System Shock 3's Spector: Mainstream Development Hasn't Seen "A Whole Lot of Progress"

Warren Spector is back to making games and he hopes that the indie space is where new games can thrive.

News by Mike Williams, .

If you haven't heard, veteran producer and director Warren Spector is back making games after a short stint in academia. Spector is joining Otherside Entertainment to work on Underworld Ascendant and eventually, System Shock 3. In a lengthy interview Gamasutra, Spector talks about returning to game development. He notes that AAA gaming hasn't really changed all that much and the indie space is where developers have the freedom to play around more.

Spector is consulting on Underworld Ascendant.

"I can't believe I'm about to say this -- I'll never work in this industry again -- but in the mainstream space I really haven't seen a whole lot of progress. It seems like we're getting more finely-tuned, prettier versions of games we've been playing for years," says Spector.

"Thank god for the indie space, there are people trying interesting things there. What I want to do, is I see a variety of places where we could make some strides that would help take games to the next level," he adds. "The biggest one, for me, is more robust characters and character AI. We've gotten very good at combat AI, we've made great strides there, but I don't think we've done much in the world of non-combat AI and interacting with people -- human or otherwise. We haven't done a lot with conversation, and establishing emotional relationships with characters in games. So I'd very much like to play with that."

That's similar to comments made by former Irrational Games lead designer Ken Levine, who also is looking to provide stronger character AI to help with storytelling. Our normal interactions with characters in AAA games have only become more limited as fidelity has skewed higher. Complex character models, motion capture, and voice acting can help our gaming experience, but it also makes it harder and time-consuming for developers to make more content. Even something as simple as minimizing voice acting allows for a developer to add a ton of written dialog, like the recently released Fire Emblem Fates.

Even beyond that, AAA games are a facet of big business and corporations are set up to get a solid, consistent return on investment. That's why you're more likely to get another sequel or reboot, as opposed to some startlingly new experience. That's also why many developers leave major studios to begin their own smaller gaming studios, where they can have more creative freedom and take more chances. Chances that don't always work out, but can pay off in whole new ideas and genres.

Epic Micket 2 at Junction Point was Spector's last game.

Spector is definitely leaning towards a smaller team size after his time running a huge studio like Junction Point. He says he's aiming to make games with a consistent content plan, but staying away from free-to-play.

"I've done the big-budget, huge team thing, and at this point what I'd like to do is smaller, lower-budget, almost like 'games as a service' model games that require somewhere between 10-20 people to make. I don't want to get much bigger than that," Spector says.

"I probably won't be doing free-to-play. I'm kind of a premium game guy," he continues. "But I think you have to provide ongoing support and expansions, so I want to provide a complete experience right up front that's worth people's money, and then on an ongoing basis provide new content: new characters, new mechanics, new places to explore and adventures to go on. I think that's what you'll see coming from my studio as we work on System Shock 3."

System Shock 3 does not have a release date or even a full team. Underworld Ascendant has an estimated delivery date on November 2016.

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Comments 3

  • Avatar for mobichan #1 mobichan 2 years ago
    I'm sorry, but DLC is right up there with the F2P model as being definitely NOT a "premium game" experience. I really wish he would just make a game, then make another game and another and another. I miss those days alot.

    Also, is this basically an admission that Epic Mickey was a vanity game that is also doing nothing to innovate in the industry?
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  • Avatar for alexb #2 alexb 2 years ago
    @mobichan Agreed. "Games as a service" leaves a very bitter taste in my mouth. I respect greatly what Spector achieved throughout the '90s in the PC gaming realm, particularly his work on Thief and Ultima Underworld, but he's been beating this drum for a long time. It hurts his credibility a lot to talk about things not progressing when a painfully mediocre licensed Disney platformer and its painfully painful sequel are the only major things he's released in the last decade. He's kind of become this curmudgeon from an earlier age lobbing bombs at the current tentpole games without really demonstrating that better way he insists is out there, meanwhile ignoring the advances that have come.

    Perhaps System Shock 3 and Underworld Ascendant will be his chance to put some force behind his theories and comments.Edited February 2016 by alexb
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