Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Remaking an Icon, Final Part: the True Story of Maui Mallard

Remaking an Icon, the true story of Maui Mallard and Cold Shadow

2011-03-10 21:06:31.617
Maui Mallard did not begin and end its life with one game. The work of a team incorporating Disney Interactive veterans and new members had fleshed out the universe of the detective duck and his ninja alter-ego well before production began. The studio, after all, had experience delivering completely original characters that were refreshing takes on classic themes. This blog had covered the ways in which Disney domestically and overseas approached the redesigns of their most famous mascots. These were not necessarily characters that were limited by public preconception or zeitgeist behaviors. Heroes that hinted at a long backstory but were only moments old managed to make the biggest impact among modern audiences. These redesigned mascots reminded audiences of the icons they were based on through the user of personality traits and not solely visual cues. Disney then began experimenting with their animated characters, using the lessons learned from the comic book reinterpretations of the icons.
Designs that were rooted in pulp comics, not quite meant for kids, yet at the same time appealing to a broad range of ages and backgrounds began appearing in the 1990's. It started with comics but ended up influencing animation and eventually gaming. Such was the case for the Disney Afternoon hero Darkwing Duck. The alter-ego of Drake Mallard appealed to fans of hero stories, combining the story of a mild-mannered single dad with a crime fighter. This character and his rogues gallery found a place in a universe that had been traditionally marketed for children only. The wisecracking Drake often found himself delivering clever lines to villains with magical or science-based powers. His look was decidedly vintage hero, with a cape and cavalier hat, but rounded out with a gun that shot gas. This character almost looked out of place in the modern era but worked because his supporting cast was as diverse and unique. The eclectic mix of elements worked in favor of Darkwing Duck. For the first time in ages a hero in an afternoon show was appealing to a broad spectrum of viewers. Disney Interactive took a page from that playbook and translated those lessons into game form.
The subjects in Maui Mallard in Cold Shadow were as diverse as those featured in Darkwing Duck and also worked well together. Pacific island (tiki) culture, voodoo magic, ninjitsu, zombies, pirates and noir detective all mixed into one giant adventure. The animation in the game was amazing. With dozens of hidden details and gags waiting to be discovered. It was as close as gamers had gotten to playing a living-breathing cartoon character. For the first time time gamers felt like active participants rather than passive audiences to the Disney brand of entertainment.

The history and origins of Maui were hinted at in documentation for the game. These were things planned out well before the title was released. The adventure featured in the game itself, the one with Shabuhm Shabuhm was actually pulled from File #35: The Case of the Missing Mojo. Maui had learned to be a ninja well before he was a detective, this was mentioned in Case #14 The Search for Sue Schee. Even his prized bug gun had a history. It was a vintage 1935 Westchester Bug Gun, apparently a rare and powerful model. Maui's friends and rivals all had the same attention to detail of the best work from Disney. This cast and these characters were destined for greatness, had only the game come out sooner.
Disney was not alone in the development process. As with all great titles there were teams working outside of the publisher that helped get things done. When it came time to turn the concepts into a fun and functional game they went to a team with a lot of experience in the field of design, gaming and animation.
Creative Capers Entertainment, the studio responsible for the design and animation featured in most of the Disney Interactive games helped bring Maui to life. The majority of titles animated by Creative Capers were the interactive learning titles, simple programs for the PC. When it came to actual animation for a console title they were the undisputed go-to team. There were very few titles which could match the quality of their work in the 16-bit title Mickey Mania. That game with it's homage to classic Mickey Mouse could be considered a precursor to Epic Mickey and the new generation of DI titles. Interestingly enough Creative Capers had also worked on a title featuring Mickey with a magic paintbrush more than a decade before Warren Spector delivered Epic Mickey. To be fair Disney Magic Artist Studio was a painting program and not really a game, but I digress.
The animation featured in Mickey Mania was so good that it undoubtedly lead Disney Interactive to pursue a completely original game IP with stand-out designs and animation. Their work in Maui Mallard easily rivals the work of Shiny Entertainment with Earthworm Jim. Unfortunately few console gamers saw the Sega Mega Dive version of Maui. There was not a domestic port on the Genesis, this blog in fact features an emulated version for comparison. The Mega Drive version was very close to the PC version yet not quite the same as the version featured on the Super Nintendo. Despite the quality and originality of Maui Mallard, the title was extremely rare among USA gamers.
Even with the low profile release Disney still had big plans for the title and eventually, series. Creative Capers had a long relationship with Disney, and several other entertainment juggernauts (including Disney rival Warner Bros.), yet they also worked designing consumer products and even stores for the House of Mouse. In the entertainment field they animated several 2D and 3D projects including the fan-favorite Nightmare Ned. What few people outside of Disney Interactive knew was that the designs for Maui Mallard 2 were ready to go and levels were beginning to come together as well. What was the true story of Maui Mallard? How did this game come to be and what did the future hold for our hero? Following is the Q&A with two members of the team that worked on the original Maui Mallard. Composer and Sound Designer Patrick J Collins and veteran Artist / Designer Oliver Wade. Oliver was kind enough to provide this blog with the designs from MM2, including Mucky, the reformed Muddrake friend of Maui.

