At the keynote speech for PAX Australia 2015, veteran designer Warren Spector used the main theatre to encourage gamers to support games that allow for more player agency and emergent storytelling.
PAX attendees started lining up before the doors opened to hear Spector, a designer who worked on Ultima 6, Ultima Underworld, the Deus Ex games and Epic Mickey, speak for an hour on emergent storytelling and the player experience.
Heavily laced with anecdotes and historical lessons, Spector recited a story in which he witnessed a QA tester on Ultima 6 solve a particular puzzle in a way he hadn’t envisioned — and that his entire career as a designer had been spent trying to replicate that moment.
“We’re kind of in a rut, it’s like we’ve forgotten something important about what made games special,” Spector told the crowd, breaking games into three categories of low, medium and high player expression.
The designer then tacitly criticised the original Uncharted and Telltale Games’ The Walking Dead series, saying while neither of them were bad games they limited players’ “ability to interact with the game world so the story can unfold the way the storyteller wants”.
“It’s a great story, better than any story I’ll ever tell in a game, but it’s not a players’ story,” Spector added of the Uncharted series.
He went on to explain that gaming was the medium of the 21st century, and that players should be prepared to reward games and designers that fully exploit the medium’s unique characteristics.
“Gamers: vote with your dollars,” Spector argued. “If we all play our parts, if we all do that, if we make games that share authorship … we will be the medium of the 21st century.”
“I was at PIXAR giving a talk about game narrative, and there was a point where I said movies were the medium of the 20th century and games are the medium of the 21st — at PIXAR! And there was a quiet lengthy silence after that, but it was true. I was right.”
Spector’s pick of games that rewarded such behaviour included Dishonoured, Deus Ex: Human Revolution, Fable, Mass Effect, The Sims, World of Warcraft, Papers, Please and Journey, although the crowd’s strongest approval was saved for the Fallout series and Bioware’s Knights of the Old Republic.
Spector also used the end of the keynote to mention Richard Garriott’s latest project, Shroud of the Avatar, and the crowdfunded RPG which he is consulting on, Underworld Ascendant.