Warren Spector is easily one of the most interesting people in the gaming industry, his impact on the community is too great to measure. Mr. Spector gave Melbourne the great privilege of having an open conversation at the Australian Center for the Moving Image. Warren was here for the Game Masters Exhibition, alongside Tim Schafer and Rob Murray, who all had displays at the show alongside the likes of Shigeru Miyamoto, Hideo Kojima, and Will Wright.
One of the first topics raised was about Mr. Spector’s creative process. Warren explained that he isn’t one to create totally new things, he creates things in response to other games. For instance, Deus Ex was a reply to several games. Giving freedom of choice to the player came from the frustration of playing Thief, where the player is forced to sneak, rather than having multiple options. Obviously there was a gameplay direction that was in Thief, but if you limit the player, you’re limiting their attention span. Would you rather try to sneak past the same group of guards and fail each time, or would you like to try a different approach like talking your way through? This was what Warren aimed for when creating Deus Ex, the possibility to complete a task any way you please.
A question was raised about the first level of Deus Ex, and how it was badly received as opposed to the rest of the highly acclaimed game. Warren explained that he wanted to use the first level as a statement of how the rest of the game would be different to others. His “Here is the game, do what you want” approach nowadays this seems pretty normal, but back then everyone expected a bit of handholding, and the idea of complete choice was unheard of. I remember playing that first level of and trying my best to sneak around, but eventually realising that I didn’t have to. That feeling was liberating, I must have played that level half a dozen times now, because it’s different every time. There is true beauty in level design, I believe it to be the most important part of a game, and the fact that Warren knew this so long ago really is a testament to his genius.
While talking about choice in games, Warren brought up the point that a lot of games give you really obvious choices, with uninteresting repercussions that make you “Good” or “evil”. Those sorts of decisions are lazy, often like “murder the box of kittens for money or rescue the box of kittens so NPCs like you more”. These aren’t moral choices, they’re temptations, like stealing from an unoccupied bag at a cafe or something. Warren said it right when talking about evil/good affinities in games “I think I’m going to be evil because evil looks cool” is not enough. There is no point to putting a moral temptation into the game if people don’t respond emotionally to it.
“Games can teach you something about yourself, and about the world” Mr. Spector wanted to show that in games, decisions have real consequences, when you kill someone in many games, you get nothing but a pat on the back, and that’s it. Deus Ex was supposed to show developers what they did wrong. Warren even said that he wanted to shame those before him, in the hopes that nobody would make some of the terrible mistakes that he saw in gaming.
Choice is the most important part of gaming, and the fact that a lot of developers have been training everyone to not make decisions is worrying. At least while there are wonderful people like Warren Spector in the industry, there may still be a chance for redemption.