What sort of direction were you given for the project?
Patrick J. Collins: Patrick Gilmore was the senior producer on the project and we spent a bit of time together talking about what things should sound like. In general, I felt like I was left to use my instincts do whatever I thought would be cool. I remember the main gun firing sound effect was something that took a while to find the right one. There was a lot of concern about a Disney game having a real gun sound, so I had to come up with something that sounded more "harmless"-- after all, it was a gun that shot bugs!
Oliver Wade: This was the first project I worked on after being hired by Disney Interactive and I came onto the project towards the end. The majority of the animation had already be completed by Creative Capers but there were some polish issues after the programming was finished. Thing like hook-ups (getting from one animation smoothly to the next one) and a few minor animations needed to be done so that is what I did. The only real direction I was given was to play through the game and look for things that could be improved with better transitions.
How did you get your start with this project?
P.J.C.: Maui Mallard was my first project with the company. When I interviewed, the VP of creativity said to me "You'll be starting on a Donald Duck game".. I was totally excited because Donald was always my favorite Disney character.
O.W.: started on it as soon as I was hired by Disney Interactive. They were really trying to put the finishing touches on it and needed an in-house animator to finish it up. The had exhausted their animation budget but still needed a few more things and I was hired to help complete the project.
What was your primary medium or tools?
P.J.C.: On that project, I used a lot of Roland XV-1080, Roland JD-990, and Yamaha FM synthesis to create sounds from scratch. There was also quite a bit of live audio recording.. I remember recording for the Muddrakes and in my office I was screaming "THERE HE IS!! GET HIM!!!!". I remember one of the marketing directors was totally freaked out because she heard all this screaming from their conference room.
O.W.: I worked with pencil an paper. I scanned in my drawings and did some clean-up on the computer in a proprietary program that Disney had. But all of the animation was done with traditional pencil and paper.
Was this your first game project?
P.J.C.: No, I previously worked for Westwood Studios and worked on many other games... I worked on The Lion King, Kyrandia I, II, III, Lands of Lore, Command & Conquer all before I had worked on Maui.
Did you have any experience working with the cartoon genre?
P.J.C.: Not at that point, but after Maui Mallard I did all the music for Nightmare Ned which was more of a cartoon style. Also many years later I did music for a cartoon series pilot by the animation director of Family Guy. Unfortunately nothing ever came of that pilot.
O.W.: When I joined the staff at DI I already had worked in animation for many years on everything from commercials to feature films to games. Most of my experience was with traditional animation but I had taught myself (while at Electronic Arts) to animate in 3D as well.

Let’s talk a little bit about your education and training. Where did you go to school?
P.J.C.: California Institute of the Arts. I got my BFA in music with my focus on classical piano and voice.
O.W.: I have no real formal training and I didn't even graduate from High School. I got my G.E.D. a year before I was supposed to graduate and I took a few courses at a Junior College but my real training came from work experience. I started my animation career painting cels at a small animation house in St. Louis. I eventually moved to inking cels, animating and even shooting animation camera all at the same place. I then moved to Vancouver to work on a project there. That's where I got my real training from many animators who went on to work at places like Disney Feature and Pixar.
Who were your biggest influences?
P.J.C.: At that time... Chopin, Grieg, Chabrier, and Mozart.
How was it working alongside Michael Giacchino? Did you learn anything from each other?
P.J.C.: I learned quite a bit from him. He had already composed the majority of the soundtrack for the game before I was hired-- and he left Disney shortly after I started, so I tried my best to keep all the music I created to be in the same style as what he'd done... I also tried to reincorporate some of the themes he'd created, so just from doing that I'd say I learned a lot from him because I was analyzing the stuff he'd created.
O.W.: Who were your biggest influences in art or cartooning? I combined these two questions because they really are one and the same to me. I wanted to be an animator since I saw Bambi when I was 5 so art and animation were always combined for me. My biggest influences were Walt Disney, John Pomeroy (my animation director at Don Bluth Animation) and pretty much anything on Saturday Morning in the 70's. The weird thing was that even though I was aware of all of these different styles of art I never copied what I saw. I was always drawing my own creations right from the start.
How was it working on game music as opposed to scoring something else?
P.J.C.: Game music back then was challenging because there were lots of technical limitations Especially depending on the platform... Quite often you had very little memory available so you had to be extremely creative about how you went about making things sound full and high quality.
How was it working on game art and animation as opposed to traditional animation?
O.W.: The basic process is the same. It's the same for any type of animation. 2D, 3D, film, games, it's all the same concept. Animation, at it's basic level never changes, just the tools you use to create it. I still animated everything by hand but then had to fit it into the constraints of the game and learn a few new tools.
How many revisions to the sounds and music did you go through and how were they decided?
P.J.C.: I don't recall specifically, but I think we all pretty much had a good idea of what we were doing, so it was quite obvious when something worked or didn't work. I think the senior producer was always very pleased with what I'd done.
Were there any great things that ended up on the cutting room floor?
P.J.C.: Nope... Everything created was used.
O.W.: Nothing was cut after I started working on it.
How did the island theme come together?
O.W.: I believe John Fiorito designed most of the levels and I know he designed this one. I believe Christina Vann did the actual artwork. That's all I really remember about it.
What were you were most proud of in the game?
P.J.C.: I'd say in the Sega Genesis version, there were bird calls in the music for Muddrake Mayhem. Michael had found some recordings of bird calls and used them-- I thought they were such an integral part of the score, and I remember him saying something like "too bad we can't have those in the Sega game"-- because he knew there was no way that there could be that much digitized audio due to not only memory requirements, but also there was only one channel capable of playing sampled audio on the Sega... Anyway, when he said that, I smiled and played him my version on the Sega where I had spent a lot of painstaking effort programming pitch bends on a waveform, perfectly emulating the bird calls. I remember he was blown away by that... I thought it worked perfectly.
O.W.: I was actually most proud of the fact that I could play all the way through the game without dying. Alex Schaeffer and I would have contests to see who could get through it the fastest without dying once. I can't remember who won.
There were some differences between the PC and console versions, did you work on both projects or do you know how the work was parsed out?
P.J.C.: I worked on the Sega Genesis version and the PC one. Eurocom did the Super Nintendo version. In my opinion the Sega one was best-- FM synthesis is awesome!
O.W.: I only worked on the Genesis cartridge version The conversion came later and I wasn't needed for that.
What were the difficulties or working on a game as opposed to a cartoon?
O.W.: The only real difficulty is making sure the animation you create is implemented properly by the programmers. Since Cary Hara was the only programmer and was really good at implementing animation, it was all pretty easy.
Which version of the game was your favorite?
P.J.C.: Sega!
O.W.: The console :)
How was it working with a team on this project? Any favorite memories or funny stories?
P.J.C.: I loved the Maui Team. In my opinion it was some of Disney's finest all together. I have nothing but fond memories surrounding that time in my life. We had quite a wonderful wrap party too.. It was Maui Mallard themed with tropical power punch and everything. As far as funny stories... Michael Giacchino had left on kind of bad terms, so he wasn't invited to the party.... But I recorded him saying "Hey how are ya?", "It's great to see you", and stuff like that.. and then we digitized it and threw hooked it up to some buttons, and made a life-size cut out of him. That was a pretty funny moment.
O.W.: The favorite memory I have is that I'm still friends with most of the people on this project. That is a very rare thing indeed. I've worked on a lot of things since but have never gotten as close to a group of people as I am with these folks.
Which were your favorite characters or levels in the game?
P.J.C.: I think I loved the Ninja theme, especially when Maui went into the big stone duck head that walked... I really loved making those low frequency rumbling sounds for that too.
O.W.: My favorite level is, without a doubt, the tower towards the end. It took a lot of skill to beat that level and when I did die when playing, that's where it always happened. I love a good challenge.
Maui was less like Donald Duck and more like a thinly veiled Magnum P.I, how did this character evolve?
P.J.C.: I am not sure.. It was already quite evolved by the time I joined the company.
O.W. : No idea. Before my time.
When was it decided to give him ninja abilities? Did you think this worked for the character?
P.J.C.: I loved it..
O.W. No idea. Before my time. But yes, I think it worked great. The ninja aspect was what I really loved about the character.
Was Cold Shadow actually a separate character designed for his own game or was the title always meant to explore two different types of gameplay?
P.J.C.: No, Disney's marketing dept. was kind of weird sometimes.. It was supposed to be Donald Duck as Maui Mallard, and after the game was ready to be shipped they suddenly started saying "Donald Duck isn't hip in the U.S.".. We need to change the title.. And they came up with Cold Shadow, and I was really disappointed in that.
O.W: I believe it was always meant to be two types of gameplay...but I don't know that for certain… I know I was surprised to hear about it when I joined the team. I thought it was odd to have Donald star in a game as a different character.

