“The idea was what I called a ‘real world role-playing game.'”
August 29, 2017 1:42 PM   Subscribe

How Warren Spector Created a Genre, and Set Games Free [Rolling Stone] “One of the hottest games at the moment is Prey. Two of the most ambitious big budget titles released last year were Dishonored 2 and Deus Ex: Mankind Divided. What do they have in common? They wouldn't exist without Warren Spector. In 1990s games like System Shock, Spector helped pioneer a genre in which each individual player is able to pursue their own personal playstyle and use the flexible rules of the world to solve puzzles and complete objectives – a genre that's been dubbed the "immersive sim." Spector himself uses that term, though he's not very happy with it. "I've been trying to find a better way to describe the game style, because ‘immersive sim' sounds kind of highfalutin and pretentious," he says.”

• Games like Dishonored 2 aren't going anywhere, says Harvey Smith [PC Gamer]
“Dishonored game director Harvey Smith tells me that he’s noticed the dip in sales, but thinks that there will always be enough of an audience to keep immersive sims in development. "And there's always the talent and the resources to make [immersive sims]," says Smith. "The question is, does one particular budget support the audience? What that means is, even if immersive sims speed up or slow down in terms of production, there's always the indie version of immersive sims like—this year you have Tacoma and next year you'll have something else. I think the demand will drive things." Plus, there's a lot more to be done with the genre. Though he says he's "not the biggest fan" of the author, Smith muses about David Foster Wallace's idea that fiction's purpose is "to aggravate this sense of entrapment and loneliness and death in people, to move people to countenance it," and wonders what the purpose of games like Dishonored is. "Why do I like breaking and entering in games?" he asks. "Why do I like having the power of death? Why do I like being in a shitty situation?"”
• What makes an Immersive Sim, and why are they staging a comeback? [Polygon]
“Mark Brown, host of the YouTube series Game Maker’s Toolkit, noticed a recent return of Immersive Sims like Deus Ex: Mankind Divided and Dishonored 2 — first-person games that give players a heightened amount of control in how they approach the game’s missions and obstacles. In the new episode [YouTube] of Game Maker’s Toolkit, he explores this trend and examines the mechanics that set these games apart. Brown goes into the history of the genre, beginning with the 1992 fantasy game Ultima Underworld: The Stygian Abyss. The title paved the way for games like System Shock and the original Deus Ex, both of which are receiving new entries soon. Through the course of the video, Brown isolates a few key aspects of what makes a game an Immersive Sim, including player agency, consistent systems and rules, emergent gameplay, and game reaction to player choice.”
• Single-player gaming isn't in crisis, and we can prove it [PCGamesN]
“Despite the obvious challenges developers who want to make solo experiences face in 2017, there are plenty of places where encouragement can be found. Not just from The Witcher 3, Fallout 4, the six-year-old Skyrim and its enduring community, and from indie successes like What Remains of Edith Finch. Looking at the big picture, in which concerns over single-player PC games have persisted for over a decade, it’s encouraging in and of itself that a game like Prey was released so recently. A staunchly solo immersive sim embodying the qualities of a bygone era, it’s the kind of game people might not have believed would still exist if you’d asked them a decade ago. And if you were to ask people if there’ll be similar titles, released on a similar budget, in 2027, some would find it inconceivable. Sales figures fluctuate. Market factors fluctuate. Another indicator of single-player’s fortunes might be found in the quality of its output. Metacritic isn’t a perfect yardstick for measuring that, but it’s certainly a useful aggregator that the industry pays attention to. How are the solo games of 2017 represented on Metacritic, in contrast to 2016? How about five years ago, in 2012? Or even a decade ago? ”
posted by Fizz (16 comments total) 25 users marked this as a favorite

From the article Apocryphon kindly shared:
“Now Warren Spector has moved out of the project director's chair in deference to Harvey Smith, the lead designer from Deus Ex. Warren's taking a bigger role in overall studio development now. Although he still gets his hands dirty, he's spending more and more time trying to cultivate teams that can work on different games simultaneously. He sees the studio as the source of several new immersive games -- games that don't hardcode solutions to every situation. Warren's dream is to create a game that functions very much like real life. In other words, he wants to simulate worlds, not puzzles.”
posted by Fizz at 2:06 PM on August 29, 2017

I would call them Streamlined RPGs With A Proper Stealth Mechanic If You Like Playing That Way And Usually A Well Done Story
posted by GallonOfAlan at 2:16 PM on August 29, 2017 [8 favorites]

it always cracks me up that warren spector is in the pantheon of Video Game Demigods because the first time i ever heard his name, it was on the cover of slim pamphlet of rules for a little RPG called TOON
posted by murphy slaw at 2:22 PM on August 29, 2017 [15 favorites]

What I'd like to see in this genre (and I know it's a very difficult problem) is to see games like this do more with what Ultima Underworld did mixing NPCs you can talk to with the rest of the game. So many of these games have distinct zones: one where can talk to people (and often most of your other verbs are unavailable), the other where everyone is automatically hostile (or at best running in fear/calling for help) and you can't ever talk to anyone. I'd love to see an action/stealth game which would give the player significant opportunites to talk their way out of (or around) a situation. Or NPCs who are able to fight but who might, if the player gets the upper hand, flee or surrender or try to talk you out of killing them or stealing their stuff or verbing the mcguffin.
posted by straight at 2:32 PM on August 29, 2017 [10 favorites]

Single player gamers are necessary until a game is designed wherein meeting another person is as rare an event as it should be. I'm talking massive procedurally generated, with immersive quests for different players so that they don't overlap.

