In the summer of 2004, The Walt Disney Company’s Buena Vista Games (now Disney Interactive Studios) invited me and seven other college undergrads to take part in their first-ever intern “Think Tank”.
Chris Takami, the Think Tank’s founder under exec Graham Hopper, tasked us interns with developing pitches for various Disney properties, thinking of ways to cater to the “core” demographic of video gamers – an audience rarely associated with Disneyana.
One of our projects was to figure out how to make Mickey Mouse cool again, preserving his family-friendly charm while also bringing him back to his more mischievous roots.
I think we succeeded. We developed an ‘alternate universe’ concept involving a cartoon purgatory of Walt’s forgotten creations, a jealous brother in the form of Oswald the Lucky Rabbit to rule over it, and a paint and brush method of gameplay as a means for Mickey (and the player) to navigate this false Magic Kingdom. Mickey would be transported to this place by the ink-based Phantom Blot. Ultimately, this cross-dimension travel afforded creative license to stretch Mickey’s look and demeanor without damaging his corporate iconhood. Mickey could be the original, wild-natured character he was born as nearly a century ago, and “core” audience gamers could develop some relatability to him. This concept became known as Epic Mickey.
After pitching our Epic Mickey concept to several executives, our internships more or less wound down, and I left the Think Tank to finish school. Disney later acquired Junction Point Studios to develop the game, handing the concept to legendary Junction Point game designer Warren Spector. The game was released Nov. 2010.
Spector largely preserved our concept, whiling improving and perfecting upon it and crafting it for the game console that made the most sense for Mickey’s gameplay mechanics, the Wii.
Spector’s Epic Mickey is a reflection of his gaming ingenuity – I’m grateful to have been a part of its genesis.