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In this exclusive interview ahead of his GDC lecture this week, we spoke with Junction Point's Warren Spector about his stance on MMOs (preview: he doesn’t like them), writing in games, dynamic storytelling, and the potential of the medium.

Brandon Sheffield, Contributor

March 5, 2007

33 Min Read

Warren Spector is probably most acclaimed for his work on Deus Ex, but his experience has spanned many studios. From Origin, to Looking Glass Studios, to Ion Storm, Spector has made his mark, especially in terms of interactive story and depth of character immersion. Now, with his new Houston-based studio Junction Point (taking the title from a cancelled Looking Glass game), Spector plans to take all of that a step further, with a brand new intellectual property. In this exclusive interview, we spoke with Spector about his stance on MMOs (preview: he doesn’t like them), writing in games, dynamic storytelling, and the potential of the medium.

Gamasutra: What's going on with Junction Point now?

Warren Spector: We're working away on a project that I can't really talk about too much, but it's pretty exciting. We're creating an original IP, and we'll be talking more about it at GDC, but for now we're keeping the specifics of the project under wraps. Anything else you want to talk about is fair game.

Gamasutra: Can you say if this was the game you were talking about for Steam some time ago, or is this something new?

WS: Well, I left Ion Storm, which was an Eidos studio, back in 2004. I had a non-compete that kept me unoccupied for a while. What I really wanted to do at first was find a new business, distribution, and funding model. I worked quite a while on that, and while I was doing that I hooked up with Valve and another publisher and did a bunch of concept work. We also created an original concept for Majesco, that we've since re-acquired the rights to, and I'd like to come back to that one day. While all that concept development was going on, we were in the background looking for our long term game deal – what we’re doing now has nothing to do with Valve at all.

Gamasutra: Did you manage find a suitable new business model?

WS: Well, I probably shouldn't put it this way but the reality is that we got crushed. I wanted to find film financing and find a non-publisher source of funding. We wanted to do some direct distribution stuff. I think the whole episodic/direct distribution model is a big part of our future. It has a lot of advantages for developers, publishers, retailers and gamers. For all the talk about episodic stuff, I don't think anybody is approaching development in the best way to do things episodically, or distribution, or design. I had a whole plan put together for episodic direct distribution with alternate funding projects and everybody I talked to said “it's five years to early for this.” Maybe if I had the clout of Valve or Turner with GameTap, it might have been different, but the reality of this industry is structured around a specific publisher/developer business model, and that's where we've ended up.

Gamasutra: Did you consider different structuring for the development side? When you said film funding it made me think of the business model that Alex Seropian is using with Wideload.

WS: What Alex is doing with Wideload is very interesting. Certainly, from a development standpoint, there's a couple of ways to approach things. First, there's the big publisher route where you build 300 person teams. That fills me with dread and I don't even want to do that. Then there's what Alex is doing, which is a really radical outsourcing solution. What I want to do has 2 components. Get 45 or 50 people, keep it relatively small for a game team nowadays, and stock it with people whose responsibility is to conceive the game, create the pipeline for getting assets into the game. Build the first character model, chair and cut-scene, build the first level and figure out how the game system’s going to work. Then have other people actually generate the other 27 chairs, 150 characters and other assets you need. Then have the core team of 40-50 people build the game from those assets. That's a hybrid of what Alex is doing now and what the bigger publishers are doing.

Gamasutra: How many people do you have now?

WS: We're at 23 right now.

Gamasutra: Did you gain any employees from the dissolution of Origin? I know there's a lot of flux in that region.

WS: Origin has been gone for a long time. I left Ion Storm before EIDOS shut down that studio, but once it did shut down, Ion Storm's dispersement seeded the growth in the Austin development community. I got about 10 people from Ion Storm who I really wanted to work with. Midway Austin picked up a bunch of people. There was a studio called BreakAway, that recently broke up, that had a lot of Ion Storm people. Ion Storm's development seeded new development. It was sad to see it go since I built it, with the help of a lot of other people, but I picked up some people I really wanted to work with again.

Gamasutra: What's the origin of the name “Junction Point?”

