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NYC Comic Con Epic Mickey Panel

Photo credit: Melissa Briggs

Warren Spector spoke about his latest project, Epic Mickey, at the recent New York Comic Con — and boy, did he set expectations high. He believes the game will raise Mickey Mouse up to the level of Mario in the eyes of the gaming industry — but at its heart, Epic Mickey is a story of redemption and the complex relationship between two brothers (and no, one isn't named Luigi).

Epic Mickey pulls source material from the Disney archives, beginning with Mickey's debut in 1928 to 1967's The Jungle Book, the last feature Walt Disney was involved with. In a nod to Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass and Disney’s The Sorcerer's Apprentice, Mickey accidentally destroys the world of forgotten Disney characters, now known as the Wasteland. It is in the Wasteland, a place modeled after the Magic Kingdom, that Mickey meets his estranged older brother, Oswald the Rabbit. This makes sense in a universe where a dog can own a dog.

The relationship between Mickey and Oswald is strained right from the start. Oswald’s real-life origin story is one of those “could have been a contender” beginnings. As Walt Disney’s first commercial success, Oswald's trajectory stalled when Disney lost the rights to the cartoon character in a contract dispute with Universal. Looking for a new star to head his nascent empire, Walt Disney created Mickey Mouse.

 

Back in the game world, Oswald's complicated feelings towards his younger, more popular sibling take a turn for the disturbing when the player encounters Oswald’s Wasteland family — animatronic versions of Mickey’s pals Goofy and Daffy. Oswald and Mickey's fraternal relationship is at the core of the game, and as the player progresses it grows and perhaps mutates in turn.

Epic Mickey's choice-based storyline poses two overarching questions: What does it mean to be a hero, and how important are family and friends? As players answer these questions through gameplay, changes occur on what Spector calls the “local level” and “global level.”

For example, players who continue to wreck havok in the Wasteland will find that its residents will make things uncomfortable for Mickey. Kinda like Inception. Behind the scenes, changes in storyline and landscape will occur. Players will discover that stores that were once open will be closed up and populated areas are now abandoned by its residents. For the first time, players will have the ability to erase the environment but also have the power to bring those elements back.

At minimum, a completionist will have to play through the game at least three times to earn all the trophies and gather the 100 hidden Disney pins. Spector noted that Epic Mickey delivers about 26 hours of gameplay per round.

During the Q&A, Spector addressed the rumor surrounding the abandonment of “Scrapper Mickey.” Early in development. Mickey would physically reflect the player’s choices between good and evil. If the player took a more mischievous path, Mickey would resemble a grittier and black/white version of himself.

The team supposedly abandoned this design choice among rumors of pressure from Disney and poor focus-test results. But Spector objected to the claim that Scrapper Mickey got the ax in part due to focus testing. Instead, Spector explained that the decision arose as a result of a better idea from a staff member for a way to reflect players' choices. 

Epic Mickey’s music fits in the game’s design theme of “familiar but strange.” After instructing over 12 composers to “take It’s a Small World and turn it upside down,” Spector and company chose Jim Dooley. Dooley, who won an Emmy for his work on Pushing Daises, has also worked on music for Jak and Daxter: The Lost Frontier and Infamous.

Epic Mickey is a Wii exclusive, and the panel explained that this decision was made to “broaden the audience” for the game — although how restricting your game to one platform broadens the audience is something I still haven't quite figured out. Spector described himself as a "Nintendo nerd," though, and since the core game mechanic involves drawing and erasing, the Wiimote seems well suited for the job (as does the PlayStation Move as well, of course).