Saturday, 25 May 2024

An Interview With Warren Spector

Upon our visit to Junction Point to learn about Epic Mickey, we had the opportunity to sit down for an extended conversation with Warren Spector. We tapped his expertise on Disney and Mickey Mouse, asked him all about his new game, found out what he thinks it will take to revitalize the character of Mickey Mouse, why he chose the Wii, and even what other Disney dream project he’d like to tackle. If you’ve been following our coverage of the game, you’ll recognize some of his words from other articles. To get the full scoop, read ahead for our complete interview.

The Significance of Mickey Mouse

GI: What do you think the significance of the Mickey Mouse character is in relation to film history and animation history?

Warren Spector: Mickey is critical to both animation history and film history. He was absolutely and demonstrably the most recognizable and popular film star in the world for about three or four years in the early ‘30s. He was huge at the box office. He gave hope to an entire generation of people living through the Depression. He was a little ray of sunshine. At the time, his films were exactly what the country needed.

In terms of animation, he represents a push for quality, characterization, and story over gags, which was entirely new to cartoons. He was the one that got in people’s heads first, and that means he’s the most important star of the talking pictures. Mickey Mouse showed that sound film could be an art form in the same way that silent films were.

The Success of Early Disney Cartoons

GI: What made those early Disney cartoons stand apart from the crowd?

WS: The thing that set Disney apart was his unwavering commitment to quality. He focused on quality when no one else cared about animation. He moved beyond just gags and brought a level of character and story to short cartoons that no one had ever seen before.

The Evolution of Mickey Mouse

GI: How do you see the character of Mickey Mouse having changed over the years?

WS: Mickey has gone through distinct periods in his life. In the early days, he was a badly behaved troublemaker. As he became more popular, Walt Disney started taming him and taking different parts of his personality. They kind of lost some of what made him special and turned him into just the straight man. However, they tried to bring back some of the adventurous spirit toward the end of the ‘30s and ‘40s. But in the ‘40s, Mickey was already on the wane, appearing as a secondary character in most cartoons. He has been laid fallow for a long time, which creates a great opportunity for us.

Revitalizing Mickey Mouse

GI: Is there something in particular that you see Mickey needing to do to speak to a modern audience? What does Mickey bring to the table for somebody in 2009 or 2010?

WS: To rejuvenate the character, we need to return him to his roots. We need to make him mischievous and bring back the energy that he had in the early ‘30s. Kids today want something more energetic and they want to act out. By making Mickey a character who acts out, we can appeal to their desires. We also need to pick up the pace and create a faster-paced experience.

The Journey to Creating Epic Mickey

GI: How did the game get started?

WS: It’s an amazing story how this happened. After leaving Ion Storm in 2004, I had an agent who suggested I talk to Disney. Initially, I didn’t think they would be interested, but they surprised me. They were changing and looking for someone to reinvent the Mickey Mouse character. So, they asked if I would be interested in doing a Mickey Mouse game. At first, I said no because I didn’t do games for kids. However, they convinced me that they wanted to reinvigorate the character and make him relevant to a 21st-century audience. I realized it was a terrific idea, so I decided to take on the challenge. That’s how it all started.

The Gameplay and World of Epic Mickey

GI: What is the central gameplay mechanic of the game?

WS: The central gameplay mechanic of Epic Mickey is paint and thinner. It’s all about drawing and erasing. Players can make the world whole or make it go away. It is a dynamic way of changing the environment to solve problems.

GI: What is the setting for the game?

WS: The game is set in a world called the Wasteland, which is a land of forgotten and rejected Disney creativity. It is an alternate universe where forgotten characters, theme park rides, and scenes that didn’t fit into movies are found. Walt Disney couldn’t bear to see his creations lost forever, so this world was created to preserve them until the world is ready to embrace them again.

GI: How would you describe the tone of the world and the characters in the game?

WS: The world is dark and twisted, providing a feeling of recognition and familiarity while also surprising players with unexpected changes. The game aims to scare kids occasionally while maintaining a lighter and humorous tone overall.

The Success of Epic Mickey

GI: What do you consider will make the game a success?

WS: For me, the success of the game would be seeing people say that they want to be Mickey Mouse rather than just wearing a Mickey Mouse watch or t-shirt. I also want to see the Wasteland ride in Disneyland or Disneyworld, as well as a feature-length film based on the game. Additionally, I wish to create a Duck Tales game in the future.