Former Disney Game Producer Talks Capcom, Disneyland, Salad
Posing in front of her Game Player’s magazine DuckTales Gameboy Game of the Year trophy, former Disney game producer Darlene Lacey, formerly Darlene Waddington, refreshes her memory by visiting the site’s Adventures in the Magic Kingdom game tribute page.
Darlene, before we get going, I just wanted to say, from the bottom of my heart, thank you for all of your hard work. You made my childhood, as well as many others, much brighter.
Mike, it makes me happy to see that you and many people have great memories of this game. One never knows until kids are grown how much they might appreciate something you make.
My memory is a bit rusty on the subject of this game, so my answers are given to you based upon the best of my recollection. If some other person involved were to have another take on a given topic, I wouldn’t rule it out as correct!
Capcom’s Santa Clara, California headquarters. (Image source: Google Earth)
You worked as a Disney producer back in the day. What exactly were your duties in regards to the Capcom titles? Did you work inside of Capcom’s Santa Clara headquarters, or were games sent to you at another location?
I worked for Disney in two locations: first in a building on Olive Avenue in Burbank, just slightly up the street from the Walt Disney Studios on Buena Vista Street, and later in a gray concrete high-rise a few miles further from the studio on Alameda Ave. I never went to Capcom’s Santa Clara headquarters, and I believe the games they developed for me were all developed in Japan.
At the time, Disney Software licensed the rights to their cartridge games. Capcom was their main NES licensee. Marketing would negotiate the licensing deals, and once they were set, the projects were assigned to one of Disney’s in-house producers such as myself. Because of this, I was never involved in the discussions of exactly what the licensed product would be. Typically, I would receive a pre-alpha EPROM and possibly a game spec, and I would just start reviewing it and seeing if any changes or guidance was needed. My main objective was to ensure that each game stayed true to the Disney properties and that each game was of Disney quality.
Game Player’s previews Adventures in the Magic Kingdom.
I believe Adventures in the Magic Kingdom is the first video game based on a theme park. Do you remember how the idea for the game initially came about?
I don’t know specifically what was discussed, but I do know that it was difficult finding appropriate properties for cartridge game licensing back then. This was because such games tended to have a lot of action and violence of one sort or another, so we had to find creative ways to create action and conflict without overt violence. Capcom had already developed their NES 8-bit Ducktales and Chip ‘n Dale’s Rescue Rangers with me, and I think they wanted to do something different. They were a very creative, motivated group. However, there was a conceptually tricky line to walk in terms of having action and conflict at one of the theme parks. So, as I recall, it was a bit of a gamble to develop this title, and that’s probably why other games of this nature didn’t exist.
Cinderella’s Castle at Disney World juxtaposed with the Enchanted Castle.
Although the game appears to be based on Disneyland in California, the retail artwork on the box, manual, and cartridge clearly shows Cinderella’s Castle at Walt Disney World in Florida. Why is that? For that matter, if the game is based on Disneyland, why is the castle referred to as the “Enchanted Castle” rather than Sleeping Beauty’s Castle?
I think this mainly had to do with the above-stated issue of all the implications inherent within creating a game based upon a real location. We didn’t want to make it appear as though this was literally what the California Disneyland looked like, or that this was the extent of what was in the park, or that these sorts of activities might actually occur there. So, we just blended some things together and gave the setting some slight interpretations.
Darlene’s job was to infuse the game with some of that trademark Disney magic.
Did you or any of the other team members go to Disneyland to research the rides or map out the layout of the park during the making of this game?
Someone at Capcom most likely researched it before I got involved because the development of this game was quite far along before I first saw it. I believe this was the first game I received from them which was already at alpha. With their previous games, I received them at pre-alpha, and I only had to make some minor adjustments. However, with this one, I had a major issue with the appearance of the park. I think the development team wanted to make this a more difficult and larger game than the previous ones, but as a trade-off, they relied upon a heavy use of tile sets that made the park look not at all like the park. If one didn’t know this game was supposed to be set at Disneyland or Disney World, one could easily not realize it. Almost nothing in the game made me think of Disney, other than the way that the games were thematically tied to the attractions. The game could be anything.
I sent them all kinds of notes and photo references, and they seemed very concerned that I was asking for large-scale changes. We had never asked for them before, and the team was so far along in this development. We wound up cutting the Jungle Cruise game altogether because it had screen after screen of some lavender-shaded tiling for jungle rock walls that bore absolutely no resemblance to the ride and didn’t convey any sense of what it was really like. It would take considerable time and money to reinvent it. The team flew out to meet with me and we did go to the park, I believe. We came up with a variety of improvements they could make in an expedient way that would help strengthen the visual sense of a Disney theme park. We either added Space Mountain as a replacement for the Jungle Cruise, or perhaps we just extended its game play. It’s hard to remember. I think we cut Splash Mountain too, but Jungle Cruise is the one that stands out in my memory.
The prototype that you have seems to have already incorporated most or all of these changes. I don’t remember too much of anything specific, but it seems like we made changes to the overall map of the park so that there were more signature Disney elements, and we jazzed up some of the plainer, tiled sections with some details and flourishes to keep the player feeling like they were in a Disney world.
Adventures in the Magic Kingdom instructs you to enter your name when starting a new game. If you skip this step, the default name you are given is “BAMBOO.7.” This name appears again in the game’s code: “BAMBOO TENTIWOKURAU WO YOROSIKU SATURDAY S MORNING IS MORNING SALAD.” Do you know who or what this mysterious “Bamboo” character is? Does “Saturday morning salad” mean anything to you?
I remember always being intrigued by the mysterious Bamboo 7. I always pictured a lonely programmer working long hours into the night, with just this cryptic name appearing as his “message in a bottle” to let other people in the world know he was out there somewhere.
When the team came out, I asked about him. It didn’t turn out to be as dramatic as I thought. I’m pretty sure his name is Yoshinori Takenaka. His nickname is/was “Bamboo”, and the 7 just arose from the happenstance of giving his placeholder identity a new number with various games he worked on. I believe the cryptic message about salad was a personal joke about how he worked so many endless hours that he couldn’t tell dinner from breakfast and that he might have salad for dinner by the time he quit work in the morning. …At least, that’s the way I remember it!
For answers to this and any other remaining mysteries surrounding this game, I assign the following quest to you, Mike: Go seek out this “Bamboo 7” and get an interview. He is the one who will know.
There’s another hidden piece of text in the game’s code: “ABOUT INSTEAD I MEAN EARNED WELL GOOD JOB FOR A SQUIRT I HAVE A FOR YA BUT YA MIGHT AS WELL TAKE DIS INSTEAD MAYBE IT LL HELP YA GROW YO HO HO WELL DONE DESERVE MATEY BUT ALL I HAVE IS I HOPE IT GOOD.” Do you recall the meaning behind any of these scrapped lines?
I can’t remember what the pirate is talking about, but I typically got all the text for these games and performed major edits and rewrites on it. This may have had to do with receiving one of the silver keys. The pirate might have been making a joke about the kid’s stature. But that’s just pure conjecture on my part.
Speaking of hidden things, an unused cat sprite can be found if you go through the game’s tile graphics. Do you remember the purpose of this cat? Did it have any connection to the dog with the silver key?
I have no idea! I don’t know if I ever even saw it in the game.
Do you remember the decision behind naming the game Disney’s Adventures in the Magic Kingdom? Was there some sort of cross-promotional, semi-subliminal messaging there to advertise Disney’s Adventures magazine, which just so happened to debut the same year as the game (1990)?
It’s possible. The game was already named by the time I had it assigned to me, so I wasn’t privy to any discussions regarding this. However, it was common for Disney to try to connect themes and create a sense of consistency across the product lines. So it’s quite probable that this is how the wording of the title came about.