Were you disappointed that the game never became big? Would you have done anything different if given a chance to go back to the title?
P.J.C.: Absolutely. And it was all the marketing dept's fault. They thought it wouldn't sell anywhere but Europe, so they didn't even really try to market it. We were all really upset.
O.W.: Sure, we were all disappointed it didn't become more popular. I think the decision to make it for PC only was a huge reason. I still play my beta cartridge I got before the canceled the Genesis version.There are a few animations that could be made better (mostly how they hook together) but beyond that, I wouldn't change anything.
The question that most fans have is where would a sequel, or sequels have taken Maui Mallard?
O.W.: What most fans don't know is that a sequel was created. At least the animation for it was. I was heavily involved in the character design and animation for the sequel, much more than I was for the first one. I still have some old character sheet for that game that I will send you. I really don't remember much of the plot except that it involved zombies, pirates, plant people and sea monkeys.
Were you a big Disney fan growing up? Any favorite characters, movies or memories?
P.J.C.: Yep. I loved Disney... Huge fan of all the original shorts... Donald was my favorite character. I also loved most all their movies.. Black Hole, and Tron especially.
O.W.: I was a huge Disney fan. I wanted to be an animator for as long as I could remember. My favorite movies were Bambi and Pinocchio. I remember seeing Bambi with my Dad when I was 5 and wanted to be an animator ever since.
The game was saturated with duck characters and themes, was this to compliment the work laid out by Carl Barks?
P.J.C.: Can't answer-- but I sure did love reading Carl Barks Donald Duck comics as a kid.
O.W.: Sure. Also any of the other versions of Donald. We just wanted it to be as Duck themed as possible.
The game presented a cartoon version of combat and violence, with exaggerated poses and proportions. Even though Maui had a bug-gun, was there ever a concern that this weapon would ever get approved?
P.J.C.: Yes, I sort of answered this already. There was a lot of complications about what kind of gun sound would be appropriate. I remember the VPs were very clear about wanting it to be overly obvious that these were bug guns, and not real guns. I thought it was silly because in the past, Disney had real guns in all their cartoons. There are even war-time cartoons where Donald Duck put a pistol to his own head.
O.W.: As far as I recall no, they made it a bug gun to make it a little easier to get approved and I think it worked.
How did the story for the character evolve? What do you think were the best story elements?
O.W.: I got involved after the story was developed. One thing I do know is that the way the design process works for this group was to have a rough outline and then to make fun levels. The levels guided the story as much as the story guided the levels. The best story element for me was the inclusion of the ninja character. It opened up so many gaming possibilities.
What projects did you go on to work with after Maui Mallard?
P.J.C.: I worked on Gargoyles, Toy Story, Pocahontas, 101 Dalmatians, and Nightmare Ned.
O.W.: I worked at Insomniac on the Spyro, Ratchet and Clank and the Resistance franchises. I'm currently doing a lot of freelance work.
How did your style evolve after Maui Mallard?
P.J.C.: I was able to focus more on classical orchestral style music, which was what I was really interested in at the time.
O.W.: Every artists style is constantly evolving. I'm working on Children's books as well so I'm now evolving my style more towards the illustration side and less of the animation look.
What projects are you currently working on?
P.J.C.: I am working on my own cooking show that integrates classical piano and cooking.
O.W.: I'm doing character design and animation for a game that is "To Be Announced". I'm also writing and illustration my own book.
Any words of advice for students thinking about a career in the game industry?
P.J.C.: DON'T DO IT!!!! Just kidding. I am really not the right person to ask-- I haven't worked in the game industry since 1999.
O.W.: If you're looking to get into the animation side of things then study the art of animation. Not just games, but animation in general. The same principals that worked for traditional, hand drawn animation still applies today. The computer is just another tool, the animation comes from your skill as an artist.
Any words for fans of the title?
P.J.C.: There is a secret cheat to skip levels on the Sega version... If you put in IMCARY followed by MAUIMM, you'll hear a muddrake scream and you'll be able to jump around to any level.
O.W.: Thanks! ...and I can't believe there are still fans of this title. I forgot it existed myself until I got involved in this project :)
Maui Mallard was a gem from the 16-bit era, it certainly deserved a second look from gamers and producers alike. Audiences can find enough reason to play through several times and they certainly do not have to be Disney fans at all. Classic game fans should certainly check out this title on the SNES and if they have an emulator available then also give the Mega Drive / Genesis version a try, the differences between the two versions can be profound. I would like to thank both Patrick and Wade for their time and contributions. Wade is an impeccable artist and Patrick is an active composer. Patrick has an album available from CDBaby as well as iTunes, please give him a listen.
The hard work of my interviewees and the hard work of the team should be appreciated. The project taught budding artists, composers, designers and programmers many lessons about the ever evolving state of game development. Those lessons are still relevant today. With advances of 3D gaming the core concepts for great character and level design still apply. The use of humor, bold color choices and strong themes can anchor any project be it 2D or 3D. Smooth animation and solid control can help deliver a great story. A diversity of strong gameplay mechanics can help increase the life of any title. Most important; a great character design that uses the same elements (personality and attitude) of the biggest cartoon stars makes for a perfect gaming hero. Maui Mallard was a great game and it certainly deserved a sequel, unfortunately the industry was always moving forward and some of the best titles got left behind after the 16-bit era. Those that migrated into 3D did not always preserve their legacy.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Remaking an Icon, Maui Mallard, part 4

