Warren Spector Interview: You Don’t Have as Much Control in Videogames as You Think


Episode #193 of Wired’s Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy podcast features Warren Spector as a special guest:

Spector didn’t care for the Dungeons & Dragons computer games, which focused almost exclusively on combat. Instead he was drawn to Garriott’s Ultima series, with its focus on character and story.

“He wasn’t just making what we called ‘Monty Haul’ dungeons,” Spector says, “where you would break down a door, fight the monster in the room, grab the treasure, and then break down the next door and fight the next monster and grab the next treasure. He was really telling stories that were about something.”

In recent years Spector, Garriott, and Roberts all drifted away from game design, wary of the restrictions imposed by an increasingly large and corporate game industry. But the advent of crowdfunding allowed them to return to the field with projects like Underworld Ascendant, Shroud of the Avatar, and Star Citizen. Spector warns that crowdfunding is no panacea, but he says it does present options for game designers.

“We’re seeing variety in games now that we haven’t seen in decades,” he says. “So it’s a pretty exciting time.”

Spector comments on a number of different things, including cyberpunk, dialogue writing, and — excerpted below — his time at Origin Systems:

“One of the most important lessons I learned from [Richard Garriott and Chris Roberts] when I first started working at Origin was the power of a clear, compelling vision. … They always have a vision, and they are uncompromising in the realization of that vision. … There was some magic to being part of Origin, and one of my minor regrets is—when I was working there, I think I was the 26th person hired by the company, and I really thought I was going to retire from Origin and get a gold watch and all that. And that’s just not the way this business works. … But it was a very special place, there’s no doubt. And the fact that it was a special place helped us create special games.”

He even name-drops the Ultima Dragons toward the end of the episode. Well worth a listen if you have some time to spare!