Warren Spector On Life After Mickey, Going ‘No Weapons’

For the first time in ages, Deus Ex director Warren Spector is unemployed. The man who created what’s regarded by many as the greatest game of all time isn’t cracking any whips, cooking up cyber conspiracies, or teaching cartoon mice to sing. Instead, he’s taking some time to both teach and learn, which is what brought him to UC Santa Cruz’s recent Interactive Storytelling Symposium. There, he echoed the refrain that’s recently become his calling card: take games to new, interesting places, and don’t just lean on crutches from film, TV, and the like to do it. It was a call to action – a plea for tomorrow’s burgeoning brains to break outside the box and then burn the remains. Do not, however, mistake that for an admission of inaction on Spector’s part. Unemployed or not, his gears are churning again, and he’s starting to think about his next big move. After his session, Spector and I discussed why he can’t simply make another Deus-Ex-esque game, why he really wants to put a “no weapons restriction” on his next project, Kickstarter’s popularity among his pioneering peers, Epic Mickey in retrospect, and more.

RPS: When people hear your name, they think Deus Ex. But that hasn’t been “you” for quite some time. What, specifically, made you want to leave that side of game development behind?

Spector: I left Ion Storm because it just felt like I didn’t fit at Eidos. Eidos took control of Ion Storm at one point, and they were making games like 25 to Life and On the Mic and Hitman 3 and Crash and Burn. I just didn’t want to make games like that. I was at a point where I thought it would be fun to do my own thing for a while, where I could either go out of business or do the games I wanted to do.

People expect you to fit in a slot. But I wanted to do something different.

RPS: Since then, 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: Speaking of, um, the opposite of doing something different, a lot of industry pioneers are now launching Kickstarters and going back to their roots. As someone who’s fought so hard to push beyond a perceived “box,” what’s your take on that trend?

Spector: I certainly understand it. I look back on the games I’ve worked on and I have very fond memories of Deus Ex and System Shock and Underworld. Those are an important part of my life. Would I revisit them in the sense of, “Hey, let’s put some pretty graphics on an old game”? No.

Well, OK, if someone gave me the opportunity – I guess it would have to be EA – to go back and take some of the ideas behind an Underworld or a System Shock, I’d have to think pretty seriously about that, for sure.

RPS: During your talk, you said that we don’t really create worlds anymore. Just sets. I think that’s one of the things that a lot of people reviving classics with Kickstarters are trying to bring back: the sheer scope and possibility that came along with smaller productions and budgets.

Spector: Yeah, absolutely. We’ve put so much emphasis on graphics and on amazing sound… We have lost something. I don’t know that it was necessary to lose it, but we have. It’s so much easier to create that feeling that you’re in a world and make a world rich and interactive when you’re dealing with 2D graphics, or really simple 3D graphics. Doing an immersive simulation like we did back in the Ultima Underworld days with modern technology and modern hardware, it would cost $100 million. I really do understand why people are doing it. I’d like to see us try and do it in the context of modern tech and modern hardware. But that’s going to be tough to pull off.

RPS: In terms of bringing back some of that spirit or that experimentation, there’s also the indie scene. But during your talk, you also said you’re not sure if it’ll make any significant impact on more mainstream games.

Spector: It’s not really that I’m not sure it can. Maybe I misspoke. It hasn’t so far, and I don’t see any signs that it’s going to. I certainly hope it can. I hope it does start affecting some of the more mainstream games. It just hasn’t yet. And I’m not sure I see the path. I’m not sure I see the way it happens.

One other thing about worlds: I don’t want people to get the wrong impression. I’m probably going to be talking about that quite a bit, actually, for a while now. When people think about worlds, virtual worlds, they think about enormous, fully explorable, Grand Theft Auto, Red Dead Redemption, Skyrim, that stuff. I’ve never done that. I never wanted to do it. Well, that’s not true. Back in the Ultima days, that’s kind of what we did. But around the time of Underworld and System Shock and Deus Ex, I got a lot more interested in really deeply simulated smaller spaces. I’d rather do something that’s an inch wide and a mile deep than something that’s a mile wide and an inch deep. I want to create worlds, but by “worlds” I mean someplace where every object is interactable. The NPCs actually have something to do other than kill you. Every door can be opened and there’s a reason to open them. That’s what I mean by creating world. It’s not about size and scope, it’s about depth and interactivity.

RPS: I found it interesting, during your talk, that someone had a game that did one of your most popular examples. You bring up the water-spilling thing a lot. Spilling water on somebody, having them react to it at all, and then basing their level of infuriation on how much they like you, etc.

Spector: Yeah, yeah.

RPS: And that exists.

Spector: Versu [from Linden Labs], it’s really interesting. Everybody should go and play it. The problem is getting… Not even just that level of interactivity. We need even greater levels of interactivity, and we need it graphically presented. I love words. I have so many books. I have a library, a building that is a library, OK? That’s how much I love books and the printed word. I live with a writer. My wife is a fiction writer. I love it. But to reach a larger audience with games, we have to be able to illustrate what we’re doing. Realtime graphics. As soon as you do realtime graphics, the difficulty and cost of that glass tipping over is huge.

RPS: You may not have noticed this, but you are Warren Spector. That in mind, how does somebody like you – someone with both the desire to make this stuff happen and probably the means to do it on a large scale – approach this issue? Where do you start in terms of introducing more interesting scenarios and subject matters to mainstream games?

Spector: When games cost as much as they do, taking risks is maybe even irresponsible. I have a rule. Well, I have like seven questions I ask myself about a project before I’ll even start it. One of them is, “What’s the one thing in this game that no one in the world has ever seen or done before?” If there isn’t an answer to that, and if I can’t answer all seven of those questions, I won’t even start the project. It’s dead before it gets started.

