Kabam's Mark Raham has told us about the concept of the upcoming mobile title Disney Mirrorverse, shared why the RPG style was chosen for the game, and spoke about the company's approach to teamwork.
80.lv: Please, introduce yourself and your team. Could you tell us how and when did you start working? What were your aims? What projects did you previously work on? Which of the games are you most proud of?
Mark Raham: My name is Mark Raham, and I am Executive Producer for Disney Mirrorverse at Kabam and have been with the company since May 2018. I have over 15 years in the digital entertainment and brand experience space, which included over 8 years with the Vancouver Canucks as Creative Director for their Sports & Entertainment division and over 5 years at EA as part of their art/design team for franchises such as SSX & Need For Speed. I’ve always loved to work at the intersection of technology and entertainment.
80.lv: Please, tell us about your upcoming Disney Mirrorverse. How did you get started with the game? What’s the story here? Could you tell us about the game’s world?
Mark Raham: Our initial conversations and ideations for the game started back in 2018. We really liked the concept of bringing different Disney and Pixar characters together to create new stories and gameplay. And knew we wanted to make an action game with deep RPG elements; that’s what Kabam does really really well. And we wanted to make something that could last. A game and story that could last for years. And when you’re working with the world’s greatest story companies like Disney and Pixar, you realize you have to take your time in order to get that first big step right as the basis of the game.
With Disney Mirrorverse, we wanted to give players a new, divergent universe separate from the settings of the original Disney and Pixar films. These worlds are filled with high stakes where dark and light magic have a heavy influence on everything. That influence also evolves iconic Disney and Pixar characters into Mirrorverse Guardians who will take on a malevolent threat called the Fractured, whose goal is shattering both realities.
The Game's Universe
80.lv: As far as we know, the game will be set in a divergent universe different from the settings of the original Disney and Pixar films where famous characters become the battle-ready Mirrorverse Guardians. What was your approach to creating this unusual universe? Could you discuss gameplay mechanics? Why did you decide to choose the RPG style?
Mark Raham: The concept of the "Mirrorverse" is a world where forces of light and dark are very exaggerated to a cataclysmic degree compared to what fans have seen in each character’s original films. We found it fascinating when thinking about how each character would react and handle those circumstances. What would they do? How would they adapt? How would they meet the moment, would they stand up for what they believe in and for those they care about?
It’s been an amazing partnership with Disney, and we’ve worked closely with them to ensure the authenticity is always there in the characters. As you might imagine, the game’s concept required a lot of early testing to make sure we were headed on the right path.
When you first pick up the game, it’s clear right away that Disney Mirrorverse is an action game at heart. It’s got this immediate, pick up and play, push-button-swing-sword gameplay and great-feeling dexterous control over your Guardians – swiping, swapping, dodging, attacking – fun, gratifying, real-time action. That’s what Kabam is known for. After you’ve mastered control of one Guardian, players will eventually graduate to building and controlling teams of Guardians. All in real-time action.
And layered onto that core gameplay, players are going to love diving in and exploring this new, high-stakes world we’ve built together with Disney – with a really strong story and RPG elements that are built to extend and give depth to those characters and this world. RPG really extends the possibilities. Those systems allow you to customize your Guardians, feel the difference as you do so, and go on to build out teams with different complementary skills and abilities for all players to master different kinds of challenges in the game. I can’t wait for players to get in and experience this in the Mirrorverse.
80.lv: What tech do you use to develop the game? What tools help you bring your ideas to life?
Mark Raham: For concept and prototyping, the answer is "whatever gets the idea across clearly and quickly". Gameplay prototype in Unity? Let’s play it. Animation demo in Motionbuilder? Let’s go. Environment concept in Photoshop? Whatever gets an idea stood up, let’s do it.
