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.
"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.
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.