But that’s important. I’ve never worked on a game that didn’t have something no one had ever seen before. People may not notice it, people may not see it, but it’s there. The way to do that is to do it, you know? Your publisher is going to give you money. You’re going to get money from somewhere. Take a little bit of it and do something that’s new and different. You can do that in the context of fill-in-the-game-name-of-your-choice. You can always do one new thing. Come on.

RPS: Out of curiosity, what was that one thing in Epic Mickey?

Spector: In Epic Mickey, it was a couple of things. It was the dynamically changeable environment. As far as I know there had never been and still has never been another game where you can dynamically remove and restore parts of the terrain, characters, objects, that sort of thing.

Not that I want to get into this – please, let’s not get into this – but the fact we let you dynamically change the terrain in Epic Mickey was largely responsible for a lot of the camera issues we had. The fact is, even people who worked on game cameras before and know how to do them inside out, have never tried to do it in the context of a world where there might be a wall here, or there might not. There might be a part of a wall here, or there might not. The camera might be doing just the right thing until Mickey goes and erases a wall, goes through it, and then paints in a little part of it. What does the camera do there? That was the big thing we did.

There were a couple of other things that were pretty darn new. And certainly just the whole choice and consequence thing that’s part of every game I do. No one had ever done that or has ever done that in the context of a hybrid action-adventure platform game. A lot of people on my team wanted… I mean, we fought all the time over this. “Why don’t we just do a platform game? Let’s just do a platform game. Let’s just do a platform game. We can tune a platform game really well. Let’s just do that.” No. That’s a solved problem. It’s better to fail gloriously than it is to succeed at something mediocre.

RPS: And obviously you don’t think those games were failures.

Spector: No, not at any level.

RPS: A lot of people didn’t react quite as well to them.

Spector: Core gamers didn’t, yeah.

RPS: Why do you think so many people didn’t see eye-to-eye with you on your vision for those games?

Spector: OK, to be clear, a lot more people saw eye-to-eye with the vision than didn’t. Mickey 1 is the best-selling game I’ve ever worked on in my life. Mickey 2 is the second-best-selling game I’ve ever worked on in my life. I have more fan mail and more heartfelt fan mail from more people of different genders and ages than I’ve received for every other game I’ve worked on combined. Disney fans loved the games, and there are a lot more Disney fans than you might think. So on that level, from a commercial standpoint, I don’t consider them failures.

From an acceptance standpoint, normal people got that game in a way that core gamers didn’t. Why is that? Who the heck knows? I’m totally speculating, but my assumption is, “Oh my God, it’s Mickey Mouse.” That’s one problem. Another problem is, “What do you mean you’re not making a game about a guy wearing a trench coat and sunglasses and wearing a gun? Go back and make the kind of games you always used to make.” I wanted to do something with a different kind of tone, a different look graphically. I wanted to try making a game with different kinds of mechanics – platforming and that Zelda-like action-adventure element. I’d never done that before. If people liked it, great. If they didn’t, I’m fine with that. I got to do it.

I’d like to start pushing a little bit, seeing if there are other structures, seeing if we can do things with AI that we haven’t done before.

And like I said, they sold really well. I don’t want to exploit some of the fan mail I’ve gotten, but I could reduce you to tears right now by telling you about a lot of the fan mail I got, a lot of the fan art that I got, and a lot of the custom plush toys that people made of the characters. I mean, it’s just amazing. The response to the games was fantastic, except from Deus Ex fans, who I know are mad at me [laughs].

RPS: During your talk, you said that you’re still interested in working on, as you define them, “part roller coaster, part sandbox” games – ala Deus Ex or Epic Mickey. But also you said you feel like you’re sort of hitting the point where they aren’t necessarily interesting to you anymore.

Spector: I wouldn’t say they’re not interesting to me. I’m frustrated that, almost 20 years after I started making games like that, that’s still the best I can think of? I honestly don’t know what I’m going to be doing now. I’m really enjoying taking some time off for the first time in my life. But I assume that at some point I’m going to start doing something and making games. I doubt I’m going to end up working for a big company.

But what I want to do, in whatever I do next, is I’d like to start pushing a little bit, seeing if there are other structures, seeing if we can do things with AI that we haven’t done before. I want to take interactive storytelling to another level. I don’t know how to do it, so I need to construct a team of people who are really psyched about that, who are really smart, and who I don’t have to fight with about choice and consequence. I need people who are willing to do the work to be offering people the opportunity to interact with a world in the way they want and live with the consequences of those choices.

RPS: Speaking of AI, have you had the chance to play BioShock Infinite?

Spector: Yeah.

RPS: What’d you think of Elizabeth from an AI perspective? I mean, she’s being cited as one of the best non-enemy AIs we’ve seen in quite some time, but she was also kind of generally awkward and I could never stop wondering why the bad guys didn’t just kidnap her mid-battle.

Spector: BioShock Infinite… I mean this as a total compliment, by the way. Please do not mischaracterize this. I think it’s absolutely the state of the art currently in terms of well-disguised roller-coaster games. It tells a phenomenal story. It has pretty robust companion AI. It’s got an absolutely wonderful, unique world with a unique color palette. I think it’s a really, really excellently implemented version of that kind of game. Probably the best we have. I think there’s still plenty more we can do and need to do on the AI front. But I’m glad to see people doing anything at this point that doesn’t involve flanking tactics and getting stuck on geometry [laughs].

RPS: For a lot of people, though, I think it still fell apart once combat entered the picture. 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.

RPS: Thank you for your time.


  1. ResonanceCascade says:

    So just throwing it out there, but Spector could easily Kickstart One City Block if he so desired. We live in a time where that can be a thing.

