Warren Spector: Games aren’t making the most of the medium

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Spector

You may or may not know who Warren Spector is. In recent times, he’s mostly known for making Epic Mickey, which wasn’t nearly as epic as its name might’ve suggested. In the past though, he helped create and direct Deus Ex, one of the first FPS games to be given the fallacious, but useful labels of being “emergent.”

Deus Ex was brilliant, and it really felt like the consequences of your actions had genuine meaning. Thanks to that it unfolded and unweaved, telling not just the story its makers wanted you to experience, but other ones too, ones that resulted from the gameplay.

That’s the sort of thing game creators should be doing more, said Spector at PAX Australia, saying that those who aren’t doing that are essentially wasting their time making games – and should make movies instead.

Though he sugar-coated it nicely enough, Spector laid in to the folks making linear games – the Uncharteds and Last of Us’ of the world – saying that they’re “low expression games” which purposely “limits your ability to interact with the game world, so the story can unfold the way the storyteller wants it to unfold.”

Spector said it was similar for games like The Walking Dead or Heavy Rain, which he calls “medium expression” games.

“I love The Walking Dead, but the choices you have to make, they’re compelling choices, but they’re designer driven, not player driven. Every choice in a game like this has been pre-scripted and handwritten by a designer somewhere, and the effects of that choice have been predetermined by the developers. There’s very limited stuff that players actually get to do.”

“Heavy Rain is an amazing experience. They can tell great stories; better than I can tell in my life as a game developer. But they tell better stories because no player will ever do anything surprising or unaccounted for. They’re basically like five movie scripts all mashed together, and you’re just picking which script you’re telling at any given point in time.”

According to Spector, the people who makes these games aren’t serving the medium properly – and should get out of it.

“If all you want to do is show off how clever you are, get out of my medium! Go make a movie or something, because that’s what you should be doing,” he suggested.

He did name-check a few games that he feels are doing a good job, or are “high expression” games – including The Sims, Fallout, Dishonored and Fighting Games; games which tell their stories through play action, and not from a script.

“We are all part of a medium nothing else can do: collaborative storytelling,” he said. “And I think it’s important that we embrace that capability.”

I’ve got a lot of respect for Spector, and I can’t really disagree with him, but he’s really coming across as a bit of a pompous windbag. I think there are enough people who play videogames – enough of a market – for all sorts of games.

Uncharted maker Naughty Dog agrees, with this statement in response to Spector’s comments.

“Right now, in the industry, we have such a great opportunity to create many different games, from blockbuster triple-A studios to indie studios, to address every type of play style and every type of ‘want’ that you could want in a game. It’s great that you’re hearing this type of criticism towards all sorts of games, because people are starting to make games that let you explore all sorts of different genres. I think people are really starting to think about those things – about what more could games do – because there are all these games out there that are appealing to different genres and play styles, and I think that’s what’s really special about the industry right now.”

Last Updated: November 2, 2015

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