Devs should think about their legacy, says Spector

DICE 2013: Epic Mickey designer implores creators to make games for more than just their adolescent selves

During his DICE Summit presentation today, Warren Spector did not talk about his latest game, Epic Mickey 2, or the recent closure of his Junction Point Studios. Instead, the 57-year-old developer looked back on his decades in the game industry, and reflected upon the changes he's gone through both personally and professionally.

One of those changes was his taste in games. Spector said when he was younger, he wanted adrenaline rush and spectacle. He wanted transgressive content parents would disapprove of. He was attracted to games that would alienate and shock people. He wanted experiences that could be played for 100 hours or more.

"We need to think about things that are relevant to normal humans, and not just the geeks we all used to be"

Warren Spector

As he's gotten older and free time has grown more scarce, Spector is drawn increasingly to shorter experiences, and ones with a greater thematic diversity.

"I have no interest in guys who wear armor and swing big swords," Spector said. "I've been the last space marine between earth and alien invasion already. I really just don't need to go there anymore. I want content that is relevant to my life, that is relevant to me, that is set in the real world."

He name-checked Heavy Rain and Telltale Games' The Walking Dead series as two of the best gaming experiences he's had in recent years. They were games that weren't about body-builder heroes or planet-changing events; they celebrated the ordinary and the everyday, Spector said. They made hugs compelling, or the simple act of playing with a child.

In some ways, they were much like Spector's body of work, where the player has an impact on the game's story, where the way they play determines the narrative outcome. But unlike Spector's previous works, they didn't require twitch skills or a hefty time commitment.

Spector referenced Heavy Rain director David Cage's own DICE talk from the previous day. Spector said he agreed with everything Cage said about the need for gaming to grow up, but disagreed about all the solutions Cage proposed in his talk.

He didn't go further into criticisms of Cage's solutions, but instead proposed his own.

"We need to think about things that are relevant to normal humans, and not just the geeks we all used to be," Spector said.

Spector stressed the need to work more in fostering the talents of younger developers, worrying more about helping other developers achieve their own goals. He offered one of his own mistakes in the hopes that they could avoid repeating it.

"I hope you will not follow my path and put aside those geekish things at an earlier age than I did, and really discover that you don't have as much time as you think," Spector said.

"This is not just about making money. I used to be embarrassed to say that we create art. I am no longer embarrassed to say that"

Warren Spector

There's no time to waste making games because somebody else needs to make some money, Spector said. He doesn't know how many more projects he'll be able to finish in his career, so he's determined to make sure every one of them is special.

"I think more about legacy than I probably should," Spector said. "I want to leave something behind. And I think that's probably true of most people who've done something for 30 years. And I hope all the 20 and 30-something folks think about that. Think about what you're leaving behind. This is not just about making money. I used to be embarrassed to say that we create art. I am no longer embarrassed to say that."

Whatever his own legacy winds up being, Spector won't be remembered as humorless. The veteran developer wrapped up his talk with a tongue-in-cheek solicitation for job offers, drawing a round of laughs from the crowd.

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Latest comments (9)

Paul Johnson Managing Director / Lead code monkey, Rubicon Development3 years ago
Wow. After following various news pieces here, I have to say I'm glad I didn't bother with this summit. Seems to be a collection of talking heads deliberately going against the grain just to get some air time. Egotastic.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Paul Johnson on 8th February 2013 8:37am

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Dave Herod Senior Programmer, Codemasters3 years ago
Why is everyone so bitter about people giving their opinions?
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Russell Watson Senior Designer, Born Ready Games3 years ago
Ok Mr Spector, when developers are lucky enough to not have to worry about more pressing short term matters ( like will they have still a job a couple of months down the line etc etc). Then they too will concern themselves with such egocentric pursuits like being concerned with their artistic legacy! Because that, that is an expensive luxury.

It's simple guys, if you feel there is a need or a market for a specific type of game. Then go make it yourself. Do not stand on a platform and lecture everyone else telling them that the industry should be X, Y or Z. There is plenty of room for plenty of games.

Also if this is the case, why do the Mickey games? To be honest he is sounding a little bit more on the side of bitterness after looking at Epic Mickey 2 sales figures.
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Rick Lopez Illustrator, Graphic Designer 3 years ago
Just because Epic Mickey didnt sell doesnt mean it was a bad game. I do think expectations were set too high. I enjoyed both Mickey games and would not mind seeing more games from Spector. However I dont think you can think about your legacy when your not the only one behind creating a game, when your part of a team and when most people are worried about simply having a job, despite how they feel the game they are developing should really be. If your in a position where you have limitless resources and can make a game to your liking regardless of sales expectations then yeah you can think about your legacy. but in most cases, selling the game, making sales and the business aspect is also something to consider, playability and accessability as well. It needs to appeal to alot of people and you have to also think about what other people want. its part of the design process. Dont get me wrong I like Warren Spector, Id very much like to see more games from him. But I just think there is little room to actually think about your legacy in this type of industry. I think that is something that is established over a course of time, through lots of work and is determined by how people percive your work. Its not something you can control. I just think your legacy expands just as much as the amount of games you have made. I find it hard to make a game while thinking about my legacy. I look at it as I have these ideas for a game, and that how can I make it sell as much as possible and make it in a way people can enjoy. And if after that i determine its feasable or not I decide wether to make the game or not. My Legacy is hardly any concern. people determine that.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Rick Lopez on 8th February 2013 1:38pm

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Hugo Trepanier Senior UI Designer, Hibernum3 years ago
I am a bit shocked by the negative responses in this thread to Warren Spector's talk. Sure I agree it's difficult for the "average" developer to think about his legacy when most of us are mostly concerned about having a good job at all. We're not all in a position to make major decisions like that.

However, he's seeing the global picture here and there's a lot of truth to what he says... basically he's talking about making games that matter, creating experiences that will be more than just entertaining but also meaningful for players. Games that will be remembered in many ways, not just for their big explosions or realistic graphics but also for the feelings they conveyed.

If we can have enough industry leaders and executives to follow that lead, there's a chance we'll be making more than just Generic Shooter X and Clone Game 28 that rely on violence and repetitiveness to get their point across. I think that games like Journey and the Walking Dead achieve this very well. We need more of those.
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Tameem Antoniades Creative Director & Co-founder, Ninja Theory Ltd3 years ago
It's a conference where people are asked to share their ideas and opinions. I'm glad people like warren do so. If he has an ego, he's earnt it and I'm listening.
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T. Elliot Cannon Game Designer 3 years ago
Games aren't supposed to be relevant to your life. They are entertainment and usually lightly story driven or place the player into situations we will never experience in our lives, similar to mass market fiction and film.

If you want something that has literary significance or comments on the human condition try literature.
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Jake May Game Designer, Playjam3 years ago
"Supposed" by whose criteria? I would have thought that games are in fact uniquely positioned to be highly relevant to the human condition because they continually demand that you make decisions that hold consequences, a cause and effect interaction has the potential to be as profound as it is typically visceral. For example, Brenda Romero's (nee Brathwaite) "Mechanic is the Message" series of non-digital games are fantastic examples of how games can emotionally provoke us in a way that is not accessible to other media.

To insist that aspiring to greater cultural aspirations is beyond the remit of games and they should forever be consigned to the realm of transient kitsch is to place an unnecessary and undeserving straight-jacket upon an art form that is still muddling through its difficult teenage years.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Jake May on 11th February 2013 3:27pm

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Dave Herod Senior Programmer, Codemasters3 years ago
@T. Elliot Cannon - Games are "supposed" to be anything the developer wanted them to be.
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