    • DerNebel says:

      As far as I understood it One City Block is supposed to be an example of an ideal simulation? Like, everything is simulated, roght from the top level of extremely believable humans with routines, mood swings, drastic changes in their life like unemployment down to the dust flickering in the air in the damp cellar, where kids are busy lighting cigarets which leave ash behind for the janitor to sweep up.

      So, not as an actual game to make, but an ideal to aspire to? Like the perfect mathematical model of a physical problem.

      • ResonanceCascade says:

        I’ve always taken it to mean any game that takes place in a relatively small area, but contains a massive amount of depth. “An inch wide and a mile deep,” as he says. So deep simulation would probably be part of that. But yeah, it’s definitely a concept rather than a literal city block simulator.

        • povu says:

          Yeah, that’s my interpretation of it as well. Would love to see it.

        • Geewhizbatman says:

          And it would have to be because otherwise you fall into the complications of actually trying to decide what captures real life and emulating it. Ala “Synecdoche, New York” (link to imdb.com) Moreover I think part of what he is saying is that it’s not just interactivity in the literal sense. The door opening isn’t important unless there is a reason to open it. The glass spilling isn’t a problem unless someone is bothered by it. Their being bothered isn’t important if you don’t care about their opinion. Their opinion isn’t important if you don’t desire something from them. Ad infinitum…Which is why just creating a highly realistic scene, even one that has some of those elements, isn’t a means to immersion. It might be an enhancement to immersion, but it doesn’t inherently lead to it.

          I’d love to see every game company work from those principles up. To craft something that implores a sense of immersion first and then finds the mix of sandbox and graphics that best fits that. Which I think is what most indie/kickstarter games claim to do–but it would be great to see it in the blockbuster games where money being less concern when it comes to the final interactions of tech. I’m glad Mr. Spector’s career can attest to success based on principles and goals rather than just churning out very specific products to very specific markets and I hope more designers will take that as a cue to try and immerse more people into whatever really moves them.

        • TheIronSky says:

          Like Hitchcock’s “Rear Window” in game form.

          Or at least that’s what I keep thinking. But I’ve yet to see a character in a game match the beauty and presence of Grace Kelly.

      • jemkem05 says:

        If you think Patrick`s story is impressive…, five weaks-ago my son in law earnt $8989 workin 40 hours a month from their apartment and the’re neighbor’s mom`s neighbour done this for 3 months and made more than $8989 parttime on there pc. apply the guidelines on this site grand4.com
        (Go to site and open “Home” for details)

    • Bhazor says:

      They’ve done One City Block. Its called The Sims.

      I’m surprised he hasn’t heard of it because I understand it was quite popular at the time.

      • DonDrapersAcidTrip says:

        Not remotely anything like Warren Spector’s “One City Block” idea but thanks for another useless internet comment in a failed attempt to be funny.

    • Mo says:

      Gone Home is very much in the spirit of Spector’s One City Block proposal.

      • ninnisinni says:

        I can certainly see some parallels, although Gone Home doesn’t seem to feature a lot of simulation. I believe One City Block was supposed to be almost exclusively about simulation.

  2. Morlock says:

    So what are the other six questions he asks himself?

    • zain3000 says:

      Question 03: Will this game piss off Deus Ex fans?

    • SamC says:

      They’re listed here: link to gamesetwatch.com

      1. What are we trying to do? What’s the core idea?
      2. What’s the potential? Why do this game over all the others we could do?
      3. What are the development challenges? Really hard stuff is fine — impossible or unfundable? Not so good…
      4. Has anyone done this before? If so, what can we learn from them? If not, what does that tell us?
      5. How well-suited to games is the idea? There are some things we’re just not good at and shouldn’t even attempt. A love story, for example!
      6. What’s the player fantasy and does that lead to good player goals? If the fantasy and the goals aren’t there, it’s a bad idea.
      7. What does the player do? What are the “verbs” of the game?

  3. Durin says:

    Damn, I actually signed on for this site just now to respond to this article. Quite sure I had opinions about it, voicable ones. Those that needed to be heard and embraced or misunderstood.
    I was so insightfull.
    Can you all just imagine I made some clever remarks about the state of the industry, nostalgia, player-empowerment without violence, expectations in general and books?



    • stkaye says:

      I… agree? And expand upon your points in an apparently interesting way?

      • squirrelrampage says:

        I disagree passionately, make derogatory remarks on the border to trolling before adding some weak counter-arguments, ending in a garble of misinformed statements and emotive pleas.

        • stkaye says:

          I also agree with this, revealing a general strategy of non-confrontation and sucking-up.

        • Arglebargle says:

          I add a personal anecdote about Spector that may or may not have any relevance….

        • Grygus says:

          I dismiss your arguments, calling you juvenile while maintaining an imperious and condescending tone throughout, potentially betraying my own insecurities, and wrap it up with a inappropriate smiley emoticon, confusing everyone as to whether my post is satire. Then I forget about this post entirely and never check back.

          • P7uen says:

            I tell you that actually you have unknowingly proven my point, even though that’s not true. Then I link to the relevant Wikipedia article quoting a part that supports my argument, when in reality the article as a whole is neutral on the subject.

      • Raiyan 1.0 says:

        I claim your remarks to be typical Bolshevik rhetoric with a heady mix of emotional blackmail.

        • Trillby says:

          I over-enthusiastically and sarcastically agree with your arguments in an attempt to expose their ridiculousness. However, I manage to confuse the tone somewhat, leaving any subsequent readers of my comment to wonder whether I do or do not agree with what you said.

  4. HisMastersVoice says:

    Okay, I guess we shouldn’t expect anything from Warren Spector any more, right? Not after “well, Disney fans liked it”.

