Monday, October 19, 2009

An Abramic Game of ‘Epic’ Proportions

I’d be a moron to assert that Mickey Mouse is an icon made for me. He’s been running around since the late twenties, and has since been subject to a countless number of changes and ‘design evolution’. Being born in the cultural American cesspool decade (*coughtheeightiescough*) has led me to the conclusion that by the time I was able to latch on to anything with a slight semblance to Mickey, he would be bouncing around on my hat twenty something odd years later. Last week with Game Informer’s cover feature, I was given a little bit of insight into a character I only had sporadic exposure to while growing up. Granted, I knew about his mischievous beginnings and even about Oswald to some degree, but the insight gained from Warren Spector’s obsessionist attitude with Disney gave me more than I was expecting. Now to run analogous to this, I watched J.J. Abrams’ (whose work I hate btw) reboot of Star Trek last this past Friday. Being another cultural landmark for dorks that I arrived too late to appreciate, I’m gonna try and tie the two together as haphazardly as I possibly can. I guess that means this is my next sci-fi post with my impressions of Epic Mickey sprinkled on top. So, let’s give it a try, shall we?

I should start out by establishing total and absolute ignorance among Star Trek in general. By the time I was old enough to appreciate it, I began obsessing over Star Wars, and that kind of passion fosters antagonism --- which I cast over Star Trek to compensate. So I was determined to sit down and watch 2009’s film as my official introduction to the franchise. What I got was a reboot I could actually appreciate, even more so than my favored film trilogy’s (Star Wars) predecessors. Whether that’s due to my ignorance of the series (which I now intend to watch someday when I’m like thirty-eight or something…) or preference for thematics involving man’s action instead of his tongue is something that remains to be seen. As it stands now however, I’m willing to accept Abrams depiction (did I mention I hate his work?) over what could be much more substantial analysis by using the original series as a paradigm.





Now Mickey has always been around for me, but I repeatedly slapped his hand away in lieu of other things. Most notably would be Warner Bros., as by the time I started to get into that kind of animated mischief --- I much preferred Looney Tunes to whatever Disney tried to enchant me with in terms of cartoons. Spector’s analysis of Mickey here resonates with me because I saw what he described as ‘fragmentation of the character’ before I could even articulate the thoughts for it. The quotations throughout this post were taken from Game Informer’s various coverage of Epic Mickey, both throughout their site and latest cover story.

“At some point they fractured his personality, they took his mischievousness and his anger and need for revenge and gave it to Donald. At some point they took his naïve simplicity and gave it to Goofy. They took his loyalty and infinite affection and gave it to Pluto of all things. They took his character and just shattered it, and all of a sudden he’s kind of a straight man for the gang.”
---Warren Spector

Spector is holding a big syringe of ‘dark liquid’ to inject back into the world and it looks very enticing to me. I’d even go as far to say his attempts with Junction Point’s latest project is now the crux of which may lead me back to appreciating Disney animated efforts again (apart from their CG animated films…and Pixar that is). That might be unfair on my part and I of course could be setting myself up for disappointment. Given that I’m just getting around to games that Spector has had his fingers in (e.g. Thief), I’m not too worried. Plus, he’s getting paid for his efforts; I won’t get paid to bitch about it if I don’t like it…heh. Anyway --- as previously stated, this makes Epic Mickey my most anticipated game apart from Peace Walker (which is saying something); it’s also a reason for me to crack out my Wii again, which will be nice. I think it’s crucial that I respect Mickey as I do Mario (the latter of whom was ironically defined as the straight man from the beginning), cause as it stands --- I just don’t.

I think Mickey Mouse being the cultural powerhouse he is can gain a mutual progression with video-games in general if this is carried off well enough. Thanks to the Wii already being present in every god damn household, somebody somewhere is setting up a lovely spike for this title.

Piss and Vinegar

Something I’ve always appreciated in prequels is the depiction of younger (and vastly more reckless) depictions of protagonists. I don’t much classify that as cliché (not yet anyway) as I do the reckless protagonist finding some catalyst to tame him over the course of a journey (that and the youngling is almost always a male). Where Star Wars dropped the ball here was trying to juggle Anakin’s fear with his fire. Granted he should have been a whiny little pain in the ass, but the degree of fear that was put into him during the prequel trilogy was astounding. It almost tarnished the worth of the entire thing for me. With Star Trek however, Pine’s Kirk and Quinto’s Spock both successfully got away with this in relative conjunction with what made their characters click. Like I said, I have absolute ignorance towards the franchise but I know enough about Kirk to see that Pine’s version was devolved pretty damn well; Quinto would've had to actually try and screw Spock up. His biracial lineage just makes him a playing ground in all sorts of fashions and I imagine.

