Warren Spector Talks Mickey, Wii Development, Ultima Dreams, And Duck Tales

by Annette Gonzalez on Nov 28, 2010 at 10:00 AM

When we launched our magazine redesign last year, we kicked things off in an epic way with a gorgeous wraparound cover featuring Mickey Mouse holding a paintbrush and standing strong in a dark and twisted world. Junction Point's project, Epic Mickey, is just days from launch so if you're looking to get your fix to tide you over to release, check out our interview with Warren Spector. We talk digicomics, third-party Wii development, other cartoon franchises Spector would like to explore, and more.

At San Diego Comic-Con earlier this year, digicomics and a graphic novel for Epic Mickey were announced to provide additional backstory (penned by Marvel's Peter David). What you can do with this form of literature that games can’t do quite as well?

Games are really good about showing players what’s happening in front of their face. We can’t exactly cut away. Any time we cut to another location or what other characters are doing we get ourselves in trouble because we’re removing the player from center stage. The comics are parallel action — you can show what Oswald is doing while mickey is doing something else in another location. You can't do that in games. We don’t do very well at getting inside a character’s head, and we don’t want to, we want the player to be the space between Mickey’s ears. In a comic book we can have an internal monologue, we can say "here’s what mickey feels about this," "here’s what Oswald thinks about this," there’s just two of the examples. They’re completely different media. Peter David is a master of his medium and watching him work was unbelievable so we’re able to tell the same story in very different ways which is really cool. I’m just a total fan geek. He wrote the hulk for 10 years for crying out loud.

Typically the games that look most impressive from a graphical standpoint on Wii hardware are first-party titles. Epic Mickey, however, looks fantastic. What's your secret? 

Disney’s all about quality and Walt, the man, was all about quality, nothing else mattered to him. I've modeled my life after two people: Walt Disney and David O. Selznick. I just hate settling so when we started this project I told the team many things, but one of them is someday we’re going to be at E3, there’s going to be 2500 games out there, and 2499 are going to be blue world, or gray world, or brown world this year, and I want people to look at our game and in five seconds know this is not like the other ones. And the other thing from a graphical standpoint is I want all the other developers out there, players especially, to say, "Holy cow I didn’t know you can do that on the Wii." All it takes is talent and being unwilling to settle. That hardware is more powerful than people give it credit for. You have to be clever, creative, talented, and be willing to put in the time and money to get it right.

You've obviously invested a lot of your time into this project. After a long work week, do you ever dream in cartoons?

I've been dreaming in cartoons since I was a baby. It's funny you should ask, I know when I'm getting to the end of a project – this is my 20th game — and every one of them, at one point you just start living in the game. You’re there at the office, 10 to 15 hours a day, six to seven days a week, and you’re so immersed in it that I know I'm getting to the end of the project when im dreaming in the perspective of the game. In first person games it's okay, and even when in third person you can live with it, but when I was doing Ultima games and I was looking at the world as this sort of 64 pixel-tall guy and that was my dream world that was just freaky.

Any other cartoons you'd like to explore for a future game?

I would really like to do a Duck Tales game. I love the Duck Tales TV show, but even more people who love them need to go back and rediscover Carl Barks, who is the greatest comic book writer and artist of all time, ever, anywhere in the world. Carl Barks is number one and about half of the Duck Tales stories were based on Carl Barks' comic books. I want to do a Duck Tales game real bad. I don’t know if Disney will let me do it. And the Gremlins, too.