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Disney is quite naturally hoping to cash in a few times with Pixar’s newest excellent film, Inside Out. And one of the ways it is doing that is by launching Inside Out: Thought Bubbles, a “bubble shooter” mobile game for iOS and Android.

The free-to-play game is a clever take on the film’s own clever way of depicting our thoughts and emotions. Inside Out is a film about a young girl who moves from Minnesota to San Francisco and all of the emotional turmoil that results. We witness it through the metaphor of characters inside her brain. They represent the emotions Joy, Sadness, Anger, Disgust, and Fear. When the girl, Riley Anderson, has a memory or thought, it is classified with one of the emotions, and it shows up color-coded to match the emotion, such as gold for Joy. The memory takes the form of a marble, which is shipped off to one of the storage places of the brain, such as core memory, short-term memory, or long-term memory.

Inside Out Thought Bubbles

Above: Inside Out: Thought Bubbles

Image Credit: Disney

That metaphor turned out to be a good one for the game too, said Tim FitzRandolph, vice president of creative at Disney Mobile. After noodling around about 18 months ago, the team figured it would create a bubble shooter, where the balls representing emotions could be classified into different colors. We saw the end result at a preview event at Pixar’s headquarters in Emeryville, Calif.

“It seems super obvious, but it wasn’t immediate,” FitzRandolph said in an interview with GamesBeat. “We saw the screening and we were absolutely convinced that this was an amazing movie. It was going to be a general-audience, kids-to-adults appealing movie, which was perfect for us making casual games. We knew there was a great fit. But we were so impressed with the world they had created that we wanted to come up with something that would evoke all the stuff in the world. Some of the more obvious game genres didn’t seem to allow for that.”


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At first, the team tried to make a solitaire card game. But that game strayed too far from the goal of making an accessible and simple game for all ages.

“We went back to the drawing board, and that’s when we were looking back at the materials, looking at the memory orbs,” FitzRandolph said. “We thought, ‘These are definitely gameplay objects somehow. They’re primed for it.’ The film has taken such an abstract concept and turned it into a physical space with physical rules that apply to them. A memory becomes an orb and goes down this way and over there. The physicality of it, the orbs clinking together and everything, led us to — ‘Wait a minute, they’re color-coded too!’ We had this game type that we all love. We’ve played it in the arcades and on PC and on modern platforms.”

In a typical “bubble shooter,” you take a single colored ball and shoot it up at the top of the screen. If you connect with two or more balls of the same color, you score and make the balls disappear from the screen. The more of them you hit, the more points you score. When you clear the screen, you complete the level and move on to the next one.

Bubble shooters by themselves have been around for around for decades, first in the arcades, then on the web, and later in mobile devices. It’s a crowded market, but Disney hopes the Inside Out brand will help carry its mobile game above the fray.
Inside Out Thought Bubbles

FitzRandolph said it took about a year to complete the game after a few months of prototypes. They wound up with a game with dozens of levels and a progression ladder that gets harder and harder.

“What story there is, it’s mostly the micro-story of an individual level,” he said. “I wouldn’t even really call it a “Story” with a capital S. It’s much more light. We have a level where the mind workers, those characters who are deciding what to forget, are trapped in the level. You need to free all seven mind workers.”

FitzRandolph said the team will support the game over time with new content and additional levels. One of their goals was to re-create the characters in a way that was true to their appearance in the film.

“We’re so excited to be a part of it,” FitzRandolph said. “That shows through in the level of quality in the game. That’s the main thing we can do to combat that concern or expectation. We just do our best to make the level of quality as high as possible, to show some care and attention to the film. The reaction we’ve had from Pixar is good. They felt they were on the right side of that equation. We’re proud of that.”


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