Last Thursday Gaming Nexus got to sit in on a conference call with General Manager and Creative Director of Disney Interactive Studios' Junction Point, the famed Warren Spector, to talk about the upcoming action-adventure/platformer Disney Epic Mickey
. Read on for Warren’s introduction of the game and then the question/answer session that follows.
Warren Spector’s introduction
: We are going to talk about Disney Epic Mickey. We're rapidly approaching the release date. We've been waiting a while for this moment, but we're releasing in North America on November 30th and exclusively on the Wii. I suspect that most of you know something about the game, but in case you don't, it's Mickey's first appearance in a video game in a while. He is the hero of our story and the player's avatar.
In this game Mickey finds himself trapped in a world called Wasteland, a world of eighty years of forgotten creativity. In that world, he uses a new ability. We're reminding him he's a cartoon character, and cartoon characters are made of paint and ink, so we allow the player to dynamically change the world by drawing and erasing. You can remove pretty much anything painted from the game: characters, objects, walls, floors, you name it, and then restore them using the power of paint. So that's kind of the core of the gameplay. I guess you have a lot of questions, so maybe I'll be quiet and we'll just get right to them.
Where did the idea for Disney Epic Mickey come from?
You know, it's an interesting story. The idea actually originated at Disney. I was an independent developer at Junction Point as an independent, and I was out pitching publishers on a bunch of game ideas: a science fiction game and a fantasy game. One of the publishers I pitched was Disney, and they weren't interested in what I was pitching, but they asked if I was interested in hearing their pitch for a Mickey game. Of course, I was.
As a Disney fan, and as a guy sitting there thinking, "My God, they're offering me the opportunity to work with a character as popular, as successful and recognizable as Mickey Mouse - yeah, I wanna hear that.” They had three or four core ideas that are still in the game today.
The idea of Wasteland started with Disney. The idea of bringing Oswald the Lucky Rabbit back started with Disney. Even the idea of Mickey being kidnapped by the Phantom Blot started at Disney. So, some of those foundation elements were there right at the beginning. They said, "You don't have to use any of these ideas," but I said, "Man, there's no way I'm not - they're genius. No one's gonna make that game but me and my team." So that was kinda how it started.
What was the hardest part for you and the team while working on this game? The story, the gameplay, the controller?
You know, honestly, the hardest part was just the massive amounts of information we had. Disney threw open the floodgates, basically. We had full access to all of the Disney archives. We chose to limit ourselves to things that had been forgotten and rejected, but, really, Disney was incredibly open. Even though my team often describes me as the "kitchen sink designer," because I throw everything in, this time there was just so much source material. Probably deciding what not to include was the toughest part.
You've been responsible for some "edgy" games over the past twenty years. How much of this "edge" is finding its way into Disney Epic Mickey and can you give an example?
I think a fair amount of it, actually. I don't ever think about things in terms of "let's be dark and edgy." I just tell stories I like telling, and creating worlds that I think are interesting. I don't really think about it in those terms, but certainly this is a kind of a darker world than people might expect.
I think that's reflected when you see familiar places, like a version of "It's a Small World" or a version of "Mainstreet USA," but really rundown with the color drained out of it and parts of it wrecked and twisted a little bit. I think that could shock a lot of Disney fans (in a good way, I hope). I think there's a little bit of edge there, in the ways we're treating some of Disney's properties. I mean literally properties, like the places you go when you visit theme parks.
How different is the move from sci-fi theme games to Mickey Mouse and the gang?
I guess you could say that it would be hard, except I have a pretty strong background in this sort of content. Though people in the electronic age play computer games and video games, I think they've only seen the side of me that does epic fantasy and dark science fiction stuff.
If you go back to my table top game days, when I was working at Steve Jackson Games and TSR, I worked on tuning the cartoon role-playing game, and I worked on The Bullwinkle and Rocky Party role playing game. I wrote my master’s thesis on cartoons.
I know it's hard to believe now, but I used to be the funny guy. A lot of people who didn’t have that background might have had trouble, but for me it was like just getting back to stuff I know really, really well and enjoy immensely.
In Disney Epic Mickey, there's obviously a lot of different locations based Disney properties. What Disney Universe within Disney Epic Mickey are you most proud of?
I can't talk about the place that I want to talk about. I will say that there is one place that I'm really, really proud of and really amazed that we actually managed to get into the game. If you want to look for edge, I guess that’s where you'd find it.