WS: When I was with Looking Glass, the last thing I worked on with them on was a concept that I came up with along with Doug Church and some other guys. It was a very different approach to multiplayer online games called Junction Point. I loved the name and concept. I'm not revealing anything too dramatic since we're not doing the game, though I'd love to some day, but the name spoke to me more as a name for a studio than a name for a game. A junction point is where a lot of things come together and that you can go in a lot of different directions. If you think about the kind of games I like to work on and play, it's a lot of genres coming together. If you look at Deus Ex, we still win best role playing, action and story game awards [even today]. I love the fact that we confound the marketing people, frankly. Junction point expresses that. The games I like to make are all about players choosing directions, paths and play styles. A place where a lot of things come together and offer a lot of places to go... what better name could there be? It's also nice that it abbreviates to JPS, which rolls off the tongue.

Gamasutra: I was reading your mission statement, which says you want to create the narrative with the players and not for them. How do you go about doing that without becoming a choose-your-own adventure or a Spore?

WS: Wow, this is the topic of my GDC talk this year. How much should I reveal?

Gamasutra: Sorry, that was just me thinking.

WS: No, that's a great question. In terms of game narrative, there's a broad spectrum of possibilities and implementation styles. On the one hand, there's Will Wright who's not even interested in telling stories to or with players, he wants to provide them with the tools to create their own stories. That's perfectly fine. I love Will and the fact that he exists. I love playing his games. On the flip side there are the roller coaster rides like Half-Life. I'm loving Twilight Princess right now. The Square-Enix games. Those are games that put you on rails, they're roller coaster rides. They're exhilarating, exciting, fun and challenging... all the things that games should be.

The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess by Nintendo

There's also a middle ground, and I don't think that it involves the choose-your-own adventure approach. There's a philosophy that I like to apply: as a developer I want to control the overall narrative arc. Using Deus Ex as an example, JC Denton has a brother, he works for this agency, and the agency turns out to be not what you thought it was and you have to switch sides because they turn on you. The terrorists are the good guys, and so on. All that stuff provides context and meaning for all of the minute-to-minute player choices. In that sense, I own all the acts and why you do things. Now, saying that, it's possible to own why you do things and leave how you do them in the players’ hands. The key for me is creating linked sandboxes and letting players explore those little narrative chunks on their own. I'll determine why it's important that you get through a door, but how you get through it, what happens and whether you kill, talk to or ignore everyone on the other side belongs to the player. That concept of sharing authorship is where the sweet spot of game narrative is. There are some things that I think we can do to take that to the next level, and things that can be done a couple of years from now that can take it to yet another level. The end goal for me now isn't for me to allow players to play a movie, ride a roller coaster ride or provide a sandbox so they can do what they want, but is to find the compromise where I can have a dialog with each player virtually. That's what's exciting to me.

Gamasutra: Do you think that's something that can be done independent of the designer? Games that have attempted anything like that in the past have struck me as only within the limits of what the designer can think of, but if I as a player can think of something that makes sense but I can't do it, that breaks the story for me.

WS: It's a very hard challenge, I'll give you that. The problem is that most people making games, especially story games, still rely very heavily on scripted sequences and interactions among objects. If the designer doesn't think of it, it can't happen. We started doing this at Origin back in the late ‘80s, but with Ion Storm and Looking Glass we tried to take it to new levels. We tried to use simulation a little more, or at least to script types of behaviors between types of objects and entities as opposed to specific interactions between players and things in the world. So, in that way, we can set it up so that players can exercise a little creativity. It's a little self-serving for me to say this, so I apologize, but in Deus Ex, things happened all the time that we hadn't expected or planned. The example that the team talked about most frequently, was that we had these objects called LAMs that were explosives that you could attach to walls. These were physical objects in the world that had size and mass, and what we figured was that you'd attach it to a wall and it would blow up when something comes near it. You detonate it or shoot it. What we didn't anticipate is that a player figured out that you could put one on the wall, jump up onto it because it was a physical object, and then put another one up and jump onto it, creating a ladder and letting him get to where we didn't intend. No one at Ion Storm thought of that, or planned it, but the fact that we simulated it deeply enough allowed players to create solutions to the problems we created.

There’s another one we were amazed by, but that we caught in testing so we can claim that we did it on purpose, even though we didn't. We had a character type called the man in black that exploded when you killed them. We wanted to create a challenge for the player who chose close combat instead of ranged. We gave the players a character development path that drove some difference in gameplay. If you were an up-close-and-personal fighter, killing a man in black was a risky proposition for you because he blows up and does a lot of damage to you. A ranged combat guy just stands back with a pistol and bang, bang, bang the man in black explodes, no big deal. What we discovered was that people were killing men in black while they were next to a locked door or locked chest, thus opening the locked door or chest without having to expend any lock picks, multi-tools or resources of any kind, which we never anticipated. That's another way that players made the story their own.

