'Epic Mickey' Interview with Junction Point's Sean Barton

Epic Mickey Wasteland

Disney's Epic Mickey is fast approaching and it's brought along a decent amount of hype with it. So naturally hype brings a lot of questions with it. There is already a fair bit of info about Epic Mickey floating out there on the Internet and GR has even gotten some hands-on time with the game, so when we were able to get an interview with Junction Point's very own Sean Barton we had to ask some questions that haven't popped up anywhere else. What kind of questions? Well, check out our interview with Junction Point's Sean Barton to find out.

Q: What role did you have in Disney's Epic Mickey?

Sean Barton: I'm one of the computer programmers at Junction Point. Most of my work was specific to graphics and lighting, but I also helped out on content creation tools, Maya plugins, particle systems, and our Scaleform-based user interface.

Q: How did you land a gig with Disney?

SB: It's funny that I ended up here, actually. I went to school at the University of Toronto for a math degree and several of my friends were animation students at the nearby Sheridan College. I was pretty jealous that they'd end up working at cool places like Disney, Pixar, or LucasArts, while I was leaning towards a career with Statistics Canada at the time.

I eventually set my sights on game programming and moved to Austin, Texas for my first gig with Digital Anvil. From there it was just pure luck that The Walt Disney Company opened a gaming studio here and that I was a good match for one of their job offerings.

Q: What other games have you worked on prior to the epic Disney Epic Mickey?

SB: The first game I worked on was Conquest: Frontier Wars, a little-known RTS game with Chris Roberts of Wing Commander fame. Then I worked on an Xbox-exclusive game, Brute Force. For a time after that, I fancied MMOs and went to work on the ill-fated Tabula Rasa with Richard Garriott (who's most popular for the Ultima series).

And now I'm working with Warren Spector on what looks poised to be, by far, the most successful game of my game development career.

Q: What made you want to make videogames a career?

SB: When I was seven I would work the Daytona Flea Market with my parents selling t-shirts with iron-on transfers. One weekend I noticed a kiosk at the market that had cocktail-table versions of Space Invaders. It was the very first time in my life I ever saw a video game and was spellbound. I think I was destined to a career in videogames ever since.

Q: Can you tell us a little bit about Disney Epic Mickey? (What's the story? Why the art style?)

SB: The main gist of it is that Mickey Mouse has been brought into a "strange-but-familiar" world, a bit of a dark and twisted take on a Disneyland theme park that has been named Wasteland.

And a unique twist to Wasteland is that the mascot is not Mickey, but instead his brother (so to speak) Oswald the Lucky Rabbit - and he's pretty jealous that Mickey got to live the life of a world famous icon that he feels was originally planned for him, up until Walt Disney lost the rights to Oswald to Universal Studios some 80 years ago So Mickey has to find his way not only through Wasteland, but also deal with some sibling rivalry.

As far as art style goes, the game incorporates several different art styles, which came from renowned Disney artists such as Mary Blair.

Q: Mickey Mouse is very much a children's property, but the artistic style of Disney Epic Mickey makes it more appealing to an older demographic, so I have to ask: What is your target audience for Disney Epic Mickey?

SB: Mickey Mouse is actually an entertainment icon that is loved by numerous generations.  In terms of the game, I think of it the same way that Pixar has approached their movies. This is a game that is, hopefully, appealing to a very broad audience. Personally, I'm looking forward to playing it with my two young daughters, and based on their reactions to what they've seen so far, I think it's safe to say we're all going to enjoy this experience.

Q: How much research was required to fill Disney Epic Mickey with the plethora of nostalgia that it currently has today?

Tons of research. Warren is a huge Disney fan and pushed the team to properly research everything in the game.

A good example of this is the barrels we have in our game that you interact with to get more paint, thinner, health, etc.. Originally, these were just generic barrels that any artist could knock out in short order, but Warren had the art team go through classic shorts and movies until they found a wooden barrel in some real Disney canon, and that became the barrel you see in the game. That kind of attention to research was applied across the board. Thankfully, we all love the source material!

Q: How did the team go about gathering the research for Disney Epic Mickey? Did they get paid to watch old-school cartoons? (Because that would be awesome!)

SB: That’s one of the things I love most about my job.  Sometimes we get paid to do a lot of fun things - and it is awesome. I wouldn't choose any other career.

Q: When deciding which system to take Disney Epic Mickey what drew you and your team to the Wii?

SB: When I had joined the team that decision had already been made, but I think it was a natural choice given our mechanic of pointing at the screen to either paint or thin sections of Wasteland. Also, since the Wii has such a broad user base, we knew that this would allow it to be available to a lot of people who love Mickey and are excited about the game.

Q: There have been a few classic Mickey games in the past (i.e. Castle of Illusion, Mickey Mania) that bare a similarity to Disney Epic Mickey. When making Disney Epic Mickey did you turn to any past Mickey games for inspiration, or did Junction Point make an effort to avoid past Mickey games?

SB: Sure, we looked at those games, as it seemed appropriate to examine where Mickey has appeared in video games in the past as a part of our extensive research.

Q: Disney Epic Mickey isn't even out on the Nintendo Wii yet, but I've gotta ask you this: How likely would you say Disney Epic Mickey is to come to 360 and PS3 console owners?

SB: I couldn't really guess, but I've noticed a lot of Xbox360 and PS3 owners asking about it on the Internet.

Q: Disney Epic Mickey is expected to do pretty well and has built a sufficient amount of hype within the gaming community, so could we possibly see a sequel to Disney Epic Mickey? If not a direct sequel then maybe the "Epic" name turned into a series and branched off to other characters? Perhaps, Epic Goofy or, even better, Epic Ducktales?

I don't know about branding 'Epic' into future titles, and although nothing has been announced regarding a Disney Epic Mickey sequel, we do anticipate the game will be a big hit when it launches on November 30th.

Q: What's next for Junction Point and Disney?

SB: Nothing has been announced so far, but we're having some great discussions on that topic. I'm excited. There's no other place I'd rather be making games right now.

Q: Final question! Who is your favorite character in Disney Epic Mickey (excluding Mickey) and why?

SB: That's too easy: Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, of course. I'm hoping that Disney Epic Mickey does a good job of bringing Oswald back into the limelight.

This concludes Game Rant's exclusive interview with Epic Mickey programmer, Sean Barton! Junction Point and Sean have certainly put a lot of effort into making this game and, speaking as someone who has gotten an ample amount of hands-on time with the title, you won't be disappointed. Epic Mickey will release in Europe on November 25th and will wash up on North American shores shortly after on November 30th.

Are you looking forward to Disney Epic Mickey?

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