Epic Mickey: Warren Spector's Epic Gamble

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Epic Mickey: Warren Spector's Epic Gamble

Epic Mickey is the embodiment of Warren Spector's game design philosophy. Russ Pitts looks back over the last five years, and examines how everything came together.

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This all sounds very promissing!

Too bad I don't have a Wii. This actually sounds like a game designed for gameplay and storytelling, rather than showing off the developers graphical and AI prowess.

Russ Pitts:
...whose biggest hit was the overly-complex and deeply flawed Deus Ex

You considered Deus Ex to be overly complex and deeply flawed? What is your justification for that observation? I've been replaying it since it was on sale on Steam and i think it still holds up. Yes, the graphics are a bit worn and some of the mechanics need work (but what 10 year old game doesn't), but even 10 years ago, i never saw anyone complain that it was overly complex. In fact, when the sequel came out, most of the derision for that game was that it took the deus ex formula and made it too simple. They took a PC game (which required a mouse and keyboard) and tried to make it applicable to a console and didn't succeed very well. Deus Ex could be complex, but i feel that was an asset. The ability to choose how you want to play. Perhaps the worst element was the inventory system, but it was (and still is) easy to understand and use.

I don't get deeply flawed either. I recall it winning most of the GOTY awards when it was released, and is rightly considered to be a milestone in the FPS/RPG hybrid arena.

I know this was just a single throw-away line in a 5 page article (good article btw), but i was hoping you could explain your Deus Ex Comment.

Thanks.

This game is pretty much guaranteed to sell like gangbusters. Like Russ said, the Wii install base is ginormous, and you can't get more recognizable than Mickey Mouse. I know I'll be buying this game though, because it looks like it'll be fun. I know, fun in the game industry nowadays, what a laughable idea.

"Spector is referring to the Uncanny Valley effect, in which attempts to create realistic representations of people backfire, causing those who view the simulacrum to recoil in horror at the lifelessness of a seemingly life-like being."

Is that why The Sims creep me out so much?

I love this man. Everything he says and does is golden, and definitely worth paying attention to.

The comments on realism were interesting. They nod to one of many reasons why I tend to scoff at the push for realism - it's much easier to stay true to a set of world rules defined exclusively for your game than to emulate real life. Realistic graphics don't just stray too close to the uncanny valley for comfort; they create an expectation in gamers that the game worl will follow realistic rules, and that leads to questions like, "why was there a first aid kit in that monster's intestines?".

I'm not against graphics that make hardware work. I just think games should maintain a more cartoony or stylised look - unless, of course, the gameplay itself is steeped in ultra-realism.

theaceplaya:
This game is pretty much guaranteed to sell like gangbusters. Like Russ said, the Wii install base is ginormous, and you can't get more recognizable than Mickey Mouse. I know I'll be buying this game though, because it looks like it'll be fun. I know, fun in the game industry nowadays, what a laughable idea.

I don't know about 'gangbusters'. Remember, this is the Wii. If a game isn't made by Nintendo or isn't a collection of crappy mini-games, it usually doesn't sell. Look at the list of best selling 3rd party titles. Epic Micky might be too good to be on that list.

I wasn't particularly interested in this game in the first place. It sounds a lot like what they originally wanted to do with Kingdom Hearts before they realized it wasn't that great an idea. This has more or less cemented my apathy. Complexity is bad? Dumbing freedom and choice down to hilariously black and white choices that don't make much sense is a great idea? I think I'll just replay Deus Ex and leave this alone.

Until a few weeks ago, I never heard of Warren Spector. Never was too interested in game designers, I just wanted to play good games. I enjoyed the hell out of Deus Ex and still play through it every few years because it really makes me think about why I like games. And now Warren Spector is popping up everywhere and saying things that I've been saying for years. That the push for good graphics is ruining games. That gameplay should be fun and enjoyable, not simply look good. That if a door is in a game, you should be able to open it, otherwise don't put a door there. I wasn't excited about Epic Mickey before, now I'm seriously considering getting a Wii for it.

sunburst313:
I wasn't particularly interested in this game in the first place. It sounds a lot like what they originally wanted to do with Kingdom Hearts before they realized it wasn't that great an idea. This has more or less cemented my apathy. Complexity is bad? Dumbing freedom and choice down to hilariously black and white choices that don't make much sense is a great idea? I think I'll just replay Deus Ex and leave this alone.