    Perhaps there is more to the notion that project leads receive way to much exposure and credit for what the teams are doing in the pits.

    • ResonanceCascade says:

      The impression I get is that Spector is the guy you want managing a team and wheeling and dealing with the publisher. I don’t think he’s really a “designer” but more of a producer who’s enthusiastic about (and supportive of) interesting design work. I could be wrong, of course, but that’s what I’ve kind come to understand over the years.

      • HisMastersVoice says:

        The common (mis?) conception is that he’s “the guy that made Deus Ex”. Not just acted as upper management but shaped the core mechanics of that game.

      • DerNebel says:

        Well, in that case, we need more producers. We need upper management that’s able to recognize brilliant ideas and push them in the right direction, so they can be iterated into the best form for the given game.

        I like that he is not dismayed that people (“core gamers” in his term) just wan’t him to build Deus Ex again. If he is sick of it, if he doesn’t want to do it again, then more power to him. The gaming industry is already overflowing with sequels, remakes, reboots, overused mechanics and reused ideas. If Warren Spector doesn’t want to make a new Deus Ex or Ultima game, then I’ll be the one cheering. Richard Garriott is basically trying to do Ultima again, Brian Fargo is recreating Wasteland, hell, even Dark Ages of Camelot is getting an unofficial rework. Why do we even need a Plants vs Zombies 2? Didn’t we explore the theme of garden plants murdering undead thoroughly enough?

        I say, if we do have one of these, as you call them, producers that are willing to take risks, to genuinely try to make games that are above all new, who refuses to sit back and crank out sequels to tired old Baldur’s Gate succesors (Dragon Age, looking at you), then that shouldn’t be a problem. There are literally hundreds of people out there tirelessly making games about things we’ve played before, don’t blame a guy who did great new things for trying to make great new things.

        Even though that Mickey camera thing didn’t quite work out.

        • ResonanceCascade says:

          Oh yeah, I agree with all of this. I wasn’t trying to diminish Spector’s importance at all, just clarifying where I thought his talent actually shines. Because he is very often credited as the mastermind behind Ultima Underworld and System Shock, and I don’t think that’s true. But he did a lot to help those games actually happen.

        • Infinitron says:

          Here’s the thing about “innovation”: Sophistication is a pre-requisite for innovation. Today’s games are not sophisticated, therefore they can not innovate. First we need to go back to the sophisticated games of yore, then we can innovate from there.

          • Grygus says:

            Given that games like Psychonauts are commercial failures and the community collectively loses its mind when someone tries to make an XCOM first-person shooter, all while Halo sells as though money in your wallet is poison, I have grave doubts that innovation is actually desired by the market anyway. I think people just don’t want to explicitly admit that they pretty much want what they liked before with no more changes than you might get in an ambitious patch.

          • ResonanceCascade says:

            @Grygus I want both. I want more of some of the things I really liked the first time around, as well as a healthy dose of innovation. Fortunately, with the current indie scene, I pretty much have that. Gaming is good right now.

      • Apolloin says:

        Not sure he’d be the best for a mainstream game ‘product’ anymore. It sounds like he”s fallen out of love with creating a game for pure entertainment value and become something of a ‘craft’ purist who needs to feel like he’s pushing back the boundaries of the science.

        He now sounds more like the sort of person you need to HIRE a Producer to keep an eye on. Games have to be financially viable.

    • jalf says:

      Why not? What I’m getting from this is that he’s not satisfied with the status quo. Ever. From Ultima to Deus Ex to Mickey Mouse; it’s not that he wants to make casual or kiddy games, but rather that he doesn’t want to spend his life making the same game over and over again.

      I, for one, am excited to see where he lands next. It may or it may not be a game I’ll be interested in *playing*, but I have no reason to doubt that it’ll be a game which…, well, which ought to exist.

    • Wonkyth says:

      Question: Have you played either of the Epic Mickeys? :P

  5. ProtoMan says:

    He kind of fails to explain why he thinks Epic Mickey 1 and 2 are good games… Yes, they have more fans. Of course they would. You’re using the Disney license. There are more Lego Star Wars fans than Maniac Mansion fans, that doesn’t mean Lego Star Wars is the best series Lucas Arts has ever worked with.

    • Valvarexart says:

      There are Lego Star Wars fans?

      All right, I kid. But I’m pretty sure that that statement does not hold water. Maniac Mansion is a cult classic.

  6. Freud says:

    Feels like he is putting his head in the sand about why the Mickey Games weren’t popular among “core gamers”.

    Terrible controls, camera and combat was dreadfully boring (defeating enemies with paint is still combat for those that smugly claim they make non-violent games) were the most common complaints.

    That (non Disney fan) people don’t give Spector a pass on those thing is a very healthy thing. Those things make those games a failure, no matter what metric the creator prefers to use instead.

    • Bhazor says:

      As someone who grew up on Banjo Kazooie and the like I can honestly say Epic Mickey played like crap. Nice graphics over bland level design with clunky mechanics and endless back tracking.

      Shame really, there is a distinct lack of good 3D platformers out there. Really its Mario Galaxy or nothing.

  7. gshauger says:

    I guess I learned at least one thing from reading this article…there are people who think Deus Ex is the greatest game of all time.

    • ResonanceCascade says:

      You don’t spend a lot of time talking to PC gamers, eh?

      • gshauger says:

        Actually I do…that’s the whole point of my post. I’ve heard a lot of people hail a lot of games as the best ever and Deus Ex has never come up.

        Your username is ironic to this particular conversation. ;)

        • ResonanceCascade says:

          Huh. I just took it for granted that Deus Ex’s reputation was so massive. PC Gamer, in particular, has listed it at or near the top of their Greatest of All Time lists several times.