Different team members are comfortable with different tools, so whatever works to get a representative idea out quickly is best. The first time I played what would become Mirrorverse, the gameplay was little cubes battling it out on a grey grid. You had to imagine that the red cube was Aladdin, and the purple cube was Maleficent – but it was quick and light enough that the team could iterate rapidly on gameplay ideas, camera, and controls. Mirrorverse is an action game at heart, so it was important to iterate quickly to get to a "feel" that was fun.
When it comes to production, the details matter. Kabam has a really powerful combination of custom tech that’s been built over the years for games like Marvel Contest of Champions and Transformers Forged to Fight, and now for Disney Mirrorverse. Those custom technologies surround and enhance or complement the tools that are probably similar to what other game studios use.
We hold a high standard for visuals, stability, and the ability to change up the experience and make sure there is something exciting going on in the game every day. I don’t want to think of "mobile" as a limitation – these devices are incredibly powerful and the displays are great – a huge portion of planet earth has a powerful game machine in their pocket, so there’s no reason our game can’t be visually stunning or always doing something new.
80.lv: The commercial success of games is one of the crucial points. What is your approach here? What do you do to gain audiences? How difficult is it to get noticed today?
Mark Raham: Well, you’re asking people first and foremost for their time, which is probably everyone’s most precious commodity these days. So how do you get players to even consider making that investment? I think what makes Disney Mirrorverse so unique is that you’ve got the world’s most beloved IP, presented in such an unexpected context.
We are able to present something people know and love, in a really surprising way. That’s always what grabs people. When we test it, audiences always double-take. “Is that really Belle?” or whomever they see. It’s tricky, it has to be familiar enough to be recognized and feel real, but different enough to make you want to know more.
Something that’s been so exciting about developing this game is that we have worked really closely with our partners at Disney to make sure we stayed true to who the characters are. Mirrorverse takes place in a world where a stellar cataclysm has altered the course of time and amplified the powers of light and dark. We worked hand in hand with our partners at Disney, right up to the franchise owners, to make sure that each character’s evolution in the Mirrorverse is authentic and true to who they are.
What would Elsa or Aladdin or Mr. Incredible or Snow White do in these extraordinary circumstances? How would they adapt and change to protect their world and the people they cared about and the things they believe in? Players are going to have a ton of fun seeing, discussing, speculating, and eventually uncovering how it all comes together in the Mirrorverse.
80.lv: What is your approach to teamwork and HR management today? And what is your current working model in the post-COVID world where lots of companies switch to remote or hybrid models?
Mark Raham: It still surprises me when I step back and think about this, but every single release of Disney Mirrorverse has been delivered in this world we didn’t imagine at the outset of the project, this world of working remotely. The day we sent everyone home at the outset of the pandemic was the day we submitted our very first beta build first-party. So most of the Mirrorverse team has operated as a fully remote unit for longer than we did in the old pre-pandemic world.
I think we’ve gotten good at it now. It wasn’t all easy, and it’s really remarkable how this team has developed new skills and habits to become a high-performing group working remotely. I can’t say enough about this group of people. There is real strength there. Now that we are gradually reopening the studio, I think that is going to be another whole new evolution. We’re going to have to figure out new, hybrid skills.
Some people can’t wait to come back to the studio environment. Some people have found their productive place working remotely. Some want a little of both. My view is that people have earned my trust to know where they are their best selves. I try to create an environment that supports people doing their best work and loving it every day. I think we will keep learning and evolving.
80.lv: What's your current roadmap? What did you plan for 2022? What will we hear again from you?
Mark Raham: Right now, we’re gearing up for the official game launch on June 23. It’s been an awesome journey from the initial ideation of the game to it now finally coming to market for players. We have a ton of great content planned for launch and after launch. I wouldn’t want to spoil anything for players, but I can confirm that our current roadmap goes out 18 plus months following release and we plan new content to hit monthly.
Our main focus in everything we plan for Disney Mirrorverse, and all Kabam games, is making sure new content is well thought out and that we’re doing it the right way for our fans. This is also an amazing opportunity for us to work with Disney, which in turn brings great responsibility for us to always do right by these iconic characters and worlds while delivering something unique and special for fans.