Epic Mickey 2: The Power of Two will re-unite Mickey Mouse and Oswald the Lucky Rabbit.Warren Spector is about as close as the gaming industry comes to royalty. He has been central in the design of some of most fondly-remembered games of the past three decades, including Ultima Underworld, System Shock, Thief, and Deus Ex, and he is known for his strong design philosophies and belief in interactive storytelling.
In 2010, Spector took what many of his fans regarded as a sharp left turn into strange territory: Nintendo Wii exclusive Epic Mickey. In November, a sequel titled Epic Mickey 2: The Power of Two will be coming to Wii, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and Windows PC.
Spector was in Melbourne recently as a guest speaker at the ACMI Game Masters exhibition, and Screen Play was invited to talk to him. In part one of the interview, he talks about his life-long obsession with cartoons, his decision to make a Mickey Mouse game, and the choice of the Wii as an exclusive platform.
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James Dominguez – It’s funny: your name was the first I ever associated with games, or at least among the first.
Warren Spector – Oh really? Shigeru Miyamoto, maybe?
JD – No, I was never a console gamer, so it was Jordan Mechner, Sid Meier, and you. I was playing Ultima Underworld, and I saw that ghost, the “upset spectre named Warren”, so I looked on the internet and found out what it was a reference to, and that name stuck in my head.
WS – I never asked for that! It’s funny, all of my teams have this thing about putting me in the game. I don’t ask for it, I don’t know why they do it. The only thing I insist that everybody do is there has to be a basketball court in every game I do, and – with one exception, I let them get away with it once – you can actually shoot a ball through the basket in every game I’ve made.
JD – I actually did that in System Shock II, where you find the basketball in the character creation level, and then if you hang onto it all the way to the end you get that little message from the monkeys.
WS – Yup, that was fun.
JD – Okay, I really should start asking about Epic Mickey. I suppose the big question I have regarding your current project is, looking back over the work that you’ve done… Why Mickey Mouse? It seems an interesting choice considering Deus Ex, System Shock, and so on.
WS – There’s a couple of answers to that. On one hand, when arguably the biggest media company on the planet says, “Hey, how would you like to play with our most important thing? How would you like to have as the star of your next game the most recognisable icon on planet Earth?” Now, you can sort of see where that would be an appealing prospect.
JD – Yeah, difficult to say no to that.
WS – And if you have ideas about what games should be, and you have an underlying philosophy that has made you, in a sense, the “king of the cult classics”, and you see an opportunity to reach mainstream, “normal” people? You know? Kids, adults, men, women, everybody has a relationship with Mickey Mouse. He’s the perfect way to get the idea that I now call “play style matters”, which I used to call “choice and consequence”, to get that out there to “normals”. Mickey is a great vehicle for that.
JD – Yeah.
WS – But you know, you’re right. In the electronic game world, I know I have a reputation for doing the cyberpunk thing, and for doing the serious epic fantasy thing, but if you go back to when I was a kid, I’ve been a Disney fan all my life. I remember when I told my Mom I was working for Disney, her response wasn’t “What?” It was “It’s about time.” That’s a quote! So there’s that, and when I was in college I was an animation freak. I wrote and published so many articles about Warner Bros cartoons and Disney cartoons and Max Fleischer cartoons. When I got the grad school I wrote my masters thesis on Warner Bros cartoons and how cartoon characters develop over time. The first thing I did in the table-top game world was Toon, the cartoon role-playing game. The second thing I did at TSR when I got there was the Bullwinkle and Rocky party role-playing game.
JD – Wow. I’ve played Toon, but I haven’t played Rocky and Bullwinkle…
WS – Not many people have played that one, but it’s got hand puppets and it’s really silly. So yeah, for the people who really know me, not just for my work in computer games and console games, this is just a return to my roots. Then finally, the last answer is, you know, after you spend 25 years making games about guys who wear sunglasses at night and trenchcoats in the middle of summer and carry two guns, and guys who wear chainmail and swing big swords… Let me do something different, will ya? I want all the Deus Ex fans to just chill. The core game philosophy is exactly the same, but I just had to do something where the content and tone were different, because I was going crazy.
