that the player will interact with the rules of the game first, and then all of the other trappings such as the story can grow out of that.
The concept we came up with was based on the idea of combining a classical-style platforming game on one screen with being able to actively create and remove objects in the environment as you play. The idea was that the player could use the stylus on the bottom screen to actually draw or erase things, which would result in those objects either appearing or disappearing in the platforming environment.
Castle of Illusion is the obvious major influence. How big a role will nostalgia play for “seasoned” gamers who remember the Mega Drive classic? In what ways is it similar?
Our team members are huge fans of Castle of Illusion: Starring Mickey Mouse, so from our perspective, creating Power of Illusion has been a mind-blowing opportunity to be able to share our appreciation for how incredible the game was, and still is! Castle of Illusion: Starring Mickey Mouse was personally one of the games I cherished most as a boy, and it remains one of my all-time favourite games.
DreamRift’s goal was to honour the spirit of the original game through the way that Power of Illusion looks, sounds, and plays. Our goal was to attempt to take what we thought made the original game such a special and unique experience, and then add whatever we could to take it further. For example, the Bounce Attack in Disney Epic Mickey: Power of Illusion is heavily inspired by the Bounce Attack in the classic game, where the player jumps into the air and then presses the jump button again in midair to bounce on enemies. This time around, we’ve added an extra nuance to the attack called a “Perfect Bounce”, where if the player waits until the last moment before pressing the jump button in midair to initiate a Bounce Attack, a “Perfect Bounce” will occur. This special bounce has extra risk, because Mickey may get hurt landing on the enemy first, but the rewards for timing it perfectly include extra powerups, increased damage to enemies, and a higher bounce off of enemies that can allow Mickey to get to new places that would normally be impossible.
Additionally, one of the amazing things in the original game was that each level was a surreal illusion featuring different imagery and settings from Disney masterpieces. In Power of Illusion, we’re also drawing inspiration from famous Disney works in celebration of Disney’s universally beloved history.
How did you go about deciding which other Disney characters to include in the game and which didn’t make the cut?
Our approach with Epic Mickey: Power of Illusion was to use traditional hand-drawn 2D visuals in order to closely capture the essence of Disney’s amazing historic imagery.
This was one of the absolute hardest and happiest problems we had while making this game. With our team members being such diehard Disney fans, and the amazing amount of trust Disney placed in us to work with a huge range of the most beloved characters and universes, we were faced with the reality that a single game would never be able to cram in anywhere near to all of the things we have ever loved throughout Disney’s history!
The way that we ultimately decided was by weighing many angles on each potential item, including maximising the range of Disney eras represented, our personal attachments, and what material would translate best into interactive gameplay ideas.
Was Power of Illusion always going to be a 3DS game? Was there ever a thought of the Vita, or smartphones or even consoles for such a game?
DreamRift’s last game was Monster Tale on the Nintendo DS, and we had enjoyed working on that system so much that we knew we wanted to transition immediately onto working with the Nintendo 3DS.
We believe that games should be designed to be specifically suited to the devices they are played on. So from the beginning for DreamRift this meant that Power of Illusion’s design would grow organically from the specifics of the Nintendo 3DS hardware itself. Our studio’s only goal was to make the best game experience we could, so rather than compromise time and resources to spread the game onto other hardware platforms, we focused on the single Nintendo 3DS version.
Fortunately, Disney felt the same way about how they wanted to approach the Nintendo 3DS, which led to DreamRift’s partnership with Disney on this game. When we first began discussing bringing Epic Mickey’s universe to the Nintendo 3DS, Disney immediately expressed that they wanted to work with us because they thought that Disney Epic Mickey on the Nintendo 3DS should be a unique standalone experience rather than being a just another translation of a Disney Epic Mickey game from a different videogame system.
Can you tell us a little bit about the control scheme and how it plays to the 3DS’s strengths?
With Disney Epic Mickey: Power of Illusion we are attempting to utilise both of the screens on Nintendo’s hand-held in a way that we haven’t really seen before. The way that the central mechanic of the game works is that the player controls Mickey on the top screen, playing through an action platforming environment, while at the same time on the bottom screen, the player is able to use the stylus and the touch screen to create or remove objects from that interactive environment back on the top screen using Mickey’s magical paintbrush.
Not only does this allow the player to dynamically customise the environment within which Mickey plays, it also provides a system where the player is rewarded further for how well they paint an object on the bottom screen through improved, more beneficial versions of objects being created on the top screen when the player performs better. When combined with Mickey’s action platforming abilities, this central mechanic offers many types of game-play challenges that haven’t existed before in a game.
I love the almost retro art style that harks back to the days of the SNES. Does playing in 3D have any noticeable impact? Will it look just as good in 2D, or perhaps even better?
Thank you! Our approach with Disney Epic Mickey: Power of Illusion was to use traditional hand-drawn 2D visuals in order to closely capture the essence of Disney’s amazing historic imagery, which was also traditionally created and animated in 2D. One thing that pleasantly surprised us while working on a 3DS game with traditional 2D art, was finding that the stereoscopic 3D effect could be most striking when it’s combined with 2D visuals. The vast majority of games on the Nintendo 3DS have polygon-generated 3D visuals, and it’s just taken for granted and expected that those games would be portrayed in stereoscopic 3D since they are meant to convey a pseudo-3D experience in the first place. However, when our 2D visuals are combined with stereoscopic 3D, the effect is something that people may not expect on the 3DS. You never really see that kind of thing in the real world, and therefore it really stands out when you see it in action.
Additionally, we also have key moments where the stereoscopic 3D is shown off in a punctuated manner that dramatically brings out the contrast between stereoscopic 3D with normal 2D. For example, when objects are first painted by the player in the bottom screen (which by nature is 2D), the objects physically cross from the bottom screen to the top screen, showing a transition in real-time from 2D on the bottom screen to stereoscopic 3D on the top screen.
How closely have you worked with Disney, in particular when sourcing historical Disney content? Did you come across anything totally unexpected in the archives?
Disney was most helpful in guaranteeing that this game has the genuine look and feel that Disney’s greatest works are loved for. It was of the utmost priority to both DreamRift and Disney that the game capture the signature of Disney’s magic, so we were delighted to have Disney’s direct support in not only evaluating the visual integrity of the game, but also to be given access to Disney’s most guarded trade-secrets and techniques.
We were particularly overwhelmed the first time that Disney provided us with the actual original source assets that Disney’s own legendary artists had created in making its classic films. Although we were intimately familiar with the films as fans, the gravity of having been given the actual working material that the original artists constructed toward the final masterpieces brought us to a new level of inspiration. Being so close to the processes that created Disney’s historic works was incredibly motivating for our team, and I believe that will shine through in this game.
By Ben Salter