The forays of Mickey Mouse into the world of videogames are as old as I am. While Disney’s famous cartoon mouse was first seen in animated form in 1928, the very first game to star Mickey, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, was released in 1983 on the Atari 2600 and developers have been attempting to create an interactive experience to match The Mouse’s greatness ever since.
Gamers will name their favourite of these attempts using a variety of scales, but after roughly 34 released games either bearing Mickey’s name or starring him in some capacity, not one has been able to do Disney’s lovable mascot justice. Not one has delivered to gamers a title that is as powerfully magical as the world it’s based upon. Not one Mickey Mouse game has received unified, spotless acclaim and risen to the annals of gaming greatness.
Well, that’s not entirely true. One came very, very close.
Mickey Mouse has gone on interactive adventures on many different platforms across a host of genres, from adventure game and platformer, to puzzle and racing and while some will hold up a platform game by the name of ‘Castle of Illusion’ as one of the best, it wasn’t until 2010 and the release of Disney Epic Mickey for the Nintendo Wii that we were able to play a game that truly brought the rich, exquisite world of Mickey Mouse to life.
Right from the beginning of Disney Epic Mickey, I was spellbound by James Dooley’s beautifully orchestrated theme music ‒ and that was at the game’s menu screen!
In a recent interview with the game’s creative director, Warren Spector, I related the story of how I sat at the menu listening to the music for five minutes before I actually began playing and heaped praise on the score. In turn, Spector lavished more praise on Dooley, saying how it “kills him” that Disney Epic Mickey didn’t win every award for game music in 2010.
“I told my wife,” Spector confided, still on the topic of Dooley’s score, “there was one point where I just looked over and I said ‘I’ve been waiting my entire career to make a game worthy of a soundtrack like this.’”
The music of Disney Epic Mickey wasn’t the only bewitching portion of the experience. The game tells the story of how Mickey unwittingly sent the forgotten world of Wasteland into turmoil by mischievously pottering around with magical brushes holding the creative power of ‘Paint’ and the destructive force of ‘Thinner.’
By accident, Mickey creates an evil power that causes havoc in Wasteland and creates misery for the characters of this world ‒ characters who haven’t been seen or heard from in Disney lore for decades.
Ultimately, Mickey is forced to enter Wasteland and work together with a long-forgotten cartoon character, and Mickey’s brother, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, as he and Mickey fight against the evil presence, The Blot, and bring peace back to the world.
With dozens of characters to meet, decisions to make and discrete areas of the world to visit, by the end of Disney Epic Mickey I thought I had truly been on a grand and epic adventure. I visited places I had never imagined before. I had been in dozens of extraordinary situations. I had witnessed the growth and development of several characters who had been pulled through astonishing circumstances.
I felt as though I had gone on a real journey, which is more than I can say about most games.
You can’t talk about Disney Epic Mickey, however, without mentioning the infuriating camera and control system, which acted as a major barrier to most who tried to play it. It’s a problem Spector himself readily admits and continued to utter a sort of mantra throughout the interview, saying with regards to the game’s camera: “We can do better, will do better, we have done better.”
The problem of a third-person camera is difficult to solve, Spector says, especially when your game encourages players to add and remove chunks of the world at will using the Disney Epic Mickey’s ‘Paint’ and ‘Thinner’ mechanic ‒ spraying Paint over areas to bring them to life, and Thinner to remove them.
This ‘simple’ allowance lead to many moral dilemmas over the course of the game, letting players decide to convert or kill enemies, or destroy areas to make life easier or paint them in to help someone else, while puzzles made heavy use of the mechanic, too.
To use effectively, however, players had to massage the controls and attempt to master the camera system, which proved impossible ‒ much like the challenge of perfecting the camera, Spector said:
“Now I really have to steel myself and not to go into my hour-long lecture about videogame cameras, but if you want to ask about it later then I will defend to death the volume of work my camera team did on that first game ‒ you guys do not understand. I didn’t understand how tough third-person cameras were!
“And then we did a couple things that made the toughest problems in game development harder, and then we made the hard problem possible. And the fact that we did as well as we did was astonishing.
“But we knew we could do better. And the fact is that we now know the world we’re working in. We know our tools. We know how paint and thinner work. We know how to construct levels that work with paint and thinner that are meant for changing worlds, and don’t break the camera. We can do better, will do better, we have done better.”
But why couldn’t the development team get the camera right first time around? These were industry professionals, after all. Spector makes the answer sound simple:
“We were on a learning curve, and to think on that first game, we started out with eleven people and we ended up almost at 200, so we built a team, we had an empty hard-drive, no tech, nothing. So we built the codebase. We were working with Disney for the first time, so were working with our first partner. We created a world called Wasteland about which we knew nothing when we started, we were doing our first third-person game ever about which we knew nothing… so, the fact that we did as well as we did on the first game is just mind-blowing.
“But now we know all that other stuff so now we can focus on making things better.”
Now that the development team on Disney Epic Mickey 2 doesn’t need to worry itself too much with building the game as well as the tools, relationships with Disney and history with which to fill the game, they can now focus on not only refining aspects that gamers saw as shortcomings in the first title, but they can also improve on areas of the game that Spector himself saw as lacking.
There were three main areas in which Spector wanted to improve the Disney Epic Mickey experience with the sequel, the first being the camera which he assured us has been addressed. But what were the second and third areas that he wanted to ensure received attention during the development of Disney Epic Mickey 2?
Find out in part two of El33tonline’s feature, ‘Disney Epic Mickey 2: The journey to become a videogame legend,’ over here.
Disney Epic Mickey 2: The Power of Two is out on November 18th in the US and November 23rd in Europe and the UK.
Read our previous coverage of Disney Epic Mickey 2: The Power of Two for screenshots, videos and extra details on the game, and read our review of the original Disney Epic Mickey over here.