I hate to be abrasive there, but that’s one thing that I just don’t want to talk about quite yet. I will say one other thing, and probably be equally cryptic and annoying. I'm really, really proud of the end game. I think the way this game wraps up is really cool, and surprisingly emotional. I think people are going to be surprised at how much emotion you can wring out of a video game when they see that, so I'm really proud of that. I know that doesn’t answer the question, but I just don’t want to get that out there.
A good portion of art design is based on Disney art in the late 20s to 70s. Why was this area chosen over the more modern Disney art styles?
That’s pretty simple actually. One of those foundation elements that I got right from Disney was the idea of a world that’s forgotten and rejected Disney stuff. I like that so much because Disney was still a vital and central part of American and world culture. I don’t think people appreciate just how much Disney contributed. The corporation and the man, frankly, contributed to the 20th century and the 21st century in terms of entertainment.
I really like the idea of limiting this game to material that Disney himself touched, and that limited to 1928 to 1967. The last thing Disney the man worked on was The Pirates of the Caribbean ride and Jungle Book, which both appeared in 1967.
I've already had two people notice this. I didn’t want to actually mention this, but I'm going to say one thing here: we've violated that rule. We've violated that rule in a couple of places. I'll let you guys figure out where they are.
For the most part, we leave it to things before 1967 for the reason I already said, but also because I've got to meet some of the animators and artists that worked on more recent things. I just don’t want to be the guy who says, “Well, that work you did five years ago, that was really not very good.” I'm not going to be that guy.
The initial illustrations released during the project’s early life differ quite dramatically from what we see in the final version today. Can you talk for a moment about how the game’s art style and direction has evolved over the course of development?
Yes, that’s a huge question. There was some concept art that was leaked, and that was a genuine leak. We did not do that on purpose, that’s for sure. It's stuff that got out there inadvertently.
What that was was a small sample of one of the art styles that we were considering. In any game I like to do two things. I like to get a variety of options in front me, so I always have the artist put half a dozen versions of this character in front of me. “Oh, no way, let's have another dozen.” Which annoys people, I'm sure, but I want a lot of options, and I think projects benefit from having a lot of options.
I always tell my teams, not just about art work but about everything, anytime you think you've gone far enough with whatever you're working on, go twenty percent further and I’ll pull you back if you’ve gone too far. The only way to find out where a line is is to cross it. Some of the artwork that got out there was me very consciously saying, “Ok, we’ve got to work with our partners at Disney to determine what’s the creative box within which this game is going to exist.”
All games exist within a box. I couldn’t put magic in Deus Ex. You wouldn’t put a 747 in Red Dead Redemption. Everything happens within creative constraints. In this case, I wanted to collaborate with folks at Disney to determine where the lines were that you don’t cross. Some of the artwork that got out was me consciously thinking, or at least assuming I was going too far. Some of it was me just wanting options and some of it was where we were at that time.
What I hope people do is instead of judging what might have been, judge what is. The bottom line is I’ve been lucky enough in my career that I’ve never had to ship a game - well, that’s not true, I’ve had a couple where I’ve had to ship a little too soon - but I’ve always been happy with what we were doing and, in this case, my personal opinion is that the team did an amazing job. The art team knocked it out of the park as far as I’m concerned. I love the way the game looks. I hope people will judge what’s on the screen and not a weak piece of concept art from three years ago.
What inspired you to take a darker approach to a Mickey video game?
Well, there are a bunch of ways to interpret that question so I’m going to interpret it the way I want. The reality is Mickey himself isn’t darker. The world he is in is darker than people might expect. There are a couple of reasons for that.
I kind of referred to one earlier and it was implied in an earlier question: I like darker stuff, personally. Also, one of the big goals for the project was to establish Mickey as a video game hero on the same level as a Mario, a Link or a Master Chief even. If you’re going to be a hero you have to have something serious. You have to have a serious problem to push up against, to solve. So, the world needed to be a pretty dark place because Mickey, and every player is going to make and bring light to this world.
If you’re going to have light, you have to have dark. There are parts of the game that I personally think are really sad. If you’re going to bring happiness, if Mickey is going to bring happiness to this world, there has to be sadness to start with. There are a lot of reasons why the world would be dark and why the world of Wasteland is dark, and I think they’re all justified by the story and supported by the gameplay.
