"I love confounding marketing people." That's the way Warren Spector began his introduction to Epic Mickey, a game that looks to take the mascot of Disney and bring him back to cultural relevance. And who better to be tasked with such a monumental challenge than Spector, who has 19 games under his belt, including Underworld: The Stygian Abyss and Deus Ex, all of which broke the barriers of marketing definition. The same can be said of his Wii-exclusive Mickey project, which Spector himself described as an "exploration, adventure, action game with RPG elements".
So, how did this collaboration between Junction Point and Disney come about? What was the motivation? Well, the reason was best explained with the fact that, bar Kingdom Hearts
, Mickey Mouse hasn't been seen in a computer game for many years now. “Mickey Mouse is a problem”, Warren declared when he spoke to SPOnG about the title. "I don't believe he has achieved his full potential, certainly not during the 1990s. He was less of a cartoon character in reality, but a mere figurehead for Disney. A face you put on T-shirts."
So it came to pass that the designer wished to take the iconic character back to basics and, in his own words, "reconnect Mickey with the core of what he is”. That core being a cartoon character above all else. The result in Epic Mickey
is a cartoony journey that revisits classic 1920s cartoons, guides the player through landscapes inspired by “theme park rides” (which we could safely assume to be DisneyWorld related) and essentially compiles a history book on the character of Mickey Mouse.
"The greatest thing about working on this project is that I'm a huge animation buff, and I absolutely love the work of Disney,” Warren said gleefully. “And it's amazing looking through all of the old archives and finding things that have never been seen by the public. Walt Disney never threw anything away, so we're finding all sorts of things that have been lost or add some new depth to characters." And to think it all started with an informal letter.
The crux of Epic Mickey
's development surrounds the discovery by Disney's internal student think-tank of a message written by Walt Disney to then-Universal Pictures President Carl Laemmle, Disney's former employer. In it, the cartoonist includes a sketch of a cheerful Mickey Mouse waving to a disgruntled character called Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. Oswald, it turns out, was Disney's very first cartoon character, made as a mascot for Universal before he left to found his own studio.
Warren recalls the day the penny dropped for him. “We had a meeting and it was said that this picture was discovered in the archive, and I took one look at it and said 'This is the game, right here'! The picture just sums up everything – the whole relationship – between Mickey and Oswald. How Oswald is this rejected, disgruntled character who's envious of this fresh, happy-go-lucky character.” Spector continues that it was a struggle to even get the rights to use Oswald from Universal, but the work may well have been worth it.
The basic plot is not the only thing being re-imagined for Mickey Mouse. After seeing a playthrough of the game behind closed doors, it was clear that Spector wants to use as much material given to him as possible, and spill that lost artistic creativity into the gameplay itself. Players will control Mickey, armed with a paintbrush and copious amounts of Paint and Thinner.
These two substances will form the core of the action, as colourful, cartoony objects can be painted on or erased with the Thinner. Multiple ways of tackling levels are being touted by Spector as choice is given to players as to exactly they want to create or erase in the world.