The Mak­ing of Aladdin

de­spite a crush­ing dead­line, Vir­gin turned dis­ney’s Aladdin into a Mega drive clas­sic. david Bishop and Wil­liam An­der­son tell Rory Milne how the firm cre­ated its plat­former in just over three months

Retro Gamer - - THE MAKING OF: ALADDIN -

By the early Nineties, com­mer­cial pres­sures had trans­formed the UK games industry from a sec­tor driven by lone de­vel­op­ers into one that re­lied on large com­pa­nies with global as­pi­ra­tions. Vir­gin Games was one such firm, hav­ing set up a Cal­i­for­nian stu­dio at the turn of the decade, and it wasn’t shy about hir­ing Bri­tish tal­ent, as for­mer Vir­gin US head de­signer David Bishop re­calls. “We had some big UK de­vel­op­ers of the time like Steve Crow and Dave Perry. They had been work­ing in Eng­land, and we said: ‘Do you want to come and live and work in Cal­i­for­nia?’ So we got them out, one af­ter an­other, and formed this great team that ended up do­ing a bunch of dif­fer­ent plat­form games.”

But as well as plat­form­ers such as Global Gla­di­a­tors and Cool Spot, Vir­gin’s US arm was also work­ing on a beat-‘em-up in­tended to cash in on the Teenage Mu­tant Ninja Tur­tle craze, which ended up be­ing in­stru­men­tal to the stu­dio se­cur­ing an equally hot movie li­cence. “A guy joined us from the tra­di­tional an­i­ma­tion world called Andy Luckey,” David rec­ol­lects, “and we were work­ing with him on this Dynoblaze demo – Dynoblaze were these di­nosaurs on skates. Then there was a com­pany up in LA do­ing Ren & Stimpy – the first big show that used dig­i­tal ink­ing. So we were us­ing tra­di­tional an­i­ma­tion and then scan­ning and dig­i­tally paint­ing the frames, and we were get­ting re­ally good re­sults. So part of our pitch to Dis­ney was the Dynoblaze demo – to show what we thought we could bring to Aladdin to make it stand out from other games.”

How­ever, due to a stalled at­tempt by Blue Sky Soft­ware, the Aladdin Mega

Drive li­cence came with a tight dead­line, as Vir­gin’s lead level de­signer at the time Wil­liam An­der­son re­calls. “What we were told by Dis­ney and Sega was that they didn’t ap­prove of a thing that they were see­ing out of Blue Sky, and they were get­ting pissed off with it. The rea­son that Dis­ney and Sega brought it to us was that we had done Cool Spot in six and a half months, they had been spin­ning their wheels with Blue Sky and they wanted to have this out for the VHS movie re­lease.”

A sec­ond con­di­tion of land­ing the Aladdin deal re­quired Vir­gin to pro­duce a de­sign doc­u­ment, which re­sulted in the team spend­ing days in a se­cure lo­ca­tion in Florida do­ing re­search. “I re­mem­ber be­ing in a locked room with a guard watch­ing a Laserdisc of the film,” David re­veals. “Dis­ney wouldn’t let us take a copy of it away, so we had to ba­si­cally go up there and watch the film over and over again. It wasn’t that hard to pick the scenes that we were go­ing to base the game on – there was so much

I re­mem­ber be­ing in a locked room with a guard watch­ing a Laserdisc of the film. Dis­ney wouldn’t let us take a copy of it David Bishop

con­tent in the film that it was more what we weren’t go­ing to put in. We got the whole de­sign done in days.”

Be­fore fi­nal­is­ing the deal, how­ever, Dis­ney asked to see Vir­gin’s pro­posed de­signs for the first level of its adap­ta­tion, which didn’t yet ex­ist. “I was called into David Bishop’s of­fice be­cause I was lead­ing the game­play de­sign for Jun­gle Book,” says Wil­liam, “and he scared the crap out of me. He said, ‘What are you work­ing on?’ I said, ‘I’m work­ing on Jun­gle Book.’ He said, ‘No you’re not,’ and gave me this long pause. I was piss­ing my pants, but he was like: ‘You’re now work­ing on Aladdin. How do you feel about go­ing home and com­ing back in the morn­ing with a level de­sign? We’ve got less than 24 hours to put a level on Dis­ney’s desk to get ap­proval for the project.’”