Do I really have to say anything regarding Mickey? He was a pretty big ass himself back in his own day.

“He was a guy who smoked and drank and shot guns, skewered people with swords, threw Minnie Mouse out of a plane when she wouldn’t kiss him, and abused farm animals. He was a badly behaved little guy. As he became more popular, I think Walt started saying, ‘Let’s make this guy more realistic. We don’t want to do things with this guy that the world isn’t going to like,’ so they started taming him and taking different parts of his personality. Mickey is critical to both animation history and film history. He was absolutely and demonstrably the most recognizable and popular film star in the world for about three or four years in the early ‘30s. He was huge at the box office. It’s not an overstatement to say that he gave hope to an entire generation of people living through the Depression. He was a little ray of sunshine. He seems kind of sweet and innocent, and his films don’t seem as anarchic and crazy and maybe relevant as today’s films do, but at the time it was exactly what the country needed, what the world needed. So he was there to provide it.”
-Warren Spector

The affect people exert on their own art is fantastic, especially when we use the beauty of history and hindsight to gain insight into such matters. I’d actually like to hear any theories for what drove or catalyzed (and exacerbated) the fragmentation of Mickey’s design; I feel I’m far too young to make those kind of conjectures. Everything from his visual design to actual animation is something I’m paying attention to very obsessively, despite the fact that I’ve never been big on him to begin with (e.g. I was overjoyed to see that Epic Mickey is taking him back to the phase where his irises are absent). Ironically, Spector actually wrote his Master’s thesis on Warner Bros cartoons and how such animations develop over time; I’d enjoy reading that someday.

Epic Mickey seems to be making a mechanic out of taking him back to his mischievous roots, but I will be intrigued to actually see how much of that is in the player’s hands. Not to mention how Junction Point will avoid (or at least hide) falling into the trap of having stuck up gamers like myself writing off said mechanics as just being ‘good’ and ‘bad’ choices.

Creative Hitches

Something I enjoyed about watching Star Trek was how easily the ‘alternate reality’ timeline came off as while most likely being difficult to actually formulate. Granted it was a conveniently placed plot device, but it has a lot of welcoming baggage as well. One of those being that it effectively tells a decent origin story while avoiding the muck they usually have to trek through (pun not intended). It also throws into question the nature of how fans can and cannot obey the laws of continuity so diligently (not to mention the creators). Everything about how the film presents itself is as --- it’s just important as what the film actually turned out to be (e.g. the basic lure of simply titling the film ‘Star Trek’ for example). Ironically I thought the worst part of the film addressing the timeline was the older Spock using his mind-meld ability to clue Kirk in; I thought the best part were the conclusions the entire crew drew when trying to figure out the physics of Nero’s presence and whatnot.





Mickey is following the formula in the same sense that it’s using a conveniently placed construct to bring in a formidable creative force. Epic Mickey is using Disneyland (kind of --- I think) as a backdrop for the entire game. This opens up dozens of possibilities in that it also plays into the audience’s familiarity with various areas (i.e. think of the how resonant the game will be to the all gamers who’ve all been to Disneyland). Both that and the degree of animation in this title will provide it with a tool that if exercised to certain extents, could become scary in how epic a title it could become (again, no pun intended). Of course --- at this point I’m more in love with the game’s potential. The way the title’s story is using the real life dispute between Walt Disney and Charles Mintz is an imitation of a game I’d kill to see. It almost satiates the desires I’ve had ever since wanting to see a fan-made Sonic title in which he destroys the evil offices of Sega, heh.

Overlauded Legacies

Both of these new emergences are products of long-lived legacies that announced new births in entertainment. Mickey ushered and accompanied the rise of American animation while Star Trek did the same for a more mainstream interest in science fiction. Chances are, something that everybody holds dear to them now wouldn’t exist without either of them, so welcoming the potential of something like Epic Mickey is a must. This is definitely to take into consideration that it’s being done by someone with track record like Spector. If he actually manages to pull off Epic Mickey to even half of its potential, I’ll put him on the list of game designers to question --- just a bit less.

"You know, this is probably impossible, we're probably going to fail. I'm in."
-Warren Spector

So that actually makes this the first sci-fi analysis in which I’m displacing the desire for such a subtype of games to arise in favor of one that’s rebooting its own progeny in a distantly related manner. I guess that’s something new…right? The point of this post is to illustrate the implications involved in taking something with such a gargantuan legacy and effectively reigniting it, not only for new audiences, but its own good (other than just simply letting it die that is). The veteran followers are left to relish in the past or contort themselves to fit a new direction --- not selfishly adhere.

[*Update* - 10/20/2009] Game Informer posted a nice article at Epic Mickey yesterday with various looks into its animation, artwork, and formulation.

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And...some doodles I did of the little guy earlier.

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~sLs~