Walt Disney World Quest - A Magical Racing Tour de Forceby Michael Levey, contributing writer
It’s a beautiful, crystal clear night at the Walt Disney World Resort. In the distance, fireworks are going off in the sky above multiple theme parks around the property. An enormous machine made of gears, gloves and shoes rests atop a small, grass-covered hill. “Walt Disney World Magic Machine” is stamped on the side. A familiar gloved hand places a firework labeled “finale” into the cannon on the side of the machine. The music swells and fireworks explode everywhere as a shower of pixie dust fills the sky.
Then, all is quiet. At the bottom of the machine is Jiminy Cricket. “Goodnight everybody. See ya tomorrow!” he exclaims. He whistles a chorus of “Give a Little Whistle” on his way home for the day. Suddenly he’s almost trampled by a gigantic foot. And this foot is no ordinary foot. It’s the foot of Maleficent. And she’s followed by a horde of Disney Villains including Captain Hook, Ursula, Cruella de Vil, Jafar, the Evil Queen, Scar, Frollo, Hades and more.
They head up the hill to the machine and quickly start ripping it apart.“Oh no!” shouts Jiminy. Pieces of the machine fly everywhere, landing all around the Walt Disney World Resort.
Doesn’t exactly sound like the classic Walt Disney World racing game does it? Well, believe it or not, that is the beginning of the second original storyline for Walt Disney World Quest – Magical Racing Tour. The game that was nearly never made. Why, you ask? Well....
It was the fall of 1999 and I was working for Walt Disney World Synergy Marketing. We worked with all the other Disney business units—I wrote parts of “The Walt Disney World Christmas Day Parade” on ABC, pieced together the Company Clips in-room TV channel each month, and more. So when Disney Interactive came to my directory asking to develop a Walt Disney World racing game for Sony Playstation, as the only one with a gaming system at home, the project crashed into my lap.
On our first call with Disney Interactive, they pitched their big idea—a game for the Millennium Celebration where children from all around the globe raced around World Showcase at Epcot. Huh? We very politely told them that their storyline didn’t sound quite right, and that it probably wouldn’t fly with the marketing executives. Also, did we really have time to go from an idea to a game available for sale in a little more than a year? But they were insistent that it was a great idea. Racing games were huge and everyone was going to love this! Please set up a pitch meeting with the executive team, they said, and they’d fly out and wow all of us.
A few weeks later the team from Disney Interactive descended on our office with dozens of storyboards showing little kids wearing their native dress, in cars decorated to match their home countries. It was like "it’s a small world"—the racing game. They were going to race around World Showcase in their little cars. How fun was that? Hardly. After an hour-long meeting, the Walt Disney World leadership said “thanks, but no thanks. Have a safe flight back to California.”
Now that could have easily been where the story ended. But before they headed back to the airport, my boss and I took the team from Disney Interactive out to lunch at one of the many nearby chain restaurants on highway 192. Dejected and depressed, they complained about the meeting over greasy food and the end of their great racing game idea. It was during that lunch that I said, “You know... if the story was less about the millennium celebration at Epcot and more about Walt Disney World, with more characters and attractions, it might work. Something like the Walt Disney World Fireworks Machine explodes and pieces land all over property. And you have to race around to get all the pieces back together so the machine can do the fireworks show before sunset.”
No one said a thing. They were all just playing out the story in their heads. Finally, one of the guys from Disney Interactive said, “Could you write that all down on paper? Flush the characters and the storyline out more?”
So I spent the following weekend writing up the initial storyline for what would become Walt Disney World Quest – Magical Racing Tour. About a month later, the Disney Interactive team came back with new storyboards and artwork to show the marketing executives, and we were given the green light.
It was then that things started to get really challenging. The storyline I had written included the Fab 5—Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Goofy and Pluto—a horde of Disney Villains, plus a number of your favorite other Disney characters. But we soon found out that another team at Disney Interactive had given Nintendo the exclusive video game rights to Mickey Mouse. That meant no Mickey. Could we even do the game without him? I made some tweaks to the storyline to make a reason why Mickey wasn’t there, and we marched on.
Next, we were informed that using any classic Disney characters meant that we needed approval from Roy. Roy. E. Disney—Walt Disney’s nephew who was currently running Feature Animation. His office was inside the sorcerer’s hat in the Animation Building in Burbank. It was well known that Roy could be challenging, so we crossed our fingers and went to pitch the game to Roy.
That meeting didn’t go over so well. Roy felt that Disney characters shouldn’t “race” at all. He just didn’t see it. The only characters that he could see in little cars racing around were Chip 'n Dale. That was it. We could have them. No more.
Now what? With only two approved characters, who would drive all the other cars? After a few days of back and forth with Disney Interactive, I came up with the idea of making up characters—one character from each attraction, each of which would be more skilled on their “home course.” So we partnered with Feature Animation and Walt Disney Imagineering to come up with a new cast of characters for the game. Amanda Sparkle, Baron Karlott, Bruno Biggs, Polly Roger, Oliver Chickly III, Tiara Damáge, Moe Wiplash, Otto Plugnut, Ned Shredbetter, and X.U.D. 71—or Zud for short.
I rewrote the storyline again for Chip ’n Dale, and we went back to Roy and begged to include Jiminy Cricket as the narrator and hidden racer for the game. Fortunately, this time Roy said yes.
So with a full cast of characters, we needed to narrow down the course list for the game. We wanted at least one attraction from each park, but because of the short development time, we couldn’t do them all. So the track list was quickly cut down and we lost a number of cool levels including an underwater course from The Living Seas, a safari course from Disney’s Animal Kingdom, a crazy Imagination Pavilion course with Figment, a Peter Pan’s Flight course, a Twilight Zone Tower of Terror course, and more. And, because of the shortened development time, some of the levels never got flushed out as they should have. So the Disney Hollywood Studios level and the Test Track levels ended up being Coin Challenge bonus levels, not actual races.
During the next few months, I worked with the Disney Interactive team to come up with the power-ups, which included acorns for Chip ‘n Dale, teacup mines, magical frog spells, and more. The rest of my time was “fixing” the game as it progressed. Because the Disney Interactive team was based in California, they kept going to Disneyland to take photos to use as inspiration for the game. For example, the first version of the Haunted Mansion level had a Southern Plantation exterior, instead of the gothic Magic Kingdom version. Lots of details from many of the courses were wrong for that reason. So I spent lots of time taking photos and getting them to the team out in California. And making sure they were using the right audio background music for each of the levels. As the release date quickly approached, some levels got frozen as they were and I was unable to make changes. So that’s why some of the levels are still a bit more like the Disneyland versions instead of their Florida cousins.
The rest of my time was spent writing the game instruction manual, the website, posters, bus cards, and more. We did some quick user testing—which was pretty positive—and about 16 months after we started the whole process, Walt Disney World Quest—Magical Racing Tour hit store shelves around the parks.
Copies of the game started selling very quickly around the resort, and were ending up on eBay. So we made the game available for sale online, then also made versions for PC and Sega Dreamcast. Due to its popularity, Nintendo asked if they could have a version of the game, so we even made a version for Gameboy Color.
So now you know the rest of the story. Happy racing!