The Imagineer of Wasteland: Epic Mickey’s Warren Spector

| November 30, 2010

The highly anticipated new Wii video game, Disney Epic Mickey, was recently released.  With this game, Warren Spector, Epic Mickey’s creator, looked to create the video game equivalent of a Pixar film – entertainment for everyone.  Spector is well known and respected in the gaming world for creating popular video game series such as Wing Commander and Deus Ex, but with Disney Epic Mickey Spector wanted to create a video game that appealed to more than just hard core gaming fans.  I recently participated in a conference call with Warren Spector.  Continue after the break to read and listen to Spector’s thoughts on creating the new Wii action-adventure game as well as his love of Disney.  Also, at the end of the article learn how you can win a copy of what’s been touted by some as the video game of the year.


Click here to listen to highlights from Warren Spector’s conference call

Note: this was a moderated conference call where we were asked to submit questions ahead of time – many (but not all) of the questions asked were my own.  The last portion of the call was opened up for us to ask questions directly.

You may wonder why the DIS Unplugged, a website specializing in Disney-related travel, is covering the release of a Wii video game?  Well, besides the fact that the game appeals to the Disney fan in us, the game’s universe takes place in the theme park Wasteland, a “Bizarro Disneyland” made up of familiar, yet strange, Disney Park attractions.  Whenever an attraction is eliminated or re-imagined in a Disney Park, such as Disneyland’s Nautilus submarine or Swiss Family Treehouse, *poof* they appear in Wasteland.  The story of Epic Mickey relies heavily on Disney history.  Warren Spector wants to re-introduce Mickey Mouse to a generation who has yet to see Mickey star in his own story, and in this alternate universe Mickey confronts and befriends all sorts of cast-off Disney Characters.  The head honcho for Wasteland is Walt Disney’s first cartoon star from the 1920’s-30’s, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, who is bitter and jealous of Mickey Mouse’s life and success.

Spector described himself as a life-long animation buff who grew up watching the Mickey Mouse Club, Wonderful World of Color, and Wonderful World of Disney.  Those shows, as well as Saturday morning cartoons, were hugely influential and a part of his life that he never outgrew.  He continued to watch and study cartoons, studied film criticism in college, and ultimately wrote his Master’s thesis on Warner Bros. cartoons.  Spector cited the Warner Bros. Daffy Duck cartoon “Duck Amuck” as one of the greatest cartoons ever created and admired how it provided a peek behind the creative process in animation.  However, Spector also said, “If you’re an animation buff, you have to study the Disney stuff.”

However, Spector was not solely enthralled in cartoons.  He’s a big theme park fan as well, and described how one of the most magical days of his life occurred on his 30th birthday at Disneyland.  He recounted a trip that occurred during Disneyland’s 30th anniversary celebration.  When Spector went through the turnstiles, bells, whistles, and alarms started ringing.  It turned out that he was the 3,000th person through the gate – Mr. 3,000 – and he had the run of the park with his friends, never waiting more than 5 minutes to ride an attraction.  His day culminated when after the fireworks, Spector and his friends were invited to stay in the park for an after-hours private party.

Spector elaborated on his love of the theme parks saying he dreamed of becoming a Walt Disney Imagineer.  After college was torn between designing video games or theme park attractions.  He had two telephone interviews with Disney Imagineering before Origin Systems offered him a job to create video games.  Spector still holds out hope that some part of Epic Mickey could make its way into a theme park saying, “It would be a life-long dream if Epic Mickey would end up as a theme park attraction.”  Given the imagery released for Epic Mickey, it makes you wonder just what kind of steampunk theme park attraction Spector would create.

