Fans of old school Disney platformers were shocked to hear that Capcom was resurrecting the NES classic DuckTales for modern consoles a few months back. And not long after came another bombshell from Sega—that they, too, were giving an old Disney classic the HD treatment with Castle of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse.
Siliconera caught up with the latter game’s producer, Omar Woodley of Sega Studios Australia, on the show floor of E3 to ask how and why.
So, how did all this this come about exactly?
Omar Woodley, Sega Studios Australia: We were actually talking to Disney, about two years ago, about doing a collaboration. Initially, we were unsure what it would be—we just knew that we wanted to do a project together, to make a Disney game.
So we looked at our catalogue of games, and obviously the original Castle of Illusion is one of the best games from the Mega Drive and Genesis era, so we chose that. Disney was totally on board, so we then contacted the original creator, Emiko Yamamoto-san, who actually works for Disney of Japan now, as an executive producer.
She was very excited by the proposal, and ended up being involved in the vision of the new game. So she wanted us to re-imagine her original vision with modern technology, with high fidelity visuals and special effects, plus to innovate the gameplay and add dynamic challenges. That’s what we targeted, and that’s what we accomplished.
Did Yamamoto give you her blessing or did she keep tabs on development?
She was involved, she helped keep tabs. We sent various deliverables to her, to get her feedback, to make sure she was happy with the direction we were going. Actually, once the development team built the prototype, they actually flew out there personally to present it to her.
I’d imagine that was pretty nerve-wracking.
Yes it was!
Was Disney surprised that you and your team chose to re-imagine Castle of Illusion? It certainly has its fans, even to this day, but it was hardly a billion copy seller either.
Not at all! They were happy to do the project and very support every step of the way. There were those in Disney who were aware of the game’s pedigree. They’re also super happy with the final product, and believe it’s in line with the original vision.
What do you think differentiates this from other Disney games on the market today?
I think how we kept to the original core content of the game, one of which is its high degree of challenge, which I believe is the most compelling element.
That’s the thing that struck me the most; it’s really hard, compared to most Disney games, which are clearly skewed to a younger audience, and are therefore a cakewalk in many instances.
That was our goal from the get-go, to target the retro gamer, our age group. The guys who played this for months when they were kids, because mom and dad wouldn’t buy them a new game.
Was there any temptation, perhaps from outside sources, to make it easier, like an easy mode?
We did experiment with that, but in the end, we felt it stay as close to the original core of the game as possible, the steep challenging aspects.
There are some additional, smaller nuances as well… we spent hundreds of hours when researching this game. Every group involved—us, Sega, Sega of Japan, Disney of Japan, Disney of US—we combed over every detail, the memories, the feel of the game that we wanted to represent.
Mickey, for example, in the original game, was the very first game character to have an idle animation. Most people think it was Sonic, but Mickey in Castle of Illusion pre-dated that by almost a year. So we really wanted to give that same sense of vitality that was introduced back then. His physics still have the floaty jump, where you can back off from your jump. And we built all the levels around that aspect.
The platforming is presented in a 2.5D format, so we didn’t stray too far from the original. But we have presented the game in a modern engine, and we added new content, to make it even more challenging and dynamic, for the modern platformer… So we did a good job I think of identifying some of the core experiences from that classic, and translating it to a modernized version.
But was there one utmost important defining aspect of Castle of Illusion, that one almost magical element that you all knew, more than anything else, had to be retained?
God. Seriously, there was so many pillars we were trying to maintain… When designing the game, we drew upon everything: the original game, Disney theme parks, movies, cartoons… We really wanted to emphasize the Disney magic, and make sure you felt that in this game.
Though, I would have to say, I think we really achieved in making Mickey a truly compelling character for today’s audience. I know it’s not Assassin’s Creed, I know it’s not Halo, but I think we really made Mickey a personable character for pretty much any age group.
When you play this, it doesn’t feel like a kids’ game. And you end up respecting Mickey a bit more. It’s not a kids’ game, because it’s so hard, so you end up having more respect for him.
Well, if this does well, will we see remakes of World of Illusion, or maybe Quackshot, other early classic Disney platformers for the Genesis?
We’ve been getting that question a lot… Our focus is strictly on Castle of Illusion, so we’ll just have to see how well it does.
How does it feel to come out around the same time as Ducktales Remastered?
I’m very happy for Disney, I’m excited that all these classic games are coming back, strictly speaking as a gamer. “Oh wow, they’re making Ducktales, this is awesome!”
And speaking from Sega’s stand point, I think we accomplished our task, we’re really happy with our product, Disney’s really happy with our product. Also, speaking as a dad, I’m happy to see Disney contemporize all these classics, and introducing them to my kids.