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DuckTales: Remastered looks to be much more than a remake of this classic video game

DuckTales: Remastered looks to be much more than a remake of this classic video game

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Video game remakes are nothing new. In the history of computing there have been hundreds of remakes over the past three decades. Some of the remakes were done to be compatible with the various gaming devices, consoles and PCs. The best selling games were often ported to every imaginable device, including cell phones. Classic console games, even extremely popular ones were rarely remade. Instead publishers like Nintendo, Capcom and Sega often relied on sequels to keep a franchise going. Yet despite a gap of over 20 years some of the greatest gaming experiences of an entire generation were never forgotten. Such was the case for DuckTales by Capcom. The game was based on the Disney Afternoon television series. Considered to be one of the best animated shows of the '80s it set a standard that few ever managed to match, let alone top. Capcom had found success with a series of arcade and Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) hits during that same era. Mega Man, Bionic Commando, Commando, Ghosts 'n Goblins and Strider were the type of gaming experiences that helped make the Osaka-based company a formidable publisher. With a Triple-A development team, composers, artists and animators they were the perfect studio to take on a game as ambitious as DuckTales. The game was not based on any single episode in the series but instead was an amalgamation of themes and familiar locations. Characters featured in the show; Launchpad McQuack, Huey, Dewey and Louie aided Scrooge on his treasure quest. Perennial rival Flintheart Glomgold and his hired thugs the Beagle Boys served as the rivals.

The studio was able to stand out from the crowd by giving DuckTales a unique gameplay mechanism, catchy music and memorable level designs. The game was challenging but rewarding. Scrooge may have been a geriatric duck but he moved as nimble as the 8-bit stars from that generation. Capcom had introduced a pogo mechanic using Scrooge's cane that allowed the character to cross spiky traps and reach high ledges. The cane also doubled as a non lethal club for the kid-friendly combat sequences. The music was considered some of the most memorable for that generation. It would be revisited time and time again on YouTube as fans posted tributes and arrangements. In short Capcom was able to do much more with the IP than the poorly written DuckTales Movie ever could. For a moment it appeared that Scrooge would be the first triple-media star. The character had an amazing run in comic books, was the star of the animated show and was poised to dethrone Mega Man as the Capcom icon. As the 25th anniversary of the game was approaching Capcom decided it was time to revisit the franchise.

At the San Diego Comic-Con one of the more anticipated gaming panels highlighted DuckTales: Remastered . It turned out to be much more than a remake. Capcom producer Rey Jimenez introduced his guests Eric Bauza, the newly-cast voice of Gizmo Duck / Fenton Crackshell. Hamilton Camp, the original voice actor passed away in 2005. Jake Kaufman worked for developer Way Forward and was the composer on the remake. Mat Bozon, the Way Forward Creative Director and Austin Ivansmith the Way Forward Director and Game Designer. Over the past few years Capcom had found some success remaking classic 8-bit games for the modern consoles, with enhanced graphics, levels and controls. Bionic Commando, Dungeons and Dragons: Shadow over Mystaria, Final Fight and Commando 3: Wolf of the Battlefield were some of the classic games that got a new lease on life, and sold hundreds of thousands of downloadable copies for the parent company. Fans had been asking Capcom to remake DuckTales for over a decade and the studio wanted to revisit the franchise as well but the cards never seemed to line up for the publisher. When the studio took another look at the license they were able to match it up with veteran developers Way Forward and begin the task of a remake. Jimenez and his guests agreed that there was tremendous pressure from the fan community to make the game right. The studios could not cut any corners or they would be stepping on the memories of an entire generation. The first thing they did was look at how and why the original game worked. Then they looked at the game within the context of the DuckTales animated series as well as the Uncle Scrooge comics that predated it. They grew to appreciate how influential Carl Barks had been to the show. Both Way Forward and Capcom wanted to carry over the wonderful characters, locations and situations that Barks had inspired into the remake.

As with the original game players could still go through the levels in any order they chose, however every detail in the game would be built from scratch. The first thing Way Forward wanted to do was recreate the proportions of the 8-bit classic while incorporating design elements from the show. Scrooge for example had a red coat in the comics and in the game however on the television show he wore blue. Proportionally Scrooge was also a taller character in the cartoons than in the game. The studio reworked the pose and head to body ratio so that it did not look odd to audiences or game players. The reworked look was not done solely for aesthetic reasons. The way the game controlled or rather "felt" to players depended greatly on the proportions of the character. Scrooge had a great centerline. Players could easily track him while running, jumping and bouncing on the pogo cane. This was important to when leaping from platform to platform or when trying to drop onto the head of an opponent. Solid gameplay, rather than nice graphics, could make or break the title after all. Way Forward wanted to make sure that even with the redone visuals and levels that the game still played comparably to the first. They went so far as to create a mock up of the original levels and run a controller that moved the original sprite on one screen and the new model on a separate screen and see how they matched up. They ran at the same pace, jumped and turned at the same time as well. Despite adding frames of animation and smoothing out the transitions between moving and standing still the character still behaved similarly to his 8-bit counterpart.

