Interview: Dreamrift’s Peter Ong chats with us about Epic Mickey: Power of Illusion

by Daniel VuckovicNovember 8, 2012

The 16-bit Megadrive Mickey Mouse titles have for the longest time been considered not only some of the best Disney games, but also some of the best 16-bit platforming games. Now inspired by those titles, Epic Mickey: Power of Illusion is back to show us how it’s done.

We had the chance to chat with Peter Ong, he’s the co-founder and creative director of DreamRift. You might remember them from such games as Henrey Hatsworth and Monster Tale. Peter and his team have been hard at work on Power of Illusion and now it’s finished lets find out some more about it.

Before Disney Epic Mickey: Power of Illusion, DreamRift worked solely on own IP. How different is it to go from working on your own creations to something that has such an extensive history, as Mickey Mouse does?

Peter Ong, co-founder and creative director of DreamRift and director of Power of Illusion

Peter: We always knew it would take something really special in order for DreamRift to tackle our first game within an existing universe, as historically our core members have thrived on creating original properties. The opportunity to work not only with Disney, but to draw from so much of Disney’s history is a gigantic honour to every one of DreamRift’s team members. On top of that, I can’t imagine ever turning down the opportunity to work with Mickey Mouse nor with the Castle of Illusion. And then there’s also the multitude of other amazing and beloved Disney classics we worked with such as Beauty and the Beast, Alice in Wonderland, Tangled and Peter Pan all at the same time! How do you say no to that!

The biggest differences we have encountered between creating our own IP and working within an existing universe are the audience’s prior awareness of the property, and the absolute need to maintain the integrity of a pre-existing universe. Disney’s library of iconic characters, stories, and settings are the most beloved in the entire world. However, with that comes a huge amount of pressure and responsibility when given the opportunity to create new material with them. There are so many fans throughout the world that will recognize immediately if what we’re doing doesn’t ring totally true to the source material that we’re drawing upon. So it can be very daunting and at the same time, it’s an overwhelming honour to consider that we were given the responsibility to breathe new life into eternal icons such as Ariel, Beast, Snow White and Aladdin, by animating them, writing new dialogue for them, and bringing them into a new story with this game.

At the end of the day, we just had to keep our focus on enjoying each and every piece of what we were being allowed to work with day by day, rather than allowing ourselves to be paralysed by the sheer gravity of it.

It’s obvious you guys are big fans of 16-bit platformers. What have you brought ‘back’ from the 16-bit era you’re most proud of in Power of Illusion?

Peter: Yes, big time! Our game is tied into a classic Disney game, Castle of Illusion: Starring Mickey Mouse, so it brings back not only one of the best Disney games, but one of the greatest videogames ever made. To say that this game shaped the way I make video games today is an understatement! It was my all time favourite game growing up. Focusing on the Castle of Illusion was a conscious and very personal decision for me. Our team members at DreamRift are all big fans of the original game, and we’re extremely excited to have the chance to bring the Castle of Illusion back to life for both new and familiar audiences alike and to be a part of the legacy of the Illusion-series.[pullquote_right]We’re extremely excited to have the chance to bring the Castle of Illusion back to life… [/pullquote_right]

We started out by looking at the story that was established in the original game. The Castle of Illusion is so special because it pulls in illusions of characters, places, and objects from all throughout Disney’s rich history. With that in mind, we wanted to explore the castle’s illusionary capabilities by tapping into many of our favourite Disney classics. Similar to the other Illusion-series games, in this game, the places that Mickey will journey through are created by illusions that are just as dangerous as reality, but are based on many different landmarks, famous places, characters, and objects from Disney’s extensive history of classic masterpieces.

The Wasteland setting allows you to bring back some of Disney’s forgotten past. Which characters were you most keen to bring back?

Peter: Those familiar with Epic Mickey will recall that Wasteland is a place where things from Disney’s history are transported to when they become forgotten or are no longer as popular. The story in Disney Epic Mickey: Power of Illusion is a continuation of the stories from both Castle of Illusion: Starring Mickey Mouse and Epic Mickey. It’s unusual and unique in that we’ve woven together the stories and gameplay of two different games based in two different universes, which were first released so many years apart from each other. We’re big fans of Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, so we wanted to make him integral to this game. We also jumped at the chance to feature Scrooge McDuck heavily in the game because we love him and he hasn’t been seen in much recently.

