"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."