Putting Player Choices to the Test in Epic Mickey 2

How a joke led to Warren Spector learning something new about his own game.

"In the first game, we did what I call Choice and Consequence Lite," says Warren Spector as he demos Epic Mickey 2's newly announced Fort Wasteland level. "We didn't want to scare 'normal' people, so we lightened up a little bit. This time we're not doing that."

Fort Wasteland is an oddly appropriate place to demonstrate what Warren Spector promises to be a more lasting style of player choice. This part of the game is a dark and gloomy take on Frontierland, the Old West-inspired chunk of Disneyland where saloons, steamboats, and simulated wilderness dominate the landscape.

If during your platforming adventures you see a high point you want to reach and no way to get there, you can cut down a tree and use it as a ramp to easily walk up to that previously inaccessible point. The only problem? That tree is down for good. Make a habit of this and you're effectively clear-cutting the American West. You've become your own Disney villain, and no amount of leaving that level and coming back to it will change things.

"We didn't do that in the first game," says Spector. "We didn't ever say, 'You can't undo this.' We let you get all the thinner rewards, and then you could go back and get all the paint rewards in the same place."

This gets me wondering: How do you stress-test a system like this? How do you ensure these permanent choices don't eventually break the game?

"Brutal testing!" Spector responds. "What you do is test the extreme cases. In Deus Ex, I made people play through without ever using a weapon. I made them play through and kill absolutely everything that moved. Or get through the game without ever using a skill, or an augmentation. If you do that, you can be pretty certain that anything in the middle is gonna work."

"Publishers hate that," jokes Spector. "It's really scary, but people are going to figure out how to do things that are impossible. In Deus Ex, we had so many people figuring out how to get outside of the gameworld that we had to put crates and ladders outside the maps so they could get back in."

Back on the subject of Epic Mickey 2, Spector remarks, "You can literally get through the game without ever using paint. Or, without ever using thinner."

Half-jokingly, I immediately respond with, "How about both? Can you get through without using paint or thinner?"

"I don't think you can," Spector responds. But he sounds uncertain. It's a crazy idea, when you think about it. Paint and thinner are the yin and yang of Epic Mickey, your two most central tools for reshaping the Wasteland as you see fit. Sure, you can get through the game without using one. But both?

This is exactly when Irvin Chavira chimes in. As a QA tester on Epic Mickey 2, Chavira has to break the game so that it can be fixed. If there's anyone who knows the boundaries of practicality in Epic Mickey 2, it's him.

"You can," Chavira counters, matter-of-factly.

"Are you serious?!" Spector exclaims from across the table, practically spitting out the sandwich he's been working on in between discussions about the game.

"It won't be 100 percent, because if you want to get 100 percent you have to make certain decisions [involving paint and thinner]. But I think you can get through the core path without using either paint or thinner," says Chavira.

"That's the beauty of this stuff!" remarks Specter, beaming from ear to ear. "When games are open-ended enough that the people who work on them don't know if something's possible, that's pretty magical."

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Discussion

17 comments
BIOJECT
BIOJECT

Um it's as if everyone forgot about Epic Mickey 1. The game sucked. Why should we care about this?

gonch818
gonch818

it will be a blast for children. mickey is always captured the heart of america.

macca366
macca366

I just get the feeling it isn't as grand as he thinks it is...

g1rldraco7
g1rldraco7

This will cheer up those who bought the first game, good thing I'm not one of them :P

theKSMM
theKSMM

Creating games with emergent behavior is difficult and probably one of the most exciting things in the gaming industry in my opinion.  We've all played games with stupid NPCs that don't even respond when you snipe the guy standing next to them.  But the opposite end of that spectrum is the NPC who responds not only to that event but to hearing you kick over a bottle or seeing you cast a shadow on the ground...world with destructible environments that can see chain reactions and where players can suffer collateral damage when they're caught in its path...basically the excitement of not knowing exactly which path to take but then realizing that there are multiple paths that will achieve the objective.  It's the proverbial "more than one way to skin a cat" brought to gaming.

hickabickabooya
hickabickabooya

Really, how awesome would that job be? Here is a game, f* it up. That would be too much fun. Unfortunately, I wouldn't do well at it, but it would still be fun to have.

soulless4now
soulless4now

I have the urge to go to Disneyland now. 

BlueLightning21
BlueLightning21

Id like to see in a game where you can and if you do kill a character you cant beat the game...or it has major changes if you do...like you kill a technician hacker...he than cant help in the final fight or whatever to hack the drones and destroy them so all you than have to face is like 100 humans. Something like that...i would spend $60 on...because depending on characters there is near unlimited ways missions end up!

glez13
glez13

 @Acid_Kenobi LOL

Let's hope not another acclaimed dev falls into that category.

theKSMM
theKSMM

 @hickabickabooya Don't get confused, it's real work.  Any defects you find need to be reproduced and documented in such an exacting way that they can be reproduced at will.  At certain times in the development cycle, you can find yourself spending more time writing bug reports than actually playing the game.

 

But you're right, it really is an awesome job to have. :-)

sknight175216
sknight175216

 @BlueLightning21 I know for a fact that in Bethesda games, Fallout 3 for example, you can turn off essential characters not taking damage in the ini. Then you can literally kill anybody or they can die in fights and basically prevent you from doing quest related to them. So there's that.

JimmeyBurrows
JimmeyBurrows

 @BlueLightning21 I'd love games to get more challenging like that... Tech is getting better and better, but we're being spammed with so many games that try their best not to let you lose, gets really annoying, Mass effect 2 had so many decisions but all of them seemed to be the correct decision, it was actually more difficult to fail than to succeed.

HiroArka
HiroArka

 @BlueLightning21 Nice idea, but handicapping a player to that extent for their decisions wouldn't be a good idea. That is the equivalent of those birds on Ninja Gaiden 1 (NES) that kept respawning on the edge of the level when all you got are little nubs sticking out of a wall ( horrible memories of stages like that in Ninja Gaiden ). 

hickabickabooya
hickabickabooya

 @theKSMM

 As a lab tech who spent years breaking stuff and documenting it, I am well aware of the ups and downs of the job. I just wish that my job had involved video games and not medical equipment. Though, on the upside, I do have a long list of manufacturer names to look for (and avoid) if I'm ever in the hospital.

BlueLightning21
BlueLightning21

 @HiroArka For me personally...I think thats a good handicap. But it shouldnt be the standard game setting, it should be under Hard, Insanity, F****** Hard. Like that and have the description of how it is of course. I think it would be fun and im glad you related to a retro game...where they were more difficult/challenging compared to nowadays games anyways.