Warren Spector is one of the greats. He had a hand in the Wing Commander series, created cyberpunk role-playing shooters Deus Ex and System Shock, and lent his talents to Thief. That's quite the CV.
After 2004's Thief: Deadly Shadows, however, Spector went dark. Rumours circulated: What's Warren up to? Last year, we found out.
In 2007 Disney bought Spector's studio Junction Point and in 2009 officially announced Epic Mickey, a Wii-exclusive action-adventure game. Now, amid the chaos of Comic-Con in San Diego, Eurogamer grabs the ever-enthusiastic Spector on the phone to get the skinny on all things Mickey.
Eurogamer: Why are you famous, Warren?
Warren Spector: Well, I don't think of myself as particularly famous. I think of myself as a survivor. I've been making games for 27 years. If you do it that long it's either going to kill you or make you semi-famous, I don't know.
I've worked on 19 games. This is my twentieth. A lot of them have been pretty high-profile. I like to think they've been influential. I mean, Deus Ex and System Shock. I got the chance to work on Wing Commander, which was one of the first cinematic games, with Chris Roberts.
I've tried to work on stuff that got me excited and I guess got a lot of gamers excited, too.
Eurogamer: It says here that you made the greatest game of all time. Is that true?
Warren Spector: Some people have said that Deus Ex is the greatest game of all time. I do not think of it that way. I'm basically one of those guys who hates everything he ever does. So you always have to try to do better on the next one.
Eurogamer: Surely there must be some part of you that likes Deus Ex. It was pretty good.
Warren Spector: I love Deus Ex. But you have to focus on the stuff you can do better, that's all. If you rest on your laurels, where do you go? Maybe it was a great game for its time, but that doesn't mean we can't do more and better now.
Eurogamer: You're revealing a new Epic Mickey level at Comic-Con. Tell us about it.
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Warren Spector: We're revealing Lonesome Manor... It's one of our action zones, like Skull Island, which we showed at E3. It's a pretty large place. We're just going to show the exterior of it and how Mickey gets inside. There are a lot of cool things about it, for me. We were able to take elements of all the Haunted Mansions from all of the parks and jam them together.
Players will see elements from the Orlando Haunted Mansion and the Disneyland Paris Haunted Mansion and the Asian Haunted Mansions. We're trying to build everything on a foundation of real Disney stuff.
Eurogamer: What's the gameplay in the level?
Warren Spector: We're revealing one of our new sketches - I don't want to get into too much detail. I want players to see it and experience it for themselves. You're also going to get the first look at the Mad Doctor, which we haven't shown yet. He's one of the game's major villains. That's pretty exciting.
There are some new enemies we're going to be revealing here. There's definitely some combat. Remember, in this game you can turn enemies into friends, you can erase them, or you can avoid them entirely. How you interact with those - air quotes - combat situations is up to you.
The game is a combination of platforming, action adventure and role-playing, so there will be a little bit of all of that to do out there in Lonesome Manor, just like there is in the entire game.
Eurogamer: Did you have to do some luxurious research for this level?
Warren Spector: Absolutely terrible! You wouldn't believe the hardships we go through researching this game! Oh dear God! No. Almost everybody on the team has made a trip to the theme parks since we became part of Disney. All of those vacations are actually research trips. You can take it to the bank.
Eurogamer: Epic Mickey was, for some, the game of the show at E3 2010. How does that make you feel?
Warren Spector: It's phenomenal. Making games is gruellingly hard work. People think it's all fun and games. It's really painful a lot of the time. Really long hours and really high stress and lots of pressure - and then you throw in the fact that you're making a game that stars the most recognisable icon on the planet. The added pressure of working with a character that is as beloved and as well known - even if you don't love Mickey you know him and you have an opinion about him - it's like a pressure cooker.
You get so close to the work. We live with this thing for 10, 12 hours a day, six, seven days a week for years. That's literally what we're doing. When you're head down and grinding away at making fun, you don't know what you have. So, to take it out in public for the first time and get the kind of response we got, it was incredible.
When we were at the show, actually, early on - I brought about 15 people from Junction Point out to do the demos - and everybody was getting really excited. I was going, "Yeah this is really cool. This is reminding me a lot of Deus Ex." People really loved it and you could tell and it was so exciting.
By the end of the show, this had far outstripped Deus Ex. I've never been associated with anything that was as... I don't know. The buzz was so great.
The key thing - and I keep telling the team this - is, eyes on the prize. Keep your eye on the prize, because we have to make it the game of the year, damn it. You can't believe all the great stuff. You got to take it and enjoy it and revel in it, which, believe me, I am. And then go and do even better.
Eurogamer: Does the quality of Super Mario Galaxy 2 and the fact that it's a fellow Wii-exclusive platformer cause you any stress?
Warren Spector: No. Take this as gospel: I literally have never thought about what any other developer is doing, ever. Ever. I just don't care what they do. Let them be scared of me.
