It's hard to not be interested in Epic Mickey and I'm not saying that as a gamer, I'm saying that as a human being. We haven't had a good Mickey game in forever (Kingdom Hearts games not with standing) and the thought of the iconic mouse getting his own game is enthralling. Being a gamer heightens that anticipation because I know that Warren Spector is working on the title which makes Epic Mickey one of the biggest games of the year, even if it's coming out on the one platform that gathers dust in my house. I was fortunate to be able to land an interview with the team and here it is.
Could you introduce yourself and talk about your role on the project? What kinds of things do you do on a day to day basis?
Sure thing! My name is Paul Weaver and I'm the Director of Product Development here at Junction Point in Austin, TX. To keep things at a high level and to best define my role, I am essentially Warren's “right hand man.” As he comes up with the high level vision, the story, and the commitment to “Playstyle Matters, ” it's my job to to make that vision happen, getting into the details of the game and utilizing all of our internal team and external partners in the creation of the game.
How difficult is it to create an original game using a license as valued and “sacred" as Mickey Mouse? How protective was Disney of the property and how much leeway did you have? Was there one thing you thought you could do but had Disney say that you couldn’t?
Working on Disney Epic Mickey has definitely been the highest profile project that I've worked on in my career. The pressure that we've been under has been the good kind - the pressure to succeed and to make something really special. Disney actually placed a huge amount of trust in us to make this game and while obviously being very protective of Mickey, they gave us the leeway to make the game.
For you, what makes Mickey so special? What are the things that make Mickey, Mickey?
That's a good question! I think Mickey represents the best of all of us. He's kind, heroic, brave, funny, a little mischievous, good-hearted, cares about his friends and always ultimately does the right thing. That is what we've aimed for in our game and I believe we've managed to do just that.
What was it like for you personally to work on a game with one of the most beloved characters of all time? What target audience did you have in mind while you were working on the game?
Disney Epic Mickey has certainly been a project that's built on high expectations and that's been a driving force for me throughout the development of the game to succeed. I've personally embraced that pressure and used it to raise the quality bar as high as possible. From day one we’ve asked ourselves what it was about a product that has the Disney name attached to it that made it so special and we determined “family.” From the classic Disney feature animation movies to Pixar, you'll see that Disney entertainment is made for everyone to enjoy. With Disney Epic Mickey, we've made a game that every member of the family can enjoy-- but make no mistake, that doesn't make it a “kid’s game” in terms of challenging gameplay or in its’ tone.
Why the decision to develop exclusively for the Wii? Is there any chance we could see the game on the PS3, 360, or PC at some point in the future?
When we came up with the paint and thinner game mechanic, we really found ourselves talking about the “verbs” of what that meant and we found ourselves making a painting motion, as if you were holding the magic brush. That became the central control method and in 2008, the only console that really could support that type of gestural control was Wii. Since we started, we've been 100% focused on development of this game exclusively for that platform.
How much involvement did you have with the comic-book prequel being designed, “Tales of the Wasteland”?
We worked very closely with the comic book group in making those wonderful accompaniments to Disney Epic Mickey. Warren led the charge on this and was the standard bearer for Junction Point in working closely with their writers and artists. The team leads provided a lot of “detail oversight” on the story and advised on where the group could use “artistic license.” All in all, it was a very cool experience working closely with a Disney partner.
Do you think that Disney Epic Mickey will restore Mickey Mouse and his likeness in the gaming universe to the levels it once held with games like “Castle of Illusion” for the Genesis?
That would be very cool indeed. Mickey is the star of this adventure and we think that the story, feel, look and sound of the game deserves to push him to even greater heights in video games than he's ever been before.
Could you talk about how we’ll be controlling Mickey in the game with the Wii remote? What challenges did you have in coming up with the control system? Does having Wii Motion Plus help the experience at all?
The use of paint and thinner in the game is one of the key control mechanisms, so you'll be using the Wii Remote to aim at the screen and paint or thin wherever you can interact with “toon” in the world. As well as aiming, there's a huge amount of gestural control in the game. Mickey has a spin move which is activated by flicking the Wii Remote from left to right and he can use this to smash chests/barrels, etc, to get goodies as well as stunning the smaller baddies in the game to give himself a few moments of breathing room. The Guardians are also controlled through gestural control - flicking the Wii Remote downwards will send your friends off to fight the bad guys ,either befriending them, slowing them down or erasing them. If you're completely stuck, you can hold the Wii Remote up in the air and “ask” for help, with any guardians present obliging by flying to show you where to go next. Finally, Gus the Gremlin, your ever present friend in the game, lives in your Wii Remote, so expect to hear noises coming from that too!
Give your thoughts on working with a game designer as notable as Warren Spector? Do you find that working alongside him on a project helps you to evolve as a game designer / producer? What was the biggest lesson you learned during the development of the game?
I first came to the United States from the UK in 2003 to work with Warren-- I'd played Deus Ex and thought the concept of “Choice and Consequence” was really special and I wanted to learn more about it. Our first time working together was pretty short unfortunately, so when he contacted me in 2007 about the possibility of making Disney Epic Mickey, I told him that if Disney were to go forward with the project, I would be the first Disney employee at Junction Point, which I was. Warren is absolutely great to work with-- he’s smart, collaborative and the guru of “PlayStyle Matters.” It's an honor and a privilege to work with him and I think we've managed to carry the torch in having players be a huge part in the story of this game, which is definitely the biggest challenge in making playstyle matter.
How much access did you have to the Disney animation archive? Were you able to use any of the old film animation cells or was everything created from scratch?
Disney has been incredibly forthcoming with us in the creation of this game and we've had access to not only the archives, but also the Disney Parks, Feature Animation and Pixar. We've spoken with every Disney expert we possibly could to make this game as faithful to Disney as we possibly could. When you have over 80 years of rich Disney history to draw on, it didn’t make sense to create things from scratch., However, modern day implementation requires current technology to make these things happen. For instance, our Animators study the cartoons, but then use Maya (an animation package) to recreate those classic animations and they work with our 3D cgi versions of the characters. It's an exciting challenge and every single group involved with the game has done an amazing job.
Is there anything we missed that you think is important?
I think you've asked some great questions today and I hope that we've given you a little extra insight into Disney Epic Mickey. We look forward to hearing your thoughts on the game once you've had a chance to play it!!
I'd like to thank Paul for answering my questions as well as Irene for helping to coordinate the interview and dealing with my constant pestering for an interview.