But how is it any more dumbed down than any other RPG out there? It's the standard miniquest choice dichotomy, he just boils it down. Think of it in the terms of other games. Mass Effect had a sidequest where you could help a gambler cheat a casino in a rigged slot machine or whatever. You had two ways you could complete the quest, turn in the cheater or cheat and give the cheater his share. Pretty simple choices. They would work in a game based on cartoon characters, but it falls apart because of the realism of Mass Effect. Where's the option to cheat, pocket the money, and then tell the casino that you caught the other guy at it and don't know where the money is? Or to just beat up the gambler and not give him his share? Or blackmail the gambler? In the end, most RPG choices boil down to the same black or white choices. I think the goal that Spector is going for, then, is not to give you all the choices you would have in a realistic game world, but to make things so simple that you don't question "Why can't I do it this way?"

Wow. So much great design philosophy packed into a single article. I think I'll be reading this again and again for a very long time. Nicely done.

Nice little story. Nice to know what the man behind the game thinks. I am buying Epic Mickey, and I am hoping it's gonna be awesome. It probably will.

Wow. Talk about a lot of stuff crammed into one article. I just might have a chance at defending my dignity when I go to the cashier to purchase EM.

I'm looking forward to Epic Mickey, it doesn't seem to have that whole "do what you please" attitude to it like Deus Ex, but hey no ones perfect (apart from Deus Ex).

*imagines meeting Goofy and telling him, "do your best Flatlander Woman"

- whose biggest hit was the overly-complex and deeply flawed Deus Ex -

WHAT? *furiously types away at keyboard*, firstly, Deus Ex is not flawed, secondly, I'll be sending you a ready made RAZER WIRE CHRISTMAS TREE!

If you give the pirate the flower, he will win the girl's heart and the storyline form that point forward will reflect this. If you give the pirate the ice cream cone, he will discover to his chagrin the cow's peculiar intolerance. He will not get the girl, and as a consequence will not grant Mickey access to a special item hidden in a chest and the story will be similarly impacted

So it becomes an issue of knowing that if you get the harder to obtain thinga-ma-bob you will get the special-ma-bob, am I being negative in thinking that this is just like all other games?.

I really want Epic Mickey to succeed in the way Spector games do, I really do, but the whole fetch quest in finding that sort of dialogue option way, its all Flatlander Woman to me.

Epic Mickey features the most recognizable trademark in the world

Marlboro cigarettes?. Seriously, thats actually the most recognised trademark in the world!.

Edit: the title of this feature should be changed to "Russ Pitts' Epic Gamble, calling Deus Ex anything other than perfect, and how to combat errant flaming"

Seriously, be prepared Russ Pitts to have your inbox flooded after you called Deus Ex "deeply flawed", unless thats what you planned, in which case I salute you good sir.

I'm a big Warren Spector fan...

I'm still trying to understand whats so interesting about the paint/thinner concept or really anything talked about here. I mean you can play nice or be a dick, and if you're a dick you don't get certain rewards. We've seen this done countless times. Only here the choice seems even more pointless than usual.

I mean why would you give the pirate the ice cream cone? Just to be a dick? Is there a limit to the amount of time you have to complete the game so that taking longer to get stuff done actually matters?

I mean I'm really trying to see what's worthwhile about making a big deal about these mechanics. How is this different than what most western RPGs do in their games as a matter of course these days?

Quick Edit:
I'm really not trying to be dismissive, in case that's how I'm coming off, but I read the article and it sounds like its making a Big Deal about something that's been in games long enough that its almost an expected element for a genre. I really feel like I'm missing something here.

Ne1butme:

Russ Pitts:
...whose biggest hit was the overly-complex and deeply flawed Deus Ex

You considered Deus Ex to be overly complex and deeply flawed?

I did, yes. Also, so does Warren Spector, as he wrote for us several years ago, and as I quoted in the above article.:

Too much choice is a scary thing, capable of paralyzing people. (As I learned to my chagrin on Deus Ex!)

Perhaps "deeply" flawed is an overstatement, but not by much.

Granted I haven't played the game over and over like you have, and the last time I played it was in 2001 or so, but I found the game's assertion of open-endedness and unrestricted player agency to be broken past a certain point. Once it became clear to me that a lot of the "choice" was an illusion and that the game would play out how it was written to play out regardless of your actions, I lost interest.

