The lights are on
We sat down with industry legend, Warren Spector, and learned about the continued progress of Junction Point's new game. Mickey has come a long way in recent months, and the game looks like one of the most compelling and surprising entries for the Wii this year. The core gameplay and story elements of Epic Mickey have remained intact over the several months that have passed since our cover story on the game last year. Mickey is flung down into a place called Wasteland, where he finds that Walt Disney's first cartoon character, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, lives and rules over a twisted version of the Magic Kingdom. Mickey carries a magic paintbrush with which he can paint in elements of the world, or use paint thinner to erase things away. He journeys through the bizarre islands of Wasteland, and his choices shape the world over time.In the months since we last saw the game, things have only been improving. Improved lighting models, better texture and animation work, and general polish have the world of Epic Mickey looking quite fine. A few signifcant design changes have been made, most notably in the appearance of Mickey. Previously, Mickey's positive and negative actions would alter his appearance, turning him bright and happy for good actions, and turning him ratlike and crouching if he was more mischievous. While the choices that fueled that change remain the same, Mickey's appearance no longer changes in response. Instead, there's a single established look for Mickey -- a classic appearance evocative of his earliest cartoon appearances in the 1920s and 1930s, but with a dripping dark paint around him that gives the character a cool edge. Instead of Mickey changing appearance, it is now Mickey's guardians that shift in response to his actions. These newly revealed fairy-like lights float around Mickey as he travels, and their color will alter to match his actions - bright blue for heroic, a sickly green for more scrappy interactions. The guardians are characters in their own right, with names and personalities to match. Spector states unequivocally that this change was a personal choice he made on his own, not one forced on him by Disney as previously rumored in some locations last month. For Spector, the shift is necessary to keep a clear identity for Mickey, as well as simply to make him look as good as possible. The mantra of "playstyle matters" remains the primary driving force of the game's development.
Spector showed off a gorgeous new area of the game called Venture Land, an area of Wasteland inspired by a mix of Peter Pan and Pirates of the Caribbean. Areas are now divided into three major types. Quest maps are hub worlds where Mickey interacts with other characters, learns about the world, and shops for new items. Travel maps are 2D sidescrolling areas based on old Disney cartoons, like Steamboat Willie. Finally, action maps include the bulk of the combat and exploration.The action map we saw was Skull Island. The forbidding landmass holds the secret to why pirates in the nearby area are being turned into machine-like Beetleworx, and Mickey is the only mouse to get to the bottom of the situation. Moving around the island, Mickey constantly sends out blasts of paint and thinner, finishing off enemies, painting in platforms, and erasing walls that hide secret passages. Along the way, Mickey is presented with a choice that will determine if he'll help the pirates or leave them to their fate as mechanical automatons. The choice you make in the situation will affect the outcome of the rest of the game.Epic Mickey has the potential to be one of the most exciting third-party Wii games yet released for the system. Innovative mechanics combined with a talented and practiced development team led by the likes of Warren Spector help to assure a unique final product. We'll know how it all turned out pretty soon; Spector is open about his belief that Epic Mickey should be ready to ship before the end of the year.
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