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?
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?
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?
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.
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.
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
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.
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?”
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.