Disney Epic Mickey 2: The Power of Two PAX 2012 Preview -- Fort Wasteland and Big DecisionsBy Jake Gaskill - Posted Sep 01, 2012
Listening to legendary (and infectiously personable and enthusiastic) designer Warren Spector talk about Disney Epic Mickey 2: The Power of Two, especially when he’s donning a denim dress shirt emblazoned with various Disney legends, you can’t help but feel like a kid whose best friend just burst into their house, offering little more than a quick “Hey Mrs. X!” as he/she rushes by their door-answering mom to find you to tell you all about the toy/movie/comic book/cartoon/etc. that you two will forever consider to be one of your first true passions in life.
Beyond mere enthusiasm and fandom lies a truly inspiring and bone-deep appreciation, adoration, and respect for everything the name “Walt Disney” represents. So you can imagine that when you have a chance to sit in a room with Spector, who has more of an air of a student-favorite middle school science teacher than an industry giant, and have him run you through a new level of Epic Mickey 2, the size of the smile on his face easily borders on the unnatural.
For PAX Prime 2012, we saw a portion of the Disney Gultch (the game’s twisted take on Frontierland) set inside Fort Wasteland, which is based on Fort Wilderness, located on Tom Sawyer Island in the actual Disney park. As was the case in Disney Epic Mickey, the love and attention put into the game’s level design is astounding. With nods to every era of Disney history, from iconic characters like Dumbo and the returning Gus to the most obscure and forgotten corners of the Disney vault, the game world itself serves to delight diehard collectors like Spector and casual Disney fans alike.
The primary objective for this section has Mickey either painting or thinning “BLOTS,” the little creatures that have invaded and corrupted Mickey’s world. Mickey receives these orders from a ghost named Ian, from the 1937 cartoon “Lonesome Ghost,” and it’s up to the player to decide how he’s going to deal with this problem. Ian pleads with Mickey to save them, since, despite the havoc they’ve wrought on the Wasteland, they have just as much of a right to be there as anyone--all animated creations are drawn equal sort of thing. However, the townspeople (toonspeople?) ask you to remove the blots so they can live in peace once more. The choice is yours.
So as we approach the fort, we can see the structure consists of various types of materials ranging from giant crayons to bottle caps attached to mechanisms that serve as platforms to steps made of hardened film reels. Random letter blocks pepper the surroundings, meant to recall the actual letter blocks that Disney produced in the 1940s to help kids learn to read. And this doesn’t include the environmental elements you’re able to interact with in the course of your platforming and exploration. Like, for instance, the massive Babe the Blue Ox head that, when painted in, acts as a bridge between two other platforms.
One of the most important aspects of EM2’s design that Spector and Junction Point can’t emphasize enough is how truly influential your decisions are on the entire experience. Unlike the first game’s design, which Spector refers to as “choice and consequence lite,” EM2 will force players to stand by their decisions and won’t be nearly as flexible in terms of how players decide which paths they want to follow.
The first example of this idea in action comes right at the beginning of the demo. After Mickey and Oswald work their magic on a large pocket-watch, using it to open the mouth of a nearby tree that’s blocking the way, two distinct paths appear. The bottom path is the easiest to follow, but it’s also the most treacherous, signified by the enemy standing in the doorway. The other path involves painting in platforms and traversing across them to reach the second floor, which has an angelic beam of light at its entrance instead of a baddie.
The demo driver decides to take the high road and receives some handsome rewards for his trouble (the more dangerous path also rewards players with unique items, so there are always plenty of incentives no matter which direction you decided to go). In order to progress to the next area, we have to permanently change the level, something that Spector and company are particularly excited about because it gives players a very clear indication as to the types of decisions they’re making and how those decisions are shaping the world, and people, around them.
In this case, the choice involves thinning out sections of trees, which causes them to collapse and create platforms to the next area. No amount of paint can undo this action, and you will have to deal with whatever the consequences of those actions might be, good or bad. To give us a sense of just how much the team has invested in making sure players feel a true sense of influence over the game world, Spector admits that there’s “as much depth in this as anything I’ve ever worked on.”
Spector went on to say that if people can get over the idea of playing as Mickey Mouse, they will realize just how similar the experience is to one where, say, players assume the role of a leather jacket-wearing, augmented human in a cyberpunk universe.
Another element Spector and company worked hard to make sure wasn’t an issue this time around was player direction. Getting lost in the first game was hardly an infrequent occurrence, so to help players stay on the right path, Gus is now a guidepost for main story objectives. Find yourself all twisted around after venturing off the beaten path? Just spot Gus, and you’ll be right back on track.
Speaking of back on track, the final area of the demo finds Mickey and Oswald overrun by blots. Again, how you deal with them will have a direct result on what Ian the ghost’s reaction will be. In our case, the driver decides to thin more blots than not. Of course, this doesn’t fly with Ian, who storms off in a huff, taking with him whatever potential follow up quests or loot he might have offered you. Although, two thankful townspeople thank you by telling you the location of a secret entrance to some other area.
This section also showed off the game’s dynamic music generation system, which will change the score--written by award-winning composer Jim Dooley--in dramatic yet subtle ways depending on whether a player is fighting everything in sight or simply exploring and avoiding conflicts. Not only will the melodies change, but the instruments will as well, allowing players, as Spector put it, to be the conductor of their own score (while also being the “writer” of their own journey thanks to the permanent changes players can make to the world).
As you can see, Spector and his team have gone the kitchen sink route with Disney Epic Mickey 2. Combine that with Spector’s own unending adoration for and knowledge of the subject matter, and it’s no wonder the game continues to surprise and delight us every time we see it. Thankfully, we won’t have to wait too much longer to see if all the pieces come together when the game launches on Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and Wii November 18, 2012.