Players were getting online talking about how it was cool when this cool thing happened, but that “cool thing” was different for every player. That's harnessing the real power of gaming. That's different than “wasn't it cool when you killed the giant tentacle monster when you hit it 3 times in the big toe and then knocking it on its back with the sword of doom,” but if everyone does that then who cares? For me, games are all about unique experience. I did this and this and this, which is different from what you did, but we both get the experience of being a hero through the narrative context that we provide.

Gamasutra: There's still an importance on checkpoints there, though, in order to advance the narrative arc in a way that you've set out.

WS: Certainly, and I think there are ways around that too, which we'll explore over the next several projects. You have to know the narrative entry-point and exit-point of each major part of the game for that to work. Absolutely. That's why it's a hybrid of linear string of pearls game structure and sandbox approach, like Will and other folks use.

Gamasutra: I really like when you know where you're supposed to go, but you've completed all the objectives and decide you want to mess around for a while.

WS: Yeah.

Gamasutra: I was playing Resident Evil 4, which is one of my favorite games in a while, and I just went back through an area that had no reason to return to, and there were suddenly really tough monsters in there. I guess they had figured someone was going to do that and placed a bunch of strong monsters in there for you to deal with. I always appreciate when that sort of thing happens.

WS: Sure, side quests and the ability to go back and revisit places, or play through them differently and see how the situation changes differently. Alienate [an npc] one play-through and then see what happens if you don't on the next time. There are all sorts of things that we can do, but don't.

Gamasutra: You've been a long time proponent of single player roleplaying experiences, what do you think of MMOs?

WS: Honestly, I don't much care for them. If I'm going to have a social experience, I'd rather have it in person. I feel like a blind, deaf and dumb person watching a movie while I'm playing an MMO because the social experience is really shallow. Again, this is one of the things I'll end up talking about at the GDC, but I'm, perhaps to a fault, a story person. I really need narrative. The level of narrative that people have been able to achieve in MMOs has been so shallow. I'm one of those people who doesn't find anything interesting at all in leveling up, finding a +3 sword or paper-dolling a character with a purple cloak. That doesn't appeal to me in any way as a human being. Put that all together and the play experience of MMOs is on par with roleplaying back in ‘87. In all fairness, my wife is a World of Warcraft addict.

Gamasutra: That could probably influence your opinion as well.

WS: I've had this position for a long time. I think if someone solves the problem of “I don't want to interact with 10,000 of my personal friends, ever, and somehow make 10,000 people all be the hero of a compelling story,” then I'll be a lot more interested in that game style.

Gamasutra: That would be interesting if you could potentially make everyone somehow a player in a large epic tale.

WS: It sounds pretty impossible. Junction Point, the game I was working on at Looking Glass, was taking a kind of end-run around the problem. We were actively trying to address that, and someone will eventually. Guild Wars takes an interesting approach. There have been attempts to get at that, and someone will nail it, but it probably won't be me.

Gamasutra: You have a background in writing, what do you feel about writing in stories and games today. Do you think there are any that do it well?

WS: Yes and no. There are plenty of games where the quality or writing is high. I'm going to generalize so much that all of my friends are going to hate me in about 30 seconds, but the games that are really well written tend to have too much writing in them and that's a problem. People don't play games to read or listen, they play games to act or do. We still need to learn some lessons from film and television writers. They can bring a character to life in 6 words and not in 6,000. I think most of the games I've worked on have fallen into that trap as well. I will say that Sheldon Pacotti, who was the lead writing on Deus Ex and Invisible War, he's now back with us at Junction Point, is a spectacular writer and he gets that. I think you're going to see some big strides from us in that area. Characterizing people much more succinctly, and making great writing interesting to players.

Deus Ex Invisible War

Gamasutra: It seems to me that even the method of storytelling has some areas to advance. Sometimes the stories seem immature, and I'm just speaking for myself, but people need to realize what a good story is and make compelling characters and a great universe so that the story will tell itself.

WS: I think you've hit upon something that has 3 underlying problems, and here again I'm going to alienate just about everybody in the game business. First of all, I think there's a widespread belief that, even as developers and players get older, at its core, our market is young and that our games are made for kids - and that people stop playing as they get older. So even the games that are “mature”, I mean seriously, who in their 20s or 30s give a good gol-darn about being the last space marine on a space station who has to stave off an alien invasion? Who cares? Games are still aimed at kids even though the players may be adults. It’s a problem that comes from many developers who have no experience of life other than “I've played a lot of games, I love games, let me make games.” You end up with games about other games and not about life. So that's a real issue. We'll start telling better stories when people who have interesting things to say start making games.