JD – You can tell this is a proper game project, though. It’s not like one of those game IPs where they just take a popular character and shove it into a recognisable game format. It’s obvious that this has been designed from the ground up to be a quality game.
WS – Oh, absolutely. When Disney first approached me and asked if I wanted to do a Mickey Mouse game, I said no, as much as I love Disney. I said that I don’t make games for kids. I have a standard line, and this is absolutely memorised, so you’re not the first person to hear this, but I say this to every publisher I talk to: I make the games I want to make, I make them the way I want to, and if you don’t want that, let’s just part ways now and we’ll stay friends. But they said, “No no no! We don’t want a kids’ game! We want you to make your Mickey Mouse game.”
JD – They wanted Warren Spector to make a Warren Spector Mickey Mouse game.
WS – Exactly! At that point I was pretty hooked, and then they said, “Oh, by the way, we’re getting Oswald the Lucky Rabbit back.” So the opportunity to take Disney’s first cartoon star and re-introduce him to the world? At that point even if you make a dismal failure, you’re a footnote in history, and I admit that my ego found that pretty appealing. Who would say no to that? Come on! But yeah, I’m the luckiest guy in the game business. I have never made a game because I was told to make it. I’ve never had to make games just to keep the lights on. I’ve always made the games I want to make, and I know how lucky that makes me. This was a choice. If you like this it’s because I’m great and my team is great, and if you hate it it’s because I suck and my team is still great.
JD – What was the thinking behind making it a Wii exclusive the first time around?
WS – We were originally going to do all platforms on the first game, and I was at Disney, presenting my concept, showing them the game I wanted to make. The guy who ran Disney Interactive at the time, his name was Graham Hopper, we were in a meeting room with all these Disney execs, and he said, “Warren, come with me.” He took me back to his office and said words that no publisher has ever said before: “What does it take to make the game of the year?” I said, well, there are no guarantees, but it takes enough time and enough money to be competitive, and it’d be really nice to be able to focus on a single platform, so you can design right to the metal, right to the hardware. I didn’t have any expectations of what he was going to say, but he said, “What do you think about the Wii?” I think of it as my Spielberg moment, that moment where the camera zooms in and dollies back at the same time, like in Jaws, and the whole world distorts all around you. See, I was a high-end PC guy. I was the guy who hoped that the hardware would catch up to his games three years after he shipped them, and the Wii… I mean, I was thinking about all the things I could do on the 360 and the PS3… But then about five seconds after that I realised, do I really want to convince Halo fans or Grand Theft Auto fans to be Mickey Mouse for 20 hours? Or do I want to be the guy who says, you’re willing to be a blue hedgehog, and you’re willing to be a fat little plumber, so how about being a mouse for a while?
JD – But is it a gritty, edgy mouse? That’s what I want to know!
WS – He’s a little edgy! He trips! Oh, actually he doesn’t – I got rid of that in the second game. But we already had the paint and thinner stuff as the heart of the game, and as soon as you start talking about painting and thinning – I’m doing it now! – your hands start moving as if you have a brush. The Wii controls, it just sort of made sense. I think it was a great call, it was the right call for that game, but after we shipped it there was so much interest from people who didn’t have Wiis, so we just said, hey sure, let’s take it everywhere.
JD – So the decision to go multiplatform with the sequel was to reach a larger audience?
WS – Sure, I mean anyone who says they want to make a game that becomes a cult classic is kinda screwy, right? I mean, you want to reach the largest audience you can. I believe games are cool, I think they’re important, I think they’re unique, and I have a very specific idea about what kinds of games I want to make.
JD – So what you want is a smash hit that over time becomes a cult classic? I don’t know if that’s possible. Is that against the rules?
WS – Hey, as long as I get the do the games I want and enough people like them that I get to do another one, I’m a happy guy. That’s all I need. I need to be able to make another one. But yeah, it’s true, we heard from so many people after the first game who said, “I don’t know if I’m going to like this or not, but it sure is intriguing. Why can’t I have this on my hardware?” So sure, what business is going to say, “No, please don’t buy our product. We don’t want you.”
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Part two of our Warren Spector interview will be online later in the week.
This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.