After everything that Maui had endured above, below and inside the heart of a tropical paradise he only had a few challenges remaining. Maui would have to return the remains of the great Muddrake shaman Quackoo to his final resting place. In order to do this Maui had to cross over and journey into "The Realm of the Dead." Disney Interactive had hoped that they had given players enough time to practice all of Maui and Cold Shadows moves because the final stage required gamers to switch between the personalities on the fly. Maui had to shoot ghosts, swing over bottomless chasms and even "swim" through green semi-transparent ectoplasm in order to navigate the complex stages.

Just about every element in this game was a fresh change of pace from Disney Interactive. The use of tiki imagery, the undead and occult elements might not have gone over well at just about any other era at the company, including today! Having the trust with the developers that this was what the community wanted in a game was unheard of. The decisions at most big game studios were based on research and marketing data instead of original ideas from the developers. The marketing person leading the research could skew the data to support his or her beliefs. This would lead to a mediocre game that failed to win over audiences and of course the developers would be blamed for that and be let go instead of the marketing "gurus." Maui Mallard in Cold Shadow was one of the rare games in the Disney game history that was almost completely unobstructed. I would dare say that not even Epic Mickey took as many chances with the IP.

The Realm of the Dead was one of the levels where the Super Nintendo version of the game looked amazing when compared to the Sega Genesis build. The colors and details really popped on the Nintendo console. Everything from the fire effects to the rippling ectoplasm to the enormous duck eye tracking our hero in the background were brilliant. 

This level also offered the one place in the game that gave me a genuine fright. Buried in several places throughout the stage were zombie ducks. The would reach out of the ground for our hero while letting out a loud yell. I was startled the first time I played through the level because I didn't know what to expect. Nothing had me prepared for that.

The zombie ducks were grotesque and required multiple shots to be killed. As players unloaded their bug gun the zombies would fall apart but continue advancing. It was probably the most gruesome thing ever featured in a Disney game but at the same time it was also one of the coolest. 

The final part of the Realm of the Dead stage was also one of the hardest portions of the entire title. Players had to escort the jar containing the remains of Quackoo to an altar. The jar rose steadily through the air and players had to use Maui and Cold Shadow to keep enemy spirits from stealing him away. Players could try to get ahead of the jar and shoot ghosts before they came around but they never wanted to be too far from Quackoo in case a ghost managed to sneak around them. 

Once Quackoo arrived at the altar the stage had finished. This was the only stage in the game that did not feature a boss battle but that was perhaps because the next level, the Mojo Stronghold, was one long boss battle.

It seemed that Maui was not a moment too soon. The evil Witch Doctor had the idol of Shabuhm Shabuhm in his clutches and was casting a spell on it. As the idol rose into the sky a storm broke out. The clouds turned an eerie shade of crimson, this supernatural power would surely destroy the island and its inhabitants unless Maui could do something about it. 

Before they could reach the Witch Doctor players had to disable his protection. Large glowing crystal balls created a shield around the villain. Players had to shatter those before they could advance. 

Once a player was able to get close enough they discovered that the bug bullets did nothing against the Witch Doctor. The final battle would have to be hand-to-hand combat using Cold Shadow. 

The Witch Doctor would shoot fire and teleport all over the platform, making it difficult to get more than one hit on him at a time. Even up close the Witch Doctor was not easy. He would kick and strike at Cold Shadow using his magic staff.

If a player managed to survive the conflict then the Witch Doctor would burst into flames. It was an awesome site in the Genesis and PC versions of the game.

Once the great evil had been defeated then the idol of Shabuhm Shabuhm was finally free to return to Earth. Maui fell from the sky and landed in a soft patch of grass. Unfortunately for him so too did the idol. Thankfully Maui cushioned the impact with his body and the Muddrakes were able to carry it off in one piece. There was a final gag that the team at Disney Interactive wrote for the idol but I'll let you play the game and find out what it was.