One of the major characters we’ve brought back from Disney’s past with our tie-in to Castle of Illusion is the original villain from that game, the evil witch Mizrabel. She hasn’t been in a game for over 20 years! Mizrabel’s role in the story of Disney Epic Mickey: Power of Illusion begins when the Castle of Illusion falls into Wasteland as a forgotten object, and along with it, comes its ruler, Mizrabel herself. She disagrees wholeheartedly with having been forgotten, so she hatches a plan to bring both herself and the Castle of Illusion back to the Cartoon World (the place where things that are still beloved reside).

The downside of Mizrabel’s plan is that it requires her to capture many different famous Disney characters including Mickey’s sweetheart, Minnie Mouse. Mickey’s goal is to save Minnie and the rest of the Disney characters before Mizrabel can drain enough power from them to complete her plan. In a way, Mizrabel’s refusal to allow herself and the Castle of Illusion to be forgotten is a reflection of the passion that our team has for bringing the original Castle of Illusion: Starring Mickey Mouse videogame back to life.

There are only a handful of 2D Sprite games on the 3DS. Are you surprised by this? (They look great in combination with the stereoscopic 3D, we think.)

Peter: We felt strongly from the beginning of the project that the visual style of the game should be connected as closely as possible to the amazing traditional 2D artwork that Disney is loved all over the world for. We did initial tests using a 2D approach to the game’s visuals early on, and we were so happy with the way that it combined with the stereo-3D capability of the Nintendo 3DS. We’ve found that it’s much easier to view the game with the stereo-3D turned on than it is in most other 3DS games due to the great viewing stability and lack of ghosting afforded by our specific visual approach.

I can’t say that I’m very surprised that more games haven’t done this, as the idea of capitalizing on stereo-3D by using a 2D art style might seem counter-intuitive at first. It really has to be seen in action to be fully appreciated because it’s an artistic effect that you can’t see in the real world or anywhere else, where hand-made 2D animated visuals project with true stereo-3D depth.

How extensively did the team work with Warren Spector and the Junction Point team?

Peter:  DreamRift developed this game while Junction Point was developing the separate upcoming game, Disney Epic Mickey: The Power of Two for other consoles. As Creative Directors of two different studios making two completely standalone Epic Mickey experiences, Warren and I met early on in development to make sure that each game would provide a coherent addition to the overall fiction of Epic Mickey.

At the beginning of our project, staff members from Junction Point were very helpful in sharing reference assets and in communicating the various rules of Wasteland and the behaviour of objects and characters within it so that we could come up with a new story that works with the original Epic Mickey fiction to bring famous classic Disney characters and the original Castle of Illusion videogame into the Epic Mickey universe for the first time.

Henry Hatsworth and Monster Tale weren’t released here in Australia. Most of us still found a copy from overseas, though. Does it annoy you that more people can’t experience your games?

Peter:  Yes! But thankfully, that’s about to change with this game! With the amount of passion and hard work that we put into our games, one of the things that excited DreamRift most about a partnership with Disney was the opportunity to reach more of our audience than ever before.

Although both Hatsworth and Monster Tale were great critical successes, I was disappointed that they never released to the Australian audience, especially because I have close personal ties with Australia. In fact, half of my relatives are from Australia, and I try to visit it at least once a year. I think that Sydney may be my favourite city in the world.

What’s next for DreamRift?

Peter: We’re currently working on something that we can’t wait to talk about! Unfortunately, we’re unable to speak about it right now. DreamRift would like to express its utmost appreciation to everyone for their interest and support!

Many thanks to Peter for taking time out for this interview!

Epic Mickey: Power of Illusion is out in Australia on the 22nd of November alongside Epic Mickey 2: The Power of Two on the Wii. That’s more Mickey than you can shake a magic paintbrush at!

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Daniel Vuckovic
The Owner and Creator of this fair website. I also do news, reviews, programming, art and social media here. It is named after me after all.Please understand.

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