Warren Spector Finds His Inner Magic with Disney Epic Mickey
DISNEYLAND – The man behind some of the most innovative role-playing adventures in gaming, including Deus Ex, System Shock and Thief, has been working to bring Mickey Mouse back to gamers after a 17 year hiatus. Spector’s studio, Junction Point, has been working with Disney Interactive Studios for the past four years to bring Disney Epic Mickey to life. The general manager and creative director of Junction Point was on hand at Disneyland recently to talk about his labor of love.
“Mickey Mouse is the biggest movie star in the world, he has a huge TV presence, and at parks he’s the guy who people line up to see,” said Spector, who was at the Lincoln Theater on Disneyland’s Main Street U.S.A. “There have been some good games like Castle of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse, but the last time he starred in a game was 2003. And the last time he was in a movie was 2004. I thought videogames could help turn that around and remind everyone how adventurous Mickey could be.”
Working with Disney archivists and historians, Spector decided to focus on Walt Disney’s first cartoon creation with Disney Epic Mickey’s story line. Disney created Oswald the Lucky Rabbit in 1927 and the black-and-white animated character went on to star in 26 cartoons for Universal Pictures.
“Oswald could remove his head and use it as a bowling ball, he could break up into dozens of versions of himself, he could use his ears as a bat or as oars on a boat,” said Spector. “He was a force of chaos. He also loved the ladies, which is one reason why there are 420 baby bunnies that players will contend with in the new game.”
Ultimately, a legal contract severed Walt from his creation and Universal Pictures fired him. That served as the impetus for Walt and animation partner Ub Iwerks, who had collaborated on Oswald, to create Mickey Mouse. And the rest, as they say, is history.
Disney Epic Mickey is Spector’s 20th game and he’s bringing all of the things he’s learned over the decades to the table. Wasteland serves as the world in peril that Mickey, as the hero, must ultimately save. Along the way, he’ll have to battle many villains from classic Disney cartoons. He will even face off against the magic broomsticks from Fantasia, before ultimately battling the main antagonist, the Shadow Blot.
“Gamers expect and deserve something they’ve never seen before in every game they play,” said Spector. “We’ve created a game in which your play style matters. Every choice you make in this game has consequences. We give players paint and paint thinner to literally change the environments, objects and even characters in the world. How a player decides to use these tools will make his or her experience unique.”
While there are plenty of intricate decisions to play through, like painting a gear to open a door or erasing a door jam to have that door fall to the ground; players will also face more serious choices. Disney Epic Mickey allows players to make decisions that will also alter Mickey, as he must make decisions like choosing to save a gremlin’s life or unlock a rich bounty of in-game treasure.
“I saw a player figure out how to do both, which everyone on my team thought was impossible,” recalled Spector. “I’ve seen all kinds of things. A couple of programmers had a competition to see how far they could go through the game without using paint. There’s one point where Mickey has to use paint and the programmer got past it. If you’re clever and creative, you can actually create your own experience. For most developers, that would be a bug. But for me and my team, that’s a call for celebration – you showing us how cleaver and creative you are.”
While Mickey has remained a mainstay in the Disney theme parks, he’s been off the entertainment radar for awhile. Spector believes the videogame medium provides the best place to re-launch Mickey into the narrative mainstream because every player gets to invest in this character directly.
“If I were making a movie, it would be me telling you what Mickey is like,” said Spector. “If were writing a comic book, it would be me deciding how Mickey acts. Allowing players to decide for themselves—that's the power of gaming. As soon as you make that investment, if you spend several hours of your life being Mickey Mouse, and making him behave the way you want him to behave, and being the character you want him to be, I just believe in my heart of hearts that you are going to engage with that character the way you never have before. And it will be a deeper connection than you can get in any linear medium.”
There’s an epic adventure for gamers to experience with Mickey and Oswald. It took Spector 26 hours to play through his new game, and that’s not even including all of the hidden pins and other objects that are packed into this game. Players will be able to experience a new Mickey, learn about his long lost brother, and, Spector hopes, learn something about the history of Walt Disney and the magic he’s created over the years. What’s old becomes new again through the Wasteland, where characters, theme park attractions and other Disney creations still have lives of their own.