Then there's what the audience buys. One of the big reasons I'm such an advocate of games education and university programs about game development and analysis is because I think we need to change the way our players think. Players just accept what we give them, it seems. I want players that demand more of us. Right now they don't seem to be demanding much more. In fact, without naming names, I've had publishers tell me that there's an inverse relationship between reviews scores and sales, and that quality doesn't sell. I'm sure there's some hyperbole in there, but that's a scary thought.

Gamasutra: There are a lot of licensed kids games factored into that.

WS: That's certainly true, but the audience needs to demand more. We need developers who have a much broader base of experience, knowledge and education. It would be nice if we had some developer who had read Aristotle's Poetics. If we could somehow internalize the fact that all games don't have to be male adolescent power fantasies…there's more than we can do than that.

Gamasutra: If the player demand isn't there, the impetus is going to be on the developers themselves to advance the media. No one's going to tell anyone to make better games. It's going to have to come from the creators.

WS: You know, I fight that, and I've been fighting that every day for the last 15 years. You don't want to know how many projects I've been told to “just go make a shooter.” I had one publisher tell me “you're not allowed to say story any more.” It's a constant battle to do something other than what everyone else is already doing.

Gamasutra: What do you think is next-gen, since that's what everyone is talking about now? Have we even mastered the current generation?

spector.jpgWS: We haven't mastered anything, we're just making it up as we go along. The interesting thing to me is that most of what I hear in context to next-gen is “look at all the polys” or how “photo-realistic” the games are now. I would hope that we could use some of this amazing power in the hardware for better A.I., and I don't just mean A.I. that can kill me better. Better actors is a big challenge. Stop building movie sets and make a world we can interact with instead. These things are huge. There are all sorts of things we can do beyond pretty pictures. Of course, early on in the life of a console, that's what you're going to do. We can do what we used to do but make it prettier. I think we need to look beyond that.

Gamasutra: A long time ago I heard you talk about wanting to make a one-block RPG that's just one city block and all the people and experiences involved in that.

WS: If you could find a publisher that would front that, I'd still make that game.

Gamasutra: Do you think that's actually something that can be done with the technology we have now?

WS: I think there are huge design problems that need to be solved there. There are huge audience expectation issues that need to be addressed. I think that a version of that could have been done before and certainly could be done now. It would be a really interesting challenge. It would be extremely risky from a development and commercial standpoint.

I think it could be done. I think it's a mistake to look for gigantic, revolutionary steps, or plan for them. There's probably somebody in a garage somewhere that has all that working and will change the world completely. All I want to do in terms of my career and the games I work on at Junction Point, at the end of my career, when I shuffle off of this development coil, I want to be able to look back and see that every game I did was some logical, evolutionary step towards some clearly defined goal. Even now, if I look back on all the games I've done, I've been really lucky and blessed to work with people who wanted to go in the same direction I did, and we have made evolutionary steps. I think looking for the be-all-end-all 1 block roleplaying game, the simulated city block is not the point. The point is that every game takes a step closer to that, and we may fail. Failure is fine. I always say this to my teams, and they hate it when I say this, but “I would rather fail gloriously than succeed at something mediocre.” Some day we'll get there.

Gamasutra: Who do you think, if anyone, is doing the right things to advance the industry in that direction?

WS: Well, there are plenty of people doing plenty of interesting things, I want to be clear about that. As for moving it that direction, I wish I saw more people doing that. I think that you certainly have to look at the Rockstar guys with Grand Theft Auto, they're doing some interesting stuff with player directed narrative. The Bethesda guys with Oblivion and other games are doing real interesting things. The Valve guys are doing amazing things with character and with interactive, cinematic storytelling. I think you're going to see some really fascinating things come out of Doug Church at EA. He's working on projects that... I should really keep my mouth shut about. Point is he's working on some really interesting stuff right now that will shake things up big time. Peter Molyneux. Will Wright. Thank God all these guys exist.

Maybe this is my ego talking, but I look at what Junction Point, and Ion Storm before that, did and I see us doing something different and unique. In fact, I was talking to a publisher the other day and they said “what about competing with this game or that game,” and I said “I don't care.” I don't compete with those games. Even if our subject matter is similar or our gameplay is superficially similar, I really do believe what we do is unique, and if people see that they should send me a resume and we should talk if they think they can contribute. There are plenty of people doing interesting things. In this particular arena, I'm most excited about the stuff that Doug is working on that I can't talk about.

