Peter Ong is the creative director of DreamRift, the studio behind the upcoming Epic Mickey: Power of Illusion game. Pocket Gamer was fortunate enough to grab some time with Ong before the release of the title this November.
Ong talks with us about the experience of working with Disney, why its characters are timeless, and how the game is inspired by (and improves upon) cult classic Castle of Illusion: Starring Mickey Mouse.
He also divulges information about the areas gamers will be exploring in this new game, explains why you should trust a Disney villain from time to time, and points out the fundamental differences between the 3DS version of Epic Mickey: Power of Illusion and the home console releases.
Pocket Gamer: The last time we saw Epic Mickey: Power of Illusion, we were treated to the brand-new Agrabah level. What other levels can we expect to see in the final version, and which of them are you most excited for gamers to see?
Peter Ong: The levels following Agrabah include other major scenes from the film Aladdin, such as the Cave of Wonders (where Aladdin finds Genie's lamp in the movie) and the battle with the villainous Jafar at the end of the film. The next wing of the Castle of Illusion draws upon the film The Little Mermaid.
I'm most excited to see how gamers respond to the challenges of the bosses in the game. Each of these encounters focuses on a battle between Mickey and a famous Disney villain.
How closely have you worked with Disney and its archive team on this project? Has this helped shape the title?
The support we've had from Disney throughout the creation of this game has been amazing. It's given us full access to the most guarded resources in order to make sure that the game is a genuine Disney experience.
From the beginning of the project, Disney and DreamRift have been in full agreement that this game has to be as true as possible to the work that went into the original masterpieces that it draws upon.
When you play in a Peter Pan environment, we want you to feel like you are inside of that film.
In order to guarantee the authenticity of every property that’s represented in the game, Disney went as far as providing us with the original source working files and assets that Disney's original artists made for its different timeless feature films.
I remember the first time we had the actual source working assets for Aladdin in our hands - we were trembling at the sheer gravity of what our eyes were fortunate enough to look upon.
Epic Mickey: Power of Illusion is vastly different from the Wii U title in development, but they do share a few common threads. How do you see the two titles in relation to each other?
Both games are completely unique standalone titles. The storyline of the Nintendo 3DS game, Epic Mickey: Power of Illusion, actually takes place sometime between the first Epic Mickey for the Nintendo Wii and the upcoming Wii U game (Epic Mickey 2: The Power of Two).
In each game, we take a common fictional basis from the Epic Mickey universe involving Wasteland, the Cartoon World, and the magical Paintbrush that Mickey wields, and then execute those elements to create a totally different experience.
For example, while Mickey uses the wizard Yen Sid's Paintbrush to create and erase things around him in both games, the specific manner in which the touchscreen gameplay mechanics work for this feature in Epic Mickey: Power of Illusion is totally different from any other game.
When we interviewed Warren Spector, he noted that different actions you make will affect the outcome of the game, but currently they look like they're focused on alternative routes through areas rather than moral decisions. Is this the case?
The character rescuing and quest system in the game involves a lot of optional choices the player can make. These choices influence the ending of the game. In fact, there are over 20 different endings to the game, and many more ways to influence how the Fortress will grow by the end.
Many of the choices that you are presented with through the Fortress quest system involve moral choices. Each of the quests that the characters present to Mickey is based on that character's individual storyline and motivations.
Consequently, you will make choices such as whether to help out a villain character like Captain Hook, knowing that the character has previously plotted against you. It's up to you to decide whether to help Captain Hook, based on how you feel about what that character has done in the past, and whether the player trusts the character's current motives.
This title is a sort of revisit of (or at least homage to) Castle of Illusion for the Mega Drive. Is that a title you grew up with, and what has the process been like attempting to replicate some of that game's feel and mechanics?
Our team at DreamRift has attempted to express our love for the original Castle of Illusion: Starring Mickey Mouse as much as possible with this game.
That game was one of the most important games of my childhood. It's really been an inspiration throughout my life: first in entertaining me as a young boy, then in motivating me to become a game designer. It has also served as a fantastic reference point for the way in which a great game is made throughout my over-ten-year professional game design career.
We knew that we wanted certain fundamental mechanics in the game to feel very close to the way they felt in the original Castle of Illusion game. Our goal was to try to take what we thought made the original game such a special experience, and then add whatever we could to make it even better.
For example, the Bounce Attack in Epic Mickey: Power of Illusion is heavily inspired by the Bounce Attack in the original game, where you jump into the air and then press the jump button again in mid-air to bounce on enemies. However, we've added an extra nuance to the attack called a "Perfect Bounce".
If you wait until the last moment before pressing the jump button in mid-air to initiate a Bounce Attack, a "Perfect Bounce" will occur. This special bounce is riskier because Mickey may get hurt landing on the enemy first. The rewards for timing it properly, however, include increased damage to enemies, extra power-ups, and a higher bounce off of enemies that can allow Mickey to get to places that would otherwise be impossible to gain access to.
From the numerous references to other Disney games in the Epic Mickey: Power of Illusion, it looks like you're a massive fan of the company's video game heritage. Is that a fair assumption?
Because of the age of most of our team members, many of our fondest Disney gaming memories growing up are from the 8-bit and 16-bit eras of the '80s and '90s.
Now that we finally have an opportunity to work with Disney, it's important to us to attempt to convey our appreciation for the experiences we had in those games.
To us, certain games from Disney's heritage stand out as benchmarks, and we'd like to share what we like about those games with audiences today.
Do you worry that younger players might miss a few in-jokes along the way?
Not at all. One of the great things about Disney's stories and characters is that they have a truly timeless and universal appeal. That's why Disney is so beloved all over the world - people of all ages and backgrounds adore its stories.
We believe that fact still holds true when you translate Disney's history into a video game experience. As a result, there should be something for everyone in this game.
The same emotions, traits, and history that the characters have in their films that made them originally so appealing are present in this game, but they're put into this new story and situation to play out.
Epic Mickey: Power of Illusion is released on November 18th for the 3DS. Look out for a full review on it on Pocket Gamer nearer the time.