Not my Mickey

Welcome to the Tragic Kingdom

Epic Mickey has lived a tumultuous life. The game’s initial debut trumpeted a chorus of expectations: a beautiful wrap-around cover in GameInformer presented a dark and foreboding landscape not seen in a Disney property since Chernabog graced the silver screen; the hero was assumed to be a long forgotten predecessor to Walt’s eponymous mouse, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, whose birthright was usurped thanks to the machinations of business interests; Mickey himself was thought to be a tyrant king, and we as players would fight to liberate ourselves from his oppressive, ubiquitous visage. It was a twisted romp through the fevered subconscious of Disneyana.

Quickly, though, we found that the prevalent expectations about gameplay and plot were founded on shaky grounds. Mickey’s mischievous meddling, not his ruthless control, would be the impetus for the world’s fall. The Phantom Blot would be the primary antagonist, with Oswald as a secondary henchman out to reclaim his former glory. The perverse patchwork enemies (known in-game as the “beetleworx”) were animatronic replications of Mickey’s friends instead of surgically altered minions. And Mickey himself was our fearless hero (or, perhaps, our self-serving villain).

Certis, Demiurge and I were lucky enough to get some playtime with a build of the game at E3. The game’s handlers, festooned with Disney pins and memorabilia, were notoriously tight-lipped about Mickey’s morality system. When asked why negative actions (i.e. relying on paint thinner to destroy) would be beneficial to the player, they couched it in the idea that destroying the world would make goals easier to achieve. What would the effect on Mickey be? They couldn’t quite say – though we already knew, from media exposé’s, that Mickey could be transformed from a shining beacon of heroism to a snarling, wicked scoundrel based on his use of the paint/thinner mechanic. We were told, however, that little colored sprites following Mickey would clue players in to how their actions were changing them.

It was clear the PR folks had a love of subject. They noted tons of classic Disney references in characters and settings as we progressed through the demo. It made me wonder if their veiled, protective replies were handed down from Junction Point's higher-ups ... and just how much of this was dictated by the House of Mouse.

This doubt was further prodded by the unexpected news that was making the rounds this morning. If the talk coming out of the blogs today is to be believed, the game no longer allows for the option to change Mickey into a nasty rascal.

It’s an interesting design choice, especially since the main reason cited for the decision seems to be that playtesters were against “changing” Mickey. (I'm not sure exactly how a gruff biker weaseled his way into that playtesting gig or, even if that's a demographic that's being courted by the game). Ironically, the idea that we would be exposed to a radically new Mickey Mouse was one of the primary reasons that folks were attracted to the idea back when the GameInformer teaser was featured. There’s a strong resistance to the morphing of popular characters into darker, grimier creatures. This probably speaks more to the public’s hesitance to alter iconic images. For gamers (at least for those old enough to remember), this is often classified under the “American McGee” effect.

But McGee's Alice (the game that prompted the Penny Arcade guys to lampoon the bloodening of characters and later earned them a cease & desist letter) made sense to me. The dark world that was presented in-game was a reflection of Alice’s own troubled psyche. Her world was colored by her bleak perceptions. Similarly, the state of Epic Mickey’s protagonist is directly influenced by his actions. For someone with a love of the character, twisting Mickey into a hideous wretch should be disincentive enough to keep them from drowning the world in a sea of paint thinner. Righteous actions, those that turn Mickey into a paragon of capital-G-Good, should be the primary motivator for Mickeyphiles. Without the ability to fall, there’s little reason to think about the world one toys with.

If we are to believe the reasons voiced for the alteration of the game, the reactions against the changing Mickey mechanic seem to be rooted in the character itself. Initial cries of joy over the game's dark terrain seemed to source from the way that Disney was being subverted. Mickey was an afterthought. Removing negative visual cues from the game promotes detachment from the environment and creates a game of choice with little moral consequence. It leaves us with no way to really consider how our actions shape this world and how they go on to shape us.At that point, players will just be going through the motions. It’s not much of an epic Mickey story if floating colored blobs drive the ethical makeup of our hero.

It makes me wonder if I would be as willing to compromise similar experiences with established game heroes if the changes were too radical.

Comments

article wrote:

"People don't like it when you mess with Mickey," said Spector. "We did a focus test that was really eye-opening for me. There was a biker dude saying, 'Oh, I'd never play a Mickey Mouse game,' and then we showed him images of a changed Mickey. I was sitting there thinking, 'You're gonna love what we do,' but he said, 'No! Don't mess with my childhood.'"

Warren Spector now designing by focus testing.

Hmm I think George Carlin had something to say about Mickey Mouse. It wasn't pleasant. And I agree with the late George Carlin.

Morphing a character into a darker grimmer version was once a cool new idea, now is just the lowest common denominator, and responsible for ruining characters, like for example the prince of persia with the warrior within.
If the toned down "evil" Mickey was mandated by upper management that's an unfortunate meddling with the creation process, but i prefer to believe that it was a decision the creators made after watching people play. And playtesters aren't idiots.

I'll second pyjamarama on the playtesting. I've been involved in those and it can be heartbreaking when people just don't get what seems so evident to you, or when they don't respond to things the way you think they should. But if you don't answer to their concerns then your product does suffer.