This time limit proved to be enough, though Wil­liam con­cedes that a con­sign­ment of Dis­ney as­sets made his task eas­ier. “Dis­ney gave me these long sheets of full-colour im­ages; I think they were the scrolling back­grounds that it used for the movie. It was a lot eas­ier thinking up level stuff when you could think: ‘Okay, this is the en­vi­ron­ment.’ I mean, ob­vi­ously I had to break them up into a plat­form level sys­tem, but hav­ing those was key. So I came back with the first Agrabah level, Vir­gin sent it off to Dis­ney and it signed off on it.”

But where Dis­ney played an over­sight role on its li­censed games, the stu­dio viewed Aladdin as a chance to take a more hands-on role. “Dis­ney was very into the idea of hav­ing its an­i­ma­tors down in Florida that worked on the film be­ing in­volved in the project,” David notes. “Some of them took to it like a duck to wa­ter, and oth­ers couldn’t get on with it at all, but what we ended up get­ting had such a dif­fer­ent, fluid feel, be­cause ev­ery­one had ba­si­cally used Deluxe Paint un­til then. We had a tal­ented an­i­ma­tor called Mike Di­etz li­ais­ing with them, and

then there was a lot of re­view­ing and feed­back be­fore we got what we needed.”

As Vir­gin’s Aladdin team ex­panded across two states, the tal­ented coder cre­at­ing the game’s en­gine found him­self co-or­di­nat­ing the out­put of the project’s other con­trib­u­tors. “Dave Perry worked 16 hours a day,” David dis­closes. “Peo­ple would just come in and out of his of­fice check­ing in code and as­sets, so he was very much the hub of the whole thing, but ev­ery­one on the team was best of breed.”

A cru­cial mem­ber of the team was level and game­play de­signer Wil­liam An­der­son, who re­flects on the rea­sons for arm­ing Aladdin with ap­ples. “We wanted to add more ac­tion to it, and the idea of him throw­ing stuff re­ally added to the game. Since we had come off Cool Spot – and be­cause we were com­ing off of that game en­gine – it was just find­ing some­thing to use as part of that same play me­chanic in­stead of try­ing a whole new thing. So the ap­ples were a long-range weapon, plus they re­flected the theme of Aladdin be­ing a street urchin.”

Aladdin he was also given the means to get into sword fights. “Our fo­cus was mak­ing a solid plat­form game in the

It was the most stress­ful game be­cause it was three and a half months to get it done Wil­liam An­der­son

Aladdin world,” Wil­liam says, “so the sword fight­ing was just adding a lit­tle more en­ergy to that. But no one sat down and said: ‘We’re go­ing to have sword fight­ing be a ma­jor com­po­nent of it,’ it was just one of the com­po­nents that we had.”

A third weapon – of sorts – was sub­se­quently im­ple­mented as Wil­liam and his level de­sign team added a camel that when jumped on would spit at and take down foes. “It was put­ting some­thing in that was cute more than any­thing else,” Wil­liam ar­gues. “We just saw the camels and thought:

‘What can we do with those type of char­ac­ters?’ I for­get who came up with the idea of jump­ing on them, but I think it came from one of the jokes that Robin Wil­liams told in the car­toon – he said some­thing about: ‘Camels – they spit!’”

Equally hu­mor­ous was a stage based on the Aladdin movie’s in­spired in­tro­duc­tion of Robin Wil­liams’ ge­nie. “We were quite pleased with how that turned out,“David en­thuses, “be­cause it was a bit like the dream se­quence in Dumbo. It was quite ‘druggy,’ and I think we did a rea­son­able job of cap­tur­ing that.”

