NYCC: Disney’s ‘Epic Mickey’ Panel (Spoilers and New Oswald Featurette)

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Junction Point creative director Warren Spector addressed the filled-to-capacity room yesterday evening by stating he had intended to make the panel mostly Q&A from the audience, but it wasn’t until eight minutes prior to the scheduled end of the panel that the questions even began (fortunately the panel was the last scheduled in the room for the day, so it went long as a result). Before that announcement, however, comics writer Peter David unofficially set the panel in motion by leading the entire room in a round of the Mickey Mouse Club March (which went surprisingly well I might add).

After showing the official Epic Mickey box art to a chorus of oohs and ahhs, Spector began talking about his own objective for the game. Job 1, he explained, was making Mickey Mouse a hero in the vein of Nintendo legends Mario and Link. Job 1.5, however, was to tell the tale of Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, the first true commercial success of Walt Disney’s while he was performing subcontracted work for Universal.

Spector then debuted the following featurette titled ‘The Tale of Oswald,’ featuring arguably some of the best footage (archival and gameplay) released to date:

Spector spent a great deal of time talking about how honored he felt bringing Oswald to the console screen — any screen — after more than 80 years. During the Q&A session, Spector also noted that since Epic Mickey is the first time Oswald ever had a voice of any kind, he bore and took delight in the responsibility of casting the individual who would henceforth be known as the voice of Oswald forever: Frank Welker. Assuming Job 1.5 pans out for Spector, he anticipates that Oswald will be launched into commercial success once more and repeatedly offered his hope for an Oswald plush.

The focus of the panel then shifted to the upcoming DigiComics and graphic novel for Epic Mickey, both written by Peter David. Spector said that video games are great at describing what’s happening now, but are not as good as offering backstory and letting the player know what’s going on inside the head of the characters, so the idea of the graphic novel and DigiComics came about. As we previously noted, Tales of the Wasteland will be a prequel anthology of six stories inspired by Oswald’s life. David added that all of the stories take place before Mickey inadvertently releases the Phantom Blot on the Wasteland and, at that time, it was ‘the happiest place in the world.’ Spector notes for example that as some of the released art shows, the Mad Doctor and Oswald were once friends and had a solid relationship but that it completely changed for the worse by the time the game picks up on the story.

Some of the released art from the anthology that we previously shared is from a story titled ‘Clocktower Cleaners’ which David noted is a send-up of the Disney classic short ‘Clock Cleaners.’ Earlier this year at SDCC, David also talked about ‘Oswald the Lucky Duck’ in which Oswald decides he could be more popular if he wasn’t a rabbit, so he attempts to become other things such as a Lucky Duck, a Lucky Stiff, etc. In what turned out to be the last tidbit offered at the panel, David mentioned that one of the stories is based on the beloved (and defunct) Adventurer’s Club at Walt Disney World.

Taking a closer look at the DigiComics, we were told that the free iPhone/iPod Touch/iPad app for it would be released within 10 days. Initially the map of the Wasteland will be mostly grayed out, but lands will be progressively unlocked on a week by week basis leading up to the November 30 launch of the Epic Mickey game. The graphic novel which will follow the prequel Tales of the Wasteland anthology will be released alongside the game on November 30 and is essentially the game’s story from the time Mickey enters through the mirror. Although it was written in tandem with the game’s development, it had to be condensed due to the extended playing time of the actual game. Received by a round of applause, Spector noted that his first run-through of the game was a whopping 26 hours of gameplay, although he later noted that someone really good at the game could get it down to about 15 hours or so.

Opening the panel up to questions from the audience, Spector was first asked the perennial question why the Nintendo Wii was exclusively chosen for the game, especially now that PlayStation has the Move and the Xbox 360 has the Kinect. Although I’ve known the developers to acknowledge the simple truth that when the game was under development, the latter two consoles simply didn’t have controls that lent themselves to the feel of the game, Spector also noted that: (1) The Wii allowed him to introduce the game to a broader audience and (2) he is a confessed ‘Nintendo nerd.’

Asked if Yen Sid (that would be the name of the wizard from Fantasia‘s ‘The Sorcerer’s Apprentice’ — and Disney backwards — in case one didn’t know) had any other role in the game besides the opening cinematic, Spector said Yen Sid does appear once more in the game, but declined to explain in which capacity.

Asked about some of the elements in the original concept art which hadn’t made it into the game, Spector explained that he ended up putting a blanket timeframe on the elements that appear in the game and chose on the time period between 1928 and 1967, the year The Jungle Book was released. The Jungle Book also happens to be the last film Walt Disney personally worked on.

Does Epic Mickey contain Hidden Mickeys? Yes, Spector says, all over the game. There are also hidden rooms and lots of secrets to discover. He also delved into the collectible items in the games: E-tickets which serve as currency, film reels (‘you can guess what they do’) and dozens of pins. There are so many items to collect in so many places that it’s impossible to collect them all in one run-through. According to Spector, it will take three run-throughs to be able to collect everything.

Asked if the game allows a player to ‘fail,’ Spector emphatically said no, explaining failing isn’t fun and it’s useless since the player will just go to the last save. David retorted that ‘Epic Mickey would then become Epic Fail.’

On how Epic Mickey is programmed to deal with the choice of play of the gamer, Spector said ‘you don’t implement it.’ He explained what’s done instead is to create a series of small logical systems that interact with each other and respond accordingly based on the player’s decisions. He gave an example in the form of the tutorial level which teaches players to jump, paint, use thinner, et al. The level also has a portion which is designed to show the player that their choices have consequences: in one scene, they can either save a gremlin or receive a treasure, but unequivocally could not do both. Yet, one player recently figured out how to do just that. Spector noted that the player doing what was intended to be impossible would be described as bug by most developers, but that it’s an ‘Oh my God, Yes!’ for him.

For the music, which was written by ‘Pushing Daisies’ composer Jim Dooley, Spector said he auditioned about twelve different people, asking them to take iconic Disney music and turning it ‘inside-out,’ giving it a ‘I’ve heard this before, but I haven’t’ feeling.

On the audio animatronic versions of Goofy, Donald Duck, et al, Spector explains that these are creations by Oswald. Being able to see the world of his little brother Mickey Mouse and his friends, Oswald grows lonely for a family of his own (despite having 420 children), so he creates his own versions of Mickey’s circle of friends. In an earlier concept of the game, the ‘real world’ characters were in the Wasteland in a ‘save Mickey’s friends’-type storyline, but since the characters currently exist in the ‘real world,’ they cannot be forgotten or discarded and thus don’t belong in the Wasteland.

Tested on his favorite Mickey ‘toons, Spector (who is a student of animation history and a Disney geek in addition to the Nintendo) said it was impossible to choose just one but narrowed it down to two: ‘The Mad Doctor’ which scared him as a child and, as an adult, ‘Clock Cleaners.’

Finally, asked about John Lasseters involvement with Epic Mickey, Spector did say that Lasseter provided two vital elements to the game, but declined to say what they were at this time.

For additional information on the Epic Mickey iPhone app, DigiComics, graphic novel and other books based on the game, make sure to read our report on the Disney Publishing Worldwide panel.

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