Warren Spector, who knows more about Mickey Mouse's ears and video game creation than I do, thinks Epic Mickey has a shot.
"My goal is always to make the best game ever made," he told me last week in Los Angeles. He was sitting backstage at Disney's massive E3 booth, proud of the Mickey Mouse game his team is making, a little embarrassed that when I walked in there on a table was a magazine turned open to a big photo of himself and an article that surely argued that Warren Spector is again capable of greatness.
Spector's resume highlight is Deus Ex, the year-2000 thinking-man's first-person shooter. For many people that was a Game of Multiple Years, an all-timer.
Epic Mickey is Spector's shot at taking arguably the most popular fictional character in the world and putting him in an interactive adventure that should have unexpected and subtle depth.
On the surface the game is the tale of a Mickey who has been pulled into a world of forgotten Disney characters, his heart stolen. He has a magical paintbrush which can add life and structure to the world or remove it with a splash of thinner.
"Do you leave a place worse than you left it?" Spector asked, explaining the kind of thing the game will be invisibly tracking. He hopes the average Epic Mickey player will simply delight in exploring Mickey's weird new world. But access to characters and quests will be affected by how you play. "Complexity" isn't what Spector wants you to see ("my goal is that the player never stops to think about it"), but he wants you to feel that your "play style matters." So be careful dropping a dollop of pain on ever Disney character you encounter.
And if you don't care about invisibly deep gameplay systems, maybe you will enjoy the game's occasional side-scrolling jaunts through worlds that resemble classic Mickey cartoons. We have been shown one example, the black and white world of original Mickey Mouse cartoon Steamboat Willie. Spector promises more, a tour through Mickey Mouse's greatest hits.
Spector believes he has the perfect character for his game. It is hard to argue with Mickey Mouse's popularity, of course. His personality seems ideal for a game hero as well. Spector describes the Mouse as "smart", "loyal to his friends", "mischievous" and "enthusiastic to the point he gets himself in trouble". That's the perfect description of a gamer too, come to think of it.
Spector's ebullient about this game. He dares to say that the version of MIckey created for players to control is the "best Mickey Mouse ever", a mix of old-school pipe-cleaner-thin arms mixed with a more modern spirit. He's the result of some 1000-2000 iterations, Spector said. And this final one, even has a classic Mickey Mouse idiosyncrasy: his two ears are always visible and pretty much facing the viewer (Spector elaborates that while Mickey may be 3D, his ears have always been 2D, a rule broken in only three Mickey Mouse cartoons which he challenges fans to identify).
How great can Mickey be? Well, he hasn't had a great game in a long time. Game of the Year? I think Mickey fans would be happy even with fifth-best-game-of-the-year. Happily, Warren Spector has aimed high.
For more from Spector beyond what he and I discussed, here is his chat with Nintendo president Satoru Iwata: