Warren Spector is famous for championing the cause of player choice in games -- a philosophy summed up by the phrase "Play Style Matters". This kind of play most famously rose to prominence in Spector and Ion Storm's 2000 game, Deus Ex.
With that game being hard-boiled sci-fi -- and with many gamers assuming that player choice was tied up with adult-oriented scenarios -- it was more than a little surprising to many when the designer's studio, Junction Point, was bought by Disney Interactive; more surprising yet was when the team announced its first game: Disney Epic Mickey.
However, as it turns out, Epic Mickey explores this style of play thoroughly, as Spector demonstrated on stage at Nintendo's E3 press conference last month. As Mickey Mouse, players will have the choice to create or destroy the game's world and inhabitants while on their quest.
Here, Spector talks in depth about how this kind of game design is his creative mission in life, and how he thinks it has a chance for expanding the audience for games despite its apparent complexity.
The inspiration for the paint thinner game mechanic is clear, but what made you decide to implement it?
Warren Spector: When we tried to figure out what is kind of the heart of Mickey Mouse, there's this reasonably well-defined personality, actually -- you know, smart, resourceful, loyal to his friends, never gives up, enthusiastic to a point of getting himself in trouble sometimes, and clearly mischievous at times.
But beyond being true to that personality, I needed to find out what the core of the character was. I was talking to some other folks here at the office, and we kind of figured out that we need to remind Mickey, and remind the world, that he was a cartoon character, not a human, obviously. Not a real mouse.
And so that was the next step -- like, what does it mean to remind a cartoon character that they're a cartoon? And among other things -- you know it was a group of three of us actually -- [we] came to the conclusion that cartoon characters are made of paint, you know they squash and stretch when they move, they're not subjected to the same laws of physics that we are, and wouldn't it be cool if we gave a cartoon character control over the stuff of which he is made? And so that was Mickey -- hey, let's give him control over his paint, his own paint.
And then the next step was identifying, how do we make this game fit within my personal game design philosophy and the studio's mission -- which is about choice of consequence and play style mattering. And so we started thinking, "Well, what's the opposite of paint?" and well, you know, it's paint thinner.
When an artist draws something, they paint something, they use paint. If they paint something they don't like, they get some turpentine on a rag and they erase it. So that was kind of the yin and yang of it: give Mickey control over what he's made of, the same way that an artist or animator would take control of a character that he's creating on in the real world.
Seems that, in some ways, the game is breaking that fourth wall a little bit.
WS: Certainly, to some extent. Yeah, it's not like Chuck Jones did with Duck Amuck. Certainly, animation fans are going to see things, Disney fans are going to find things, that they understand on a somewhat different level. And part of that is a self-consciousness on the part of some of the characters, that they are creating things in an artificial world.
I haven't actually talked about that, so that's one of the foundational elements of the world; that the characters of Wasteland actually have an awareness of who and what they are, which I find really interesting, and hope to play with in the future.
From a technical standpoint, it's pretty impressive. Have you found the relatively limited processing power of the Wii a burden, or have you found it forces you to be more creative?
WS: Constraints always push you to be more creative. I mean whatever the constraints are, whether it's the constraints of a license, the constraints of a piece of hardware, I mean, no creative act is made better by being constraint free.
I remember in 1989 when I started working with Richard Garriott on Ultima VI, we were talking about all sorts of crazy things, putting spaceships in Ultima again, and all of that. And I said, "you know, John Ford is one of the great American film directors. John Ford didn't need a 747 landing in the desert to make the best films of all time, the best Western films". So you know creativity only happens when you accept constraints.
And so I took that as a challenge. I told the team very early on that at some point we're going to be at E3 and there are going to be 2,500 games on the floor, which means you're going to have about five seconds of someone running from one booth to another, five seconds to look, and get her to pay attention to your game, and I want our game to look unlike any other game.
You know, we're not going to be brown world or gray world or blue world or whatever that's hot this year, we're going to do something that clearly jumps out and says "we are a Disney game". And then, the next thing people say when they stop and stare is, "Holy cow, I can't believe they did that on the Wii. How did they do that?".
And you know, it's not for me to say whether we succeed or not, it's for you to say. I look at the game now and I am in awe of what this team pulled off, from a technical standpoint, or a graphical standpoint, and from a gameplay stand point.
You know, the graphics may be different, the hero may be different, the fiction may be different, but there's some real Deus Ex-y gameplay in this, if people will give Mickey a chance. I think we've made it work, and the Wii is a terrific piece of hardware, and Nintendo's a great company. It's been great working with them.