Did the main gameplay concept of Disney Epic Mickey always involve the paint brush as Mickey’s primary tool and the mechanics of paint and thinner, or were there times over the development process that the team tinkered with other concepts for Mickey to partake in?
We started with some foundation elements from Disney, but we basically had a blank screen, an empty Word document. I can’t say it was there from the beginning. It wasn’t one of those foundation elements that came from Disney at the start.
It came fairly early on, however. I was working with a designer/writer named Alan Barney and a programmer named Alex Duran and the three of us did the heavy lifting on the initial concept. Fairly early on we said it would be cool to remind Mickey, remind players and remind Disney fans that Mickey is a cartoon character. He’s not a real mouse.
We started thinking about what that means and, to make a long story short, we fairly quickly hit on, “Hey, we should give him control over the stuff he’s made of!” It was actually another programmer on the team, a guy name Matt Behr, who came up with that initial idea. I started thinking, “That’s a great idea! Let him use paint – the stuff he’s made of – to create things!” But, I’m the guy who makes games about choices and consequences. So, we have to offer the player the opportunity to do the opposite of that. What is the opposite of that? It’s erasing things.
I just condensed six months into a minute, but it was a fairly early thing that has undergone pretty steady development and refinement over the last three years.
Disney Epic Mickey seemed to have skipped many generations of consoles. Now we finally get a Mickey game similar to the magic of SNES and Genesis days. Why did it take so long for a game like Disney Epic Mickey to be made, and what made this the right time?
I'm probably not the right person to answer that. From the outside, I remember reading interviews with Graham Hopper - who runs Disney Interactive Studios – before I signed on, before I knew anything about the project. He was saying, “We're going to rest Mickey.”
Disney does that with all of their properties. They'll release something and then take it away for seven or ten years. He has made comments about how there was a decision made – again I was not involved in this – to give Mickey a rest in the video game space. I guess they thought that I was the right guy with the right idea, the right game to bring him back. Again, that's a little outside my area of expertise.
What is it about this game that will make it stand out graphically from first party Wii titles? Also, did you run into any limitations that you would have like to have seen happen but couldn't?
What I think makes it stand out is the darkness, the dark cartooniness of it. I think not just on the Nintendo, but on most platforms you see games that are bright, cheerful, primary colors, happy, and traditionally cartoony. Then you see games that are monochromatic.
I say we're in a period of, “Well, is this year the year that all games are gray? Or is this the year that all games are blue or brown? Which is it this year?” I challenged the team from day one - the art team in particular - to make a game that in the five seconds you have as a person runs from one booth to another at E3, to in that five second period grab their attention and look at a screen and know that it was our game, and know that it was not like any other game. So there was that challenge. I think they met that.
I also said I want a game that looks like a Disney animated feature. There's a lushness that Disney feature animated films have; we used Pinocchio a lot as an example. I think that's the pinnacle of traditional Disney animation in terms of art direction. We used those lush, rich, colorful movies as inspiration.
We also did some stuff that I actually never knew about before I visited Pixar as we were working on this. They have these color scripts posted. They're not storyboards, but they provided an overview of the colors that dominate the scenes in different locations as the movie progresses. I was really taken by that.
So we did a lot of color scripting where we just say, “Here is what each world is going to look like from a palette standpoint.” Not even with representational images, just what colors dominate this game. I haven't talked about this. I should really talk about this more. But what colors dominate which parts of the game, which parts of the world; you put all of that together, we've got five seconds to show people that we're different. With the lush, rich color of Disney films, the color scripting technique, and the darkness of it, I think we have something unique from a visual standpoint.
What audience did the team have when trying to make this title?
Pixar was a really important part of that. This is not like making a Deus Ex, where my team created the characters and the team created the world and we could do whatever we want. Mickey is a character who is known to almost everyone on the planet. So we had to work with our partners at Disney, even talked to Disney fans about what is the right way to approach this game.
In talking to folks at Pixar, John Lasseter in particular said something in my first meeting with him that rang like a bell. He said, "At Pixar, we don't make movies for a target audience. We make entertainment for everyone."
I heard that message at Disney Feature Animation, I heard it at Pixar, and I said, “Why can't a game aspire to the same goal?” Now I'm not saying we achieved it, to be clear. That's for all the folks listening here, all the gamers who are going to play this, and all the Disney fans who are going to play it to say whether we succeeded. But I will say that it was our goal to make a game that kids and adults, boys, girls, men, women, could all appreciate. So we really didn't have a target audience in mind.
