Monday, November 02, 2015

Warren Spector - Today's Video Games Are Not Really Games

PAX Australia had their annual shindig this past weekend (wow, there were a ton of conventions during Halloween...what was up with that?) and Dues Ex figurehead Warren Spector was the keynote speaker on opening day. And he came out with guns blazing, in the theoretical, pen and paper sense. His speech focused on how games today are not focusing on the art of gaming, and creating elaborate movie-like stories while removing immersion. His target was on some of today's popular games, Triple A titles and indie alike. Let the fireworks begin!

Spector believes that a number of video games are not embracing the uniqueness of games. For all of the flash and shiny graphics, the player's experience and participation fall to the wayside. And this is something I can agree with. It's rare to find a game that doesn't push you from plot point A to B. The Order 1886 comes to mind. A game with a lot of pizzazz, but a story that you can complete in less then 8 hours. It's a good story. Very gripping with a charm of it's own. But it plays out more like a mini-series you would see on HBO and not as a video game.

While Spector doesn't think the games he called out are bad, he feels they are at a lower level of game play compared to other products. He has a tiered system, low, medium, and high expression. Get ready to hold onto your britches. You're probably not going to like what he ranked as low.

Uncharted, Spector argues, is a low expression game because it is very limiting on how you interact with the game world. There is limited ability to express yourself as a gamer because the path is linear. Spector admits that the story is great, but it's not a player story. It's not your story as the plot line is pre-determined.

Medium expression games are along the lines of Heavy Rain and The Walking Dead. Games that create an illusion. They give the sense of player driven content, but does it really? These are very much in the vain of a 'Choose Your Own Adventure' book, where multiple scripts are developed and mashed together. You have some say in where you want to story to go, but they are still pre-determined. You are still forced to make a choice and limit yourself to those actions. You can't go outside the confines of the story.

So what is a high expression game? Fallout, Dishonored, and Dues Ex (of course). Games that give players full freedom to explore the worlds and create their own stories. You could easily argue that Minecraft falls into this category since it's an open world scenario. You do what you want to do. Want to fight bad guys? Go for it. Want to build a house? Punch some wood and get stacking. The limitations are in your imagination. Now in the case of the games Spector mentioned, there are stories to follow and cues to hit to keep the content moving forward. But they also allow gamers to freely explore the world and choose what they want to do, or how to approach a mission. Doing so alters the world. Now I don't think these are perfect examples, since they obviously also have pre-scripted content that needs to happen, and set plot lines. But they are not as restrictive as The Walking Dead.

What do you all think? Is Spector on point in his description, or is it gaming dev ire for too many "movie-like" games on the market?


  1. Spector is right

    Devs should understand:
    If consumer wants to watch a "awesome story" - he buys a movie
    but if he buys a game - it mean he wants to PLAY.


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