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Epic Mickey Interview

with Lead Designer Warren Spector

By Matt Cabral, 8/5/2010

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Warren Spector, one of the industry's most talented and respected designers, surprised fans when he announced his next title was to star Mickey Mouse. However, after picking the brain behind cult classics such as Deus Ex and Thief, we couldn't imagine anyone else making Epic Mickey. Sporting a Disney cast member badge, a Mickey watch, and exuding an infectious enthusiasm for all things Disney, Mr Spector recently sat with us to discuss his new project, its inspirations, and his favorite theme park attractions.

AtomicGamer: When you first announced Epic Mickey some folks were surprised to find out how much of a Disney geek your are. Can you talk a bit about your history with the Mouse?

Warren Spector: I've been a Disney fan forever. Literally, day one, my dad bought me a Pluto plush toy to celebrate my birth...I still have it in my office. At nine months old my mom put mouse ears on me. The second movie I saw—the first was Sinbad—was The Shaggy Dog, and I've wanted to be an English sheep dog from that day on. When I graduated from college I got Disney stock as a gift from my sisters. I wrote my master's thesis on how cartoon characters evolve over time. I taught animation classes in grad school. Oh, and I still have my Marx Disneykins from when I was five, so yeah, I've been a Disney fan all my life. I'm Peter Pan.

AG: Wow, surprising you didn't land a job with Disney sooner.

WS: When I was leaving TSR and tabletop games, I was either going to make videogames or become a Disney Imagineer. I made it through two rounds of phone interviews and then they were going to fly me out, but Origin offered me a job first and I took it. So I could have been a Disney cast member in 1988. I really still want to design a theme park ride too.

AG: Are you a fan of any previous Mickey-starring games? How are you improving on them with Epic Mickey?

WS: I have fond memories of Mickey Mania and Castle of Illusion. But if I can say they lacked anything, I'd say it's some element of novelty or innovation. If you're going to do a Disney game and do right by Mickey, I think you're obliged to do something new and different that the world has never seen. I've been saying since 1989 that I'll never work on a game that doesn't at least do one thing that no one on the planet has ever seen before.

AG: And what is that one thing in Epic Mickey?

WS: That thing is paint and thinner. There have been a handful of games, the Red Faction titles for instance, that let you alter geometry in real-time. So other games have let you destroy geometry, but I believe we're the first that lets you bring it right back. It's a game about erasing and's something new to games and certainly the world of Mickey. It's the heart of our game, and it affects everything...the way the world looks, the way characters react to you. If you were to erase someone's house you might be able to take a more direct route to a goal or find tickets—which are like money—hidden inside a painted wall, or a secret entrance to another location. But who lives in that house might not be happy with you, or they may not tell you about a mission that they would have if you'd left their house alone. So it's all about choice and consequence...every choice makes a difference. And the heart of all this is the paint and thinner.

AG: If the game's a success on the Wii, will you consider bringing it to other consoles?

WS: Before Move and Kinect I probably would have said no, because the game is built around gesturing. Now, however, there's no reason technologically why we couldn't. But that decision is really above my pay grade, and no one's asked me for a port.

AG: Yes, seems like a perfect fit for the 360's and PlayStation's motion tech.

WS: Sure, it could happen. But I've been a Nintendo fan...well, not as long as I've been a Disney fan (laughs), but a long time, and I've been pretty open about the fact that the Zelda games are some of my favorite of all time. So we're a Wii exclusive and I'm happy about that.

AG: It seems like hundreds of games could be based off Disney's rich source material. How did you decide what to include in Epic Mickey?

WS: That is by far the hardest thing actually. My team calls me the kitchen sink designer because I don't censor at all. I throw everything in there, and then, sort of like a sculptor, start knocking off things that don't fit or don't look like the picture you have in your head. It was particularly hard with this game because usually it's material me or my team has made up, but here...well, let me give you a specific example: The first time I went into the Imagineers' Resource Library—which is amazing!—they apologized because they'd only scanned 90,000 images (laughs). It would take me a year to go through that many. And that's only a fraction of what they have. I went in and said I'd like to see everything you have associated with Alice in Wonderland, which, by the way, we're not doing, but I was thinking about it; well, they laughed and asked me to narrow down my request even further. There's just so much great material, and deciding what to cut is always painful, but it was especially rough this time.

AG: Do you have a favorite Disney theme park attraction that you wanted to include in the game?

WS: Well (laughs), that's really two questions. My favorite part of the game is actually based on a ride that we're not talking about right now. But my favorite attraction is the Indiana Jones ride...I think it's the best theme park attraction on the planet. Although, my sentimental favorite is Pirates of the Caribbean.

Thanks to Warren Spector for taking the time to make us feel like a mouse ear-wearing kid again and discuss Epic Mickey, which arrives exclusively on the Wii this fall.



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