          I don’t play favorites, but both Half-Life and Deus Ex are right up there. :)

          • stkaye says:

            Absolutely. I certainly put Deus Ex into my top 3 or 4.

          • aepervius says:

            It is a question of preference. Take a group which likes RPG rather than shooter, and deus-ex drop out of sight as greatest game.

            Ultima Series up to the 7th, planescape torment, baldur’s gate, and a few others are the one you will hear of.

            In 20 years though you will probably hear about other shooter as being “greatest” game of their last decades. Like CoD. I am not kidding. Why is that so ? Well in my experience with other gamers, shooter seems to be more liked by the average folk (twitch reflex play, adrenaline) than RPG (brainy). It seems simply so that the average persons seek distraction not in the brain using form.

            That’s my explanation why shooters (Deus ex, half life) are considered greatest game, but when you scratch down, they have relatively no depth, whereas game which are much deeper and require more intellectual involvement are not as popular.

            SAme as today really.

          • Trillby says:

            Considering that many people regard Deus Ex as the greatest RPG of all time….hmm.

          • JackShandy says:

            “the average folk (twitch reflex play, adrenaline) than RPG (brainy)”

            If you don’t like and don’t play shooters, it seems fair to say that you don’t have a good idea of who plays them and why. Making broad generalizations about a demographic you don’t belong to does not lead to an accurate representation of reality.

        • Valvarexart says:

          It’s better than HL2 so why not?

          • gshauger says:

            For me personally HL2 is on a whole different level than Deus Ex. It’s like comparing Michael Jordan to Scotty Pippen.

            Yes Deus Ex is a good game and worthy of top 100 gaming lists but HL2 is reserved for the greatest of all time lists. It’s easily a top 3 all time game for me.

          • Valvarexart says:

            Hang on, hang on, hang on, hang on, hang on, hang on…

            What we’re arguing about now..

            Do you know what it’s called?

            Do you want to know.

            It’s called….

            wait for it….


            I personally think it’s the other way round, and I’m sure that there are those who agree.

          • Bhazor says:

            Well Deus Ex and Half Life 1 get a chapter each in the history books whilst Half Life 2 will get a footnote.
            Half Life 2 was a good game. Deus Ex and Half Life 1 were revolutionary.

          • Premium User Badge

            Aerothorn says:

            As someone who has written a video game history book that featured dedicated chapters on Deus Ex and Half-Life, but not Half-Life 2, I can confirm the truth of his words.

            (which doesn’t mean HL2 isn’t awesome!)

          • gshauger says:

            @Valvarexart – I appreciate the lecture on opinions although you’re the one who proclaimed definitively that Deus Ex is better than HL2. Often the best advice is reserved for oneself.

            In regards to any past, present or future gaming books, Half Life 2 deserves a chapter and a big one at that.

          • fish99 says:

            If we’re talking innovation, I don’t think HL2 really qualifies on many counts – just an advance in physics-based gameplay with the gravity gun. Other than that it just did lots of things well. HL1 moved story telling in FPS forwards (at the expense of freedom), and I think you could say it had advances in AI as well (the human marines felt smarter than enemies seen in most previous games).

            I don’t think either of them compare in innovation to games like System Shock 1/2 or Thief though. HL series are mainly just very good linear corridor shooters with really solid gameplay. It’s really the feel of the gunplay that makes them stand out IMO.

          • Apolloin says:

            Precisely. Half Life 2 is an iterative tour-de-force, but it’s not paticularly innovative IN IT’S GAMEPLAY.

            On the other hand, I’m willing to accept that it innovated on a technical/art level.

          • gshauger says:

            System Shock 1/2 would top my list of the most overrated games ever. I finally played SS2 after it was released on Steam and it was the biggest let down ever. Didn’t even remotely live up to the “hype”. For years I had heard people compare it to HL and even proclaim it as the best PC game ever and I have no idea why.

          • Wisq says:

            IMO, System Shock’s appeal relied heavily on two factors: Innovation and immersion.

            It was (I think) the (or “one of the”) first shooter(s) to have a real story, or to use the mouse to aim (before mouselook), or to express the story throughout the game rather than just between action levels, or to have a single go-anywhere world (within the confines of the station), or to have a real (talking!) villain, or to bring RPG elements (inventory, upgrades) to shooters, etc. etc. (For perspective, compare it to DOOM a year prior.)

            It was also deeply immersive and scary for the time. With such dated graphics, it’s a lot harder to capture that immersion today.

            Sure, Half-Life was a huge jump from System Shock 1, but it was also four years further down the road. It also occurred after a lot of the biggest jumps in gaming and shooters, like mouselook, proper accelerated 3D, unobtrusive HUDs, etc. The only improvements since then have been higher fidelity graphics and sounds. So it stands up a lot better to modern scrutiny.

            Note that all this applies to System Shock 1 only. SS2 came after HL1 and really just applied those same innovations to the Shock universe. In all other respects, it was just an iterative improvement over the first. It’s a more accessible game for today’s gamers, and it’s still deeply immersive if you can look past the dated graphics, but it’s by no means innovative to anywhere near the same degree.

    • Thurgret says:

      It’s sitting in my Steam library with a 114 minutes played tag. I just wasn’t feeling it. Endured the tutorial, and some game crashes that made me repeat stuff, got through the first level with a sort of stealthy approach– and the game felt as if it simply wasn’t designed for that– then got to the second, at which point the friendly AI got itself massacred, as far as I could tell, and the game crashed again.

      • stkaye says:

        Let me think – the ‘second level’ would be Battery Park, right? Or is it the first trip to the city block with the ‘ton Hotel? Either way, it’s a real case of dumping the player in at the deep end after the (relatively) clearly organised Liberty Island mission. I’d guess a lot of other people drop out at about this point too.

