As gaming résumés go, few can compare to that of Warren Spector. After starting his career on the fabled Wing Commander series back in 1990, he went on to work on massive franchises such as Ultima and System Shock, before re-inventing the stealth genre with Deus Ex and Thief. In short, he’s a true giant of game development.
And this week sees him return to the fray, with Epic Mickey 2: The Power of Two – an ambitious sequel to his epic 2010 platforming adventure, packing in full co-op play and PlayStation Move support. The Junction Point founder was kind enough to lend PlayStation.Blog a few minutes of his valuable time to discuss the game – read on to find out what he had to say.
PlayStation.Blog: There are a lot of PlayStation gamers out there who might not be too familiar with the first game. What did they miss?
Warren Spector: What did they miss? Only the greatest game experience of all time! No, okay, seriously… what they missed was the reintroduction of Mickey Mouse as a game hero the equal of Mario, Sonic, Link or any other platforming or adventure star.
“Each player is the teller of his or her own story.”
They missed the return of Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, Walt Disney’s first cartoon star – a great character who deserves better than to be forgotten. They missed what I hope was and is a unique combination of platforming and adventure game elements – with players getting to decide how the game felt and played.
They missed the “Deus Ex” choice and consequence idea applied to completely different genres – in Disney Epic Mickey games, each player is the teller of his or her own story, just as in Deus Ex and all the other games I’ve worked on.
They missed a cool story, a brand new game world and a trip down Disney Memory Lane. They missed all sorts of stuff!
And for those who did play it, what are the key improvements you’ve made for the sequel?
WS: Camera, camera, camera! The team worked really hard to enhance the camera system. And when I say “really hard” I mean “really hard!”. I think we did a better job of player direction – knowing where to go and what to do. Games should be about how to do stuff, not figuring out what stuff to do!
We’ve added full voice for all characters, some of whom even sing. We’ve taken the idea of choice and consequence to new levels – your play-style really matters this time around and your choices may have consequences that last forever and can’t be undone.
Oh, and we’ve added a little thing called two-player co-op. Now, one player takes the role of Mickey, with Oswald as an AI-controlled character, but at any point, a second player can sit down next to you and play as Oswald. It’s all about the Power of Two!
The camera was indeed one of the issues that came in for criticism last time. How have you refined it?
WS: We’ve worked non-stop on the camera since the day we shipped the first game. We made a ton of code changes – including always allowing manual control of camera, while working to ensure you don’t have to take manual control any more than necessary.
“Everything’s better this time around.”
The level builders – designers and artists – were way more experienced this time around building levels that were less likely to break the camera system. And we just understood the ramifications of changing the world, dynamically, with paint and thinner.
Everything’s better this time around. I’m sure you and your readers will tell us if everything’s better enough!
Developers often struggle introducing simultaneous co-op play – was making it work in Epic Mickey 2 a big challenge for you?
WS: I don’t think so, really. I mean, once the team decided to go with Oswald AI throughout the game, we didn’t have to design maps to work with and without Oswald. He was always going to be with you, even in single player.
And I’m not a fan of special modes of play – I mean, there’s no special co-op mode, or co-op story, or co-op specific missions. There’s just the game. Oswald’s there to help. Sometimes he’s AI controlled and sometimes he’s player controlled.
It wasn’t easy – I’d never say that… the team would kill me! But we have a great team at Junction Point, a team that really wanted to tackle the problem, rather than being told to tackle it. That makes a world of difference.
You’ve included PS Move support. Do you see that as the definitive way to enjoy the game?
WS: Well, there’s certainly a lot to be said for the combination of gestural control and high definition graphics! That’s as close to a “definitive” statement as I’m going to make!
We know you’re a huge Disney fan – have you managed to pack plenty of fan service into the sequel? What new characters can we expect to see?
“The entire team embraced their inner Disney geek.”
WS: The key isn’t that I’m a huge Disney fan; the key is that the entire team embraced their inner Disney geek. On the first game, there was a learning period where people who might not have been huge Disney experts became huge Disney experts. I pushed the team to find Disney inspiration for everything in the game but that battle was won on the first game. No need to fight it again. The whole team went after it, Disney-style, this time.
There’s plenty of “fan service” in Epic Mickey 2! As far as specifics go, especially new characters, let’s move on. I want players to discover that for themselves.
Epic Mickey 2 is a big, colourful title that seems both family-friendly but also deep enough for core gamers to enjoy. How hard is it striking a balance between the two?
WS: Man, making games at all is hard! Making games where “play-style matters” is even harder. Luckily, making games where players really get to decide how to interact with the world and the characters makes reaching a diverse audience a little easier. It sounds crazy, but it’s true.
The thing to remember is that, in most, if not all cases, if a player tries something – fighting or erasing or sneaking or platforming – and it isn’t working, or it’s too hard, or they’re not having enough fun, they can just try something else. When there’s more than one way to solve every game problem – or nearly every one – reaching players of different skill levels, different ages, with different interests, is kind of a given. But don’t underestimate how hard it is to make games that offer choices and real consequences! That’s the tricky bit…
Do you think younger gamers – or their parents – have enough choice these days? Epic Mickey 2 seems at odds with a number of the other big Christmas blockbuster releases…
“There’s an amazing amount of choice in games these days.”
WS: Honestly, I do think there’s an amazing amount of choice in games these days, if you look at the full range of platforms and distribution methods. I mean, if all you look at is console titles, sold at retail, then, sure, you might see a lot of games falling into a small handful of genres. But include digital distribution systems like PSN into things and the world looks a lot more diverse – in terms of content, gameplay, purchase price, commitment required, etc. Then, roll Facebook and browser-based games and iOS and Android games into your equation and the world of gaming is crazy broad.
Having said all that, I love the fact that Disney Epic Mickey 2 is one of the few truly family-oriented titles I see coming out this holiday season. And by ‘family-oriented’ I mean ‘of interest to everyone and anyone!’.