Given that you were allowed access to the Disney vault to make this game, what was one of the more obscure items that you had to put into your game? We've seen the Tiki Room and the Swiss Family Robinson tree house, pre-Tarzan, but did you have something more obscure than that, for detail-oriented fans of Disney?
Well, in terms of location, I don't know that it's even interesting to talk about that. Players can play it, and they'll decide what's obscure and what's not. But in terms of characters, clearly Oswald the Lucky Rabbit is the most obscure thing.
No one remembers Oswald, or if they do they remember the universal version that came after the Disney period. I think Oswald is probably the most obscure thing in the game, which is kind of appropriate. I hope we changed that.
After that it's the Gremlins. I love those little guys. They were created for a movie that was in development in 1942 and 1943 and was never made. Finding those guys was really special. So Oswald and the Gremlins I think are probably the most obscure things and the things I'm really happiest about being able to bring back to audiences.
Do any of the action maps use architecture or texture maps from the action locations on which they are based?
Well, not in the photographic sense, no. But we did a lot of research. Obviously we went to the archives at Imagineering, and we got color tests. They did paintings to determine what the Pantone color we're going to use is - not literally Pantone - but what color is on that building. We used that information.
But we also got to visit the parks. I sent some artists out to visit the park in Anaheim before it opened to the public. We were able to walk around and we have thousands of photographs of extreme close-ups of wall textures, floor textures and decals on waste bins, etc.
There's a lot of stuff that the texture artists and environment artists used to create the world. However, it was never our intention to do something that was photo-real. It's not like we took a photograph and mapped it onto geometry. We never went that far. But there's a lot of stuff that's very super-detailed that frankly even fans aren't going to notice, where we used a photo of a texture or an image that an Imagineer painted in 1958 as a guide to color choice and texture usage.
Many of us still define video games by their value as a means for fun and escape, judged in part by their level of rampant creativity. Disney Epic Mickey's design seems to parallel this approach. Could you tell us a bit about how you balanced creativity and game play to produce such an enchanting game universe?
Well, first, thank you for describing it as an enchanting game universe. I hope that's the way people feel about it. That is a huge question, and I'm tempted to give a really kind of a flip answer: that's the magic.
I've been making games for a long time, and I guess I get to make the next game because I'm pretty good at figuring that stuff out. I've got people on my team who are way smarter and way more talented than I am who are really good at figuring out how to create that magic.
There's a question that wasn't asked there that I think I actually do want to answer. The game is in part an homage to Disney's creative history, but also to the creative process. The fact that Mickey has a brush and players get to use not a weapon but an art tool to solve problems, really appeals to me and it’s an homage to the creativity of the artists at Disney.
There’s a reason why our story moments are pulled in the form of story board art or concept art brought to life. Instead of what might be considered more traditional vinyl (queue the air quotes) CGI graphics. The art style in our 2D story telling moments, what you’re seeing was actually inspired by animatics that we were going to use as guides for vinyl CGI art, real rendered 3D art.
When I saw the animatics, I fell in love with them. I said, “No, wait. We should just put that on the screen and honor all the Disney concept artists, story board artists whose work never actually gets out in front of the public”. So, some of the magic, at least I hope, is honoring the creative process and having gameplay that gives players a little bit of an inkling into how that process might work.
How open was Disney to letting Junction Point go and using this historic art to make characters for the game?
Absolutely, completely, totally, utterly, without limitation open. I was amazed. I remember having conversations - not with the Disney proper but the Disney Interactive Studios, which is the division Junction Point is a part of - and saying, “I want to do an Alice in Wonderland inspired world. Tim Burton is coming out with a movie, and I’m thinking maybe we should cut that,” and everybody is going, “Yeah, it’s probably a good idea, we probably shouldn’t do that.”
It wasn’t like I was ever told, “You can’t use Alice in Wonderland.” In the archives I came across all of these amazing rejected concepts for Tinkerbell and I loved them. Some of them were really punk, and some were actually a little sexy. It was crazy, really cool stuff. I was thinking about using those, and I don’t remember who it was but someone said, “There’s a big fairy thing going on in Disney right now.”
