GUY RAZ, host:
To another tech story now. This week, a sassier version of Mickey Mouse will become the latest videogame action hero.
(Soundbite of videogame "Epic Mickey")
RAZ: Disney's "Epic Mickey" comes out tomorrow for the Nintendo Wii. It's been years in the making and it's Disney's attempt to reintroduce Mickey Mouse to the video-gaming generation. The man behind it is Warren Spector. He's legendary in the world of video games. And the other day, he stopped by to let me try it out.
All right, so, I'm trying to get - all I'm trying to do is get Mickey to jump over this crevice, right? 'Cause Mickey is trying to escape.
Mr. WARREN SPECTOR (Creative Director, "Epic Mickey"): Yeah.
RAZ: And I can't get him through this crevice. All right, here we go. Come on, Mickey.
Mr. SPECTOR: Press it when you get to the edge and then hold it. And you are -oh.
RAZ: Oh, I fell. All right. Okay, I'm going to try it again. Come on, Mickey.
Mickey Mouse has never really been a videogame star. But Disney hopes to change that with "Epic Mickey." For one thing, the game has resurrected a long forgotten character named Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. He was designed by Walt Disney in 1927. Disney lost the rights to Oswald and only regained them in 2006. And the premise of the game? Well, it's a slightly darker Disney than you might expect.
Mr. SPECTOR: Disney "Epic Mickey" is set in a world called Wasteland, which is a repository for all of Disney's forgotten and rejected creative efforts - the characters, theme park attractions, moth eaten character costumes from the parks. Everything that's been rejected by audiences or unused by animators in films ends up in Wasteland. And Mickey is dragged here and has to escape.
You are running...
RAZ: He is armed. He is armed with some serious weapons of mass destruction - a paintbrush and paint thinner, right?
Mr. SPECTOR: Well, I choose not to think of that as a weapon so much as a tool for creativity. I mean, what we're trying to do is honor Disney's creative path and the creative process. So he can draw things and erase things using that brush. He can paint and use paint thinner to remove them.
RAZ: This is the Coca-Cola of cartoon characters, Mickey Mouse, right? This is a guy that Disney has been so overprotective of for most of the past century. I guess you had to sort of take, you know, take the responsibility of turning this beloved icon into a kind of a, you know, butt-kicking dude. I mean, that was a big responsibility.
Mr. SPECTOR: It was. And responsibility is the perfect word, actually. A lot of people say, weren't you scared? Or, don't you feel pressured? And I've never felt any of that. Maybe I'm just not smart enough to be scared about this. But I certainly feel a sense of responsibility because this is not a character that I created. It's not a character that belongs to me. This is a character that literally everyone I've ever met, everyone you've ever met, has a relationship with. And so you don't want to be the guy who gets that wrong.
RAZ: This is a Mickey that is cantankerous. You've called him naughty, at times. This is not like the sweet Mickey that, you know, kisses kids at Disneyworld.
Mr. SPECTOR: Well, the thing that makes this game unique, though, and one of the things that games can do that other media can't, is they can let you decide who Mickey is. One of the big questions we're asking in this game is: What do you think defines a hero? So, in fact, if you're a guy who goes around and solves everyone's problems and uses paint to restore this world, you can actually be kind of a sweet, friendly guy.
Mr. SPECTOR: But if you want to say, I've got a world to save, I just want to do the most efficient thing possible, you can be...
RAZ: His personality will change based on your choices, right?
Mr. SPECTOR: His personality is your personality.
RAZ: Oh, okay.
Mr. SPECTOR: At the end of the game, every player is going to create a unique experience, tell their story and define for themselves what makes Mickey a hero.
RAZ: Of course he has to confront all these forgotten and rejected people, some of whom, you know, are kind of resentful of the fact that Mickey gets all the attention. You've sort of turned Oswald the Lucky Rabbit into his foil. Tell me about Oswald. Who is he?
Mr. SPECTOR: Oswald is a fascinating character. Oswald was Walt Disney's first cartoon star. He had made cartoons before Oswald. But with Oswald he had his first big hit. For about 18 months, Oswald was one of the most popular and successful cartoon stars in the world. But then, 1928, Walt lost the rights to Oswald in a contract dispute with his distributor. And that is, in the real world, the only reason why Mickey exists today. If Oswald hadn't been lost to Walt, Mickey probably never would've been created.
RAZ: We'd be talking about Oswald the Lucky Rabbit.
Mr. SPECTOR: Exactly. Oswald could've starred in "Steamboat Willie," you know.
Mr. SPECTOR: And he's a great character. So, when Disney said, hey, do you want to do a Mickey game and, oh, by the way, you get to bring Oswald the Lucky Rabbit back, I was in. I mean, who wouldn't want to do that?
RAZ: So, this is the first time Oswald has been reanimated since the '20s?
Mr. SPECTOR: Oswald hasn't been on the screen in a Disney story since 1928, ever.
Mr. SPECTOR: And I mean, I literally get chills. As an animation fan, the fact that my team and I got to reintroduce him to the world, and the fact that it happened in a videogame, think what that says about videogames, too...
RAZ: Yeah. Oh, yeah.
Mr. SPECTOR: And their place in culture. We're a force to be reckoned with now. And Disney is foresighted enough, I think, to have recognized that.
RAZ: Is this going to change the way people think about Mickey Mouse?
Mr. SPECTOR: You know, I hope it changes the way people think about Mickey Mouse as a videogame character. He's never actually achieved the same level of success in videogames as he has in every other medium he's tackled. And I just think that's an injustice. I want to write it, you know, my team wanted to write it. So that's where this game is coming from.
(Soundbite of music)
RAZ: That's Warren Spector. He's a veteran game designer, and the creative director of the new videogame "Epic Mickey." Warren Spector, thank you so much.
Mr. SPECTOR: My pleasure. It's great being here.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.