Disney Illusion Island Interview: Returning To Mickey And Friends Is A Dream Come True For Dlala

Dlala Studios’ CEO AJ Grand-Scrutton revealed to his team that they’d be working on a Mickey Mouse game on the day that Battletoads launched in August 2020. “We had a Zoom party because it was [during] the lockdown,” Grand-Scrutton explains. “I said ‘Hey just so you know, the next thing is…’ and then I clicked on a slide. Everyone lost it. I have a wonderful picture of the Zoom call with all of their faces [freaking out]. It’s amazing.”

Grand-Scrutton and his team are massive Disney fans. He keeps his copy of Castle of Illusion in the original box next to his desk, and his team of designers and artists have all been influenced by the legacy of the House of Mouse. The trailer for their upcoming game, Disney Illusion Island, premiered during the D23 Expo’s Disney and Marvel Game Showcase this past weekend. The similarities to 2013’s Mickey Mouse Shorts are clear, but Grand-Scrutton says it pulls from Mickey’s entire history. “Mickey’s whole legacy is a massive influence,” he says. “All the way back to Steamboat Willy and through to the new shorts. What I really loved was the sense of cheeky fun of the new stuff and trying to combine it with the pure brilliance and slap-stickiness off [things like] Lonesome Ghosts and Thru the Mirror.” Grand-Scrutton says Illusion Island is made by “a bunch of Mickey fans who have digested a load of Mickey Mouse, you’ll see that fandom come out.”

Like Battletoads, Illusion Island is being entirely hand-keyed by Dlala’s artists. Grand-Scrutton describes the game as a “playable cartoon,” and says that art has probably been the most labor-intensive part of the game. “When you’re creating a world for Mickey and his friends, you don’t want to duplicate loads of assets and [have] loads of [stuff] repeating,” he says. “It’s all beautiful hand drawn assets, hand placed in the world. We are trying to make everything beautiful, so it’s very art intensive.”

This is actually the second time Dlala has worked on a Mickey game. Before Disney shut down its video game publishing division in 2016, the studio was developing another, completely different Mickey Mouse game. “The one we were doing back in 2015-2016 was very different,” he says. “There’s not anything in this one [from that game], barring a lot of that team is still about. We started from the very start with this.” Grand-Scrutton had no idea the studio would be returning to Mickey after Battletoads, but after exchanging a few emails with Disney and realizing there was a potential to try Mickey again, the creative juices started flowing. “It wasn’t necessarily an opportunity I ever thought I’d get a chance at again,” he says. “And the second my brain knew it could happen, the ideas just flew.”

Grand-Scrutton says no one has ever made a Mickey game like this before. Instead of short, linear levels like Castle of Illusion or Mickey Mania, Illusion Island is one big explorable world. There’s a dash of Metroid in the design, as Mickey and his friends will need to find upgrades in order to progress to new areas, but Grand-Scrutton says it’s not exactly a Metroidvania in the strictest sense. “If you’re looking from the progression aspect there’s that influence definitely,” he says. “But it’s definitely more about the platforming and the joy of movement.”

Dlala isn’t revealing much about the plot yet, but Grand-Scrutton says the story and the way it’s told is one of his favorite things about the game. “The biggest honor for me in the world is writing an original story for these characters,” he says. Illusion Island will have over 30 minutes of in-game cutscenes, pieces of which can be seen in the reveal trailer. Mickey, Minnie, Donald, and Goofy are all voiced by their long-time voice actors, which was a huge thrill for the team. “I had this incredible moment where I was sitting there watching the Goofy actor (Bill Farmer), who I grew up listening to, reading my script for our game, and I just sat there [thinking] this is not real, this isn’t happening.”

The rest of the cast is made up of completely new characters. Grand-Scrutton says he was interested in putting Mickey and his friends in a world you’ve never seen before. “What happens if you take Mickey and friends and put them in a real situation?” he says. “We wanted a brand new world that wasn’t restricted by what you expect to see in Mouseton or Duckburg.” Part of the joy of Illusion Island is discovering these new places and characters alongside Mickey and his friends. “If you’ve seen any of our stuff, it’s quite what you’d expect,” he says. “It’s kind of weird and quirky, but very much in that Disney tone.”

Disney Illusion Island is still in development, and there’s no estimated release date yet. “We’re closer to the end than we are to the beginning,” he says. “We still have the finishing up to do, We’re getting it tight, and we’re super happy with it.”

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