In the "Hit List" from the Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences, the video game industry's top talents describe their current gaming addictions, their most anticipated releases and more. This week: Junction Point's Warren Spector.
After seven years with Origin, Warren did a brief stint with LookingGlass Technologies before founding Ion Storm's Austin, Texas studio in 1997. At Ion Storm, he produced and directed the award-winning, genre-bending Deus Ex. He later oversaw development of Deus Ex: Invisible War, released in 2003, and Thief: Deadly Shadows, released in 2004. That year, he left Ion Storm to found Junction Point Studios, developing concepts for a variety of video game and motion picture partners before being acquired, in 2007, by The Walt Disney Company. There he directed Disney Epic Mickey, released in 2010. A sequel, Disney Epic Mickey 2: The Power of Two, was released in November 2012.
In his forthcoming 2013 D.I.C.E. Summit session, Warren will be speaking on "Hey, You kids! Get Outta My Yard! or The Graying of Gaming."
"Used to be, games were largely the domain of youngsters - kids played them and 'kids' (relatively speaking) made them," Spector says. "Nowadays, things are different. Gamers are everywhere, coming in all ages and genders, and developers have grown up, too. In this talk, I will address the impact of aging on gamers, on developers and on our medium. How does the graying of gaming affect Game Content, Player Commitment, Design Philosophy, Gaming Platforms, Mainstream Media Interactions and, generally speaking, The Future. This talk will be a personal look backwards and forwards that will, I hope, offer something for kids and adults, boys and girls, men and women, whatever their relationship may be with games as pastime, as art or as business."
What games are you playing right now?
I'm in the middle of The Walking Dead from Telltale. I'm also playing Dishonored and Papo & Yo and finishing up Rayman on the Vita. And I'm always playing stuff like Drop 7 and Can't Stop on my iPhone. (Man, how about THAT for some variety? That's what gaming's all about these days.)
What future release are you most looking forward to?
I'm a huge fan of Victoriana and the kind of storytelling in Bioshock, so Bioshock Infinite is pretty high on my list. Grand Theft Auto V looks unbelievable – I'll play that despite my misgivings about the content in the GTA series. And, while it isn't exactly a future release, I still haven't played Unfinished Swan – gotta grab that soon.
What about a niche game that impressed you with its sheer innovation or fun factor?
I hate to be so "me-too" with my answer, but Journey is a heck of an accomplishment. I mean, getting something that different made nowadays? That's something ...
What literature has had the biggest impact on your creative process?
I'm not sure this is such a good thing, but I doubt I'd be doing what I do if I hadn't discovered science fiction and fantasy at an early age. No Heinlein or Tolkien and there's no me, professionally, at least. Like most game developers of my generation, I got into this because I loved reading about aliens and spaceships and monsters and myths. My taste in literature has broadened over the years, but that formative stuff was critical. I'm not sure how or if some of the stuff I read impacts my process, but I'd be remiss if I didn't mention Walter Tevis and Jack Finney, two of my favorite authors.
Finney is about the best writer of time travel stories ever, and I adore time travel stories – have to make a time travel game someday! And Walter Tevis wrote two books that just blow my mind – The Hustler and Queen's Gambit, both of which have some relevance to gaming fans in their depiction of the art associated with pool and chess. Man, I sound lowbrow! Maybe I should say something about Dickens or Joyce or something ...
What two movies or TV shows influenced your creative process the most?
That's easy – The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad and King Kong. Give me a third title, and I'll throw in Sleeping Beauty. Give me a fourth and it's Blade Runner.
Ray Harryhausen's Sinbad picture was the first film I remember seeing. I was two years old when it came out and it changed my life forever. I had nightmares about dragons and stuff for years – and loved it! If not for Seventh Voyage of Sinbad, I doubt I'd be a game developer today.
I saw King Kong (the 1933 version) when I was about three, on TV. Talk about a nightmare-inducing experience! I was in love with dinosaurs and fantasy and King Kong combined them both! Sleeping Beauty was another nightmare-causer. Guess I liked nightmares! Sleeping Beauty I saw when I was about four and I remember thinking how different, how magical, it looked compared to anything else in my life – and it had a witch who turned into a scary fire breathing dragon. What's not to like, when you're four?
As far as Blade Runner goes, is there a game developer who WASN'T influenced by it? The way it looked and sounded ... it's believable setting ... the darkness of its future vision ... Look, my first dungeon master, when I started playing D&D was Bruce Sterling, one of the fathers of the cyberpunk SF movement. I was primed to fall in love with Blade Runner!
As far as TV goes, I watch a TON of it and I'm no ashamed to admit it. I wish more developers would acknowledge how incredible the game design is on some reality shows, notably Survivor – we can all learn a lot from that show ... And I've long believed that developers need to stop thinking of movies as their model and turn to an episodic TV model – I did a lot of writing about the old sitcom Happy Days, when I was in grad school, and that kind of serial narrative approach seems ideally suited to gaming – I don't get why more people, other than Telltale, aren't playing in that space ...
When you're daydreaming about the "next big thing", what are you listening to?
Musically, I'm drawn to show tunes. I know, I know ... It's weird. But that's what I listen to. I love me some Broadway. If you stretch the definition of "daydreaming" a bit, you'll most often hear me listening to audiobooks and lectures from The Teaching Company. I love hearing smart people talk about psychology ... mythology ... that sort of thing. If you want a real treat, grab any course by Robert Sapolsky or Elizabeth Vandiver. Trust me. You'll make better games.
What app is making it tough to put down your phone or tablet?
Drop 7, Drop 7, Drop 7. I love-hate that game. If I could bottle whatever addictive quality that thing has ... the hold it has on me that keeps me playing every day, year after year ... If I could do that, I'd be a wealthy man! Beyond games, I don't know what I'd do without Evernote. I pretty much live in Evernote. When I'm not playing Drop 7, of course!
What social game has you hooked?
None. I hate those things. Can't remember the last time I played a game on Facebook or even loaded up an MMO. Somebody make a good one – at least a different one - and maybe I'll try again. Maybe.
What does your home gaming setup consist of?
My home gaming setup consists of everything. Well, almost – I realized the other day that I no longer own a PC! I have a Mac desktop and a Mac laptop and an iPad, an iPhone 5, a Kindle Fire. My 360, my PS3 and my Wii are connected to a 65 inch plasma TV and a pretty killer sound system. Oh, yeah, I have a Vita and a 3DS XL that get quite the workout. I have an OnLive box. Need to get a Wii U. If you make games for a living, you pretty much need to own every viable platform.
What's your favorite new gadget?
I'm tempted to say my Lytro camera (which lets you change the focus after you take a picture) or my Sifteo cubes (which combine electronic and toy play in cool ways) or my 3DS (stereoscopic 3D without glasses? Seriously?), but really it has to be my iPhone. I know it's not so "new," but it's still life-changing. I was at a University of Texas basketball game the other night that was kind of dull, so I stuck some earbuds in my ears, cranked up NBA Game Time and watched a live broadcast of a Knicks game while I was attending a live game. That was weird, but unique. I'm never out of touch, never without entertainment, never alone or without a book or game, never without whatever information I need or access to shopping opportunities. Like I said, life-changing.