In an interview with Eurogamer earlier this week, Warren Spector—creator of such gaming classics as Deus Ex, System Shock, Thief, and (some of) the Ultima series—threw down the gauntlet to fellow developers, including Epic Games’ Tim Sweeney and id’s John Carmack, challenging them to shift the focus of the gaming medium from the easy aim-shoot-kill mechanic to (among other options) the considerably more difficult characterize-engage-sustain mechanic.
Eurogamer caught up to Spector at Gamescom this week, where he issued his open challenge: “I’ve been actively trying to shame some of my fellow developers, specifically John Carmack and Tim Sweeney. Can you imagine what games would look like if those two guys spent as much time working on non-combat AI as they do on rendering? Can you imagine what games we would have if John Carmack decided he wanted to create a believable character as opposed to a believable gun? I mean, oh my god! Those guys are way smarter than I am. I don’t know how to solve the problem, but they could figure it out.”
Spector goes on to attribute some of the issue to controller design and how that directs designer focus onto quick-twitch reactions, most obviously for aiming and shooting, as this is an easy and popular direction for game studios to focus on. “Trying [controllers] on a conversation is very hard in the extreme. It doesn’t map very well to pushing buttons. It’s not what we’re doing right now. I find it annoying where people don’t try to solve that problem. But I understand why. It’s a very hard problem to solve...where I am in my life and my career, I want to explore things like, what does it mean to have a brother? How do you form a family?”
Spector’s point is a good one, but the fatal flaw is, as always, the almighty dollar. Developers will build what the masses will play. Shooters built with any sort of minimal competence are almost automatically successful, especially those from specific established franchises. It’s harder to sell the majority of gamers on atmospheric, story-driven experiences—a fact Spector is aware of: “We focus a little bit too much on violence, but we all know how to do it. It’s easy. And a lot of players seem to like it. It isn’t all we can do and it certainly isn’t all we should do.”
One would, of course, hope that the majority gamers might diversify or mature their tastes enough to allow major mainstream developers some more room for experimentation, failure, and a departure from the status quo. But the financial realities of development are always in play. What are the options for a solution? Are there any? You tell us, dear readers.
In other gaming news this week, Rockstar teases us with new GTA V screenshots, the creators of Infinity Blade help you decide who to vote for, Mortal Kombat hits arcades once again, Okami returns, Diablo 3 gets fixed, and PopCap suffers massive layoffs.
- Mass Effect 3: Leviathan DLC is set to launch on August 28.
- The latest Mortal Kombat game could be making a return to arcades near... Japan.
- In more news from across the Not-So-Narrow Sea, get acquainted with Gone Home to learn how abandoned, ruined Japanese homes inspired a video game.
- If you’re racked with indecision in regards to the upcoming election... video games are here to help. Infinity Blade creators Chair Entertainment have released Vote!!! The Game, in which Obama and Romney duke it out as they vie for your support. So, make up your mind, or just beat politicians senseless—it’s a win-win!
- Troubling word this week is that a massive PopCap layoff is underway, and has been quietly underway for months. PopCap Shanghai and Dublin have been shut down, and PopCap Seattle has laid off around 50 workers so far.
- Rockstar released some screenshots of modes of transportation in GTA V last week, including a fighter jet, bicycle, and the classic sports car. Just yesterday they released a little more in the form of in-game leisure activities, including tennis, dirt-biking, and parachuting. Anticipation rises.
- In other Rockstar news, Max Payne 3 players will receive a free DLC next week—Disorganized Crime. In addition to including a new multiplayer map, the DLC has a neat little surprise for the Noir-hounds of the first two MP games—the option to play through the single player campaign in atmospheric black-and-white.
- Those of you who were fans of the original Okami’s uniquely beautiful inked art style should take note: Okami HD is looking mighty impressive. The official reveal trailer (below) may have been better served focusing on the gameplay, rather than the played-out dialogue, but IGN offers a more gameplay-heavy trailer here.
- Blizzard has released Diablo 3’s massive 1.0.4 update sooner than expected, and it contains fixes to many of the issues that plagued the game, including underpowered classes (*cough* Witch Doctors *cough*), a more sustainable endgame, better Legendary items, and a more reasonable Inferno difficulty level.
- A final note—next week’s gaming roundup will delayed to the weekend (or slightly beyond) as we will be blogging live from PAX Prime in Seattle, bringing you the latest in the world of gaming as it happens. See you then!