(By the way, if you haven’t watched the Tinkerbell movies that are coming out on DVD they’re actually really good.) There was this opportunity, the possibility of confusion: are these fairies different than the fairies in the Tinkerbell movies? So there was a mutual decision not to go there. But at no point was I or the team told, “You can’t look at that, use that, or recreate that.”
I remember you briefly mentioned something about the amount of archival material they have?
You have to understand, most Hollywood studios never even thought about the value in their contracts and concept art, matte paintings and all that stuff. Most of the studios junked all that stuff, and Disney kept it all. It’s just astonishing.
I’ll give you a specific example. The first I went into the Imagineering archives with one of my writers and one of my tech artists, the guy that was walking us through the archival holdings said, “I’m sorry, we’ve only scanned 90,000 images so far.” 90,000 images, are you kidding me?!
I was in the archives last week - the main archives on the studio lot - and one of the archivists there starting pulling out Oswald material that I didn’t know they had. There are constant surprises and things being found.
The archives used to be haphazardly stored in these underground tunnels instead of in a dedicated archival facility. I was walking through there one day and asked the woman I was walking with, one of the archivists, “Do you think there's still stuff hidden away back here that no one knows about?” She said, “Oh yeah, for sure.” She goes down there all the time and unlocks doors that haven't been unlocked in 50 years and finds magical stuff. So yeah, there's a lot of material.
What is Mickey's motivation story and does it change at any point?
Actually that's one of the things I'm most proud of. I called Deus Ex by that name because it came from Deus Ex Machina, which is y, “God from the Machine.” It's a classic terrible storytelling technique. It's like the, “Oh my gosh, the hero is about to be eaten by a dragon,” but then magically the dam bursts and the dragon washes away. That's the Deus Ex Machina.
Most video games have terrible stories, and I make games with terrible stories too, but at least I try not to! We're trying to make Mickey a hero, so he goes through a pretty amazing arc. He starts out in this world where he doesn't belong. He's not forgotten, he's not rejected and all he wants to do is escape and get back home, but that's his and the player’s initial goal. Then, as he explores this world, he discovers that there are a lot of characters here - old friends of his that even he's forgotten - and he's responsible for making their lives miserable.
He inadvertently unleashed a monster on this world; a disaster. So Mickey devastated this world where his old friends are living and the change in his goals and his arc is he needs to accept responsibility for having caused this problem and he has to set it right.
Then he discovers - something that for me personally is even more important - that he has an older brother Oswald The Lucky Rabbit. His older brother resents him for stealing the life of fame, fortune and love that should have been his, and so he has to reunite with his brother and redeem his brother.
At the end of the day, Mickey has to redeem himself by taking responsibility for the problems of this world that he caused: righting those wrongs, making the lives of the Wastelanders better and then redeeming his brother. Only by doing all of those can he redeem himself and then earn the right to go home.
How long would you estimate this epic game takes to go through?
Well I don't have an estimate really. It varies because it's not a linear game in the sense that every player is going to do all of the same things in the same way.
To give you an idea of how extreme the variants can be: there's one map called the Ticket Booth and it's right outside our version of the Small World. If you just do the minimum necessary to solve the problem on that map, you can literally get through it in 5 minutes. If you do all of the optional content and you search for all of the hidden stuff, you can spend an easy 45 minutes on that map. So, it's going to vary, just to be clear.
We've watched a lot a lot of people play of all years from 8 year old girls up to 50 year old guys and everything in between. My first playthrough took 26 hours. I'm a completionist and I really like to poke around; I was trying to find all the problems. Most people that we’re seeing on a first playthrough are taking about 15.
The thing to remember is that your play style really does matter. I say that a lot and I really do mean it. In order to see, do and collect everything in this game we think you have to play through it at least 3 times. That's the best we've been able to do. Obviously each play session is going to get shorter because you understand things better, you know things better and you're just more skilled. But you have to play through it 3 times, playing differently each time to collect everything.
If you play in one particular style, if you're solving every body's problems and using a lot of paint and restoring stuff, that's going to open some doors for you but it's also going to close others. You're not going learn about some missions that you might learn about if you played a different way. So we think it's going to take three playthroughs to get through.
Players are already starting to figure out how to solve problems in ways that we never anticipated. There's one point in the game where we set up a choice where you must free a trapped gremlin or go get a treasure - you can't do both. Except about three or four weeks ago, a player figured out how to free the gremlin and get the treasure, which everyone in the team would have told you is impossible. So it's a game where I think it's going to take three playthroughs to get through everything, but it wouldn't surprise me in the least if somebody out there figured out how to do it in less.
