Eurogamer: And there's player expectations issue to deal with. It's a problem either way. In fact, even if a game meets player expectation there's a problem - that faults in a game just become "just the way it is". For example, I traditionally hated all the "classic" Final Fantasy games - the cut-scene heavy nonsense was offensive to me. But, clearly, if I said it in a review as I'd be dismissed as a hater and mutilated online.
Warren Spector: And that's why you have a blog! And the sad thing is that, on my blog, I haven't done much game writing, which is kind of weird. Because I can't alienate all my friends and colleagues and potential employers. I find myself oddly constrained.
Eurogamer: Anyone in a creative field can feel constrained like that. It's why I try and keep a personal distance from developers, because I may be insulting them in the future. And I have to.
Warren Spector: It's your job to tell us when we're full of it. I would love to, at some point, to do - not a critique - an essay on BioShock in particular. There's so many things going on in there, and so many things that I question and so many things I admire... it'll be fun to write about that. But, again, I don't think it'll be appropriate to do that in the context of my life and career.
Eurogamer: So, what is interesting about BioShock?
Warren Spector: [Laughs] Let's not go there. If I'm going to talk about that, it'll be on my blog.
Eurogamer: Talking about playing games... Occasionally it seems to me that a lot of big industry figures aren't playing games, at least as much as they used to. Is that a blockage? That maybe people aren't being exposed to enough stuff they probably should be?
Warren Spector: That's certainly a risk. I don't know many people who continue to play games with the same intensity and the same rate as when they were just players. One of the things most people in my circle have found - I can't generalise too far and I may be flattering myself - is that I've gotten pretty good at playing a game for an hour, or two or five, and just knowing when I've learned all I'm going to learn. That's my typical model. I play an hour or two or five of a lot of games, and I don't get much further in them. But when a game comes along that I actually finish... that's a pretty rare and wondrous thing.
Eurogamer: Maybe that's one reason why Portal has done so well. It's three hours...
Warren Spector: A very interesting game. Seven students from DigiPen. Holy cow! With a lot of support from Valve, but... well, this is another way I'm going to be annoying all the hardcore guys, but I don't even want to play - let alone make - a 20-hour game anymore. Heresy! I want every person who plays my game to finish them. Not twenty or forty percent. Every person. There's so much competition for attention and dollars and everything else, if you make a great 6-12 hour game, you've provided great value for money. And you can really focus on making that experience spectacular. Now, we're still, as an industry - especially thanks to price points - we're at a point where you better be at the top end of that range. I don't think you can get away with a six-hour game. Ico was a six-hour game, which didn't do so well... and was an actual genius game. But I think there's a sweet spot in there where people get value for money and actually finish it and can play a bunch of games.
Eurogamer: Priced appropriately, I'm fine with really short games. Valves statistics are fascinating in that way - something like 50 percent of people didn't finish Half-life 2: Episode 1. And that's less than five hours. Scale that up to all games...
Warren Spector: Wow. That Orange Box though - talk about value for money. I was going to say that I can assure you that people will be playing TF2 at my office right now, but that's not the case. They better not be playing TF2 right now. Anyway - it's about creating a satisfying emotional experience. You don't need 40 hours to do that.
Warren Spector: The funny thing about teaching this class though [Warren is teaching a videogames class at the University of Texas, and once a week brings a gaming luminary in to talk in front of the students with for 3 hours]. I had Mike Morhaime, president of Blizzard, come in. I had Gordon Walton, who's been making multiplayer games forever - Sims Online, Star Wars Galaxies and the Austin Studio is doing Bioware's MMO. And Richard Garriott came in and talked about Tabula Rasa. And it just got me all fired up to make a multiplayer game. The Disney guys don't know, but I'm going to probably hit them up at some point, and say... let's do an MMO. C'mon! Let's try it. Let's show these guys how to do it right. Let's see if that happens. I'm kind of jazzed - it's kind of a cool challenge.
Eurogamer: Seeing how other games inspire other developers fascinates me.
Warren Spector: Read my blog, man, read my blog! I'm totally frustration driven. I literally don't start games until something about some other game frustrates me so much I have to destroy it. I have to go on a petulant two-year-old destroy-all-my-toys rampage. I mean... Thief frustrated me so much - as much as I loved it - I had to do Deus Ex. I was frustrated by Ultima VII, which is why I had to make Serpent Isle. I am now dramatically frustrated by another genre... which is driving me wild. [Warren Laughs, hard] We have to remake that genre. We have to show these guys that they are lame - it doesn't matter how many copies they sell! They are lame!