Otherwise, NPCs will continue to be the invisible quest generation buttons required to be pressed in order to progress forward. In a soloplay RPG, you interact with the NPCs and give a damn about them because one upmanship isn't possible. In a MMORPG an NPC is window dressing to the other players.
posted by Nanukthedog at 2:43 PM on August 29, 2017 [1 favorite]

NPCs will continue to be the invisible quest generation buttons required to be pressed in order to progress forward.

You're right, of course. But I'm playing Prey right now, going through the quest where I have to compile Danielle's voice form scattered recordings of her love life and D&D campaign, and I swear to god if she's dead, I'm blowing up this fucking space station.
posted by Phobos the Space Potato at 4:32 PM on August 29, 2017 [4 favorites]

Whoa, Phobos, you might actually be me. Not only am I playing Prey right now, I'm also on the compile-Danielle's-voice segment. Small world I guess.

Anyway these are some of my favorite games, whatever we choose to call them. Thanks for the post and the links.
posted by Two unicycles and some duct tape at 5:20 PM on August 29, 2017

What how far are you? I have played for about 15 hrs and nothing like that has even happened.
posted by kittensofthenight at 5:42 PM on August 29, 2017

Where is the TOON RPG, WARREN?

Also, "immersive sim" is a dumb name. It's not immersive (unless having your dick on the screen constitutes some kind of immersion. Honestly, they rob your character of agency in the name of story. NOT IMMERSIVE.) and it's not a (technical) simulation.

Maybe call it a BAD END GENERATOR.
posted by BYiro at 6:25 PM on August 29, 2017

What how far are you? I have played for about 15 hrs and nothing like that has even happened.

I've just got that quest - it's in or near the arboretum iirc, you should be near that. Second hub area after the Atrium, basically.
posted by Sebmojo at 8:13 PM on August 29, 2017

In Ultima Underworld at one ass-end of a level you can encounter an upset spectre named Warren.
posted by Pyrogenesis at 1:03 AM on August 30, 2017 [4 favorites]

I love Prey so much, I didn't expect to but what a game. It's system shock 2 only better because I can change into a coffee mug.
I always considered the "main" Bethesda games to fit in the same category, Morrowind, Oblivion, Skyrim and the recent Fallouts follow the same design principles, the difference is in the scope of what they're doing, it's much less tight because the worlds are huge but the mechanics are really similar.
posted by SageLeVoid at 2:10 AM on August 30, 2017

I didn't expect to like it so much either! I don't really follow gaming news or marketing these days, all I go from is Steam trailers, and it just looked like a corridor shooter with ray guns and Zero G bits. It looked OK, but then it turned up in like 3 Metafilter game threads as being super good so I took a leap and damned if it isn't exactly my kind of game.

I sort of wish I'd known they'd secretly gone and made System Shock 3. I would have been on board day 1, but it was also kind of awesome to stumble into. I'm still waiting for January to drop the walls and start sputtering about me being an insect.
posted by Phobos the Space Potato at 12:05 PM on August 30, 2017 [2 favorites]

When we made Ultima Underworld (which Warren didn't join until near the end!) we really did want to make a complete dungeon simulation, from combat to physics to character interaction to everything. I don't honestly know just where we got the idea that we could pull off anything remotely close to that. Games like Ultima IV were certainly an inspiration but they didn't have the same kind of ambition (of course they were working with far fewer resources). Back in college Doug Church (effective project leader) and I used to fantasize about creating an RPG that was completely generative - all the terrain, treasure, characters, motivation, everything would just be spun out on the fly. Obviously such a thing was completely impossible but Underworld was our attempt to do the closest thing that actually was tractable. We were stupid enough not to realize that what were trying to do was nuts, and smart enough to just about do it anyway.

Warren was amazing to work with - we had been tussling with Origin for over a year on the project and no one there seemed to totally understand what we were trying to do, and then Warren finally came on board and he totally got it and turned us loose. I don't remember any particular part of the design that came from him, but he was an awesome facilitator and motivator and I have a hard time believing that we would have gotten to the finish line without him. I'm psyched that he's been carrying that ball for another 25 years.
posted by dfan at 6:04 PM on August 30, 2017 [12 favorites]

In Ultima Underworld at one ass-end of a level you can encounter an upset spectre named Warren.
This was the occasion of one of my favorite memories of the game's development. Warren was sitting in on our daily bug review meeting, where the status of every issue was updated.
Tim (QA lead, now lead designer on Underworld Ascendant): Next bug: there is no reference to Warren in the game.

Me (I think): Fixed!

Warren: *sputters*

Tim: Great! Moving on...
I don't remember whether we eventually let him know what the reference was or if we made him discover it on his own.
posted by dfan at 6:45 PM on August 30, 2017 [10 favorites]

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