Most Disney park vactioners know that you can spend an entire day hunting for hidden Mickeys around the park. Does Epic Mickey feature any hidden Mickeys?
You've explained that the role of the story in a game is to have the player interact with it and make their own decisions, and you've emphasized that play style matters. How significantly will players be able to lead the story of Disney Epic Mickey?
Every player is going to save Wasteland, and every player is going to redeem Oswald and, basically, reunite with his brother. So, in that sense, the story is linear. There is a narrative art. If you know any of the games I've worked on, that's sort of my style. It's a linear story, but how you get to the choke points in that story - the important story moments - how you get to those moments is up to you. This game is very much like that.
It's not a branching story particularly, but how you play through it changes what you know about the world, what optional quests you learn about, how characters in the world feel about you, what the world looks like as you go through it. There are lots of things that you control that will change dramatically as a result of your play style and how you interact with the game, with the world and the residents. But the story itself is linear.
How many of the 2D scrolling segments inspired by Steamboat Willy and the Clock Cleaners will be in the game?
I've been shying away from an actual number, but it's around 40. They are inspired by not just those two cartoons. They're inspired by lots of cartoons.
There are a couple that we use two or three times, but there are lots of cartoons that we have used as inspiration, not just Steamboat Willy and Clock Cleaners. Those are the only ones we've shown. You want players to discover something and be surprised by stuff, so we're not talking about or showing everything even now about a week or so before launch.
Does Disney Epic Mickey have set difficulty levels or will it adapt to the player's ability?
No, there's no way to adjust difficulty level. My belief has always been - not just on this project but for decades making games - that the idea of letting players decide how to solve problems and giving them tools to solve problems in their own way has built into it a kind of difficulty adjustment.
If shooting stuff is too hard for you, try sneaking around it. If sneaking is too hard, try talking to someone. Half the time, you can get what you need just by talking to someone. Offering players a variety of ways to do things that match their interest or their skill set or just what they think is fun, I think actually builds in a dynamic difficulty adjustment.
I don't want to be disingenuous. I'm not assuming that's true. I've watched enough players of this gameplay to feel comfortable that it's true. Like I've said earlier, we've watched little kids and teenagers and twenty-somethings and thirty somethings and forty and fifty somethings play this game. I'm not talking about three or four of them; I'm talking about lots of them, and they're finding their own fun. They're figuring out how they want to interact with the world and they're all doing okay.
The other thing is, we do have a couple of systems in place that can help you if you're stuck. So, for example, in the game you collect tickets. Yes, it's the same way. Every platform game or adventure game has collectible jewels, collectible stars or whatever. We have tickets, among other things, that you can collect. Those tickets you can hoard for bragging rights. You can, in many cases, buy your way past a problem, a challenge. If there's someone who’s blocking your path, you can sometimes just say, “I'll give you 50 tickets if you'll get out of my way.”
Instead of having to fight that character, you can trade a resource to get passed that character. You can also use the shops in our Quest Maps to buy quest items. If you just can't find the last piece of X that you need to continue making progress in the game, you can usually go into a shop and just buy it. We have that in going for us.
Also, you can buy health upgrades and all that. If you want to make yourself tougher, and you're willing to spend your tickets on that, it might make the game easier. Also, there are these little things called guardians, the spirits of the wasteland that are attracted to you.
Different guardians are attracted to you based on your play style. If you raise your remote in your hand and hold it up for a second as if you're raising your hand to ask a question in class or something, one of your guardians will go streak off and leave a little trail that will point you towards your next goal. So we have ways of helping players out along the way. But it's not like you can go and say, “I want to play this on easy, and now I want to play it on expert,” no.
Are any of the games that you synchronized to music in the tradition of the early Disney cartoons?
There's some synchronization of music, of course, yes. It wouldn’t be a Disney cartoony game if we didn’t do that. But the more interesting thing about the music to me is it's dynamic in some interesting, unique ways.
I worked on a Wing Commander game back in the late 80s that actually changed what tune was playing based on whether you're in combat or exploring or not. Almost every game does that now, and we do it, too. For every place you visit, there is a different set of tunes, and we change those up based on whether you're in combat, exploring, in imminent peril, etc.
