IGN Interviews Warren Spector

“We’re Not Curing Cancer Here, We’re Making Games.”

That’s the quote from Warren Spector that IGN selected to serve as the title of their latest interview with him, and it’s a very representative example of the general tone of the article that follows. Spector can speak to very serious issues in very somber tones, but the light-hearted enthusiasm that he’s known best for is never far away.

He’s quick to explain just how he’d pitch Epic Mickey 2 to a PS3 or 360 owner understandably unfamiliar with the first.

“Well, what I’d say is, ‘Don’t worry about the fact that there’s a ‘2’ in the name’,” says Spector. “Since we were going for an audience that hadn’t played the first one we tried to make sure that it’s a standalone experience. So don’t worry about that, it tells its own story.”

“And then I’d say… ‘Okay, relax. Yes. It’s Mickey Mouse. Okay? You’re fine being a blue hedgehog, you’re fine being a fat little plumber, you’re fine being whatever that orange cat-like thing is that has a robot buddy. You’re really okay with all that stuff. Try being a mouse for a little while. It won’t hurt you.’

“And then I’d say, ‘Look I’ve made — I really have lost track, I’ve gotta go back and count, this is either my twenty-second or my twenty-third game, I really can’t remember which — and every one of them has been about the same thing at its heart, right? It’s about players making choices as they play, and then dealing with the consequences of those choices. It’s about you telling your story, not me telling mine. It’s about you. And, in that way, it’s just like Deus Ex. The content is a little different, I don’t deny that. The tone is a little different, I don’t deny that. But the heart of the gameplay is still about choice and consequence, which is what I’ve been doing since the 80s. So give it a shot; what’s the worst that could happen? We’re not curing cancer here; we’re making games, right? See if it’s fun for you.”

Spector goes on to pick at the Deus Ex thread a little more. Actually, this was probably my favourite anecdote in the article:

“…I’ve never made a change in a game based on focus testing except once and it was a mistake, I shouldn’t have done it.”

“It was Deus Ex Invisible War, actually, we focus tested concepts and I was told, ‘Set the game further in the future and put the guy or the girl in a purple jumpsuit; people like purple jumpsuit. Why did I listen?”

The latter part of the article focuses more specifically on Disney, and Spector’s fascination with them…but it’s worth a read in its own right; Spector offers up some truly surprising, revelatory pieces of information about the animation company’s passion for preserving its own history.

And Ultima even merits a couple of mentions:

“Before I start on any project I have a process I go through, on every game — I did this on Deus Ex, I did it on the Ultima games I worked on. I don’t usually talk about it. In fact I literally never talked about it until a couple of years ago, and then people just seemed so interested in the process of making games that I just started hinting around at this stuff.”

“But one of the parts of my process is I figure out a three-story arc, like a narrative arc, and then I figure out, ‘Okay, if we get lucky enough to do more than one game set in this world, what’s the game innovation? What’s the new thing in the first one? What would the new thing be in the second game? What would the new thing be in the third?'”

Here’s the second:

So what keeps Spector smiling?

“Well, the thing that always makes me happiest about any game I work on is when I watch a player do something that I didn’t think was possible in the game,” he says. “The whole point of games like Deus Ex, and Disney Epic Mickey, and Ultima Underworld and all the stuff I’ve worked on over the years, the whole point is for players to see a situation, make a plan, execute that plan and then either succeed or fail and figure out where they wanna go from there. That’s what games are; it’s about you, right? Not about me, it’s about you.”

“A couple of weeks ago I watched someone play a particular spot in Disney Epic Mickey 2 and do something that I thought was impossible to do. A player figured out how to do something that no-one on the team thought could be done. And for most developers that’s a bug. For me, it’s a validation. For Junction Point, that is, ‘We know we’ve done our job’.

I can recall hearing a few stories about the development of Ultima Underworld that had a very similar ring to them.