Warren Spector: No Weapons, Why Metacritic is Irrelevant, and a New Teaching Gig
Warren Spector, I think it can safely be said, is never terribly shy about offering his opinions on various matters. His recent interview with Rock, Paper, Shotgun! is full of just that; Spector talks at length about his opposition to violence in games, the issues that plagued Epic Mickey, and what life is like post-Disney.
A couple choice samples:
RPS: …you’ve gone from being the authority on tough guys in trench coats to their most outspoken opponent. But, I mean, are you really over that stuff?
Spector: My geek credentials are in good order, you know? I love fantasy games and I love science fiction. I love real-world near-future kinds of stuff. But I wanted a change of pace. After Ultima Underworld and Ultima VII: Serpent Isle, I was so sick of fantasy. I “never wanted to do another fantasy game” at that point. So I started doing some science fiction stuff, which I liked. After a couple of Deus Ex games, I wanted to do something different again. People expect you to fit in a slot. A square peg only goes in a square hole. But I wanted to do something different.
RPS: …For whatever you might end up working on next, have you given any thought to the idea of removing guns entirely?
Spector: I almost hesitate to say this, because I don’t know if it’ll actually happen, but I can’t tell you how desperately I want to impose the “no weapons” restriction on whatever I do now. Just to force myself and the team to solve a lot of tough problems. Guns and swords, they’re such crutches for us. They’re so easy for us to do. Unless we force ourselves to do the hard things, I’m not sure we ever will. I don’t know. I may not actually do that. I may end up doing a game where you get to shoot lots of people. Who knows? But I’d very much like to impose that constraint on things. We’ll see.
And, as though that weren’t enough, Spector also decided to take a shot at Metacritic, the reviews-aggregation service that has become something of a bane of game developers of late.
“Metacritic, at best, rewards games that are conventional and well understood by players and critics alike,” Spector wrote. “New and challenging things are, by their very nature, disruptive and easily misunderstood. Aggregation of opinion, at best, offers hope and guidance to people whose goal is to maximize profitability but little to people whose priorities lie elsewhere.”
Spector is hardly the first to raise questions about Metacritic, but he might be the most high-profile developer to do so publicly. Last month, Kotaku’s lengthy discussion on the review aggregator’s failings brought the issue to greater awareness. Before that, a study presented at the Games Developers Conference 2013 revealed some of the different ways that average Metacritic scores can be weighted and manipulated.
“When we put our faith in Metacritic as an impartial, scientific measure of quality, we should probably ask ourselves whether the crowd—the crowd of journalists as well as players—is really wise or just mediocre, incapable of recognizing and rewarding the new and different.”
Spector, of course, recently accepted a teaching position at the University of Texas, in which he will help oversee the creation of a new game design academy. And, you know…for all the man’s contrarian positions on certain gameplay elements, he can still argue quite powerfully for changes in the philosophy of game design that would, on the whole, make for vastly better games.