We do the dynamic music adjustment. But in addition, we're tracking your play style. So, if you're a character who’s just sort of erasing everything you see, going for the most efficient solution to the problems and not helping people along the way, we're actually changing the music in each zone based on that. If you're being a super helpful guy or a super efficient guy, we change the music. The dynamically changing music changes based on your play style, in addition to the situation, which is kind of cool.
Talking about music, can you quickly touch upon the composer who did the score?
I love talking about Jim Dooley. I had in my head this idea that there's a Disney sound. It's not like Sleeping Beauty from 1937 sounds like Enchanted from a couple of years ago or Lion King or something. But you can close your eyes and listen to a Disney soundtrack and know that it‘s a Disney soundtrack.
I'm not enough of a musician to know what it is that makes Disney movies sound like Disney, but there's something. I auditioned about a dozen composers. Some of them are really, really good and some of them are really close to getting it. I said, “Give me the Small World tune. You know, ‘It's a small world after all,’ that one.” I said, “Give me that, but turn it inside out.”
So, it's sort of recognizable but different. Then I said, “Give me a Mickey Mouse theme that sounds “Disneyish.” I narrowed my choice down to two or three when a sample CD came across my desk. I thought: it's too late, I don’t have time to do another test.
Then I looked at it and it was Jim Dooley, who is probably the best. He’s done a bunch of game works, but he is probably best known for the TV series Pushing Daisies, which my wife loved. So I listened to it. I would sit on the couch playing a game or something on my handheld while that show was on and I would hear this music, and I loved it. I said, “Oh my god. I’ve got to try this guy out.”
He won an Emmy Award for best original score for Pushing Daisies. I gave him the test and he sent it back and he nailed it. I swear this is the best music I’ve ever had in a game. You don’t have to agree, but I love the music. I listen to it for fun all the time. It’s spectacularly good.
Why was it so important to bring Oswald back, a character that relatively few had ever heard of outside of the Disney faithful?
It was important for a couple of reasons. One is the Disney family - Diane Disney Miller and Roy Disney - were part of bringing that character back. Before I got involved with the project, they were saying we should get Oswald back; we should get Walt’s first big star back in the family.
As an animation fan for all my life, I’ve been watching those cartoons - the 13 out of the 26 Disney Oswalds that still exist - in scratchy, horrible prints for years. He is a great, amazing cartoon character. It seems unfair that no one knows it. So the family wanted him back, and Disney went and got him back. I really thought he deserved better. I end up talking about him like he’s real. It’s very strange. But I think the world deserves to be reintroduced to this little guy. I really do.
We know that the Phantom Blot is a nefarious figure within the game, but what other key villains within the Disney universe will Mickey face?
The Phantom Blot in our game is not the real Phantom Blot. We really did reinvent that guy. There is a Phantom Blot in Disney’s history. He’s been a perennial Mickey foe in comic books since 1939. We really remade him pretty dramatically.
When I was a kid my favorite Mickey cartoon was the Mad Doctor from 1933. Here is a guy who is pretty nefarious. If you go back to watch that cartoon it’s pretty grizzly. He only appeared in that one cartoon and then never again that I know of. So he seems like a perfect villain for a world like Wasteland. Clock Tower is one of our villains from Small World, and there is a version of Hook who is pretty villainous.
In a Mickey game you’ve got to have the Petes, right? The Peg-Leg Pete, the Big Bad Pete. Pete shows up in every Mickey cartoon, basically, so he had to be there. He is kind of a running gag actually. He is around every corner.
Does Disney Epic Mickey utilize Wii Motion Plus?
To the extent that if you have one installed it will still work, but that’s it really.
What does the future hold for Disney Epic Mickey? Are there plans for a sequel, or perhaps a Donald Duck-Goofy spin-off?
There are a lot of people who’ve taken the comment that I make fairly frequently that I always planned a trilogy. The reality is I always plan a trilogy. I don’t want to go into any projects unless I have the knowledge, the sure belief that the game could support more games; the world is robust enough, the characters are rich enough.
I did actually think through a three-story arc before I started working on this, but I always do that. I had a three-story for Deux Ex. I always have a three-story arc. The second and third games, if they happen - and sometimes they do and sometimes they don’t - almost never look like what I originally planned. It’s just my way of making sure that we’re creating a world that’s robust, and rich enough that players are really going to want to live there for a while.
We’d like to thank both Warren Spector for his time, answers and insight, and Chase from Access Communications for organizing and moderating the call.