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A closer look at Warren Spector’s returns to the Wasteland with Disney’s Epic Mickey 2

Warren Spector and his team of approximately 150 developers over at Junction Point have been hard at work on Disney’s Epic Mickey 2: The Power of Two ever since the original Wii-exclusive game shipped. In what Spector called “the worst-kept secret in gaming,” he unveiled the sequel this week at the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum, just down the street from his Disney-owned studio.

With the original game selling over 1.3 million copies in North America alone, Spector said that game is now the bestselling single platform game in Disney Interactive history (check out our review of the original). So a sequel was a no-brainer, as was the expansion of the new game to the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, as well as the Wii. Disney had three sections of the game playable at the event, and all three consoles. While the PS3 game will support PlayStation Move, that version of the game was only playable with the standard controller. Spector said the Xbox 360 version won’t support Kinect.

Seeing Wasteland in high definition is quite a thrill. Having the three consoles playable next to one another really accentuated the drab, dated visuals that the Wii offers when compared to PS3 and Xbox 360. Disney offered two different playing environments: one in Sorcerer Yen Sid’s workshop and one in Oztown. While the workshop was featured in an in-game cinematic the first time around, this marks the first time players can explore the area. Oztown has been given a makeover with a lot more exploration.

“We were really gratified by the fan feedback of Disney Epic Mickey,” said Spector. “The level of enthusiasm and love frankly for the first game was pretty overwhelming. It got more fan mail and more heartfelt fan mail about this game than anything else I’ve ever worked on, but as much as people liked it, we knew we could better.”

Mickey gets pulled back into the action because Wasteland has been shattered by a world-changing event that has brought destruction to a lot of different hubs. The Mad Doctor has returned as a good guy and joined up with Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, to the dismay of his girlfriend Ortensia.

Playing the game as Mickey on a standard PS3 and/or 360 controller, and aiming the paint thinner and paint, took a little getting used to–an on-screen reticule helps control the aim. The Wii controller offers the same precision controls for Mickey as in the original game.

It’s worth noting that Disney had some cool new controllers available for play that Spector said could end up at retail for the game’s launch. The 360 and PS3 controllers feature the Epic Mickey 2 logo and characters from the game as a skin. The Wii controllers feature an enhanced paintbrush for the Wiimote and a cool new remote control box for the Nunchuk. Disney offered a different paintbrush Wiimote with the collector’s edition of the original game.

With Epic Mickey 2 now offering two-player gameplay, Oswald is now a playable character and comes equipped with his trusty remote control. That box has electrical powers that include a force field globe and the ability to override electronic hazards, and reprogram animatonic contraptions in the world. He also has helicopter ears to reach higher areas.

“Chase Jones and Paul Weaver came to me and said they didn’t want to just do co-op storytelling game, they wanted to do co-op AI and have Oswald accompany the player throughout the entire game,” said Spector. “Even in single-player, Oswald is with you every step of way using his abilities. If at any point you come up to something too hard or a friend comes over, a second player can drop in as Oswald, and the console takes control when they leave.”

I was able to play with one of the developers and also go alone. There were still some glitches when it came to Oswald doing everything he needed to as an AI character, but the game’s still early. He did eventually come around and help with his remote control to turn the various electrical contraptions on in the Oztown level. The game’s introduction, which was playable at the event, features only Mickey. But once that’s played through, Oswald is introduced into the action and the game becomes a two-player adventure. Oswald controls differently from Mickey offering up a nice diversion for players.

“There were three areas in particular that we really wanted to hit with improving this game,” said Spector. “We certainly heard players loud and clear that the one thing standing between them and really, really just overwhelming joy was the camera sometimes got in the way. So we’ve made over 1,000 improvements to the camera system, and the team has set a goal for itself of making a game where you never have to touch the manual camera controls when you’re on the main story path.”

Epic Mickey 2 is also the world’s first musical game. The final game will come packed with about seven songs. The Mad Doctor kicks things off with his opening cinematic, and then as the game progresses more characters chime in to sing. Depending on what choices the player makes as Mickey – heroic vs. mischievous – the music will change throughout the game. All of the game’s characters now also feature the actual Disney voices that are featured in Disney television shows, movies and across the theme parks.

“I made a creative decision the first time that was a mistake, to be honest, and I didn’t want any of the characters speaking,” said Spector. “In the new game we brought Marv Wolfman, an amazing comic book writer and now an amazing game writer, to help us with our story and to craft all the dialogue that the great voice talent read to bring the characters to life. Frank Welker is the voice of Oswald and he’s so over-the-top wonderful. And when you hear Mickey and the other characters it ups the emotion level in the storytelling ability that we have.”

Yen Sid’s workshop featured another new aspect of the gameplay – choice and consequences. The original game touched on this, but Epic Mickey 2 will expand on it in new ways. When players make decisions in the new game, there will be repercussions. Erase something now, and it will stay erased. There are leaking windows in the main dome area of the workshop. Once they’re sealed up by Mickey, the water stops flooding the room, but the water that filled the area remains.

“A lot of people think it was a tech problem in the first game, but it was a creative decision that I made and I think it was a mistake,” said Spector. “When you make a change in Epic Mickey 2, it’s forever until you return to a map, return to a character and undo that choice.”

Spector said he mapped out Epic Mickey as a trilogy before he started developing the original game, so he had plenty of new ideas for this sequel. He pointed out that Frontierland, which he hasn’t unveiled yet, is especially ripe for exploration because it has changed more than any other part of the Disney Parks over the years so there’s plenty of rejected stuff there.

“We knew we wanted to come back to Wasteland and there was so much that we didn’t have the chance to explore in the first game, and so much more in Disney’s archives that we knew we wanted to dive into, and we knew that fans and players would enjoy experiencing,” said Spector. “Epic Mickey was about making Mickey Mouse a hero, and this game is about making Oswald a big star.”

Oswald and his cool remote control offer a unique perspective and fresh gameplay to this Disney franchise. With half of the players who loved the original game 18 or older, Spector is adding more traditional gameplay to this sequel. That should make this game more appealing to core gamers, if all the tweaks and issues (like the aforementioned camera and aiming with the controller) are indeed fixed. The HD visuals and full voice support–and singing–are sure to keep the more mainstream crowd interested in what Mickey’s up to in Wasteland.

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