Hernea the High Mojo Sorceress returned to congratulate our hero. It turned out that she had misjudged him and owed him a debt of gratitude. Of course it was difficult for Maui to hear any of the apology considering he was buried upside down in the soft Earth.

Instead of telling Maui what reward he had earned she decided to show him instead. A calypso version of "Here Comes the Bride" was mixed in with the various Maui themes during the end credits. Were wedding bells in the future for Maui Mallard?

The audience was left with the satisfaction of completing a challenging platform game but also with the knowledge that Maui would return. The character and the universe that he inhabited was inspired. It would be a shame if this was the one and only chance for the character to shine. His destiny was written in the stars after all...

Disney Interactive was not content with delivering one completely original game. They had started work on a sequel. What became of it and what hampered the development of the original game will be covered in the next blog. I hope to see you  back for that.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Remaking an icon, Maui Mallard, part 3

When we last saw our hero Maui Mallard he was thrown into a volcano by the native Muddrakes. "The Sacrifice of the Maui "was the fourth stage of the game and the stakes had never been higher. Everywhere the player looked there was lava with only a few small stones to leap onto. Players had to turn into Cold Shadow right away and use his bo-staff to swing over opponents and a certain fiery death. Since Cold Shadow was constantly losing his Yin Yang energy it was up to the player to keep moving. To keep climbing higher and higher and try to avoid transforming back into Maui until he reached the end of the stage.

Some of Cold Shadow's ninja abilities came in handy on the level. He could run at super speed over long patches of magma without injuring himself. Of course doing so came at the raid loss of his Yin Yang energy.

The level made good use of light and shadow to frame a hellish scene for our hero. Depending on the version played the background was made up of cascading walls of magma (PC / Sega Mega Drive) or an eerie skull shaped cave (Super Nintendo). The graphics were amazing with lots of little details poured into every corner of the cartridge based systems. In other Disney games one would expect to see "Hidden Mickeys" but in Maui Mallard the developers made sure to hide as many duck shout-outs as they could. Temples, rock-work and even puffs of smoke had hidden duck faces within them. Because this level was meant to invoke fire and brimstone it was reminiscent of another great stage from the library of Earthwork Jim.

The opponents in this stage were unique. Every stage in Maui Mallard featured opponents that reflected the level and this was no different. Inside the volcano players faced bats made out of fire and goggle-clad fire sprits mixing drinks and spitting fire at our hero. They could be taken out with bug bullets or with the staff depending on the strategy of the player.

The level was quite challenging because on certain portions the player would be stuck on a tiny rock as the magma rose. If a player could transform into Cold Shadow then they might get ahead of the magma and find some treasure in the process. Sooner or later however the player would have to land back on that tiny rock and then navigate their way through tunnels that became increasingly smaller. As if that weren't enough the magma would rise faster and faster until the player was navigating the smallest corridors at breakneck speed.

The final boss for this level was an enormous fire spirit shaped like a snake. The player had to keep breaking off pieces of the creature using either bug bullets or well-timed staff attacks until all that was left was a gigantic head. The Genesis version of the character looked far more intense than the SNES one. 

After another Babaluau bonus stage the story continued. You would think that Maui had enough of the Muddrakes at this point but Herneae returned to say that he needed their help in order to recover Shabuhm Shabuhm and save the island. It would be a shaky truce and before the Muddrakes would help Maui he had to prove himself in a "Test of Duckhood."

The fifth stage in the game was a completely different experience depending on which version of the game you played. The Super Nintendo build had our hero attached to a vine that acted like a bungee cord. He was dropped from high above the forest canopy and would have to take out moving Muddrake targets as he fell and bounced back up. It was tricky but not impossible to master with a few tries. The Genesis and PC versions were much better experiences. In it Maui was still tethered to a bungee cord but the level designers had players use bungee physics in order to navigate through the complex levels. They would have to find high platforms to leap from in order to generate enough of a recoil to be snapped into a higher portion of the stage. 

In other portions of the Genesis / PC build the character has to walk hand over hand while tethered to the vine. The stages were tricky mazes with sharpened bamboo posts blocking the player above as well as below. Navigating the stages took some practice but again the springy mechanics were a welcome change of pace.

I'm certain that many players saw the similarity between the bungee mechanics and those featured in the Major Mucus battle in Earthworm Jim. For the SNES version of Maui Mallard there was a similar level of difficulty. Players had to avoid the jagged edges of a Muddrake maze while carrying the little ducks to safety. The final battle in the SNES version against a gigantic frog was a bit anti-climactic. The frog sat there while Maui shot his belly forcing the frog to snap up Muddrakes using his extending tongue. The frog eventually ate all of the Muddrakes and then Maui could proceed. In the other version of the battle players had to use exploding bug shots and time them to fall into the mouth of the frog every time he opened it. All the while they were tethered to a cord and would be pulled back into the jungle canopy. 

At this point in the story Maui had passed the Test of Duckhood. The Muddrakes welcomed him as a brother and were now willing to help him in his quest. The Muddrake chieftain said that his magic was not powerful enough to track down Shabuhm Shabuhm and the only one that could was an ancient Muddrake shaman named Quackoo. The catch was that the remains of Quackoo were at the bottom of the ocean, resting inside of a haunted pirate ship. Just another day at the office for Maui when you stop and think about it. 

The Muddrake chieftain put a spell on the duck which allowed him to breathe underwater. The following stage, "The Flying DuckMan" was one of the most memorable ever put in game form. Maui could not transform into Cold Shadow in this stage. It wasn't a bad thing considering the unique game mechanics that Disney Interactive featured on the levels. Maui moved in slow motion as one would expect underwater. He jumped further than normal but also much slower. The ship was enormous and navigating it meant that Maui would have to find some sort of propulsion. It turned out that firing the bug gun underwater allowed Maui to move in any direction. Players learned to shoot opposite of the direction that they wanted to move. It was an amazing experience that really set this title apart from Earthworm Jim and every other 16-bit classic.

