Warren Spector is a busy man. He’s directing the University of Texas at Austin’s game design academy, he’s teaching part-time, he’s traveling and giving talks – the list goes on. But while the Deus Ex and, er, Epic Mickey creator is surrounded by games and relentlessly stalked by his legacy, he’s not actually making anything right now. He didn’t exactly go out on a high note last time, either. Between the new gig(s) and enough accolades to craft cyberpunk augments and a Mickey hat made of pure gold, he could easily call it a career right now. But that, he told me on D.I.C.E.’s red carpet, simply isn’t in the cards. Go below for my brief chat with Spector and special guest star The Internet’s (and also Vlambeer’s) Rami Ismail.
RPS: You’re very occupied with teaching and giving talks and generally living a life away from game development right now. You’ve also done plenty in this industry. Despite Epic Mickey’s less-than-great reception, you could walk away from development right now as a legend. Would you, though? Or is there an aching desire in your heart of hearts and bone of bones that can only be sated by the white-knuckle thrill of game creation?
I think you’re gonna see my name on something before too long.
Spector: I’d be OK, but I can’t see it happening unless I just absolutely fall in love with the world of academia. You know, I’m a game developer. It’s what I do. It’s my identity.
I’m actually sort of struggling right now with things like, “What do I say on my passport right now? I’m a game developer, damn it.” But then it’s like, “What game are you working on?” “Welllllllll, I’m not really working on anything right now.” I think you’re gonna see my name on something before too long.
RPS: Games have changed and evolved by an incredible amount even since you released Epic Mickey 2. Crowdfunding, Early Access, virtual reality, etc, etc, etc. What are you most inspired by these days? Where do you go next?
Spector: I’m certainly inspired by a lot of indie games. That’s where most of my interest is right now. Just as a developer, if I were to make another game right now, it would not be a big triple-A console title with 800 people working on it. I hope I’m done with that. I hope I never do that again. You know, we’ll talk again in a year and see where I am, but that’s the hope.
But just the idea that you can get together with some friends, make a small game, and find an audience for it, that’s like being back where I started. Where everything is a frontier. Nobody knows what games are again. So mobile and PC, I’m there. I’m your guy.
RPS: [To Vlambeer’s Rami Ismail, who’s also on the red carpet with Spector] Must be interesting to have someone like Warren Spector following in your footsteps. But you’re really pushing that sort of development into new places, what with your frequent live-streaming of Nuclear Throne’s development. How pronounced of an effect has that actually had on the game, though?
Ismail: In terms of sales, it’s been interesting because we can see the sales building. But what has been way more interesting for us is on the Steam forums where people talk to us about the game directly. As the livestreams went on and as game development has gone on, giving people that insight into how games are made has had a really profound effect on our community.
When we started, people would just have demands. They’d say, “This game is awful! I want this and this and this. Otherwise, I’m done with it forever.” But as time went on, the tone in the forum started to shift toward people having ideas. Having suggestions. Just seeing that effect has really made it all worth it.
It’s amazing. I’m completely overwhelmed by that.
Spector: I’m not sure anyone has ever done that before. That’s kind of remarkable.
RPS: [To Spector] When you go back into making games, do you think you’ll take a more open approach to development? I mean, obviously not everyone is Rami Ismail, King Streamer Of All Creations Until The End Of Time, but would you try and get the community involved by way of, say, crowdfunding or Early Access? Or do you think your games are too story-focused and that you’d risk spoiling everything?
Spector: I’m a story guy. I’m a story game guy. I want to keep exploring that. And so right now I’m thinking a lot about how we tell a story but really empower players more than we have in the past. Every game I’ve worked on – whether anybody else sees it or not – has been a progression toward empowering players more and more and more. That’s an unsolved problem. How do we let players really be the heroes of their own story?
So I’d like to play around with that. A lot more procedural stuff, a lot more simulation. I’d still be pursuing that, just on a different scale. Maybe not crazy 3D amazing over-the-top graphics. There’s a lot of opportunity to do cool stuff without having to pay the price for graphics and sound and everything else in the triple-A space.
[Red carpet robocops emerge from nigh-invisible slits in the wall, prod everyone onward]
RPS: Thank you for your time.