        • Thurgret says:

          There was some sort of rush into a building, I think the person I was charged to escort or something ran way in out of sight or got shot up — a big, frustrating mess, then a crash, which dumped me back to my save at the end of the first mission, and I wasn’t really interested in playing all that again. This was back in August sometime, so my memory may be fuzzy.

          • Bhazor says:

            I have played Deus Ex three times and I literally have no idea what part you’re talking about. I think you may have dreamed it.

          • ResonanceCascade says:

            I think he means either the second Ambrosia canister or infiltrating the subway. So second mission then.

          • Thurgret says:

            Nope. Very sure of it. Just got in from the first mission, then met some NPCs around base, got sent to a second spot. There was at least one friendly NPC, possibly more, that went running headlong into a mob of hostiles right off the bat.

          • stkaye says:

            I think this is the bit with Castle Clinton in Battery Park, which is easy to lose altogether if you don’t keep up with Anna Navarre when you first arrive. There’s a stand-off, with Navarre and some guys taking cover outside the front entrance.

          • SamC says:

            You can also completely avoid that firefight in the Castle Clinton, finding a secret entrance – besides just avoiding it all together – which is part of why it is such a highly regarded game.

          • Runs With Foxes says:

            There was at least one friendly NPC, possibly more, that went running headlong into a mob of hostiles right off the bat.

            You keep saying this like it’s a problem. It has no impact on whether you can achieve your goals or not, it just makes certain sections easier to harder, and gives you a gun fight you can choose to take part in or not. It’s the simulation playing out around you, and you can interact with it how you wish. You are never ‘charged with escorting’ someone as you said above; there are no escort missions in Deus Ex. It sounds like you thought something had gone wrong, but it hadn’t. Sometimes friendly NPCs will win those fights, and sometimes enemy NPCs will.

          • Thurgret says:

            Have to say that’s pretty different from the impression I was given. Granted, the crashes really weren’t helping, so I was somewhat frustrated with the game to begin with. I’ll give it another go.

      • Fenix says:

        I actually played Deus Ex last year for the first time (after missing it for dumb reasons back when it came out) and I really enjoyed it. It made me wish I played it back then because I can’t even imagine how awesome experiencing something so good would have been in that time.

    • CMaster says:

      You’re coming and saying that on the site that did Deus Ex Day ?!

      I think “thinking Deus Ex is the greatest game of all time” is in the site’s founding principles somewhere.

    • fish99 says:

      I’d like to say System Shock 2 was the greatest ever, but since I never played Deux Ex I’m in no position to judge that. SS2 was a year earlier than Deus Ex though.

      SS2 is the best game I’ve played, maybe tied with Thief 2 for top spot. Honourable mentions for Stalker SOC and Doom 2.

      • stkaye says:

        Dude… you would really dig Deus Ex.

        • fish99 says:

          I keep meaning to try it, but I think it’s hard to have a fair opinion playing the game 13 years late. I don’t have that nostalgia feeling to get me over the dated visuals that I would have playing say Thief now.

          • Zorn says:

            I can understand how you’re feeling. I played it when it came out. But if you really feel inclined to try Deus Ex, there’s a mod called ‘New Vision’, a complete graphic overhaul, which leaves the game-play intact.

            There’s another fine page regarding fixes.
            Just look for kentie-dot-net, there’s dedicated
            Deus Ex section.

        • gshauger says:

          Maybe…maybe not though. I don’t think the game has aged particularly well and a lot of the gameplay that people consider to be innovative is so mainstream now that its significance is lost on people picking the game up for the first time.

          I played it once when the game first came out and then again around 10 years later. I stopped playing after like the 3rd level/location.

  8. povu says:

    Meanwhile, the other Deus Ex guy Harvey Smith went on to make Dishonored.

    But Deusney Ex was not to be. What a shame.

    • stkaye says:

      Weirdly, I’ve never really thought about Dishnored through the lens of it being inspired by/descended from Deus Ex. I think you’ve just wrinkled my brain. There’s something there – the feeling of having a toolkit and a place that offers as much depth as you’re willing to put time in…

      • Runs With Foxes says:

        It follows the same principles of simulation and player agency. There’s a strong immersive sim ancestral line that includes Deus Ex, System Shock (Harvey Smith was a QA tester on that), Thief, Underworld, plus Arx Fatalis from Arkane and now Dishonored.

  9. Tim James says:

    I wouldn’t mind if every game had flanking tactics.

  10. cyrenic says:

    “It was the dynamically changeable environment. As far as I know there had never been and still has never been another game where you can dynamically remove and restore parts of the terrain, characters, objects, that sort of thing.”

    Um….Minecraft? And that’s an easy example.

    Spector really sounds out of touch with gaming at the moment.

    • CMaster says:

      Yeah, the way he says Indies are having no influence kinda screams that.

      There’s a lot of idea-transfer back and forth between AAA and Indie, never mind a lot of publishers opening up to creating lower-budget, $10 games for online distribution and the like.

      • Bhazor says:

        More importantly, some “indies” are outselling the “mainstream”.

        Notch may very well be gaming’s first billionaire and the last Humble Bundle if it had been released in stores would have been in the top ten of the month.

    • Bhazor says:

      Not to mention Dwarf Fortress which has to be the absolute pinacle of systems based emergent gameplay.

      He reminded me of Molyneux somewhat. Someone who started as a fantastic game designer and then as his success increase he was dragged into a management position and now he’s returned to game design but hes just been in that bubble too long.

    • Wisq says:

      Hell, X-COM had you dynamically removing parts of the terrain — although usually with explosives, so putting them back again, not so much.

      First 3D game to do that? Nope, Minecraft.