That said, it was a milestone of game design, and considering there weren't a lot of games made in 2001 that broke as much new ground as Deus Ex, I can see why it garnered so many GOTY accolades. But it's not a perfect game.

I feel I'm on pretty safe ground espousing this opinion considering it's shared by the creator ;)

Great pieces like this are why I keep reading The Escapist, thanks Russ. As for the game itself, I may have a reason to resurrect my Wii when it comes out.

Russ Pitts:

Too much choice is a scary thing, capable of paralyzing people. (As I learned to my chagrin on Deus Ex!)

I see that as more a problem with the player than the game. But I'm not a game designer. I'm a player, so i'm going to criticize my own contribution to the experience before i would criticize the developer. Warren has the exact opposite reaction. He's never going to criticize the players.

It's an interesting duality. If i am face with a game with a lot of choices, and i choose the boring path, then that's my own fault. I see more choice as a virtue. If i can't step up and play an exciting game, then perhaps i'm not worthy of the experience.

Oh wow. This is so full of win. I think an understated point here is the fact that this has a chance to revitalize Mickey Mouse. I know that Disney is huge, and that the recognition factor is still great, but seriously, aside from the Kingdom Hearts series- of which he wasn't really the focus-- when have you seen media focused on (and promoting) The Mouse?

I could be wrong, but I honestly feel that Mickey is getting lapped by the other animation characters out there, and somebody really smart realized that they needed to breathe new life into him and make him relevant to younger generations, else there was the risk that he would wither away.

I'm mean, I'm down with the Mouse, but I'm almost 40. I grew up with him. You ask average 8-12 year old kids to name cartoon characters, and how far down the list do you think Mickey will be?

Mr. Spector was involved with some of the best games ever made, including Deus Ex which I would argue narrowly edges out STALKER as the BEST game ever made.

This is day one purchase despite the Disney curse.

The game you've described sounds like a NES title. I'm not sure about the moral choice thing with the paint and thinner. It seems simplistic and such moral choice systems never really amount to anything. The problem here is that it's fairly cut and dried which is good and which is evil. And the thinner sounds like it doesn't do much except allow you to skip much of the game. In fact, several of the choices you've shown were just avoiding playing the game. How is not playing a reasonable choice for a game?

It could be I just do not understand and would need to actually play the game to get it. But I suspect that this game will be ripped several new assholes over these so-called innovations not being all that innovative.

Ne1butme:

Russ Pitts:

Too much choice is a scary thing, capable of paralyzing people. (As I learned to my chagrin on Deus Ex!)

I see that as more a problem with the player than the game. But I'm not a game designer. I'm a player, so i'm going to criticize my own contribution to the experience before i would criticize the developer. Warren has the exact opposite reaction. He's never going to criticize the players.

It's an interesting duality. If i am face with a game with a lot of choices, and i choose the boring path, then that's my own fault. I see more choice as a virtue. If i can't step up and play an exciting game, then perhaps i'm not worthy of the experience.

One could just as easily argue that if the boring path exists in the first place, then it was the developer's fault for putting it there. After-all, you shouldn't be faced with the choices of "fun" and "not fun" when playing a medium that's specifically meant to be fun.

Anyway, I don't think that's what he was referring to so-much as he was also probably talking about how Deus Ex had a blinding array of abilities to upgrade. Sure as a veteran gamer you would have a better idea of what to shoot for in a game like that, but try to remember that not everyone has been gaming for 10+ years, or even 5+ years.

Mind that I love a complex game. However, the more complicated a game gets, the more narrow its target audience will be, since some people don't want to have to put that much thought and effort into their gaming.

Well, this is quite a nice story, but I'm afraid I just can't work up any excitement for a Micky Mouse game. I'll keep an open mid regardless, but just be aware that we might be entering Molyneux territory, just a precaution.

dudeman0001:
"Spector is referring to the Uncanny Valley effect, in which attempts to create realistic representations of people backfire, causing those who view the simulacrum to recoil in horror at the lifelessness of a seemingly life-like being."

Is that why The Sims creep me out so much?

The opposite is why every moment with human interaction in HL2 is simply amazing and why certain parts of the game are heartbreaking/warming.

As great as it is to hear that a developer is focusing on graphic related issues, hasn't the whole your actions impact the world around you been done alot already? (The worst implementation has to be Silent Hill: The Room.
And Annoyed would the developers be that scribble naughts beat them to the punch with the whole drawing thing (yes I get that they are very different games, still...)

