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Wander the Cartoon Wastelands with Warren Spector in "The Art of Epic Mickey"

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Wander the Cartoon Wastelands with Warren Spector in "The Art of Epic Mickey"

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It's the rumor which has got the gaming community buzzing. That there's supposedly a "Disney Epic Mickey 2" in the works. Even better, that the next videogame in this critically acclaimed series (which will reportedly be available in the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and Wii formats) will allegedly allow players to chose between single-player and 2-player split screen mode.

But before we start parsing the various rumors that are currently making the rounds (i.e. That "Disney Epic Mickey 2" will allow gamers to explore parts of the Wastelands that had initially been proposed for the first installment of this series but ultimately got dropped. Take - for example - "Mickey in Wonderland" ...

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... an area based on Disney's Alice in Wonderland ... it was to be a land ruled by the Red Queen and opposed by the Mad Hatter, the White Rabbit and the Cheshire Cat).

More importantly, before the release of "Disney Epic Mickey 2" (which will supposedly hit store shelves just in time for the 2012 holiday shopping season), I thought that it might be fun to take a look back at the design & development of the first installment of this videogame series. Which is why I cracked open that copy of "The Art of Epic Mickey" (Disney Editions, October 2011) which Disney Publishing sent me late last year.

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And this handsome 160-page hardcover really does take back to the very start of this project. Back to when a group of interns at Disney Interactive Media proposed reintroducing Oswald the Lucky Rabbit to the world as a game character.

We then jump ahead to 2005, when - as Warren Spector, the legendary game designer for Junction Point Studios, was making the rounds - Mouse House officials offered him the opportunity to create the ultimate Disney videogame which was to pair Mickey with his long-lost half-brother, Oswald.

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For a hardcore Disney fan like Spector, working on "Epic Mickey" was a dream assignment because ...

...  the Junction Point team (could draw) inspiration - specific inspiration - from anything and everything ever created at the Walt Disney Company.

Warren Spector and Steamboat Willie himself. Photo by Paul Hifflemeyer.
Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

Holy cow.

Talk about a mother lode of material! Talk about fun!

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We were like kids in a candy store, rummaging through the Disney Archives on the Studio Lot, through the prop archives, through the Imagineering Research Center and the Animation Research Library and the Disney Consumer Products "Lounge." We devoured every book that we could get our hands about Disney's history (and that's a lot of books, let me tell you!). We read comic books, watched movies, read Big Little Books, played with toys. You name it, we did it, Disney style.

We saw and even touched blueprints and color swatches for buildings at Disneyland's Main Street, U.S.A., models for film props (the Nautilus from Disney's 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea was exquisite!), costumes out of cherished childhood memory (a Mexican soldier's uniform with Zorro's "Z" sliced through the jacket!), storyboards for films that were never made (The Gremlins created by Roald Dahl) ...

Mickey and Gus the Gremlin run into Clarabelle Cow in the Cartoon Wastelands.
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Which isn't to say that it was all that easy to reinvent Mickey (who - over the past 80 years - had lost much of the feistiness that had made the Mouse so popular with moviegoers in the late 1920s / early 1930s) as a viable "star" of a videogame. As Spector recalled:

We needed Mickey to look like a hero that you'd take seriously if you were the bad guy. Early in development, we thought about some fairly radical visual reinventions of the character. In making Mickey a more heroic figure than many people expected him to be, we toyed with the idea of changing his classic proportions - making him more of an adolescent in a sense.

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I would have gone with this fellow as the player character. At the end of the day, through, we were making a Mickey Mouse game and this fellow, appealing as he was, just didn't "read" as Mickey Mouse.

Though it was a promising direction, it wasn't "Mickey enough." Cool as this image is, we decided that we'd gone too far and pulled back a bit to a more traditional Mickey. So we looked to other character elements to up his hero quotient.

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Warren and the development team at Junction Point Studios had the same sort of issues when it came to coming up with just the right look for Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. You see, one of the key plot threads of "Epic Mickey" that these two half-brothers don't exactly get along. That Oswald is genuinely upset that he was left behind & forgotten while Mickey went on to worldwide renown & stardom. So some of the earliest designs that the Disney intern group came up with for this game character actually reflected that inner torment.

In the end, Spector opted to step away from that angry take on this game character. Though given the role that Mickey played in the creation of the Cartoon Wastelands, it's easy to understand why Oswald might be furious with his half-brother.

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As Austin Grossman, the co-writer of "Epic Mickey" explains:

In the wizard's castle, Mickey knocks over a jug of thinner, drenching Wasteland. For Mickey, it was just a moment's carelessness, but for Wastelanders, it was one of the defining moments in their history. Their world was devastated, transformed in an instant from a continent to a group of islands in a sea of corrosive thinner. This adds another element to Wasteland's look. It's been ruined, scarred, and half-dissolved in many places.

The Cartoon Wastelands before and after the thinner spill. Copyright Disney
Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

(Mickey) also creates the Blot, a sentient mixture of the magic paint and thinner substances, who becomes an unstoppable, marauding tyrant.

The Blot was another example of how Warren and the Junction Point Studios took a classic piece of Disneyana (In this case the Phantom Blot, that mysterious hooded figure who's been battling Mickey Mouse ever since the Blot first appeared in the Mickey Mouse comic strip back in May of 1939) and then turned it into something exciting & new for the videogame world.

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Because - as you know - a hero is only as good as the villain that he's going up against. So in order for videogamers to buy Mickey as an epic hero, the Phantom Blot then had to be reinvented as a genuinely terrifying figure.

That's the real fun of paging through "The Art of Epic Mickey." In essence, Spector and Grossman take you through Junction Point Studios' entire creative process on this project. The discussions that they had with Disney Interactive Media Group executives about how far was too far when it came to reimagining the Company's classic characters.

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So if you'd like to get a sense of how this acclaimed videogame was actually put together ...

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... More importantly, perhaps glean some information about the other parts of Cartoon Wastelands that "Disney Epic Mickey 2" might possibly  visit ...

Rumored cover art for the "Disney Epic Mickey 2" game box.
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... then you should probably consider picking up a copy of this well-written, fun-to-look-through coffee table book.

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  • I hope the rumors are true and there really will be an Epic Mickey 2. My husband and I love Epic Mickey, the game has many twists and turns, the music is fantastic, and it's also visually stunning. While my husband actually plays the game I find myself more interested in all of the behind the scenes stuff. :) Love it!

  • VERY interesting article! Epic Mickey truly was, in my opinion, an excellent way to "bring Mickey back" and reinstate him as something other than the smiley host of Mickey Mouse Clubhouse on Disney Channel today.

    This book looks fascinating.... How the general public get ahold of a copy?

  • The first game was fun, until the camera angles killed it

  • And we all thought Warren Spector only made awesome games. Epic Mickey wasn´t bad but disapointed in gameplay depth, length and the best artwork didn´t made it into the game.

    Thankfully the game now comes to better HD consoles and I hope they learned from theire mistakes and make it the game it could be.

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