Gamasutra: I'm particular hopeful that it's possible to advance games in the area of interaction and, not immersion necessarily, but dynamics and depth. It seems like the danger is people getting worried about being too influenced by a game that's closer to reality. Of course it's the people who are already disturbed and would be influenced by anything. It puts an extra layer of responsibility on the developer that wasn't there in the past.

WS: There's an assumption in what you're saying that deeper simulation and more player control must equate more realism, which isn't the case. You can simulate a fantastic world that has nothing to do with the real world out there. It's important to remember that. We don't have to strive for greater realism, we can strive for more a iconic, stylized or fantastic approach as long as it's internally consistent and the player can reason with the simulation and figure out how to interact with it. My guess is that players will feel more on an emotional level about their characters in Spore than they ever have, or maybe ever will, about a human character in any other game ever. I don't think we have to focus on creating a realistic world, I want to move away from that. It's hard to convince publishers to do this. I would love to do a game that isn't realistic, please let me do it! Bear that in mind.

Another point is that if you're going make a game that allows players to make significant choices that puts them in control of a narrative or of a character in a simulated world, you do have an obligation. You have an obligation to show the consequences of choices. One of the biggest problems with games, especially more linear games, is they say “kill everything that moves. Good player!” “Or win this game,” and then they pat you on the back for solving a puzzle, killing virtual things or crashing a car in a fantastic way. It's pathetic that I'm saying this 10 years after we began work on Deus Ex and the Ultima games that have a strong ethical core, but the fact is that we have to show the consequences of choices or those choices are meaningless. We have to show that, if you kill somebody, then someone might think that's great but there's going to be a lot of people that are really mad, and that has to have a direct impact on your gameplay experience.

It can't just be rewards for solving a puzzle or killing that thing or even saving that thing. Even saving someone, because there might have been someone who wanted that person dead and now they hate you. So in the context of a story that players are sharing in the telling, you have to show the consequences and it's really hard to do. The reason very few people do what we're doing at Junction Point, and what we did at Ion Storm, Looking Glass and Origin is because it's really hard to do, and it's a lot of extra work that's satisfying to developers and players who get it, but it's not necessarily something that immediately increases sales and it certainly costs money. It's more expensive to make games that have choice and consequence than it is to make a game that has an illusion of choice and one scripted consequence.

Gamasutra: To your point about player insertion as compared to reality, I was talking to Mark Jacobs of EA Mythic a while ago and he was saying that sci-fi rpgs are harder to make meaningful for larger groups of people. In fantasy RPGs, people can say “hey that's a wolf or a dragon” and there's no real confusion, but people's idea of an alien is so amorphous and different. But you've managed to create things in more sci-fi arenas that people can find compelling. How does one make that work for people?

WS: Well, I've got a rule that drives the teams crazy. Everything in the games that we do, whether we're working in a real world or science fiction universe, everything in the game hasto be justified. You have to show me the book, website or scientific journal or something where somebody believes this or you have to convince me that it's something people in the mainstream of culture already have internalized and believe. I have very little interest in trying to convince people to care about things. I want to plug into things that people already care about.

Right now, if I had what my wife calls “a hair on my ass,” I would probably be making a game about spirituality and the afterlife. I just see this resurgence of, not specific denominations, but of spiritual and religious things. That's something people already care about and have ideas and beliefs about. You can reinforce those beliefs or challenge those beliefs. You name it. Deus Ex was driven, in part, by the statement of “what happens when you drop James Bond into a world that's shades of gray?” James Bond is a character who knows what's right and wrong. What happens when you drop that character in a world in which it's not clear what's right and wrong? That's one of the lynchpins, and I think that's an issue that people should be thinking about more because so many people think they know what's right and wrong now. So, that's something I thought people would already find interesting. Beyond that, on the more specific level, I looked around before the millennium, and people were thinking the millennium was going to be the end of the world. There were so many conspiracy theories coming in at that point. I thought “lets play with that, challenge their beliefs or reinforce them.” I also saw the coming surge of interest in nano-technology. You put that “we know what's right and wrong,” with every conspiracy theory you ever thought of to be true with a backdrop of artificial intelligence and nano-technology, and you have 4 or 5 things that people already care about. I think in every game you need that grounding. If you think about science fiction like “look at all the aliens you get to kill” or “look at the bizarre world you get to explore.” Who cares about that? Stories have to be about things that people care about. Finding a way to ground your science fiction, your world and your aliens in things people are already interested in is the key.