The instruction manual refers to The Haunted Mansion attraction as “The Haunted House.” Mickey also uses the word “house” instead of mansion in the game. Was there any reason for the name change?
Again, I think we wanted to make some details of the game less specific so that a person who had never gone to Disneyland wouldn’t think the Haunted Mansion looked just like that.
It’s a small world displays prominently on the map (and a character makes a mention of it during the trivia game). Other rides like the Jungle Cruise and the Mark Twain Riverboat can also be spotted. Were there any game attractions planned that did not make the final cut? If so, what were they and why were they removed?
I don’t think there ever was a Small World game. I may have asked them to add the attraction to the map just to add an iconic touch to the landscape. I also don’t think there was a Mark Twain Riverboat game, but I wish I had my old files. I used to hang on to all this stuff, but over time I’ve whittled down my paperwork, lest I be accused of being a hoarder. I even dug into my really old file boxes for this interview, but all I found were tax returns from the ’80s (!).
Splash Mountain would have been the newest ride at the time of the game’s development (premiering at Disneyland in July of 1989). Was there any reason why Splash Mountain is not featured in the game?
Again, I can’t remember for sure if we cut this, but if we did, it was because it was just a lot of water and logs and just didn’t look like the attraction.
I think it would be safe to say that some Disney attractions translate into better gaming experiences than others. Space Mountain, for example, a ride that takes place in the dark, seems rather creatively constrictive in terms of a video game adaptation. Did Disney emphasize certain rides over others? Who decided on which attractions would be turned into stages?
I wasn’t involved in the decision-making on the original set of adapted attractions, but I think they made good choices. Space Mountain presented an odd blend of opportunity and constraint because one could make some nice star field-based arcade action, but, obviously, there’s nothing “Disney” to be seen. It could only be included if other more visual attractions made up the core of the game.
Can you talk a little about how the Disney trivia section came about and the process of choosing the questions? (I remember as a kid scratching my head at who Spin & Marty and Tommy Kirk were. Now that I’m older, I can appreciate the breadth of the trivia questions.) Was there any reason why a trivia game was added instead of showcasing another ride?
As I recall, it was my idea to add the trivia in order to quickly and easily boost the presence of Disney in the game. It just took a few phone calls to obtain some official Disney trivia from one of the departments. It provided more than what I needed, so I picked a range of topics from various time periods. I wanted the little kids to have to either guess and learn or ask their parents. That’s just the sadist in me….
You talked before in an interview about how you removed the crosses from the coffins in DuckTales for the NES. However, the coffins inside of The Haunted Mansion in this game clearly show tiny crucifixes on the sides. Why were they allowed, but not the ones in DuckTales? (Another cross, apparently to designate a First Aid center, also appears on the roof of one of the Main Street buildings.)
I think the coffins either just slipped past us or there wasn’t enough time to change them. As for the First Aid center, because that’s a universal symbol, that usage was fine.
While we’re on the subject of cutting, were there any offending or inappropriate elements in Adventures in the Magic Kingdom that were removed or adjusted?
Nothing offending or inappropriate; we just swapped out elements that were generic for ones that were more specific to the theme parks.
In two different prototypes, the graphics on top of the Main Street stores are not yet fully implemented. Is there any explanation for those being added at a later time?
I asked Capcom to add something because I thought this part of the park could have been anything. It was underwhelming to only see rooftops. There was nothing we could do to change that perspective, so we added some icons just to help identify what the buildings were.
The icons that appear on top of the Main Street stores in the final game are mostly self-explanatory, except for the one below the candy cane. Do you know what the moon and stars are supposed to represent? I can’t imagine Disney allowing a psychic to move into Main Street, but that’s really all that comes to mind!
The Main Street Magic Shop!
A gamer writes to Game Player’s looking for tips.