As far as "evil Mickey", I don't know. I've said it a thousand times. You can change trappings, but if you change the fundamental nature of the character you're headed for heartbreak.

They flirted with this in Kingdom Hearts, and it went pretty well. But I think that was for two reasons: A) They didn't do it; Square did and B) they didn't go for grim. Mickey and the rest of the classic characters went towards the badass end of the spectrum. One of my favorite battles in those games is in KHII, and involves Sora and Mickey tag-teaming one of the Organization 13 guys in the ruined courtyard of the Beasts' castle. Heck, they even made Queen Minnie kick a little butt there in that throne room, and I, for one, would have loved to have had her at my back for the rest of the game instead of some of the more useless people we picked up in other worlds.

That doesn't sound like the situation here. I tried to set up a similar case in my head and it just didn't compute. Maybe what would happen if somehow due to his or Sora's actions, King Mickey was taken by the Heartless a la Maleficent? That might be an interesting question to ask. How would the player react to having effectively tainted/lost Mickey Mouse? What would it do to Donald and Goofy? Or even if it wasn't their fault, having to go kill him later because of it?

Square could do that (if they haven't disappeared into their own navel again in RE: KHIII), but I'm not sure the main Mouse House could without seriously pissing off their core constituency.

But you never know. I'm still shocked breathless by some of the stuff I saw in Toy Story 3. Way to traumatize any kid who ever lost a toy, or had a broken toy thrown away.

I never believed for a second that Disney would allow Mickey to become villainous. They go out of their way to protect the integrity of their tween properties, what makes you think they'll let Warren Spector turn their corporate mascot into a super-villain like SHODAN or a morally ambiguous protagonist like just about every RPG character of late?

pyjamarama wrote:

Morphing a character into a darker grimmer version was once a cool new idea, now is just the lowest common denominator, and responsible for ruining characters, like for example the prince of persia with the warrior within.

It's not as if they made Donald Duck into a heroin addict or stroke victim. It's that kind of thoughtless change that I think raised the hackles of a lot of people over the last 20 years (if you consider the Watchmen/Dark Knight Returns era of comics leading into the Dark-Culture 80s-90s). But I think there's a fundamental difference in execution that often gets overlooked, and it's part of the reason why I mentioned McGee.

In Alice, your character has survived the accidental death of her family. Her home's burned down, along with all her childhood treasures, and she's left to fend for herself in an asylum. If you can accept this premise, I think the rest of the game becomes easier to swallow -- Wonderland becomes twisted because she is suffering. It's not Braid, but I appreciate at least the passing concern with plot there.

Here's another example: the Joker in The Dark Knight. He's got a hideously scarred face, which could be construed as trying to edge into radical extreme darkness territory. But, the way he crafts his multiple-choice origins ties into the reason for the look. I think, in the end, it works very well for the character, because it's not just a facade. It's truly a part of the persona.

I don't think the mechanic, as it was presented to us these last few months, was anything approaching gratuitous or superficial. It's not like Mickey was walking around with blood dripping from serrated fangs (far as we know, his posture was more hunched and his tail was noticeably longer). I think it was a very immediate way of knowing that you were ultimately damaging the world you were exploring. It didn't let you off the hook for melting your foes -- which, as animated in the game demo, actually seems pretty unpleasant.

I prefer to believe that it was a decision the creators made after watching people play. And playtesters aren't idiots.

I didn't mean to imply that playtesters didn't know what they were talking about. I know Portal was altered for the better because of the QA process and I remember at least one producer at E3 saying "A lot of people, the first thing they do is jump off of there and drown. We're thinking we have to tweak this level a bit before it goes out."

On the other hand "Don't mess with my childhood" seems like a poor reason to drop a feature. Seems like the guy (if, indeed, this is a real story) didn't comprehend why the change was taking place.

My great-great-uncle, Ub Iwerks, originally created Mickey Mouse. Based on that, I believe Mickey should be able to go rascal. I'll call Disney.

He cannot, however, go commando.

As an animator, I just wanted to post here so I can have some sort of fake internet proximity to someone related to Ub Iwerks.

Spaz wrote:

But I think there's a fundamental difference in execution that often gets overlooked, and it's part of the reason why I mentioned McGee.

Completely agree with the Alice reference and yes execution is key now more than ever, the idea itself was overused, but still could be used in good a way provided they do it right.
I guess we will have to wait and see how it turns out, and if while playing the game this missing feature will be something we think about. If the game is good my guess is no one will remember it.

I think they re right to not turn Mickey into an evil character. There is a fine line between badass and bad. I expected a darker game in which Mickey was kind of a badass when he needs to be.

He should be more like John McClane than Vic Mackey if they are going to go this route. I Mickey needs to remain a hero and shouldn't even come close to venturing into anti-hero.

The closest I would have found acceptable is a twist in which the game has you fighting the antagonist, only to discover that the enemy actually had a point, and Mickey learns a lesson.

