SDCC 2012: What I Learned From Warren Spector About ‘Epic Mickey’

The mastermind behind the upcoming Disney sequel was joined by comic writers Peter David and Marv Wolfman to talk about bringing Mickey back during this SDCC roundtable discussion.

“Your play style is really, really going to matter.” This from Warren Spector, who’s been shepherding the sequel to consoles for its release this winter.

The last couple of months have kind of been a second coming out party for Epic Mickey. Spector, gaming legend and VP of Junction Point Studios, acknowledged that the audience for the Wii exclusive first game wasn’t exactly large–that’s why the Junction Point team created the newly-released intro video that elaborates on the story of the first game while setting up the second, which is coming to the PS3, 360, and Wii.

And that intro serves as a nice stylistic bridge between classic Disney (exemplified by the game’s other hero, Oswald the Rabbit) and the musical stylings of the Disney many of us grew up with. “If you’re doing a game designed to honor 80 years of Disney history,” Spector quipped, “how can you not have a musical number.”

He says that the songs that are peppered throughout the game (composed by Emmy winner Jim Dooley) are sort of his way of testing the wind to see if gamers might be interested in the musical comedy game that he wants to make.

He went on to explain that the themes of the game revolve around family (and the connection between Oswald and Mickey) and redemption–specifically if everyone and everything is worthy or capable of redemption. While he says that he doesn’t necessarily care if people notice these themes, it’s kind of part of the overall mission statemement of the first Epic Mickey and this one to make games for everyone and not just target demographics.

He learned during a focus group exercise for the first game that his job with the game was to “not mess with people’s childhood.” That meant no radical reinvention of Mickey Mouse visually or in terms of the personality. The character has been a part of his life since childhood, a plush Goofy a constant friend.

It was such a passion project for Spector, that he lost Junction Point developers early in the process because they weren’t willing or able to match his level of passion for making a Disney game. He says that he realizes that some Junction Point designers and developers joined the team expecting to make the next Deus Ex and were disappointed in going in that direction with the company. Spector says that he actually turned down a collaboration with director John Woo, which would have certainly been a headline-grabbing title, for Epic Mickey, a game that Spector suspected would simply be a footnote in history.

For Marv Wolfman (a comics legend, most notable for his run on New Teen Titans, this was a return to Mickey after writing the character for Disney Adventures, but he realized sometime during production that writing for silent era animated character Oswald was the first time that anyone would be giving voice to the nearly 100 year-old-characters.

In fact, Disney now looks to their take on the character if they want to do anything going forward with voicing Oswald–longtime Transformers voice actor Frank Welker provides the character’s voice. Welker provided the character sounds in the first game (none of the characters spoke in Epic Mickey), and Spector was in awe of the actor’s ability to get the lines in very few takes in the voice over booth.

Becky Cline, Director of Archives for Disney says that her team has been tasked with trying to find new points of reference for Oswald, unearthing classic animations featuring the character. That also means bringing in characters like the gremlins from the Disney-commissioned book by Charlie and the Chocolate Factory creator Roald Dahl.

Spector says that where possible, they’ve tried to utilize Disney history as much as possible. Enemies like the Blotlings were created with the express purpose of giving the player something they wouldn’t have anxiety about erasing out of existence (as opposed to the storied characters from Disney history).

Giving up a bit of story detail about the DS game, whereas Power of Two is an homage to nearly a century of Disney animation, Power of Illusion honors Disney’s gaming history.

This commitment to history doesn’t drift into inside ball for Spector. All of that obscure history is dressing over a Mickey and Oswald experience. David chimed in that it’s about making funny jokes that might have different for kids and adults. David, whose first stint working with the character of Oswald was the digital comics bridging the gams, hopes that this Epic Mickey 2 will get some younger gamers excited about Disney history, and interested in finding out more.

Spector says that he was a little worried when accepting the project (which he was handed while pitching them an epic fantasy game) about having to make a game for kids. But Disney execs wanted a “Warren Spector Disney Game.” That means he didn’t really get any “no’s” from Disney, saying that the only time that pushed back was in the first game, telling him that audiences shouldn’t see Mickey’s teeth.

Epic Mickey 2: The Power of Two is headed to the PS3, 360, and Wii November 18th.

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