Some people call Adventures in the Magic Kingdom one of the more challenging Disney NES games. In an early prototype, The Haunted Mansion features more difficult enemies (zombies that shoot while walking and flying ghouls that appear exactly at the precise moment when you’re trying to land on a floating chair) and Big Thunder Mountain Railroad has several dead-end tracks that were later removed. Can you talk about the process of trying to achieve the right kind of difficulty level? Did you, yourself, find this game to be harder than other Disney games like DuckTales?
We wanted this game to be a little more difficult than DuckTales and Rescue Rangers. We expected it to draw a slightly older audience because it wasn’t based around a children’s cartoon or the cartoon characters. However, it was also a goal to make any of these games playable for younger kids as well. If a game such as this seemed too difficult, we would ask for some changes to simplify. We had a team of game testers who gave each game a thorough review, and their observations would be aggregated and sent to the developer. Typically, these were the people who made the final call on difficulty. Since they played the games more thoroughly than I, I tended to go with their opinion.
The retail game plays the “Mickey Mouse Club” theme song during the opening cutscene, while an early prototype plays an entirely original song composed by in-house Capcom music composer, Yoko Shimomura. The prototype also has text sound effects that were removed in the final game. Could you talk about your involvement with the sound and its progression through the game’s development?
I didn’t have much input into this process, but I believe I asked them to replace the opening music with the theme song in order to strengthen the “Disney feel” to the game. Again, I was concerned that the experience didn’t have enough cues to really say this was a Disney product set in a Disney theme park. I did think some of the music in the game was cool.
Why does the character you control wear a cowboy outfit and a cowboy hat? Is he supposed to represent someone? Is he perhaps dressed like a Disney cast member (theme park employee)? During the ending, he is shown as wearing a hot pink shirt (with matching socks) and black shorts. Was that an earlier version of his clothing? What is the deal with this strange little boy?
Excellent question. “Strange little boy” indeed! He was already in the game when I received my first EPROM, and I thought, “Well, this strange little boy needs to go.” I think he came about because people from other countries always think of Americans as wearing cowboy hats. I discussed this issue with various people in the office and tried to think of a better substitute, but the longer the kid stayed in the game, his weird charm started to grow on me. My thinking was that he could just be a typical kid who’s wearing the hat because he’s on vacation and excited about Adventureland and all that. Maybe it was a souvenir that he had bought. So, he just wound up staying. I have no idea why he changed clothing at the end. Sometimes the developer would add some touches without any explanation, and if there was nothing particularly wrong with them, I would just let them stay and leave it at that.
In an early prototype version, before the start of Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, Mickey Mouse says, “THERE’S SOME BADDUN’S OUT THERE, SO BE CAREFUL, YA’ HEAR? AND WATCH OUT FOR DEAD ENDS.” In the final game, Mickey seems less colorful when he says bluntly, “GO TO THE 2ND STATION. AND WATCH OUT FOR DEAD ENDS.” Why the change? Was any of the other dialogue in the game shortened or altered?
Can’t remember for sure, but my educated guess is that during play testing someone thought that the 2nd station needed to be specifically mentioned and someone did a rewrite without me. I always tried to add some colorful patter in order to give the text some liveliness, so any time blunt text appears, you can be pretty sure that someone got their hands on it without my knowledge.
Also in Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, there’s a bug in the prototype where the train can derail and go off screen. Did you run into any strange bugs while game testing?
The words “strange” and “bugs” just go together, but I don’t recall any classic ones in this game. Seek out Bamboo 7. He will know!
In an early prototype, the racing level, Autopia, has drawbridges. These were later replaced by extending bridges. Do you know why?
I probably nixed them since there was nothing medieval about Autopia. Darlene, the nitpicker.
The player can pick up and throw candles at enemies in Pirates of the Caribbean and The Haunted Mansion. Where did the idea of using candles as a weapon originate?
We always strove to avoid using potentially lethal weapons such as guns in the Disney games so the characters were always throwing boxes, snowballs, candles or whatnot. The candles were already in this game before I got involved, but that reasoning probably had a lot to do with it.
