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How Disney makes licensed mobile games that don’t suck

Monsters Inc Run

"We didn't start Get Set to make other people's games," says studio co-founder Rob Segal. But when Disney and Pixar came calling, that attitude changed. The Toronto-based game developer just launched Monsters, Inc. Run, a title published by Disney Mobile as a way to promote the upcoming 3D re-release of Pixar's 2001 animated film. But this isn't your average licensed cash-in. Just as Disney did with Temple Run: Brave, the company has partnered with a successful studio with an existing hit game instead of developing something from scratch. From a business perspective it makes a lot of sense, as the arrangement provides Disney with a game to promote its movies, and smaller developers with a chance to work on massive properties. It also has another benefit — licensed video games that don't suck.

Monsters, Inc. Run began when Disney approached Get Set about working on a project together. "It's fantastic that we would get that recognition," Segal says of being noticed by Disney. "They were talking to studios and looking at studios to possibly work with, and they approached us and it was kind of like, yeah, this seems like a really good opportunity." Get Set had released an iPhone game called Mega Run in May — think of it as Canabalt meets Super Mario Bros. — and it was a title that got Disney's attention. The two companies started talking about a project this summer, and eventually settled on doing a new version of Mega Run set in the Monsters, Inc. universe.


"It's not just a re-skinning of 'Mega Run.'"

The result is similar to last year's Temple Run: Brave. That game took the familiar Temple Run gameplay, added a new mechanic, and dropped it into the world of Pixar's Brave. In the case of Monsters, Inc. Run, the game plays much like Mega Run — but instead of Get Set's own cast of cuddly characters, you play as monsters from the movie. Mike bumbles his way through stages while Sulley smashes everything in his path, and you can unlock some of the lesser known characters as well. There are new levels set in Monstropolis and beyond, and even a few small gameplay tweaks like a character switching mechanic. The fact that the two games are different was key for the studio. "I think it was important to both of us — to us and to Disney," says Segal. "It's not just a re-skinning of Mega Run."

For a studio used to building its own games, partnering with a big corporation was a change. "It can be a bit weird," admits Segal. While he says the folks at Disney Mobile were accommodating, certain aspects of the game, in particular the artwork, needed to be authorized by Pixar, which took extra time. It was also a lot of work in a relatively short period — the game needed to be completed in time for the re-release of the film on December 19th. And while Pixar provided a few things — most notably a number of sound effects — the majority of the assets were created in-house, including the character models for Mike, Sulley, and the rest of the cast. However, the back-and-forth approval process did have at least one benefit. "There were animators and artists at Pixar who were saying that our artwork was actually really good," says Segal. "That was obviously really satisfying."

"It was something that was kind of hard to turn down."

The game is available now on iOS and features a good deal of content for its $0.99 price tag, with three worlds to play through and plenty of power-ups to unlock. And given the studio's history — its first big hit, Mega Jump, has seen 18 content updates in the last two years — it seems pretty likely that there will be even more to play in the future. Aside from that, though, Segal is keeping quiet on any potential projects with Disney. "It was something that was kind of hard to turn down," he says. "Not that we want to be doing projects for other companies really, but this was a pretty good exception." Then again, with Monsters University due in theaters next year, it might not be long before we find out if the two companies are cooking up something new.

The Verge
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