I don't mean to be arrogant, I just think you have to do what you want to do, and do the best you can. That's all there is to it. I just don't pay any attention. I play all those games, of course. And I'm sure subconsciously it all filters in and ends up getting expressed in some way in the game.
We're showing two new 2D levels right now, too, one based on a cartoon called Plutopia, another based on Oh, What a Night. Those are clearly paying homage to the classic 2D side-scrolling platformers. The Mario games are the best in breed.
There are times when you say, "Let's do something that reminds people of this," or, "Let's do something that honours these games we love." But the fact that Galaxy came out? No.
What I do is a little different, and what we're doing in Mickey is a little different. We're trying to take the best of games like Galaxy, and the best of games like Zelda, and even the best of games like Deus Ex, and put them all together. That makes us unique, and that's what it's all about: Doing stuff where you can be true to yourself and to what you think is important about games, and not trying to imitate other people. That's a losing game. You're never going to win that game.
Eurogamer: Do you get sick and tired of being asked what you think of the new Deus Ex?
Warren Spector: No, I never get sick of that, actually. It's funny that everybody is so interested in what I think about it. I think people want me to be really upset, like, "Oh! Someone else is going to make a game! It's my baby! Grrr!" I just don't feel that at all.
It's almost cooler that someone else is doing it because it means I was a part, and my team was a part, of creating something that has a life beyond us. It's bigger than us. That's incredible. I can't even describe how that feels. That feels better than making the game. It's like there's something out there that's bigger than you are.
Isn't that why people have kids? I don't have kids myself, but I can only imagine that that's what it's like. I look at what's happening with Deus Ex now with an incredible sense of pride and excitement about the opportunity to play a Deus Ex game where I don't know everything in advance.
Eurogamer: People are interested in what you think because it seems like an obvious thing.
Warren Spector: Yeah, oh sure. I know that. I haven't seen the game, so I can't claim any secret knowledge, but based on what I've seen - and I have talked to a lot of the guys on that team over the years - they certainly seem respectful of it and want to do right by it. I think it's in good hands. We'll all see when it comes out, but I'm pretty psyched.
Eurogamer: I know you like your films. What's your take on Roger Ebert, who said videogames will never be art?
Warren Spector: You're trying to get me in trouble, aren't you?
Eurogamer: As someone who's making a game with a distinctive art style, it would be great to know what you think about the games are art debate.
Warren Spector: That's another one where I almost don't care. If we haven't already won, we're inevitably going to win. Videogames are just coming out of the period where I describe them as the medium adults don't get. Roger Ebert is like the adult. He doesn't get it.
The fact is if we haven't already reached the point where this is true, we're very close to reaching the point where everyone plays games, in the same way that everyone goes to the movies and everyone watches television. We're really at that sort of point where everybody plays games.
As younger people grow up and as twenty-somethings have kids and they start gaming - it's not like the twenty-somethings are going to stop playing games when they get to 30, 40 and 50. We're becoming a mainstream medium where everybody plays.
Eventually, some other thing will come along that I don't get or you don't get and we'll all say, "Oh, those kids today, that stuff isn't art." The same thing happened with movies. Go back to the early days of movies. Go back to the early days of the novel, for crying out loud. That can't be art. Go back to the days when people gave Shakespeare a hard time.
Whatever medium adults don't understand can't be art. Eventually those adults go away and new adults take their place, and some other medium takes the place of the thing that everybody hates. We're coming out of that period now. What Roger Ebert thinks is completely irrelevant.
Eurogamer: You've said that you've got another two Epic Mickey games planned in your head. Have you had any luck signing them off, or do you have to wait to see how Epic Mickey does first?
Warren Spector: I don't know if it's how Epic Mickey does, but it's certainly how Epic Mickey finishes. We're working very hard. I want to get this one out of the way before we start thinking too much about what comes next. But I've got some ideas. If Disney say they want it I think I can take care of them.
Eurogamer: Would you prioritise Epic Mickey over Duck Tales, which I know you love?
Warren Spector: Why can't I do both?
Eurogamer: I don't know. Why can't you?
Warren Spector: You know, we'll see. I don't know. It all depends on what Disney wants to do and how this game does. We'll see what happens after that. First, let's get this one out.
Eurogamer: Why is the game called Epic Mickey? Why Epic?
Warren Spector: The most important thing about the game to me is making Mickey as big a hero in the videogame world as he is in every other medium he's tackled. To be a hero you have to be thrown into a situation that's bigger than you are, that's epic.
I want to throw Mickey at some big problems. And there are some big problems in the game. If you don't want to focus on the family story that's in this thing, you can just go and play and have a good time. But there is an epic story here. The world is big and the villains are villainous, and how you interact with stuff makes a difference. So it feels epic to me. I hope it does to players too.
Warren Spector is founder of Junction Point. Disney Epic Mickey is due out for the Wii this autumn.