The only “boss” in the game is encountered at the end of The Haunted Mansion. The instruction manual refers to him as Master Spectre. Is there a story behind the creation of this character?
Only Bamboo 7 can answer this.
The little house near Pirates of the Caribbean has always bothered me. I couldn’t tell if the building was supposed to be Swiss Family Tree House or the Enchanted Tiki Room, since both appear in the same area of Adventureland. Could you please finally put this to rest for me so that I can move on with my life?
I’m going to say this with the utmost certainty to free you of your angst: The Swiss Family Tree House. …At least, I think so! Now, sell everything that you own and move on. (laughs)
In Pirates of the Caribbean, the objective is to save six villagers, characters that are all portrayed as tied up women in red dresses. Why, then, after you rescue them and light the fire, does an old white-haired bearded man thank you for saving him? Was he a character at some point in the level? He strangely carries the same kind of style as Goofy.
I think he originally appeared at the start of that game to ask the player to help save the villagers. What happened to that interstitial, I don’t know.
In two prototypes, Mickey appears to have a lazy eye, like he’s distracted by something off screen. This was changed in the final game so that he’s staring straight ahead. Did you happen to catch Mickey’s little eye problem, and were there any other odd things that needed to be fixed along the way?
It seems like we were always wrestling with making Mickey look good in every game. With limited resolution and small sizes, it was difficult to get the curves just right, and the curves are all-important when it comes to keeping Mickey on model. I believe this was yet another one of those times! I always spent time checking the details on the appearance of the Disney characters. Don’t remember anything else specific to this game, though.
What do you think of the finished game? Looking back, was there anything that you would have changed or done differently?
At the time, I was a little disappointed in the game. I thought it ought to have featured more attractions and I still didn’t think it looked as nice as it should have. Looking back on it now, though, it looks better in retrospect, and I have found it rewarding to see that kids had a lot of fun playing it (despite its difficulty level) and that people have happy memories of it. It’s been really nice to take the time to look back on it with this many years’ perspective.
What do you call somebody who steals 50,000 copies of DuckTales? A scrooge!
You’ve lived a kind of a charmed life, career-wise. You worked on one of the most influential arcade games of all-time, Dragon’s Lair, and then moved on to Disney where you had the opportunity to contribute to the much beloved DuckTales and (my favorite) Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers. I understand that you are now working as a script editor at Cartoon Network, not to mention writing columns about delicious candy. And you’re working on a new game project as well? From one creative writer to another, what is your secret? What advice would you give to a struggling writer starting out today?
I was lucky to be in the right place at the right time starting out. I was still in college when I got the job at AMS, where we made Dragon’s Lair. I was originally hired to write interactive fiction for what would become the Halcyon machine for “$40/week – all I could write”! The office was just a few blocks away from school, which was great because I didn’t have a car. I never expected this job to turn into a career, but Dragon’s Lair changed all that.
Just to give some historical perspective, I first used pencil and paper for those designs. We later all shared a computer at AMS. I bought my first personal computer in 1983… the “portable” Compaq One, which was approximately the size and shape of a sewing machine. By the time I worked at Disney, I had a PC of my own in the office, but there was no email and we all shared one fax modem. Most of the work was stored on floppy discs and SyQuest drives. We used a lot of Fed Ex back then!
So, basically, we built a lot of technology with very little technology. Because of this, I learned a lot about computers from the ground up, and to this day, I think this helps in my career. I understand how they work and how to solve problems. I’m also a very conscientious worker and will do whatever it takes to get things done. Additionally, I have always taken the art and craft of writing quite seriously and still keep all the nuances of Strunk & White in mind while writing and editing. In essence, I apply a serious attitude to the creation of things that are fun. If a person is talented, knowledgeable and reliable, one can potentially go far in any industry.
Thank you for putting up with me and all of my questions! Again, I am thankful to have this opportunity to speak with you, Darlene.
Watch out, Bamboo 7! I’m coming for you next!