      First 3D, non-blocky, AAA game to do that? Nope, Red Faction, and Guerrilla even moreso in some ways (more building destruction, less terrain morphing).

      It’s pretty hard to find a situation in which his statement rings true, except possibly “first game by Warren Spector to do that”.

      Living-under-a-rock-itis … I expected better. And I say that as someone who has a lot of respect for the guy. I think. :/

      But then, I don’t know that I’ve actually seen genuine “holy shit!” innovation in gaming since Katamari Damacy, so maybe I’m just getting jaded about all this.

  11. Bhazor says:

    Well I’m glad to see he’s leading by example. By making a mediocre 3D platformer whose defining characteristic is that it features Disney characters.

  12. Captain Joyless says:

    “For the first time in ages, Deus Ex director Warren Spector is unemployed. The man who created what’s regarded by many as the greatest game of all time…”

    Warren Spector created Alpha Centauri?

    • Bhazor says:

      I’m shocked to find out he was the lead designer of Super Metroid.

      • tormos says:

        And that he was the lead on the greatest game ever created, Call of Duty Black Ops 2
        (joking, please don’t hurt me)

    • gshauger says:

      You spelled Half-Life 2 wrong ;)

  13. Captain Joyless says:

    What I learned from this interview:

    1. for the sake of art, we should shoot every artist on the artist’s 55th birthday

    • Dr I am a Doctor says:

      this except every human being
      kill everyone over 55 and under 55

  14. Contrafibularity says:

    Great interview. I did sort of get a little deja-vu sense with some of the questions but that’s probably because I follow Spector’s interviews and articles closely.

    As a Deus Ex / Thief / System Shock and Underworld fan though, I can honestly say I was never mad at Spector for working on Epic Mickey (or whatever he wants to work on) other than the fact I couldn’t run to the store to buy a Wii. I understand why people would want more of the same gameworldy goodness that one gets from playing Looking Glass & Ion Storm games, but I think anyone who’s played through them multiple times know how hard and possibly fruitless it would be to just do more of the same instead of learning from it, moving on and innovating further.

    Also, I think, only Warren Spector would reduce for example DX to a game about armed men in trenchcoats, when that same game was pretty much unique in allowing the player to invest the character with their own minds and playstyle at the time. When I played DX, I was not, or did not feel like I was playing a pre-determined actiony persona that goes around and shoots people in the face. I was [GAMEPLAYER], making my way through this gameworld in my own way (and incidentally, not shooting anyone, though occasionally the shock prod and baton came in handy) and moving through this great story space through seemingly countless paths of possibility. That was the magic trick, sure, but it was real enough. Real enough to give a glimpse of what videogames can do. It blew my mind, and still does when I think about it. I’ve always found it funny that Spector sometimes seems almost embarrassed, or at the least haunted, by his involvement in creating DX, in interviews and such. I think this may be a case of the magician feeling some sort of weird guilt about misleading the audience, when that is precisely what is needed to perform a magic trick. Spector and anyone and everyone involved in games like DX, Thief and System Shock need feel only profound joy at what they accomplished and how much they gave their audience, it’s hard to put into words actually how much they’ve influenced my life, when I was young and had it rough and these games gave me something profound, more than just strength, interest, perspective and more. I’m currently getting started in game design and I don’t know if I would have had I these games not showed me what was possible.

    • stkaye says:

      Interesting. I think there are a few things burbling away under Spector’s commentaries these days. It’s not too clear whether he actually thinks of the Epic Mickey games as his magnum opera: a great work, unappreciated by the same critical circles that he blew away with Deus Ex and the rest. Perhaps he’s really come to think that way. Who knows, perhaps he’s right to.

      I think it might be very difficult to suddenly know, in the middle of your career, that you’ve already done the thing that you’ll be most remembered for; the first line of your obituary, as it were. It’s also hard to escape the slight sense that his time working with Disney IP has really had a profound impact on the way he thinks about violence.

      As you say, Deus Ex could be played with very little actual killing. But I think he’s become very tired of the basic semantics of mainstream gameplay. Guns or knives are the primary means of interacting with the simulation in most places, and even his dedication to immersive simulations doesn’t seem able to justify that any more.

  15. Michael Fogg says:


  16. Duke of Chutney says:

    i agree with most of Warrens sentiments. Whilst combat is exciting in games i do think sometimes it is in there just because its an easy interactive challenge to design. Lots has been done with interactive environments, the next obvious option to me at least is deduction as a game mechanic. He should try and design a game that is based around deduction, that uses a visual and detailed world and that isn’t a scripted game of guess what the designer was thinking.

    • colossalstrikepackage says:

      I’m a little surprised and disappointed that this comment took me 1.5 pages to find. But I do agree with the notion that combat has been done to death. Pun fully intended. A game about relationships or deduction would be genuinely exciting. I’m looking at you, To the Moon. Also, a playable Sherlock game (new BBC version) would be aces. Heck, any game that doesn’t see violence as the go to solution to big problems would be revolutionary.

      • Runs With Foxes says:

        Yeah wow, To The Moon. Because text adventures are totally new and innovative and never been done before in the history of videogames. Don’t be a hypocrite.

        Spector’s been clear about his interest in simulation, and I somehow doubt a totally non-systemic text adventure is what he has in mind. He specifically said he doesn’t want to deal only in words. There are other mediums that are pretty good at that.

        • Trillby says:

          Troll or ignorant?

          I guess there’s a middle ground there – you haven’t really thought about the subject long enough to have come to a worthwile conclusion but “2 da moon is teks venchas!” is a fairly incredible statement to make.

