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.