In creating Epic Mickey, Spector and his team relied heavily on previous work completed by Disney.  They had full access to Disney’s history and the archives, and in many instances Spector reined in his team from being too creative.  Instead, Spector wanted the game to reflect Disney’s creativity and inspiration.  They did not need to create new villains or characters because that work had already been extensively done by Disney.  They drew inspiration for characters, attractions, and theme park lands directly from the Disney archives.  Everything from the backgrounds seen in the game were taken directly from Disney paintings to the trash cans on Main Street U.S.A. were reproductions of those at Disneyland.  However, just like Disney films and theme park attractions, Epic Mickey is ultimately about the story.

Disney Epic Mickey: Into the Archives

Warren Spector uses video games to tell stories WITH players not to players, and Epic Mickey is no exception.  He wanted young children to see Mickey Mouse not just as a corporate icon, but as the starring character of a story, and ultimately as an Epic Hero, as he was in “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice”, “Mickey and the Beanstalk”, “The Prince and the Pauper”, or, more recently, “The Three Musketeers”.  He also wanted the story to have the same broad appeal as a Pixar film such as “Toy Story 3″ or “Up.”  Spector commented on how nobody considers “Toy Story 3″ as JUST a children’s film, or looks at “Up” and says, “Oh, that was clearly aimed at tween girls.”  Pixar creates films with depth that grandparents can see and enjoy with their grandchildren.  That is what Warren Spector is aiming for with Epic Mickey, and one of the reasons he selected the Nintendo Wii console as the sole gaming platform.  When the game was in the initial stages of creation the Wii was the only game system where children would play side-by-side with parents and grandparents, and appealed to all ages.

As we wrapped up our conference call, Spector talked about his creative philosophy.  He has always believed games can tell a good story as deep and sophisticated as any medium.  He hopes when people are playing Disney Epic Mickey they start to think about how exactly do you define a hero?  Also, Spector hopes playing the game will reveal how important family and friends are to the player.  By the time people get to the end of this action-adventure game, people may actually learn a little something about themselves, how they feel about family and friends, and how they define a hero.

Win a Copy of Disney Epic Mickey

OK, I promised you at the beginning of the article I would reveal how you can win your own copy of Disney Epic Mickey.  Disney Interactive Studios has provided the DIS Unplugged with 6 copies of the Disney Epic Mickey Collector’s Edition.  In addition to the game, the Collector’s Edition includes a 5 inch Vinyl Epic Mickey Figure, Special Edition DVD with behind the scenes footage and videos, Epic Mickey Stylized Wii Remote Faceplate, and 2 Epic Mickey Stylized Wii Console skins.  Over the next few days, we will post a number of contest blogs on the DIS Unplugged to give away the copies of Disney Epic Mickey.  All you need to do to enter is log in with your DISboards username and password and leave a comment on the blog.  That’s it, you’re entered, and we will randomly select winners from the comments on the blog.  Oh, what the heck, let’s start this giveaway now!  We will randomly select 2 people who leave comments at the end of this blog to win a copy of Disney Epic Mickey Collector’s Edition.  You have to leave a comment on this article, comments in other places such as Facebook or Twitter will not be official contest entries.  Comments will close on Friday, Dec. 3rd.  So get started, let us know what you think of this article, Waren Spector, Disney Epic Mickey, or anything else on your mind.  Good luck to everyone who enters.


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Category: Disney World, Disneyland, News

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  • jodi

    Can’t wait to play Epic Mickey!! Great article, as usual, Dave!!

  • iluvwesties

    We’re getting a Wii system for Xmas for the family and have put Epic Mickey as #1 on our wish list :0)

  • sarehm

    This is already on my wishlist! This game looks amazing!!!!

  • deebits

    My husband has been wanting this game since he first heard about it. Can’t wait to play it.

  • sallyporsche

    My 20-year old son, after reviewing Adam Sessler’s review on G4 and also giving me a complete rundown on Warren Spector and what he has created and why he is genius, went and rented Epic Mickey last night for 2 nights. He really liked it after an evening of playing. He started on the couch, then I noticed him standing intently in front of the tv at times. He says it’s a bit “creepy” because it’s Mickey (from someone who reviews and plays countless “creepy” (to me) video games all the time) and he’s doing very unexpected things. I enjoyed watching the game play. It definitely got a 2 thumbs up at our house. I look forward to watching another evening of gameplay tonight!

