Junction Point's Director of Product Development tells us all about the game's origins, ambition, and how he worked on Donkey Kong Country.
We had the fortune of interviewing Junction Point's Director of Product Development Paul Weaver about the upcoming game Disney Epic Mickey. Weaver got his start with Rare, just in time to work on Donkey Kong Country 2. Since then, he's been with Acclaim Studios, Ion Storm, and Visual Concepts. He joined Junction Point at the beginning of Epic Mickey's development.
Nestled at the end of the interview is a question directed towards Chase Jones, lead designer at Junction Point, who got his start on Nintendo's Digipen Institute of Technology. He worked with Weaver at Visual Concepts, and was brought on to Epic Mickey in late 2008.
Nintendo World Report (NWR): What are the origins of your early work on the game? How has your role changed over development?
Paul Weaver (PW): Warren contacted me in 2007 when I was wrapping up a project at Visual Concepts. I fell in love with the high level idea of the game and told him that if the project became a reality and Junction Point became part of Disney, I would become the first Disney hire on the team, which is exactly how it worked out! My role at the studio is as Warren's "right hand man." He comes up with the ideas, the vision and the direction at the high level and then it’s my responsibility to implement that vision.
NWR: Warren Spector has talked a lot about the choices you make in the game. How did that affect the development of the gameplay? Was it a challenge to make "Playstyle Matters" a reality?
PW: Developing a game around choice and consequence is incredibly difficult. Consider a well-crafted puzzle from any action-adventure game and you can appreciate the time that went into that puzzle and how the designers crafted a way for you use your abilities to get past it. In Disney Epic Mickey, you have to take a problem like that, but give the player at least one other way of getting past it... But that's not enough, as there has to be a consequence for making this choice as well, or else what's the point? It's challenging, but the net result is that you get a game that is much deeper and gives the player a lot more creative input to tell his own story as he plays through the game.
NWR: What was your favorite Disney world to work with? What was the hardest to work with?
PW: That's a tough question, as I really enjoy playing every world in the game... I think my favorite world in the game might be our Pirates level (A mash-up of Pirates of the Caribbean and Peter Pan). There's so much character in those levels, from the music to the treasure hunting, and of course, Captain Hook, one of my favorite Disney villains. One of the hardest levels to work on is one that nobody has seen yet. As you'll eventually find out, we had one technical challenge after another to implement all of the action in it, but I think when people do see it, they will be blown away...
NWR: What were the challenges of working with characters as iconic and influential as Mickey Mouse, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit and many others? Was the team given enough freedom to play with the characters or were there strict guidelines as to how these characters should be presented?
PW: The major challenge for both of these characters was nailing down their "character." It wasn't enough to just have great looking characters. And we've also talked at length about the quality of our animation in the game, but for these two guys, we had to give them their soul – a combination of story, animation, audio and design – we think we've pulled it off and have created deep cartoon characters that are going to elicit a wide range of emotions from people playing the game.
NWR: The paint and paint thinner concept plays a big role in how the player interacts with the game world. Was it difficult to create game worlds due to the idea of creation and destruction?
PW: This project had lots of technical design challenges, but paint and thinner may have been the biggest. There are many games that have destructible environments, but how many allow you to bring things back to life? In developing the game, we found that this brought on a lot of challenges, particularly with the camera. When designing a 3D game, you pay attention to the floorspace, the position of walls, the design of corridors, etc. In Disney Epic Mickey, the player has the ability to dynamically remove these elements (and bring them back!). This meant a lot of work for our camera team to create a system that could allow for this. It was a very difficult job, but I'm very proud of the team for doing a great job with this very challenging aspect of the game.
NWR: How does what players do alter the overall structure of the game? Can you give an example of how your actions can affect later sections of the game?
PW: One of the things about our games implementation of choice and consequence is that it's very subtle. There's a lot of minute to minute action going on based on your decision to use paint or paint thinner, as well as taking a platform/exploration route or engaging in combat with the bad guys. There's also another layer of choices with consequences which players may not even know are happening. We think that will really only surface perhaps when people post videos of their experiences on say, Youtube, where they show how they did something, but other people will be able to post completely different videos of their experiences - all driven by clear choices made earlier in the game.
An example of this would be our Ventureland level. Smee gives you a quest to take out the machine that is converting his cartoon pirate friends into Animatronic robot pirates. Depending on your choices in that level, when you eventually return to Ventureland it will have changed in terms of its characters and its quests...
NWR: What was it like working for Rare? How do you feel about the new GoldenEye and Donkey Kong Country games? Do you wish you could work on those franchises again?
PW: I was extremely fortunate to get the opportunity to work for Rare during the 90s as it was a golden era for the company during that time-- working closely with Nintendo learning closely from them how they design games and going on to produce hit title after hit title during that period. It was an experience I'll never forget and it was an invaluable foundation for my career up to and including Disney Epic Mickey. The return of Donkey Kong is actually very cool and I'm excited to see how it does, especially as the franchise was the first game I ever worked on and it's going to be going up against my latest project.
NWR: Chase, you started out at Digipen. As far as I can tell, you've never worked on a Nintendo system before (right?). How does it feel to be working on a Nintendo system after starting out so close to Nintendo of America? How have interactions been with Nintendo, and what were the origins of having a big presence during this year's Nintendo E3 press conference?
Chase Jones (CJ): I have never worked with any Nintendo system before Disney Epic Mickey and I was so excited to finally be able to do it. It has been something I always wanted to work with and it has been fantastic. Nintendo was great to work with through this project. They are very open with feedback and very professional in everything they do.