The same attention to detail and visual upgrade was applied to all the other characters and opponents in the game. When redesigning the hockey-playing minion the studio added pads and taped up his hockey stick. These were minor but appropriate changes. Then to reinforce the cartoon theme they curved up the hockey mask to make the villain look more like the original Mighty Duck mascot as well. In the original game players also faced bees that seemed out of place. Disney worked with the studio to help get reference material on actual bee characters that the studio had created for wartime efforts as well as their employee appreciation awards. These newly redesigned insects fit the theme of the cartoon much better.

Way Forward went back to the basics when creating the animations for the characters. They took a page from the book of classic cartooning and filmed themselves performing the actions they wanted to recreate. In one instance the studio wanted to give Scrooge a new standing still animation where he twirled his cane while standing at the ready. They filmed themselves walking like a duck and twirling the cane in their offices. It may sound absurd but these animator tricks translated very well to the new game. Way Forward created new frames of animation that complimented the personality that the artists working on the Disney Afternoon had created.

Way Forward and Capcom found that working with Disney was very easy. They were eager to share assets from the cartoon and comics when asked. They went the extra step and helped get the developers in touch with people that worked on the show itself. One such artist was Mike Peraza. He worked on the original run of the series along with several other Disney television shows and animated features. He was asked to create entirely new assets for the game that mirrored the look and feel of the cartoon. Mike was a perfect choice and one whose announcements were interesting to follow online. He teased his Facebook friends that he was working on a new project. The details were mysterious and fans were eager to find out what sort of project he had been put on. Those that knew of his work were not disappointed. Mr. Peraza's art influenced the layout of the stages and help ensure the accuracy of the tiny details. The placement of Scrooge's desk in relationship to the door of the Money Bin and Downtown Duckburg looked exactly as audiences remembered it. The colors of the stages looked sampled right out of the cartoon and were much more vivid than the game originally was in fact. This was more than a coincidence.

As Mr. Peraza was painting the concept art for the stages he not only helped set the tone for the game but was also helping train the Way Forward artists in Disney tradition. For example, when they were recreating downtown Duckburg shot from the opening of the television series he had the artists create the art from back to front. By doing so the animators were able to create the illusion of depth by scrolling each layer at a different speed. The details furthest in the background moved slowly while those in the forefront moved quickly, just as a perspective shot would work in real life. These things of course could be traced back to the multilane camera that Disney had pioneered 80 years ago.

In other stages the artists at Way Forward tried to faithfully adapt the Peraza concept art into levels. They went so far as to turn his painted objects into textures that could be wrapped around the 3D computer objects. The end result were levels that held the illusion of depth but kept the gameplay on one plane. This design was sometimes called 2.5D and the stages created for DuckTales had far more personality than almost any traditionally created background.

These levels got the same amount of TLC as the characters and details. Way Forward did not want to simply recreate the stages verbatim from the old Nintendo cartridges. They instead used the progression of each stage as a template to build from. They added in new rooms, puzzles, secrets and obstacles that were designed to compliment the original designs. In many ways the levels in DuckTales: Remastered were meant to rekindle the sense of nostalgia from classic platform titles even though a third or more of the levels were completely new.

Jake Kaufman was tasked with redoing the soundtrack, considered to be one of the best from the 8-bit generation. He noted that he was very much a fan of the original game and had grown up with it as much as the Comic Con attendees had. He had studied the work from the Capcom music producers very carefully and tried to flesh out the compositions to the best of his abilities. He did not make any radical departures from the original soundtrack. The melodies explored on the original game have all returned and been expanded upon. Mr. Kaufman was able to assign individual instruments and complete arrangements to the limited bleeps and blips that were featured in the original game. The lack of audio channels and memory constraints that had limited the Capcom sound and music programmers meant that they had to be very creative with their song construction. Jake was able to pick out the stylistic influences behind each stage theme and turned them into robust versions of the songs that the audience had grown up with. He mentioned that he felt as much pressure as the rest of the team did if not more. He knew the expectations for the game were extremely high and audiences would tear apart Way Forward and Capcom if they messed with the legacy in any way.