All of the conversation around this game is somewhat mystifying to me, mainly because Mickey Mouse is completely not a part of my cultural background. To the extent that the character exists for me it's as historical black and white cartoons that I've caught glimpses of or in marketing. If someone told me that Mickey Mouse was an evil guy I wouldn't have any idea if that was a change to his character or not.

I'm with MaxShrek and George Carlin.

Switchbreak wrote:

I'm with MaxShrek and George Carlin.

Carlin wasn't really talking about Mickey Mouse. It was about pointless news. He was upset that the evening news wasted time telling him it was Mickey's birthday when there is actual news to be discussed.

He would have said the same thing about Nosferatu.

I had a nice dose of Mickey back in the 70's when Disney had a Sunday night program, and I had a ViewMaster and a device that I could use to view cartoons that used a crank to move the film along. Between those and the old Disney comics, he became a nice and innocent part of my childhood.

"The Sorcerer's Apprentice" from Fantasia has to be one of my all-time favorites. I think it makes use of the kind of imagery I hope is part of a "dark" Mickey game.

It does surprise me quite a bit that Disney would pull back from a more "grown up" product.

UP was by no means kiddy. Hell, the first 15 minutes of that movie was ANYTHING but kiddy. They should've stuck with the old concept of Epic Mickey. Maybe with a little adjustment, but not having the entire thing gut out. If they want, it can even be more subtle (a la Braid) in portrayal of "evil". It would be tasteful, and it would definitely become an instant classic.

The only way I'd really be interested in this game would be the subversion of the Disney "spirit." It looked like that's what it was going to be. Now, we get cutsey pictures of Mickey Mouse playing a Steamboat Mickey level and no amount of "moral choices" about whether to paint people or erase them makes it anything more than that.

There is nothing "epic" about this, other than that it looks too complex for a five year old. My nostalgia for Mickey does not overwhelm my distaste for Disney (as a company, I have no problems with Walt).

Honestly, I want this game to come out right now. The sooner the better. This is for the same reason I wanted Too Human to come out: so a talented designer could get back to making games I might like.

MilkmanDanimal wrote:

My great-great-uncle, Ub Iwerks, originally created Mickey Mouse. Based on that, I believe Mickey should be able to go rascal. I'll call Disney.

He cannot, however, go commando.

Wow. That... is a great name.

Like my cousin Ub Isoft?

R.I.P. Epic Mickey. It's obvious from the E3 footage that this has devolved into just another mediocre Disney game. Where Mickey happens to shoot green and blue spooge all over the world like a ridiculous fire hose.

Side note: I loved McGee's Alice. And I also thought PA's Strawberry Shortcake would make a great hentei, lol.

Kojiro wrote:

And I also thought PA's Strawberry Shortcake would make a great hentei, lol.

If this proves true, the removal of choice and consequence in the game, I will not buy the game. I was looking forward to toying with Mickey's morality; I wanted to see how far I could take it. Now, they might be taking that privilege away from the player.

So much for the hope I once had for this game. I hope they don't remove the "rascal" path from it and all it would originally entail.

The dramatics in this thread are pretty amusing. I can agree that the game soes seem different that what was first discussed. Of curse, many, many people at the time said they doubted Disney was fully on board.

But I also think there is a good chance that the consequence mechanics were going to be really silly and dumb anyway, and that was why it was removed.

But if the game is a fun platformer, with some elements familiar to Mario and the most under-appreciated Wii game, De Blob, why can't it be a fun game? Warren Spector does have some understanding of making a good game, and how to tell a story within that game. Is it really a tragedy that we won't get Evil Mickey (which is what is seems like many of you interpreted Epic Mickey to mean).

It feels like people won't accept the game even if it is a lot of fun, because they can only play a Mickey game if he is twisted. But if it is loaded down with interesting levels and fun game mechanics, isn't that enough?

Jayhawker wrote:

The dramatics in this thread are pretty amusing. I can agree that the game soes seem different that what was first discussed. Of curse, many, many people at the time said they doubted Disney was fully on board.

But I also think there is a good chance that the consequence mechanics were going to be really silly and dumb anyway, and that was why it was removed.

But if the game is a fun platformer, with some elements familiar to Mario and the most under-appreciated Wii game, De Blob, why can't it be a fun game? Warren Spector does have some understanding of making a good game, and how to tell a story within that game. Is it really a tragedy that we won't get Evil Mickey (which is what is seems like many of you interpreted Epic Mickey to mean).

It feels like people won't accept the game even if it is a lot of fun, because they can only play a Mickey game if he is twisted. But if it is loaded down with interesting levels and fun game mechanics, isn't that enough?

To me it was never about playing evil mickey... just how much gravitas can a cartoon convey? I relished the thought of some light, cartoon morality spectrum choices. The fact that they remove that particular mechanic in favor of dumbing it down and making it more easily palatable for the average Disney fan - nevermind that this was evidently something optional rather than mandatory - makes it far less interesting. In effect, it begins to look more like the other also-ran platformers out there.

Don't know about other people but I really did look forward to romping through a Disney themed dystopia in which my actions might have radically different and persistent consequences.

Still, a long time before it comes out. They may still keep something like that in the game, after all.

Interesting to look back on this one now, post-release.