It would have been simple for Warren Spector to simply fix the camera and give fans more of the same with Epic Mickey 2. Yet, like his hero Shigeru Miyamoto, Spector likes to surprise gamers and he's attempting to do so by creating the world's first videogame musical.
Yet when you speak to him, it doesn't sound risky at all. In fact, it seems perfectly natural. After all, this is a Disney game. Why wouldn't the characters speak or break into song? While there have been some good games based on Disney films - The Lion King, Toy Story 2 - it's strange that an original game could be the one to capture the spirit of Disney movies better than any of them.
That's certainly Warren Spector's aim. That and making a game that's even better than the original, an adventure the man himself describes as the best looking Wii game ever made. While that may sound arrogant, the man himself is anything but. He's a man who is passionate about Disney and really believes in his game and his team. Just don't compare Epic Mickey 2 to Mario...
You've said that the characters in Epic Mickey didn't speak because Miyamoto's characters don't speak. Would you say that Epic Mickey 2 is more of a tribute to Disney while the first game was paying homage to your favourite Nintendo games?
Warren Spector: I wouldn't say that this game is more of a tribute to Disney. I think that with the first game we were trying to honour a couple of creative ancestors and the games of Miyamoto and Japanese RPGs in general typically don't have full speech. I would say that the balance was always more towards honouring Disney history rather than the idea of honouring games like Mario and even Sonic to some extent and the Zelda games. I think it's about the same balance in the new game. I think we're certainly inspired by and trying to learn from the masters and the Mario games are the masters of a particularly kind of gameplay for sure.
Was it weird coming up with a voice for Oswald considering he never spoke in the first place?
Warren Spector: It was an honour. The opportunity to give a character a voice for the first time ever doesn't come around every day. Not one of the magnitude of Oswald anyway. We were blessed in that we had access to all of Oswald's cartoons that still exist and we said 'what is his character?' Well he's kind of innocent and he's also kind of brash, he's a lover and a fighter. We thought about what would someone like that sound like and then when we got Frank Welker on board, all we had to do is give him three sentences of description and then shut up and let him do his thing. Frank Welker really helped us pin down that character dramatically.
Improving the camera is a priority of yours for this game. Does it bother you that a lot of people focused on the camera rather than seeing what you were trying to achieve? After all, Epic Mickey was a hugely ambitious game with a peculiar story
Warren Spector: It's never appropriate to tell people what they should think about something. Once players get a hold of a game and buy it, it's theirs. That's what drives the whole Playstyle matters approach to design and the whole choice/consequence gameplay. I'd be a hypocrite if I said 'You guys should think we're great' or 'you guys shouldn't care about the things you care about.' I would never say that.
I'm frustrated that people insist on comparing us to specific other games in a simple way. When we were working on Epic Mickey, I had to explain: We're not making a Mario game. We're inspired by it but we're not making a Mario game. We're not making a Zelda game but we were inspired by that, we're not making Deus Ex but we're inspired by that. We're making a game that blends elements of games and, as you say, that upped the difficulty level of everything we were doing. We're making a game that can feel different based on how you play.
I get upset only when people diss on my team because those guys and gals worked so hard and really did solve a lot of very tough problems. I just want those guys to get respect but I would never say 'you must think our camera was great.'
You're calling this the first videogame musical. That does put a lot of pressure on you because the songs have to be really good. We've heard one song that reminded us of Oliver. What are your influences from a musical perspective and are the rest of the tunes all as catchy?
Warren Spector: I hope they are all as catchy. My goal is not to launch the game until everything is as catchy as it needs to be. You'll decide that - I love the songs. The inspirations? For the first tune, the thing that was most at the top of all our minds was The Music Man. Robert Preston and the original cast of The Music Man singing 'Trouble, we have trouble right here at River City.' Oliver was the second or third musical I have saw as a kid so that was certainly in the back of my mind for sure. It was trying to find inspiration in all of those classic Disney films - Snow White all the way up to Tangled and Enchanted in the 21st century.
I've always told Jim Dooley - the guy who does the music for us - there's a Disney sound and even though the musical style and the orchestrations change, you can listen to any soundtrack or any song from any Disney film and it just sounds like Disney. I asked him to capture that. I'm an amateur musician but I'm not good enough to know what I mean when I say that. Luckily he is good enough to know what I mean when I say that. He's done an amazing job. We kind of captured that Disney essence whatever it is...
Is there a theme to the music all the way through the songs or is it quite varied? How many songs are there?
Warren Spector: I don't want to talk about how many there are at this stage. Enough that we can certainly put out a soundtrack album if Disney wants us to. I hope they do. I want players to be surprised when they show up and enjoy them free and clear of pre-conceived ideas.
There is certainly a musically thematic thing going on because the other thing that inspired us was that if you go back to the original Mad Doctor cartoon in 1933, the only time he ever has a voice in that cartoon is that he sings. I thought that was really funny so the main singer in the game is the Mad Doctor. Other characters chime in but the Mad Doctor has a personality and a voice so all the songs that he participates in have to be true to that. So I'd say there's a theme.
During the presentation, we saw an old Oswald The Lucky Rabbit cartoon. It was hilarious - are you trying to capture this humour in Epic Mickey 2?
Warren Spector: Back in the table top days, I was the funny guy! I worked on two cartoon games and I was the funny guy. I kind of got away from that when I got into electronic games because there didn't seem much interest on the business side. When we started talking about what we should try to do in this new game we said we want to make it more explicitly funny than the first one. The first one was establishing Mickey as a hero and reminding people of who Oswald was and we needed these dark, dire times for Wasteland. This time around, we're doing stuff to try and get people laughing out loud a little bit more. So yeah, humour is very important.