Disney was able to secure almost all of the original voice actors from the series and cast for new actors when they couldn't. Unfortunately for Capcom and Way Forward this was done well into the development of the game. This meant that the team did not have enough time to animate the characters speaking. Instead players see the dialogue boxes and only hear the tracks that they recorded for the game. The developers had nothing but great things to say about working with the original cast. Eric Bauza reinforced the pressure that the team was under to get the game right. Like the others he had grown up with the show and game and wanted to do the legacy justice. Getting an opportunity to voice a character was a dream come true. All agreed however that the biggest treat was having Alan Young voice Scrooge McDuck once more. Alan joked that he kept the Scottish accent very thin and if his family overseas were to hear him they wouldn't recognize it anymore. He mentioned that the largest amount of fan mail he got were actually from Mr. Ed fans but those letters had been few and far between. Capcom producer Rey Jimenez and Way Forward's Mat Bozon agreed that something was not right about that. They said that an entire generation had grown up on DuckTales. These fans were now parents and raising the next generation of duck fans. These fans had become artists, animators, designers and composers thanks in part to the show. Both asked the Comic Con attendees that the fans of the shows, fans of the comics and games owed it to Mr. Young to send him a letter or even a post card to say how much his Scrooge McDuck meant to them and how eager they were to hear him in the new game. We may not have Mr. Young with us much longer and he should know what a gift he left the world. This sentiment was met with a roar of applause from the audience.

Capcom and Way Forward convinced audiences that this was the remake that gamers had been waiting for. The attention to detail and care behind the development of the game could not be understated. At each industry and public showing, PAX East, E3 and Comic-Con, there has been progress made and polish added to the experience. It played as well as the original game and looks much more wonderful than anyone could have imagined. In short Capcom gave players and Disney fans the type of experience that had been lacking for years. They closed out the panel with a special performance of the Moon Theme from the original game. Jake mentioned that the actual level music still kept the same upbeat tempo. He made a second arrangement which was more orchestral and slower just for the team. However as they would play the recording in their offices people would gather around and listen intently. Some actually had tears in their eyes listening to the music. The song was so powerful that they decided to include it on the credits of the game.

Tad Stones and Jymn Magon had created most of the Disney Afternoon shows and had hosted their own panel later that same day. However what they said would explain the strong reaction that the Way Forward team had while developing the game. They said that the Disney Afternoon raised an entire generation of children. These were latchkey kids whose mom and dad were at work to make ends meet. When they got home they had one thing they could look forward to and that was DuckTales, that was Gummi Bears, that was Tale Spin, Goof Troop, Darkwing Duck... and the audience roared. When kids say they were raised on the Disney Afternoon they mean it. When Rey, Jake, Eric and Mat said that they got emotional while working on the title they each meant it. They had grown up watching the cartoons and playing the games. They would get to work with the same artists and voice actors that they idolized as children. It was a bittersweet ending to a legacy that Disney never seemed to acknowledge until the kids were able to call the shots. When they were able to revisit the era that they considered great there was no denying that they would get very emotional.

DuckTales Remastered is scheduled to be a downloadable title for the PC, Wii U, Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 on August 13. For collectors a physical box will only be made available for the PS3, however that will not include a disk but instead a download code. No confirmation has been made on a soundtrack available for download as well.

Fan Letters for Mr. Young can go to:

Alan Young c/o TGMD Talent Agency 
6767 Forest Lawn Drive 
Suite 101 
Los Angeles, CA 90068 

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  • I am ready for this to release!

  • Wife and I are awaiting this titles release with great anticipation!  (ages 30 & 32)

  • I am really hoping for a mobile release on this one...

  • Life is like a hurricane here in Duckburg

    Race cars, lasers, aeroplanes - it's a duck blur

    You might solve a mystery or rewrite history

    Duck Tales, Oo-oo

    Tales of derring-do, bad and good luck tales, oo-oo

    D-d-d-danger, watch behind you - there's a stranger out to find you

    What to do? Just grab onto some Duck Tales, oo-oo!

    Not pony tails or cotton tails but Duck Tales, oo-oo!

    When it seems they're headed for the final curtain

    Bold deduction never fails, that's for certain

    The worst of messes become successes!

    Duck Tales, Oo-oo

    Tales of derring-do, bad and good luck tales, oo-oo

    Not pony tails or cotton tails but Duck Tales, oo-oo!

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