Warren Spector

The games legend chats about Disney, Mickey and reinventing Zelda

Junction Point's Warren Spector is kind of a big deal. From working on PC big-hitters Deus Ex and System Shock (among many others) to dealing with Disney's most high-profile star on Wii, he's a game design guru.

NGamer caught up with him at August's GamesCom event in Germany to probe his innermost Nintendo thoughts and find out what it's like to work with a star the size of Mickey Mouse...

You seem very cheerful today, Warren. Is Epic Mickey something of a dream project for you?

Are you kidding? It's the most flattering thing that's ever happened to me! How many times in your life is a company like Disney going to hand you the keys to the car and say 'here, he's the symbol of this company and all that it stands for creatively - have fun!'.

So how much freedom do you have to monkey around with the mouse?

More than I expected. I guess I was smart enough to realise early on that this is not a project where I get to do whatever I want. It's a project where 140,000 Disney employees all care about the outcome, and everyone you'll ever meet is going to have an opinion on the character you're working on.

We've ended up in a place where I look at our Mickey and I love this Mickey. He's my Mickey, he's Junction Point's Mickey, and Disney loves this Mickey, as far as I can tell.

When you were rooting through Disney's archives did you look up stuff just for fun?

Oh, constantly! I live for film history; I love digging though archives. I actually worked at a film archive for several months. The real surprising thing I found is just how many versions of Tinkerbell the Peter Pan animators
did. I found that really inspirational because
the whole concept of the game is about rejected and forgotten concepts for characters, rides that were never built, that sort of thing.

I guess I assumed that you do two or three concepts and Walt says 'yeah!'. But man, there's some punk Tinkerbells and lots and lots of Tinkerbells that never made it to the screen.

You've had the run of the archives but Epic Mickey seems to draw mostly from Mickey's classic cartoons. Are you not a fan of his recent incarnations?

I don't think he has many heroic, adventurous incarnations these days. He's incredibly popular as an icon on a shirt, as a character in theme parks and on television in Mickey's Clubhouse, but name the last time you saw Mickey in a story.

I probably shouldn't say, really... but it's almost like the company decided to rest the character for a while. There isn't a lot of 'Mickey in a story' to draw from, so I'm blessed to be the one to put him in a story again and make him a hero.

You were the first westerner to be interviewed by Nintendo boss Satoru Iwata for Iwata Asks. Was that a privilege?

Honoured barely begins to describe it. It's been a dream of mine to make a Nintendo game for a while... and to sit down with Mr Iwata, who was a developer himself! I mean, the man understands game development better than I do.

He is such a developer and I think that explains a lot about Nintendo and Nintendo's games.

We saw you playing the new Zelda here earlier...

Yes, for the first time. The thing I love about it is that it feels just like Zelda. The gestural stuff adds to the experience in a small and significant way, but never gets in the way. If you want to know what Epic Mickey was inspired by, as much as I love Zelda and Mario games I just felt like, other than the graphics, there haven't been enough design
advances in platforming and action-adventure
to make me happy.

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