Epic Mickey Q&A with Junction Point’s Paul Weaver

Paul Weaver, director of product development at Warren Spector’s Junction Point studio, has been in the bidness for a little while. He’s worked at Rare and Acclaim and first teamed up with Spector at Ion Storm back in 2003. They parted ways after Ion Storm shut down in 2006, because Weaver rejoined Spector at Junction Point in 2007, and now the studio is ready to unleash Epic Mickey on the world just two weeks from tomorrow.

We had the chance to chat with Weaver about Epic Mickey, and you can read the resulting giant block of text below. Enjoy.

FileFront: As artists, what do you hope to accomplish with Disney Epic Mickey, and how does the Wii console further that aim?

Paul Weaver: Mickey Mouse has been so important in all forms of media for over 80 years, be it cartoons, comics or movies and while there have certainly been some great video games along the way that have starred Mickey, we don’t feel that he’s really been done justice in this medium… yet. Nintendo and Disney’s relationship goes back a long way and we’ve been very happy with our partnership. Wii is definitely a very family focused console and we’ve really strived to make a game that can be enjoyed by everyone.

FF: What type of story are you looking to tell with Disney Epic Mickey?

PW: We’re telling a story about the importance of family with Disney Epic Mickey. We consider Mickey Mouse and Oswald the Lucky Rabbit to be half-brothers who are both beloved children of Walt Disney’s imagination that fate kept apart for over 80 years.

FF: At PAX, Warren Spector said gamers should “demand more from the games you’re offered.” That statement also carries an unspoken mandate for developers; in what way does Disney Epic Mickey “deliver more?”

PW: I think the biggest area that Disney Epic Mickey “delivers more” is with our implementation of Warren’s mandate that “Playstyle Matters.” Most — but more encouragingly these days, not all — games are designed in a very linear fashion, so the player is walked through the story by the designer who specifies what they will encounter, how they will deal with the situation and what the pre-determined outcome will be. That’s not a bad thing, but we believe it does limit the amount that a player can express themselves and really feel like they’re part of the story. In our game, the player has the choice of how they will deal with almost every problem they encounter in the game. However, there’s also the matter of there being a consequence for making these choices, or else why bother? We’ve created an experience where people will get a very different experience depending on their playstyle.

FF: You’ve been working in the industry for some time. Are there particular games you’ve worked on in the past that you find have influenced your work on Disney Epic Mickey?

PW: I would have to say my time working at Rare at the start of my career was the biggest help to me in making the game. We learned a lot from Nintendo in the 90s about how they design games and that led to a succession of fantastic successes for that company. Having that knowledge helped a lot, particularly with the platforming elements of the game. Having previously worked with Warren at Ion Storm, I knew what “Choice and Consequence” in game design meant, as well as its possibilities, which is why when he first approached me to work on this game, I jumped at the opportunity.

FF: Steamboat Willie aside, what previous Disney works have influenced the game/ are you paying homage to in the game?

PW: I can’t give away too many specifics, but we have dozens of 2D levels in the game that are all based on famous Mickey cartoons going all the way back to the roots of Mickey, Oswald and Disney. These were directly inspired by those cartoons and it’s very cool to see the art style change decade by decade as you adventure through this world. With regards to the 3D adventuring that you do, you really need to look closely in every world that you encounter, as we drew our inspiration from literally everything: Mickey cartoons, Mickey comics, the Parks, Disney movies, Disney merchandise (Pins) and the list goes on. For the Disney fan, there’s a game within this game by walking through it slowly and discovering all of the inspiration– some are very obvious, others are much, much harder to find.

FF: Disney Epic Mickey is part of an effort to sort of rebrand the Mickey Mouse character. Do you feel that puts a lot of pressure on you? Is that more pressure than would be on you making some other AAA title?

PW: We’re not “re-branding” Mickey Mouse with this game. I think we’re celebrating 80 years of Mickey’s adventures and being given the opportunity and the trust from Disney to do that has definitely made this an exciting project to work on. Everyone here at Junction Point are huge fans of Disney and everyone wanted to create something really special.

FF: We haven’t seen a lot of AAA titles, Bethesda aside, make use of the Gamebryo engine. What makes that engine more suitable for Disney Epic Mickey than other, more popular engines?

PW: In pre-production of Epic Mickey, it was important to us to be able to spend our time prototyping gameplay mechanics and to get up and running as quickly as possible. Not only that, but we needed an engine that would work specifically on Wii. After evaluating a number of options, Gamebryo was the middleware solution that gave us what we needed.

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