Yesterday, the Game Masters exhibition, at ACMI, opened its doors to the Australian media presenting a genuinely incredible collection of playable video games. Tim Schafer and Warren Spector were in attendance, and Spector himself opened up about a handful of moments that really helped define his career, sending him down a path he is still following to this day.
“There were a few defining moments for me,” said Spector. “The first one was playing Dungeons and Dragons in 1973. I’ve basically spent the rest of my life trying to recreate that feeling of telling stories with my friends. That was the first one.
“But the moment I realised that games could be something really amazing and world changing was probably in 82, when I saw Star Raider on the Atari 800 for the first time. I walked into a friend’s house for a party, and all my adult friends were gathered round the biggest television I had ever seen! It was a 25-inch television!
“All of my adult friends were there basically saving the galaxy from an alien invasion. It wasn’t, you know, Luke Skywalker fighting the evil empire, it was me. In a starship. In another world. You take those two things together, and why would I want to do anything else with my life except try to recreate that feeling of telling stories with friends.”
Spector went on to tell another story, one which actually helped him down the game design path he is most widely known for — that of choice and the consequence of choice.
“There was another moment that really changed my life forever,” he said. “On Ultima VI we had a rule — Richard [Garriot] and I spent weeks and weeks and weeks plotting. I got locked up with this crazy man and we had this rule where we were going to give players choices. Every puzzle had to have at least two solutions. But there was one puzzle where we couldn’t figure out a second solution. A year later I’m watching a tester play, and it looks like he’s about to fail. He doesn’t have the thing he needs to get past this part.
It was a portcullis, and the player shows up on one side, and there’s a lever on the other. The player needs to use a spell to flip the lever. And what this tester did was he had a character who was a mouse in his party, and he had the mouse go under the portcullis. There was actually a gap at the bottom. The mouse was small enough to go under the door, find the level and flip it.
“I had created this puzzle and knew that this was impossible, and that was the moment I said I’m going to do that on purpose for the rest of my life. Because the tester was so thrilled when I told him that was not the correct way to do it!
“It was pretty magical.”
Early next week we’ll have a full interview with Warren Spector — stay tuned!