Bonus lev­els were also de­vised for Aladdin – un­like the Vir­gin plat­form­ers that pre­ceded it – in­clud­ing stages fea­tur­ing mon­key side­kick Abu and a power-up dis­pens­ing fruit ma­chine.

“The pre­vi­ous games we had done had a cer­tain amount of rep­e­ti­tion be­cause we were do­ing one plat­form level af­ter an­other with­out break­ing,” Wil­liam con­cedes. “We re­alised from look­ing at games com­ing out of Sega that we were go­ing to need more di­ver­sity.

What we wanted to do was ex­pand upon the prod­uct, but do it in such a way that we weren’t cre­at­ing lev­els that were go­ing to take up too much time.”

In fact, no part of Aladdin’s de­vel­op­ment could take too long, even down to the last minute test­ing done by Sega be­fore giv­ing ap­proval for the game’s re­lease. “Nor­mally when you sub­mit­ted a game to Sega, Sega Of Europe would play the game and ap­prove it, and then Sega Of Amer­ica and fi­nally Sega Of Ja­pan.” David ex­plains. “But Sega ac­tu­ally had all three di­vi­sions play­ing Aladdin con­cur­rently on dif­fer­ent con­ti­nents. They even had the Ja­panese peo­ple come in dur­ing a na­tional hol­i­day be­cause time was push­ing on.”

Fol­low­ing Aladdin’s re­lease on the Mega Drive along­side the home re­lease of the movie, the game ac­crued sales in the mil­lions and re­ceived top marks in many re­views, al­though David has bit­ter­sweet mem­o­ries of its launch. “We al­ways felt we could have done a bet­ter job if we had more time, but within the time that we had we felt like we had pro­duced some­thing that looked dif­fer­ent, played well and paid homage to the film.”

Look­ing back at Aladdin now, Wil­liam An­der­son highlights the game as his best de­spite the pres­sure in­volved in de­sign­ing for it. “It was the most stress­ful game be­cause it was three and a half months to get it done, but it holds up the best as far as my port­fo­lio is con­cerned be­cause it was the one that we did with the most di­ver­sity.”

In clos­ing, David Bishop can think of few changes that he would make to Aladdin, but he does sing the praises of the team that he cre­ated the game with. “I think it stands the test of time as well as any game has, and I wouldn’t change that much. I don’t think I’ve ever worked with a more tal­ented bunch of peo­ple. I was just along for the ride in some re­spects, but it was fan­tas­tic.”

Thanks to David and Wil­liam for shar­ing their mem­o­ries.

» [Mega Drive] Vir­gin used a demo of a project called Dynoblaze as part of its pitch for Aladdin. on » David Bishop was head de­signer clas­sics. Aladdin and var­i­ous other Vir­gin

» Wil­liam An­der­son work­ing on a level de­sign dur­ing his time with

Vir­gin Games.

» [Mega Drive] The early lev­els in Aladdin have camels that spit at guards when they’re jumped on.

» [Mega Drive] Aladdin’s ap­ples pro­vide hu­mour when thrown at over­weight guards.

Agrabah stage » The orig­i­nal de­signs for Aladdin’s the fin­ished level. in­volve more game­play than in THE know » Pub­lisher: Sega » Devel­oper: Vir­gin Games » re­leased: 1993 » Plat­form: Mega Drive, Var­i­ous » Plat­form: Plat­former

» [Mega Drive] In a scene straight out of the movie, Aladdin leaps over a sea of flow­ing lava. » [Mega Drive] The penul­ti­mate boss fight in Aladdin pits the pro­tag­o­nist against Jafar’s feath­ered stooge Iago. » [Mega Drive] A liv­ing, tele­port­ing statue pro­vides Aladdin’s Cave of Won­ders stage with a tricky boss fight. » [Mega Drive]

To es­cape from

Aladdin has to the Sul­tan’ use mov­ing ma­sonry as ste

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