Veteran game designer Warren Spector says that franchises such as Uncharted and Telltale’s The Walking Dead have more in common with movies than video games.
There is an ever-growing trend for video games to become a more cinematic experience, and to deliver compelling stories akin to the world of film or television. For one of the industry’s old guard, however, some developers are going about this entirely the wrong way. Warren Spector, the iconic designer behind the likes of Deus Ex, has stated that some recent games such as Telltale’s The Walking Dead have shied away from the “collaborative storytelling” that makes video games so unique as a medium.
Spector, who was speaking during a PAX Australia keynote as reported by PowerUpGaming, pulled no punches when discussing certain franchises, including The Walking Dead and Uncharted. “If all you want to do is show off how clever you are, get out of my medium!” said Spector. Instead, the designer suggested that other developers should “go make a movie or something” rather than creating something in the interactive form.
The Deus Ex creator broke up these story-focused games into “low expression” and “medium expression,” with Spector explaining that Uncharted falls into the lower category. “You have very limited ability to express yourself,” explained Spector, continuing to state that the Uncharted series is “about how do you accomplish a predetermined path to get to the next plot point.” The designer felt that The Walking Dead fits into the “medium expression” category, but that the game’s compelling choices are still “designer driven, not player driven.”
There is perhaps greater pressure on developers to deliver upon stories and campaigns that give players a sense of something ‘bigger’ than a video game. Indeed, some productions have even hired high profile external writers to work on important projects. This has not always led to a sure-fire success however, and for every lauded title such as the Tomb Raider reboot, there are commercial failures such as Homefront or Enslaved: Odyssey to the West.
Spector certainly feels that by searching for a more cinematic experience, developers are cutting out a hugely important part of the gaming storytelling experience. The designer explained that creators are slowly losing touch with the ability for gamers to hold shared authorship over their own gaming stories, something that the video game medium holds over any other entertainment form. “We are all part of a medium nothing else can do: collaborative storytelling,” said Spector. “I think it’s important that we embrace that capability.”
The Deus Ex designer has a point regarding a loss of “collaborative storytelling,” and titles such as The Order: 1886 have proved that gamers can lose patience with titles that offer little more than story corridors. That said, there are very few examples available of games that are able to give players a true level of control whilst also delivering a successful narrative experience. With gaming as a form expanding ever further, perhaps interactive stories such as The Walking Dead should be held up as strong examples of gaming without questions being asked of their legitimacy as a ‘true’ video game.