        • eQuality_Ninja says:

          @ Foxes. I read it completely differently – i.e. it not about the format, but the content. Using combat as a crutch is dull. To the Moon is praised for what it achieves – an emotional response (without resorting to violence). The mechanics of how to do this are up for grabs, but a non-violent game really does sound appealing amidst all the smoke and rubble of current gen shoot/stab/laser-beam-em-ups. And there’s no reason a simulation can’t aim for this, as it seems like Spector’s forte.

          P.S. Is it really too much to ask to refrain from calling other commentators names? Let’s keep it civil, people.

  17. Premium User Badge

    gritz says:

    Fantastic interview. It’s great to have my own opinions about games validated by being shared by someone as influential and insightful as Mr. Spector. If only more people would listen.

    edit: and for what it’s worth, I’m replaying Serpent Isle and it’s just as amazing as I remember it.

  18. RProxyOnly says:


    A general direction of no weapons?

    Yeah… I can see that would be really popular with the main video game player base, move along nothing to see.

    • Prime says:


      You claim to speak for core gamers but seem to have missed/forgotten that Deus Ex, one of gaming’s finest achievements, is heralded precisely because of the options it gave the player for AVOIDING combat if they chose to – and many chose to – and for all the elements it included that weren’t about shooting dudes; the thousands of pages of world-building in-game text, the relationships, etc.

      More gaming history study needed. See me after class.

    • cpt_freakout says:

      More playing of the classics, less talking, kthxbye

  19. belgand says:

    Honestly I wish he’d get together with Obsidian and work on a sequel to Alpha Protocol. The game is clearly indebted to his earlier work and was a rather noble experiment that didn’t quite work out. Seems like the perfect sort of thing.

    Another interesting option would be to likewise do an espionage RPG, but hew closer to his “no weapons” idea. It’s such a part of people’s conceptions, but real espionage doesn’t really involve shooting people most of the time. It’s about people and managing relationships more than anything and seems like the ideal project for him to working on.

  20. PC-GAMER-4LIFE says:

    RPS massive fail here they talk to Spector but do not ask what happened to the PC port of Epic Mickey2 not that many want it but at least tell us what happened to it was it cancelled (presumably) or did it never make it to the porting process in the first place!!

    • ZIGS says:

      Yeah, I want to know what happened as well

    • RProxyOnly says:

      Hang on.. You expect actual journalism here?

      Boy are you in the wrong place.

      • PC-GAMER-4LIFE says:

        Possibly but I had to ask! I mean its not hard to see their is an actual story to be told here. Steam+Disney had a dispute about some T&C’sfew years ago which meant Disney do not do business with Valve so no Disney games on Steam (apart from the Lucasarts ones they aquired). Did that influence why no Epic Mickey 2 was it finished or not etc etc Spector must know the answers surely if anyone does! If the game is finished why not just release it to let PC gamers see how bad it is for themselves.

  21. jasondesante says:

    I like when he went “to be clear mickey 1 was the best selling game I’ve worked on”
    doesn’t mean it wasn’t shit Warren, doesn’t mean that was the game a lot of people that heard of your “great games” bought thinking it would also be good, also liking Disney, and then getting all those expectations shattered.
    Best selling because that’s where you lost the new generation of fans you could have shown respect but instead showed disrespect and lack of care for your work.
    That game is the reason I have no trust for Warren Spector, just like watching the long story of lies that is the Fable series shattered any trust for Molyneux.

    There is a person called Miyamoto, and he never lost his mojo. Theres a reason Miyamoto is Miyamoto. He is largely responsible, but you can’t deny the fact the people he surrounds himself with influenced him a lot, and that is why Miyamoto is great in his own.

    If Molyneux and Spector kept close and continued to bring in other great designers, and kept that ship tight, they would all be better themselves, and would have made better games. Nintendo :D

  22. Kevin says:

    UC Santa Cruz? Doesn’t strike me as the type of campus that would give Spector a second look. In my career at Santa Barbara, I could count the people I knew who were as into games as I was on a single hand, then Spector goes to the school that’s a ridiculously flanderised version of UCSB?

  23. Runs With Foxes says:

    Another problem is, “What do you mean you’re not making a game about a guy wearing a trench coat and sunglasses and wearing a gun? Go back and make the kind of games you always used to make.” I wanted to do something with a different kind of tone, a different look graphically. I wanted to try making a game with different kinds of mechanics – platforming and that Zelda-like action-adventure element.

    I’m wondering how Spector explains the fantasy game and John Woo ninja game (no less) he was planning to make before his company was bought out by Disney. That was the time when he had creative freedom, and what did his company come up with? An action ninja game. His nonviolent crusade since being bought by Disney seems a little dishonest to me.

  24. Core says:

    Someone should really give him that 100mil and tell him to make whatever he wants. It would be interesting to see what these great devs could accomplish when they would not have to worry about the commercial success of their game.

    • Demigod says:

      Someone should tell him to stop talking and do something good for a change. The Mickey games were very flawed, passable at their best moments. In our skewed review score world they received worse than average for the first and terrible for the second, Sales for both while his best ever were reportably bad.

      He hasn’t made a good or ground breaking game in over a decade. He needs to stop talking and using a reputation earned on a couple of games made in the last century and put his reputation here his moth is. No weapon games fine great but he isnt the first to think of it hasnrt he seen any iphone/ android indy games? Nor deep games just of the top of my head Shenmue back in 2000

      I wish he would do something, I don’t know why but Im just sick of him endlessly talking and doing nothing to justify it.

  25. Screamer says:

    But he doesn’t look like a Citidal Agent who’s actions are beyond reproach?

  26. The Sombrero Kid says:

    Sounds like me and him are in the same place, it’s the logical next step from deus ex to remove the guns, deus ex was arguably too long & that’s largely because we’re not ready to accept we’ll play a game that has much more meaningful choices than meaningless, should i kill this guy or sneak past him, ones.