Again, I can't talk too much about the game we're doing now, but it's bringing a mythical, fantastic thing into the real world so our challenge is finding a way to make people believe that this mythical, fantastic thing could exist in the real world and what would happen if that mythical, fantastic thing started interacting with real world stuff. That's the interesting place to be for me. It works in science fiction, fantasy or real world. The problem is that we seem to get stuck in “oh look, you can mug an old lady” and “look at the blood spatters.” So it doesn't matter who your character is and doesn't make for an interesting story.

Gamasutra: Speaking of making players care about things, do you feel there's an ability to make players feel entitled to better games and experiences?

WS: There are two questions in there. The straight answer is... maybe. The reality is that it's not our job as publishers, developers and business people to educate our consumers. Some of us can try to challenge our consumers’ expectations and hope we sell enough copies so that people want to fund our next game. That's kind of the approach I've taken. I've never done a game that sold as well as Half-Life 2 or The Sims. I have a big enough ego to think that I could, but I'm after something different. So, there are some of us that can do it from the inside, but what really needs to happen is that the universities, the writers, and the critics have to pick up that ball and say “look, games can be more than they are now. Here's how games work. Here's how games can be more, better, or different now.” I think 10, 15, or 20 years from now you'll see people graduating from game development, analysis and study programs all around the world with an understanding of what games can be and they'll start demanding things from the industry that it had better provide.

Valve's Half-Life 2

A related question that you didn't quite ask but I find really fascinating is “can we make players feel anything?” Movies, books and even radio drama to some extent are mature enough media that they have very sophisticated tools for creating empathy and emotion. They can create feelings of fear and tension. We're such an immature media that we don't have those tools. We're still making stuff up. That's why the games that currently elicit the most emotions are the roller coaster rides, because every player does exactly the same thing at exactly the same time to exactly the same effect that the developers know exactly what's going on at every second. They can use those same linear methods, even if you get to choose what weapons you use or how you get there, which games that put the player in charge don't. One of the frustrations to me as a developer and one of the challenges we have to step up to at Junction Point is “what tools do we have that are unique to gaming that will allow us to create emotional experiences that are as compelling as the roller coaster rides?” That's a real tough challenge.

Gamasutra: My personal opinion is that it's the journalist that has to educate people about why you should care about games.

WS: You're a big part of the equation, no doubt.

Gamasutra: The difficulty there is the disconnect between the game journalists, if there is such a thing, and those who need to be contacted. To the other point, I really like this one thing that Cliffy B. said once when I interviewed him, which was “never underestimate the ability of the player to undermine the narrative you're trying to tell.”

WS: (laughs) Go Cliffy!

Gamasutra: It's totally true, even me who really cares about these games, I played Silent Hill 2, a rather psychologically complex game, and it starts you off in a bathroom and the first thing I did was make him squat at the toilet because it's funny, but it kicks you out of the tension.

WS: It’s true.

Gamasutra: I want to ask one last question as an aside, but why do you often insert yourself into games? David Cage also does this in a more direct way when he shows up at the beginning of a game and says “hi, this is my game.” Why do you enjoy doing that?

WS: You know, I don't, and I've never done it consciously. It's the teams who do it.

Gamasutra: It's the teams?

WS: I really end up in games all the time and I have no idea why. I can't say “no, don't put me in the game” because it's fun and funny, but the weirder thing to me is something I didn't notice until someone pointed this out to me a couple of years ago. They were absolutely right, and now it's a conscious thing to me. There's a basketball court in almost every game I've done. I love basketball, so maybe that's something I've been doing subconsciously. There's also an altered state of consciousness in every game I've worked. You can eat the mushrooms, go to sleep and dream, go into cyberspace or something. There's an altered state in every game. If you go back and look at the thematic content of the games that I've worked on, they almost all boil down to a dysfunctional family, and that really disturbed me. An academic pointed that out to me and they're kind of right. So I've started thinking about that now and it's something that I don't fight. Everybody has stories they like to tell and mine revolve around basketball, altered states of consciousness and family conflict. I don't know why it is, but it's kind of cool.

Gamasutra: Game development as self-psychology?

WS: There you go, it's not only players that get to exhibit behavior that you don't want them to in the real world, the developers do too.

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About the Author(s)

Brandon Sheffield


Brandon Sheffield is creative director of Necrosoft Games, former editor of Game Developer magazine and gamasutra.com, and advisor for GDC, DICE, and other conferences. He frequently participates in game charity bundles and events.

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