  • jimpossible87

    those r good odds…this game looks awesome. Loved the story

  • Madi100

    It looks like a super game and I can’t wait to play it. Great blog, Dave.

  • ninnyjo

    I can’t wait to get this for my son and nieces.Great blog,very helpful.

  • lola

    This looks like a great game that is truly ok for the whole family. Thanks for all the detail and photos. Maybe Santa will have an extra in his sleigh for us!

  • basketrn

    Great blog!! I can’t wait to try out this game!!!

  • medman

    Thanks Dave and DIS Unplugged! I can’t wait to play this game!

  • mmaheu

    I have to admit, I was a bit skeptical when I first saw an advertisement for Epic Mickey. BUT, after reading this I have to admint I am truly excited to try this game out!!! I am a huge Disney fan and I love the history of all things Disney – especially, Mickey himself. To know that this game is going to include such a big part of that is truly great! From the “strange” Disney rides to meeting Oswald . . . love, love, love it!! The teaser about the end is captivating . . . will be eager to see what I learn about myself after playing :) Kudos to you Mr. Spector!

  • ItsWDW4Me

    Even though I’m an avid Disneyholic, I just wasn’t excited about this game. I just finally bought a Wii for my son and myself for Christmas and this game was advertised. I looked at the game case but, meh, I put the new Donkey Kong on my list. Thank you for posting this blog. Move on down, Donkey Kong – Epic Mickey is at the top of the list now!

  • thndrmatt

    DW Cheryl “acquired” a Wii that was rarely used by my parents solely to play this game. Much like we recently got a PSP solely so we could play the latest Kingdom Hearts. Luckily we’re not done with that one yet, so Epic Mickey is just teasing us from the store aisles so far. I see nunchuck tossing in our immediate future… Great article!

  • Lglchick

    Our 7 year old is fascinated by this game. He loves being creative and he hasn’t stopped asking for this game since the first time he saw it. He makes us stop whatever we’re doing to watch the commercial. He’s always liked Mickey, but after visiting Disney World for the first time this past March, I think he’s becoming a die-hard Disney fan. :)

  • kay1864

    I’m very much looking forward to this game! Interesting change of pace, and beautiful graphics.

  • LoveTheMouse

    Great article!! As some of the other posters, I was not too excited about the game either UNTIL reading your article! Thank you!!!

  • MinnieMe67

    Thanks for another awesome article, Dave! I think it’s gonna be tough to wait until Christmas to open Epic Mickey! We can’t wait!

  • Normangirls

    Yea for Epic Mickey!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    Thanks for the info, Dave.

  • DexLabDeeDee

    Wow! I love that they’ve taken old attractions and put them into one place. Do they have Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride?

  • j-boat

    My kids have been dying for this game to be released…can’t wait to play it!! Great blog with great info!! Keep it up, we love it.

  • Lugwrench

    Epic Mickey looks awesome and I can’t wait to play it. I guess the Disney exclusivity works, since we are getting a Wii pretty much just for the Disney games.

  • minniemouse07

    This has been on my Christmas list for months now. Dh was a bit taken aback when I knew about the special paintbrush nunchuck…he thought he was going to surprise me w/ his amazing discovery! :-)

    Thanks for all the great background info. I loved learning more about the game!

  • topolino

    Great blog Dave! I’m looking forward to playing this game. And I’m not going to lie – I hope I win a copy!

  • mom2cookies

    Kids and I are really excited about this game. Not only is it on THEIR list, but it was on mine first LOL. We’re a bunch of Disney gamers and look forward to testing our imagination skils with Epic Mickey!

