Wednesday, September 24, 2014

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

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. If you would like to sponsor me please visit my Patreon page and consider donating each month, even as little as $1 would help make better blogs and even podcasts!
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  1. Hi Bigmex,

    Being a big, big fan of this strangely obscure game, I discovered your 5-part blog post on the 1Up forums some 3 years ago and loved it. Funny enough, one of the parts was posted on my birthday, so thank you for that, i guess :)

    In fact, I really liked the contents of the rest of your blog, and the fact that you're a big Disney/animation fan just makes it even better as I'm really getting into that stuff as of late. Your articles are great and I'll keep following your name whenever I can in the future. I'm not a super big fan of fighting games, but I appreciate the art and design that goes into them as well.

    I got the idea to come back looking for your old blog posts (and consequently, discover your new website) when I was trying to write my first draft of a review of Maui Mallard for my old blog (it's in Portuguese though :P). Writing, for the moment is just an hobby for me right now as English isn't even my native language, but I'm currently in the process of finishing a new review on the game, this time in English. It was intended to be used in a video review (a proper one, more information, less jokes) but I don't know if my accent is up to par so who knows where it will end up in.

    Anyway, I just wanted to say thanks for giving me something to read about one of my favorite games (despite not being perfect). I just wanted to let you know how helpful this multi-part article was when writing my review (which, due to the nature of this game's interesting history and port differences and all that, was really helpful). I hope my final review doesn't stay too close to your articles as I was focusing more on the gameplay than the backstory, but again, this game is full of interesting facts and backstory that I just had to inform readers about.

    Then again, it isn't finished yet! This was an awesome retrospective. Glad to know it's been updated for the new website.

    1. Thanks for visiting the new blog and it's always good to hear from another Maui Mallard fan. Good luck with your review and be sure to share a link when it is posted! Obrigado!

  2. so happy I found this blog back.This is so great seeing feedback from the game PLUS these images for what was planned for a second game. Gosh, I'd do everything for an HD remake or a sequel. This was the very first game I've ever played on computer at, like age...10?(when we had our first Windows pc which was like W95 I believe.) I was so attached to this game, I took it everywhere! The reason doing so is because I'd pop the disk in my CD walkman and you could listen to the music from the game.
    I always took it to my school to play it on the ol' windows pc there; the children all wanted to play one by one! What a time...

    I know everyone has that one game that inspired them the most to play games throughout the years of becoming older. I really think Maui Mallard in Cold Shadow did that for me. I am 25 now, but this sure is still my very favorite game back from my childhood! Not even my dusty ol' pokemon Red for gameboy can beat this. No way...

    Thanks for making this blog and your dedication. Its such a joy reading this!

    1. Thanks for that, I also wish a sequel were made or maybe a reboot. Who knows, with reboots coming left and right from Disney animation maybe it's time they go back to this gem.