With the newfound ability to move through "three-dimensional" space our hero could get into every corner of the ship while seeking out the remains of the Muddrake Quackoo. Finding hidden treasure along the way was a bonus for our ninja detective. Of course nothing in the game was easy and neither would navigating the Flying DuckMan be. Puffer fish and pirate ghosts were waiting at every turn to bring Maui down. The animation and character designs throughout the game were all amazing but the ghostly ducks really set the bar for console animation.

An underwater tempest would rage on certain portions of the DuckMan stage. The tempest would rip the ship apart in chunks and it was up to the player to navigate through the maze-like ship before the wall of foam and debris claimed Maui as well. The side-scrolling portions of the tempest kept me on edge as I fired my bug gun furiously in an attempt to stay just ahead of the wave of destruction. 

In the end of the stage Maui found the remains of the Quackoo inside of a glass jar. A pirate duck took Maui off the ship aboard a tiny schooner named the Sea Hag. Of course getting away without a fight wouldn't make sense. In this case the floating head of the pirate captain rose out of the captains quarters and launched sea mines and puffer fish at our hero. If he managed to get enough shots in on the giant head then he would finally be allowed to surface and continue on his journey. The next blog will feature the final stages in the game. I hope to see you back for that.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Remaking an icon, Maui Mallard, part 2

Maui Mallard in Cold Shadow had a specific theme that was evident as soon as the game started. The fonts and colors used in the menus and story screens harkened back to classic Hollywood. The art deco movement was punctuated by crisp lines, sharp angles and stylized lettering. 

The cool blue and black color motifs featured in the menu and story screens helped create a noir feel. The addition of an island setting and related theming added a tiki atmosphere over the entire title. The combination of noir and tiki gave the game a unique style, possibly one that will never be matched. This blog will cover the various versions of the game including the PC, Super Nintendo and Sega Mega Drive (the name for the Genesis console in Japan and the UK) versions but not the horrid GameBoy version.
The game set the tone right away, the opening story and all cut scenes were hosted by a detective named Maui Mallard. The laid-back private investigator was working on a case of a missing idol named Shabuhm Shabuhm. The natives believed that the idol was sacred and without it the entire island would destroy itself within a day. The set up was typical of most adventure games, recover an item, avoid some traps, fight some bosses and save the day. It was the levels and supporting cast that made the experience memorable. The design of Maui for example, the red Hawaiian shirt and blue baseball cap were based very much on the popular Magnum PI, the TV detective played by Tom Selleck.
Since Maui was a detective working a case against mysterious forces then he had to be armed. Yet giving a Disney icon a gun in a game would not have been acceptable to audiences. Thankfully this was not Donald but some distant cousin named Maui. But even then it was not enough to appease worried parents. There had been a precedence for having Disney hero with a firearm previously. The character Darkwing Duck had a gun that shot sleeping gas. It seemed to be an acceptable firearm for afternoon TV cartoons.
Disney Interactive gave Maui a gun that shot bugs instead of bullets. Since Maui did not have any melee attacks then the gun had to have to be good up close as well as at range. Plus this weapon had to be accessible while climbing, jumping or even swimming underwater! Animators did a great job at allowing Maui to move freely across the levels, climb and drop while still being able to shoot from his pistol. The oversized gun would not be mistaken for a real firearm because the proportions and even color were over-the-top. Moreover the speed of the bug bullets were slowed for player to track them across the screen.

In the Genesis and PC versions the player could shoot the weapon with an unlimited supply of regular bug ammo. The SNES version would recharge if all 50 default shots had been expired. The bugs themselves, giant beetles, became a unique ammunition type that helped expand the gameplay. In addition to unlimited bug shots the player could find fire, lightning and exploding bugs hidden in the stages. These bugs could deal more damage or even seek out opponents. These bug types could also be combined for different results; a fire and lightning bug would cause a homing electric spark, an exploding bug with a fire bug would yield a multiple burst flame shot. If all three additional bug ammo types were used then a flash would wipe out all the opponents on the screen.
A rare fourth bug, a light bug, could not be fired from the gun but could illuminate dark corridors or hidden paths on certain levels. It was a unique effect that was featured more in the early stages of the SNES version of the game than the PC and Genesis builds. It made the macabre first level of the game, the Mojo Mansion, even creepier.
There were some similarities between the versions aside from the bug gun. Our hero had a health meter that could be built above 100% by collecting magical talismans as well as by drinking Power Punch. To keep things consistent with the island theme there were glasses and pitchers of a bright red tropical punch located all over the island.
The game was lighthearted but it also had a creepy tone to it. The artistic direction was far more mature for a Disney title than the usual kid-fare. The design was gothic but not too grotesque, at least everything prior to the zombie parts. The main characters had more of the irreverence of the classic Disney park attractions like Pirates of the Caribbean and the Haunted Mansion.

