[Warren Spector is one of the most interesting game developers in the world, both because of what he has done and because of what he wants to do. As a producer or designer on games such as System Shock, Thief: Deadly Shadows, Deus Ex and Deus Ex: Invisible War, Spector has continually worked towards the goal of giving players so much choice in how they play a game that one player’s game experience will be radically different from another’s. The idea of letting players control the flow of the game has been referred to as “abdicating authorship,” but as I discovered when I interviewed Spector, who was visiting New York’s ComicCon during his tour to promote his upcoming Wii game, Disney Epic Mickey, he strives to strike a balance in which the player and the designer both get to make some game decisions.]
CH: What I like about Warren Spector is the whole “abdicating authorship”/player choice thing, so what I’m wondering is how much of that is there in Mickey?
WS Well there’s plenty of it and I’ll get to that in a second. But let me just clarify one thing. I don’t believe in abdicating authorship, I believe in sharing it. Shared authorship is the way I always used to describe it, and still think about it. There are things that players are really, really good at: I did this and I did this and I did this and then I did that and then that happened and then I did ... they’re really good at that step by step minute to minute decision making.
But you know if they were good at narrative arcs – why this is important and why that is fun and cool – they’d be writing novels or making games themselves. So I want to keep that part of the storytelling process for myself and for my team. So we create and we own the narrative arc. We own the big moments in the game. We decide that’s your brother that’s your father and that’s your sister and that’s your enemy. We define that. And then players get to do, “I did this and I did this and then I did that.” The analogy is, if you ever – did you ever play D&D?
WS: Oh, okay. Well, you listen to a player describe his or her Dungeons and Dragons experience and it is the most boring story in the history of humankind. Because it’s all we did this and then we did this and then this guy took – but to the person telling it, because it’s such a personal story, it’s Moby Dick, it’s Shakespeare. And what I want to do is help every player feel like Herman Mellville or Shakespeare.
And there is plenty of it in this game. It is a game that was designed to allow different ways of approaching problems. So that core mechanic of painting and thinning, of drawing and erasing, which is the heart of Mickey, - the Disney Epic Mickey game I should say – it’s all about forcing you basically to decide how you are going to interact with everything you encounter, characters, friends, enemies, false floors, you name it. Objects. So there’s a ton of it. And it plays out in a lot of ways.
There are local consequences to your choices. The second to second game experience is going to be different if you use a lot of paint, or if you use a lot of thinner. But there’s a magic sort of moment that happens several hours into the game where you figure out – every player figures this out at a different point - whoa, all those little choices are adding up to bigger consequences. You know, global consequences. And even in how the end game plays out. So I think there’s plenty, and we’re seeing it. We’re doing a lot of play testing now, blind testing with kids and adults, gamers and non gamers and they’re all finding different ways to play and having different kinds of fun and creating their own stories.