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Rebuilding Scrooge's money bin: WayForward dives into DuckTales Remastered

Bob Mackey

Fans of classic gaming tend to be a little overprotective of their favorites, so you can bet all of us obsessive weirdos breathed a sigh of relief when DuckTales Remastered landed in the best possible hands. And while I can't comment on the final product – or even a portion of it – there's no denying that the devs at WayForward know how to put together a solid platformer, with the same expressive, 2D graphics that drew so many of us to the medium back in the 8-bit days.

Barring the impossible scenario of reuniting the original game's tiny team (none of whom still work at Capcom some 24 years later), it's hard to think of a more appropriate match than WayForward meets DuckTales.

Still, when dealing with such a compact and complete package like Capcom's unassuming 1989 classic, the smallest tweak or change could result in a total upheaval of the experience that renewed hurtful Scottish stereotypes for a generation of Nintendo-addicted children. To assuage my fears, I recently spoke with three key members of the DuckTales Remastered team about reviving that special brand of Capcom/Disney magic for our modern world.

Knowing very little about the remake's history, it came as a bit of a surprise – or, at least, a disruption of an idealistic, feel-good narrative – that Capcom started the DuckTales Remastered ball rolling, rather than WayForward. We recently passed the TV series' 25th anniversary without much noise from Disney, and, in comparison to the company's current properties, DuckTales feels so unmarketable (and relatively unknown) that the existence of Remastered had to be the result of a grassroots campaign by some plucky 2D developers, right?

Unfortunately, no; after a few years of deliberation, Capcom and Disney came to an agreement over the Ducktales remake, with the latter party recommending WayForward due to the developer's close ties to the world of animation.

"We employ a lot of Disney-trained animators," says Matt Bozon, WayForward's creative director. "We're located next to the CalArts school, for recruiting purposes. A lot of us are trained in traditional animation ... It's a really perfect opportunity for us."

Rebuilding Scrooge's money bin WayForward dives into DuckTales RemasteredWhile WayForward hopes to meet the graphical standards of modern 2D gaming with its lavish treatment of Capcom's original assets, the team has also made it their mission to give Remastered's story the remake treatment.

The original game didn't feature much of an overarching goal outside of "greed is good," though it still sprinkled in narrative elements here and there in the form of character cameos that gave some sense of a story being told.

Some may view it as sacrilege to tack a narrative onto an 8-bit game that got along just fine without one, but WayForward only intends to expound on the original's content – all while taking advantage of their all-star voice cast.

"Before the show, I was a fan of the Carl Barks comics," says Bozon. "So when the game came out, there were two points to refer to: Some of the things seem to be taken from the DuckTales TV show, and some of it seems to be taken from the old Carl Barks stories. So when we started production of this game, one of the first things we did was look at various ideas that made it into the original Capcom game and tried to figure out what they were referencing ... So we tried to piece all that stuff together and fill in some of the gaps. And that's where a lot of the story decisions came from – reinterpreting the meaning they were going for in the first place."

For the sake of research, I blew through the original DuckTales game prior to my interview, a feat that took all of 20 minutes – though I did have the benefit of having each level's layout branded onto my brain. For as much as we sing its praises, DuckTales remains an incredibly brisk experience, even for its time; how well will this translate to a modern audience with much weightier expectations?

"We expanded all of the levels," says Austin Ivansmith, director of Remastered. "One of the directives we got from Capcom – that we decided early on – was that we wanted to make the game a little bigger. And so, the rule of thumb we've been going off of is 65 percent from the original game, and 35 percent new content."

Rebuilding Scrooge's money bin WayForward dives into DuckTales Remastered
This doesn't mean the game will be a strange and alienating experience for DuckTales veterans, though: "All of the levels designs are intact, [like] the original," says Ivansmith. "Anyone who played the PAX demo will see the mummy section of the Transylvania level... it's a little longer. There's a few more mummies, a few more treasures to collect." PAX attendees might also have noticed an expansion of that same level's mine cart section, which has gone from a 10-second, basement-bound diversion to a rickety ride through a much more scenic route. Yes, it's taken a good 20 years, but we're back to being happy about seeing more mine carting action in video games.

The rule of thumb we've been going off of is 65% from the original game, and 35% new content.- Austin Ivansmith, DuckTales Remastered director

Even if Capcom's original DuckTales had been released as a lousy, LJN-style platformer, it would still have that amazing soundtrack; and even though I'll never be able to get the game's tunes out of my head, one song in particular stands out as the most unimpeachable element of the cartoon's NES adapation, as well as one of the greatest video game compositions of all time. I speak, of course, of The Moon theme, a song that caught most of us by surprise – who expected to be stirred by something written to reflect upon an elderly duck's trip to space?

Since Remastered will feature brand-new remixes of the original's music by Jake Kaufman – the guys at WayForward were a bit cagey about revealing whether or not we'd be able to switch over to the NES versions – I decided to end our talk with a very important question about The Moon's theme. Namely, "How do you improve on perfection?"

After joking about cutting the song from the game entirely, Bozon says, "Believe me, our musician, Jake – he was feeling the pressure. Because, to him, it's a very iconic song. So [The Moon theme] was the first thing he did, and then he did all of the music in the game, and then he touched [The Moon theme] up again. Because he wanted to make sure it was as good as it can be, and it sounds incredible. That's all I can say at this point."

We'll have our chance to see, and hear, if WayForward's strategy pays off this summer.

Bob Mackey is a freelance writer based out of Berkeley, California. Since 2006, he's written a semimonthly column for the comedy website Something Awful, and his work has been featured on outlets such as 1UP, Gamasutra, Electronic Gaming Monthly, and Cracked. You can follow him on Twitter at @bobservo.

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