Maui might have taken a cue from Magnum PI but the design of the character and this universe had more in common with the tone, humor and style of Quack Pack than the classic Duck Tales. Even the color and design of the Hawaiian shirt was an opposite of the shirt Donald wore in the Quack Pack series. Maui Mallard could be considered the book-end to the classic Capcom side scroller Duck Tales. It was one of the greatest 8-bit console games ever made. The game, animation and music all helped shape the memories of an entire generation. Although it lacked the same impact Maui Mallard in Cold Shadow was one of the greatest 16-bit games ever created. It had advanced music, animation and level designs that reflected the changing tastes of the audience as well as the technology. 
Not convinced that there could be such a thing as an adventurous and macabre adventure for Maui? Then perhaps the reader should listen intently at the music featured in the first level, the Mojo Mansion, written by Michael Giacchino (yes the Academy Award-winning movie composer) and Patrick J. Collins. The trail of the idol Shabuhm Shabuhm lead players to the first level in the game, an enormous mansion layered with atmosphere, secret panels, statues, ghastly butlers, poltergeists and giant spiders. In the song players can hear all sorts of fun sound effects and clever musical ideas. There were many differences between the console and PC versions of the game. The only way to truly appreciate the vision that the team at Disney Interactive was going for would be to try both console builds (and if possible the PC version) and see what elements each preserved.
The SNES version had brighter and more contrasting colors on the sprites whereas the Genesis version had more animations and details which made it closer to the PC version. For example hidden monsters inside the butler's serving tray, while hinted at in the cinemas on the SNES side, only appeared in the Genesis and PC versions. Poltergeists in the walls, ectoplasm spitting tiki masks and other minor details also appeared in the Genesis and PC versions but not the SNES build. It was not known if this was to tone down the creepiness or because the publisher didn't have time to put those details into the Nintendo cartridges. Each console version had a scaled-down soundtrack with a few digitized voices but by far the PC soundtrack was the best of the three versions. 
Each version of the game was unique and had many themes which balanced the elements featured across the title. The Mojo Mansion layout and puzzles were slightly different between the Genesis and the SNES but neither could really be called superior.

Where the Genesis and PC builds were vastly different were in the animation and especially with the often darker bosses. The boss character for the Mojo Mansion was a giant mechanical spider. It looked menacing in the SNES version but was downright scary in the Genesis build. It moved faster and provided much more of a challenge.
Gamers that defeated the boss and did well on a level got a chance to do a bonus game titled Babaluau Baby. This level allowed players the chance to gain an extra life, a continue or magical properties for Maui's alter ego. The SNES version required players to get a certain percentage of hidden treasure before being whisked away to a giant theater stage.

Players had to collect all the hidden dancing tiki idols before time ran out in the bonus level. Grimacing suns and goofy moons hanging from the rafters provided the platform for gamers to jump on. A successful play through of each Babaluau level could only be achieved if players were careful with each leap. Otherwise they would end up falling to the floor and have to start climbing through the stage again. Players had to launch fireworks attached to the suns and moons within two minutes or else all of the bonus items they collected would be forfeit. Afterward the gamers would be rewarded with a level code which allowed them to restart a stage with all their saved items.
Reaching the Genesis and PC versions of the Babaluau stages had a completely different requirement. Instead of tracking down all the treasure in the regular stages players had to shoot a specific villain before it could run away. This character would drop a golden ticket. If gamers didn't catch the ticket as it fell then the game would skip past the Babaluau level at the end of the stage.
The Genesis / PC version of the bonus stage had a completely different gameplay mechanic. The level was still based on a giant theater stage and the cloud, sun and moon props were everywhere. Maui was not timed while searching for bonus items and there were no fireworks to launch. The lack of a time clock was a blessing. Instead Maui was given four different bonus items, small golden tiki idols of different shapes right at the start. Players had to avoid getting hit while navigating to the exit in order to keep these bonus items.

To make things interesting Maui was riding a unicycle on a bamboo roller coaster track and could only go left, right and jump. He lost one item for each time he was hit and the level ended if he fell through a platform before reaching the end of the track. It was undoubtedly one of the hardest but most memorable bonus stages in console history.
The Genesis and PC versions of this level had characters mentioned in the SNES material but which never actually appeared in the game. These were the Amazon Ducks and Fire Juggling Drakes. The Amazons could knock Maui around with a slap from a large wooden shield. They would send him to different tracks but not take any items, if Maui got hit with a torch however he would lose a bonus item.
As the story progressed Maui decided that the secrets within the Mojo Mansion were hiding something far more sinister, it was time to take off the gloves. He went to explore the mystery of Shabuhm Shabuhm in the ruins of a lost city dubbed the Ninja Training Grounds. After the first bonus level the game changed pace. Maui’s alter ego, Cold Shadow was finally allowed to take center stage. While exploring the ruins of the Training Grounds Maui came across an evil Witch Doctor. This point in the game was the second time that the weather became an important background detail. In the Mojo Mansion some gale force winds made it difficult for Maui to advance outside of the mansion. In the Training Grounds the sky was blue and sunny while as Maui but as soon as the Witch Doctor showed up storm clouds appeared and lighting cascaded in the distance. Environmental effects were not a new thing in console gaming but were rarely seen. In a few points through the game the weather set the mood and increased the challenge for players.

The tiki-masked Witch Doctor striped the ninja spirits out of Maui. At some point in his past Maui had been trained in the martial arts but had given up his fighting ancestry to pursue a new life as a detective. What a great back story! Anyhow the evil with doctor scattered the ancient ninja spirits across the levels. Maui would now have to collect Yin Yang Coins in order to have enough energy to summon his alter ego. When players accomplished this they would trigger his transformation with a button combination. Maui spun in place and changed his clothes, stance and personality. The ninja Cold Shadow ran on spirit coins and had a countdown meter in the Genesis / PC builds. Once out of energy Cold Shadow reverted back to Mallard. In the SNES version the coins did not count down except for when the player performed a combo attack.
The Ninja Training grounds served as a playground to give gamers a chance to explore the full range of attacks and abilities as Cold Shadow. It was a different experience altogether from playing as Maui Mallard. The stages in the game were designed to offer each character a unique challenge, neither Maui nor Cold Shadow could complete a level without the aid of all of the others' character moves.

