We chat to veteran designer Warren Spector, best known for his work on System Shock and Deus Ex, at the game's London preview event about what all these things could mean for the game.
In the press presentation you talked about that fans wanted another Epic Mickey, but I don't think you really disclosed why you wanted to make another Epic Mickey. Can you discuss why you wanted another one?
"I assume every game developer has a process they go through when they start a new project, and mine involves a couple of things. One is [that] there are seven questions I ask myself and if I can't answer them I don't do it, and that's posted on my blog if you're curious. But the other is, I always plan out at least three games.
"I plan out a three-game story arc, and I plan out a three-game, sort of, gameplay arc, what am I going to introduce in each game. I don't do that because I actually expect to do those games, I do it because my games take about three years to make and I need to make sure I'm willing to put in as many as ten years of my life on something.
"It's got to be a compelling enough world and compelling enough characters that I can do that. And so before we started with the first one I had four stories actually. At the high level, sort of thought out, I did this for Deus Ex too. I knew what the first three games were going to be before we started the first one.
"For example, I knew we were going to do some songs in the second game and I knew we were going to do two player co-op multiplayer, I just knew that before we started the first game. And have an idea that if we're lucky enough to do a third one what we're going to do. So I already had an idea of what's the next step, you know, before we started, so I'm always incentivised to do it.
"Also, you start going through the Disney archives and it's unbelievable. You kind of feel like the last shot of Indiana Jones: where you see all the secrets of human history laid out in front of you. The Disney archives are a lot like that, just boxes and boxes, some of which haven't been opened since 1932 or something.
"So there's a lot of incentive to explore more stuff. And the other reason, the last reason, is just Oswald himself. If I didn't do this game I don't know who would make another Oswald game and, like I said in the presentation, that guy deserves better. That little silly crazy cartoon rabbit deserves better than to be forgotten, so you've got to do right by him."
One of the most interesting features of this second game is the musical elements. You said making a musical in a game is something you've been thinking about for a long time. Why only now have you been able to do that? Is it just the right sort of project?
"You try going to a publisher and saying, 'Give me millions and millions of dollars because I want to do a musical!' You try that some time! Trust me, you get turned down a lot, okay?"
Have you tried that?
"Yeah, course I have! I've tried to make a cartoon game for decades. I could show you the cartoon game proposals I was pitching back at Origin in 1990, I mean, for crying out loud! In the game business you get typecast, I guess it's true that film makers do too. If David Fincher ever said he was going to make a musical comedy, the world would probably stop spinning on its axis or something.
"Yeah, the problem is, at least on the business side, this is a very conservative business. It's a high-risk business, so you sort of understand it, but when you talk to Disney - I work for Disney so I talk to the people I work with on the publishing side who have to decide, 'Yeah, that crazy idea Warren has is worth supporting'.
"There is some fear and trepidation, I won't deny it but there's also an understanding that the company that made The Lion King and Tangled and Mary Poppins and Snow White and Pinocchio, it's a company where songs are important.
"The Sherman Brothers, Elton John, Tim Rice, Alan Menken: Disney and song go together, so people kind of get it. It seemed like the right time to do it. Or to take the first tentative steps, let's put it that way."
You also sort of said it's a conservative approach, you're keeping it within cutscenes. What's your pie in the sky musical idea for games, what would you love to do?
"I don't want to get too specific because honestly I can't. It's not that I'm being coy about this or anything, it's that ideas have to percolate for a long time. I started thinking about the game that became Deus Ex in 1995, right? I don't know exactly how to do it.
"In my dreams, what I can tell you is I imagine a game where players are using songs in the same way that they use a virtual gun or a magic paintbrush or a remote control or a sword. I mean, there are ways to make music not... see, this is why I can't talk about it yet! There are ways we can integrate songs into the actual interaction, not have them be outside of it in cutscenes.
"If I understood it well enough, I'd do it and I'd tell you about it. But it's still stuff swirling around and the first step, what I'm hoping to get out of this is, 'How do people respond to having it there at all?' That's as far as it goes right now."
Another thing you discussed in the presentation is you make choices in this game and some of them are permanent, you can't change them. You probably can't talk specifics, but what sort of degree of permanence will these things be and how important are they?
"Pretty permanent. There are things where, okay, there might be places where if you go down a particular path, a literal path, okay, there's a door over here and a door over here, you go through that door and an enormous cartoon boulder falls and blocks the other entrance so you can never go down that other path, once you make this choice.
"That sort of thing is going to happen fairly frequently. And it's because in the last game, I don't know if you played it, in the last game, because we didn't want people to go, 'Oh my God, I just screwed up', we didn't do that. We let you erase everything on a level, get the rewards for that and then paint everything in and then get the rewards for that.