    Crossing our fingers and trusting our Pixie Dust :0)

  • musclemouse

    My kids know Mickey Mouse but they know nothing about what he is about. They love the wii so I think this will give them an idea about why and how Mickey is the huge iconic deal. They have been bugging me for this game since I mentioned it many MONTHS ago!

  • tonysmom6093

    Can’t wait to get my copy for the wii will have to wait until after Christmas the nunchuk shaped like a paint brush is awesome. I love Disney they are so creative. Keep up the good work

  • tahoemom

    I would love to get this game – it looks like so much fun!

  • sunshinegurl64

    love the philosophy of the game designer. emphasis on family and defining a hero. We (our family) is looking to having this game and I am sure we will have some great conversations as we play. Thanks DIS for another timely topic!

  • Cameo818

    I am sooo excited about this game, and it’s definitely on my Christmas list! :)

  • natenlogansdad

    I will admit, I rolled my eyes a little when I saw mickey inside the video game BUT, after this article I’m leaning more towards getting it for my boys. I didn’t realize how much Disney history went into the game itself (Steamboat Willie, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit,etc) and I think it would be great for the kids to see it while I tell them about the progress Disney has made throughout the years. Thanks for the article!

  • tjandjmkahrs

    I was just telling my husband I wanted this for my birthday, it’s in 8 days! If I win, he would be off the hook! ;)

  • kathymc

    wow – I didnt think I was interested in this at all. Now I am psyched I have the Wii!

  • mommyceratops

    What an epic blog! :) My son cant wait to play it. I would love to win him one. :)

  • FaithAndTrust

    This game is definitely on my Christmas list! =]

  • turkeymama

    I can’t wait to get this game.

  • agnesisme

    Sounds very cool (and the article *really* makes me want to get the game).

  • emnbensdad

    Really looking forward to this one. Haven’t been overly excited about most of the Wii games.

  • techdude

    Nice review… looking forward to the game.

  • WorldWacky

    Oh no! I was trying to convince myself that this would be too advanced for my new to gaming children, but now it looks like I’ll be adding this to Santa’s list! Loved hearing about Warren’s experience as the 3000th guest and the rediscovered pictures. Great job as usual Dave!

  • KSNebraskan

    Epic! It’s good to see Mickey with some of his old scrappy attitude.

  • momeeyore

    Is it bad that I am going out to buy a WII just because of this game? Thanks for the great interview. I am even more excited now.

  • BigPapaPaulie

    I was skeptical when I heard about this but I feel like I get it now.

    I really hope they made most of the graphical power of the Wii because on some games, if not done right, he visuals can really detract from the experience.

    Collector’s edition sounds really cool.

  • ShellyD.

    Looking forward to trying this game ever since I read an article about Warren Spector in my local paper. Very cool that the company that designed this is Austin-based!

  • Cruz Family

    We don’t even have a Wii, but this looks like reason enough to get one.

  • Deana S

    I enjoyed reading more about this game! It is on both of my kids’ Santa lists :)

  • Raenstoirm

    I am a adult and this is on my christmas list. Although I own Toy Story Mania I was not really impressed with it and I dont buy into the “story line games” such as the new Toy Story game. This looks like something Disney really should have done a long time ago!

  • DumbosMagicFeather

    I have been looking forward to this game ever since I saw the initial concepts come out. The backstory of Disney and the sheer amount of rejected ideas have always been the most interesting aspect of Disney history to me, and I have high expectations to learn even more than I already have found about the secrets of the Disney archives.

    (Plus, Oswald is in it?! As an extreme collector of Oswald gear, all I can say to that is YIPEE!)

  • firsttimer03

    I too am an adult and want this game! My 15 y/o could care less but I am totally pumped about this one! The graphics looks awesome and looks like a real adventure. Can’t wait to play it.

  • reeveha

    This sounds like a great game and it’s actually for the Wii, YEAH!!!. My wife thinks the Wii is just for exercise and had a cow when I play Super Mario. I’m ready to ink someone!!!!!


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