Players had to defeat the various ninja ducks scattered across the island, each one representing a spirit that Maui was stripped of. The other ninja ducks could perform almost the same attacks as Shadow. They tiptoed across the levels with bo-staff in hand and struck as fast as the player could. Some had different colored belts and others different colored outfits.
An interesting detail missing in the Genesis build was the color-changing belt on Shadow. In the SNES version Cold Shadow’s belt changed color with the more yin yang coins he got. Like traditional martial arts belt-ranking systems, the belt changed colors from white to yellow to red and brown until he reached black belt status.
As if having two distinct character options for our hero wasn't enough there was a third option that could be played as in certain stages. If Maui defeated a series of straw-built sparring partners then he could command a gigantic stone duck monument. The juggernaut was slow and unstoppable, plowing through walls and allowing our hero to get to places previously blocked off. Unfortunately the player could not keep this character for long, once he walked to the other sides of the level the statue would stop and spit out our hero.

Cold Shadow fought in a completely different way than Maui. He had only melee attacks and had to be relatively close to opponents in order to beat them. The other ninja ducks seem impervious to the bug bullets of Maui so players were forced to get up close and fight them. The staff attacks could do much more damage than the bug ammo in any regard. From this point forward Maui could transform back and forth into Cold Shadow on almost every stage with the exception of the bonus levels. 
Cold Shadow could navigate the levels in unique ways. He could leap further and run faster than Maui. There were also idols scattered around the Training Grounds that he could grapple onto and swing from using his staff. This allowed players to avoid spike pits and bottomless chasms. It also allowed Cold Shadow to swing into higher platforms and locate hidden items. The best 16-bit games allowed for more than one gameplay mechanic. Earthworm Jim was not only about the running and gunning. The game also allowed the hero to swing from location to location in a seamless fashion. The SNES swinging mechanic for Cold Shadow was far more forgiving than the Genesis build and almost as good as the Earthworm Jim one.

Where Disney Interactive exploited a new mechanic for a platform game was where Cold Shadow could climb vertically using his bo and some well timed jumps. The “Salmon Ladder” climbs were unique and not entirely easy to perform. Timing was important when climbing. Players could accidentally let go before leaping and end up dropping, or wait too long to extend the pole after a jump and end up staying in place. Additionally some of the walls would break away and cause our hero to tumble back down a shaft. Timing became very important in order to progress through the game. Thankfully the team at Disney Interactive made sure the use of the climbing mechanic never felt labored. A little bit of practice went a long way in the game and the Ninja Training Grounds made sure that audiences memorized the moves of Cold Shadow before the boss battle.
The bo staff as a weapon and means of navigation was something that helped keep the stages unique and made the character memorable. Navigating a level in unique ways was a staple for the best titles. The triple jump, wall jump and grappling hook were some ways that other developers beat the old run and jump titles.

At the end of the Ninja Training Grounds our hero had to fight waves of ninjas in front of a large statue. The altar of an ancestral fighting duck released explosives, ninjas and tropical punch in equal measure.
Once the ninjas were defeated Maui was confronted by a large floating orange globe. It released a leggy duck named Herneae in a flash of magical energy. It was the "dame" that Maui mentioned in the game manual and the person that put Maui on the trail of Shabuhm Shabuhm.

She was more than just another pretty face. The High Mojo Sorceress told Maui that there was a legend that foretold of a great warrior that would help save the natives. She assumed it was not Cold Shadow so he was warned him to stay out of the way. She disappeared back into the magical orb and flew away. Our hero was not dissuaded and followed the trail of Shabuhm Shabuhm deeper into the jungle.
The next level took our hero into the middle of the Muddrake village. These tiny native ducks, called the Muddrakes, were equal parts fearsome warrior and comedic classics. Easily the scene stealers in the game the natives leapt at Maui with reckless abandon. They would scream “There he is!” and “Get him” at the top of their lungs. They attacked Maui with an arsenal of weapons. Blow darts, boomerangs and buzz saw yo-yos. They would use these when they weren’t trying to dog pile on Maui. If Maui could get a shot on them then they might lose their shorts, leaving the tiny natives feeling rather embarrassed.
Our hero was allowed to explore levels made up of straw huts, muddy slopes, piranha infested waters. The leader of the Muddrakes, a shaman wearing a skeleton headdress delighted in turning our hero into a miniature version of himself. The magic was even powerful enough to shrink down the Bug Gun. This diminutive Maui was scaled smaller than even the already short Muddrakes. In this form however he could enter their huts and even fight through the tunnels left by giant wasp larvae.

In the Genesis / PC versions our hero could fight the worms but they were nonexistent in the SNES version. Also Maui could not turn into Cold Shadow when in miniature format. For those keeping score this was the fourth unique type of character that Maui could turn into. The gameplay and level design changed based on which element was applied to the character.
These constant changes to the gameplay helped keep the overall experience fresh and unique. Disney Interactive was demonstrating to gamers that it understood the diversity of gameplay styles that appealed to audiences. Platformers had expanded greatly since the days of the Mario Bros. Earthworm Jim was considered the peak of the format to most console players but by the second stage in this game Disney was giving Shiny Entertainment a run for their money. Maui Mallard played up the elements of great design and control while injecting a good deal of the irreverence and comedy that made Earthworm Jim work so well.

The boss battle in Muddrake Mayhem was located inside or a tiki coliseum. Maui found himself surrounded by Muddrakes cheering on the spectacle. A half dozen Muddrakes hiding behind gigantic mask would throw spears and use blow darts against our hero. Attendants would throw out bonus ammo or even Power Punch to help even the odds. The SNES version of this level was very minimalistic, with just one row of Muddrakes cheering or doing the “wave” whereas the Genesis / PC build had multiple rows of spectators cheering and bringing up sign cards taunting Maui.
If players survived several waves of the Muddrakes then he would be rewarded for proving his bravery. In traditional format the bravest warrior was thrown into a live volcano as a sacrifice. The challenges and levels would only get harder and more unique as the game progressed. We shall explore these in the next blog.