"We didn't close off too many - occasionally but - we didn't close off too many paths, we didn't remove too many rewards when you acquired other rewards and this time we're doing more of that."
Will these permanent choices be story focused or gameplay focused?
"They're a little of both, it's hard to separate the two. In terms of the overall story arc, every player's going to see the same story, right. But the player's story, which is the one that is in a lot of ways more interesting. Like, 'This happened, then this happened, then this happened'. What it's going to do is ensure that players are going to describe different things.
"Obviously I'm trying to choose my words carefully here and I am literally describing a spot in the game right this minute that I am trying not to describe, which is really fun. If you go off one way and say, 'Wasn't it cool when you went through the lava maze?' and you say that to me and I might say back to you, 'What lava maze?'.
"That's the kind of minute-to-minute story that's different. That is fundamentally more interesting, at least to me, than a conversation where you say, 'Wasn't it cool when your character jumped across that chasm and almost fell, and then you were climbing out and the Tyrannosaurus rex breathed right in your face and all you could do is shoot and hope you had enough bullets?'. And all I can do is say, 'Yeah! that was really cool!' Because at that point we've both had exactly the same experience.
"Which means we've exercised some skill in solving a puzzle but we really haven't told a story, the designer told that story, because it happened to every player. Whereas the other one is, 'How did you get through the lava maze?' and I say, 'What lava maze?' And all of a sudden your story was different from mine and you created the story.
"Especially if your path through the lava maze was, 'I erased everything there, and this happened and that happened', and somebody else who did go through the lava maze says, 'You erased everything? I painted in that wall over there and I was able to jump up on it and I didn't have to use any of my thinner at all to get through there.'
"So then all of a sudden you have different paths, different minute-to-minute gameplay and a totally unique experience. That's, I think, what gaming needs to be more about and we're doing a lot more of it in this game than we did the last time.
You've also described how there's a thousand tweaks to the camera system. Obviously there are many little things you did, but broadly, can you say what the main things you addressed were?
"Basically we've removed a lot of constraints from the camera movement. I mean that's probably the biggest one, we've just said, 'OK, you're in control of the camera when you need to be'.
"But the other thing is, camera systems are not just - I could talk about this all day - camera systems are not just technical things, they're not just a programmer writing a system, you know, 'Oh the camera is like a character and needs to be intelligent'. Camera and level design are like this, they're like married to each other.
"We were building our camera system and our levels at exactly the same time and had no idea what we were doing. It was incredible. Now we know how our camera system works, we know how our levels are built and we can build levels that don't break the camera as often. So the level design is much friendlier to our camera now than it was before, because we can do that now and we couldn't before."
There's obviously three different versions. The Wii and the PS3 ones can use pointer controls through the Move and obviously through the Wii remote, the 360 one obviously doesn't have that option. Does this mean 360 players are at any sort of disadvantage?
"Well, by the time we ship they better not be, let's put it that way. Our goal is to make sure that the standard controller works as well as the gestural controls. We're at alpha now so we're just starting to tune that but certainly the goal is they wouldn't be at any disadvantage."
Did you look at Kinect at all for that?
"Oh yeah, God, we looked at Kinect a lot. At the end of the day we decided, well mostly I decided I guess, I don't want to blame anybody else so I'll get in trouble. You know the Kinect is really cool, but when Junction Point does a Kinect game we're going to do a Kinect game.
"I looked at the games that worked for me on the Kinect and they fall into two categories. One is the performance game, where you're performing for a camera, and the other is where the developer puts you on rails and moves you through a world and you interact with a world as you are moved through it, it's more like a theme park ride actually.
"What we're doing in this game is freeform exploration. It's about you deciding where to go, when to go, how you get there. And I'm not clever enough and so far no-one on my team has been clever enough to figure out how to let you move in a freeform way using the Kinect as the main control mechanism. So we decided that it was better not to support it than to jam it in there just so we could say that we did."
You've announced a number of platforms for this game: PS3, 360, Wii, obviously PC and Mac and also there's a 3DS, but not Vita. Is that something on your road map?
"I've got a Vita and I'm doing a lot of playing on it, so as a gamer I like it a lot. It's just that no-one has approached me. I'm a developer, so it's not as if I get to say, 'Hey Disney, we're doing a Vita game'. If Disney said, 'Do a Vita game', I'd be happy to do it. It's not on the radar right this second but that could change tomorrow."
> Read Digital Spy's first-look preview of Epic Mickey 2: The Power of Two
Epic Mickey 2: The Power of Two will be available on Wii, Xbox 360, PS3, PC and Mac later this year. A separate 3DS tie-in is also in the works.