Oh well..

This game may be the reason I finally buy a Wii. Great article by the way. I knew a little of Warren Spector before this, but clearly not enough to merit how great a game designer he seems to be.

Also, as an aside, I'd really like it if whoever gets the privilege of reviewing this game to do their best to avoid the temptation to use a certain meme to succinctly summarise the game. I know the temptation is so very strong.

i've got to dust off the old Wii for this one, methinks. Propers to Mr. Spector for having the stones to go through with this.

Damn, A Wii game I am actually interested in. Blasted me..

A nice article, and I can't wait for this game, but to be honest: I found this article a bit too long for a preview on the internet. I'm definitely not scared of words (I've been visiting the Escapist regularly for about two years now), and five pages can be suitable for some articles, but this time it was kind of a drag. Not because it wasn't interesting, but because I don't want to read five pages on a screen about a game that hasn't been released yet. Might be something to keep in mind with future previews/interviews/background stories.

There are a couple of things I don't understand about this article. Firstly, both Russ Pitts' description of Deus Ex - "overly complex, deeply flawed" - and Warren Spector's comments about the game cast it in a rather negative light. I hope this doesn't come across as a fanboy's knee-jerk reaction - much as I love the game, I can view it objectively - but this is genuinely not an attitude to the game that I've come across before, and I wouldn't expect to see it seemingly taken for granted by author and subject in this way. I'd have liked this opinion to be justified in the article, albeit briefly, since overall the game has garnered an overwhelmingly favourable reaction.

The comment on the complexity is certainly a valid criticism, but I don't know anyone who would consider "flawed" a key word in describing the game - sure, it has flaws, but they're not a mjaor part of the experience of playing the game. Some flaws are just due to the technological limitations of the time, and I don't think there's anything wrong with the game that can't be overlooked in light of its many excellent aspects. Spector himself criticises the apparently excessive amount of choice the game provides the player with - the very thing that people love most about the game. I know that some people will disagree, but so many people do love the game; why does Spector appear to have a slightly embarrassed, well-at-least-we-tried attitude towards Deus Ex? Did he not notice all those awards?

Secondly, I started reading the article under the impression that the way consequences and tasks are handled in Epic Mickey would be new and interesting, but I didn't see any evidence of that. Indeed, the ice-cream-or-flowers quest is a classic example of a standard video game task, with the added bonus of being a complete no-brainer; no one is going to give the guy the wrong gift - and pass up on the reward - unless they're so bored with the game that they can't be bothered to do a longer fetch quest, in which case the game has bigger problems. If you choose the flowers you are rewarded with an in-game item, the satisfaction of making the "better" choice and the gameplay experience of actually going to get the flower, which you would hope would be fun. Saying that the player will have to decide whether to lose out on the reward or give up a load of their time looking for the flower doesn't constitute an satisfying choice; if having to invest time and effort in the game is a negative, the game has failed. Even if they didn't know in advance that there would be a reward for giving him the flowers, I suspect most players would instinctively choose that option in the hope/expectation that there would be some positive consequence, unless they didn't particularly care about accumulating rewards and were going for the comedy option.

That said, the paint-versus-thinner tactics and the way choices have a cumulative effect on the world and characters around you are both good ideas, and I'm interested in the result. I just don't think this article delivered what it promised.

And of course, if one never liked mickey mouse, then this game looks like junk.
I know I know, vote with my wallet.

But mickey mouse? wtf? couldn't Mr. Spector be working on something a little more interesting than that?

edit: And Deus Ex being flawed and overly complex? no, I don't think so. It was just complex enough. Hell, I would have preferred some sort of freeform object based gun modding system instead of a purely number based system.

latenightapplepie:
Also, as an aside, I'd really like it if whoever gets the privilege of reviewing this game to do their best to avoid the temptation to use a certain meme to succinctly summarise the game. I know the temptation is so very strong.

What if we just call it "cinematic and compelling" then drop the microphone and walk offstage?

this might end in Kingdom Hearts...Afterall Mr.Spectar said that the game would center around the heart of the wasteland...

Russ Pitts:

What if we just call it "cinematic and compelling" then drop the microphone and walk offstage?

Haha.

Only if your reviewing standards plummet dramatically between now and September. Which I could never imagine happening, of course. :)

It's going to be on the Wii, whatever story and gameplay there is will be marred by clunky controls.

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