Warren Spector is considered one of the biggest names in game design. He helped to create titles like Ultima Underworld, the original System Shock and Deus Ex. His Ion Storm Austin studio created the latter game along with Thief III and Deus Ex: Invisible War for publisher Eidos but late in 2004 Spector departed Ion Storm (a few months before Eidos closed its doors) to form an all new company called Junction Point Studios. Firing Squad got a chance to ask Spector a number of questions about what happened in the final days of Ion Storm, his new company and its use of Valve's Steam and Source engine, what's next for the industry and more.
FiringSquad: First, you left Ion Storm and Eidos after the releases of Deus Ex 2 and Thief III, both of which were considered disappointments. Looking back what lessons did you learn about game development from working at Ion Storm?
Well, first let’s be clear about one thing--both DX:IW and T:DS could have been better, sure, but that’s true of every game any of us ever make. There’s a great quote my wife, Caroline (a wonderful writer whose latest book, Scars, is available on amazon.com…) dug up that goes “A work of art is never finished, only abandoned.” That’s totally true. And, for the record, I don’t consider either game a disappointment—both teams took big chances, tried some really hard stuff, achieved some big goals, fell short of others… I can’t look back and feel disappointed in any significant way. Okay, that out of the way… You learn something from every development experience and, mostly what I learned was that running big projects is not the same as running small ones, and experience gained on smaller projects doesn’t necessarily scale well. So you better have people around you who understand big software development projects. Oh, and communication is everything on a really big project. Getting everyone on the same page, making a coherent game, is very, very hard!
FiringSquad: How hard was it to start up again at Junction Point Studios?
Starting Junction Point wasn’t hard at all—it was (and remains) great. Inevitably, we’ll grow and feel the pressures of time and budget but we’re still small, and all sharing a one-room office. The team is really tight, really functional, really psyched. JPS feels like “The Good Old Days,” at least right now. And I’m loving it. (Hope the rest of the team is, too! I think they are…)
FiringSquad: What is the significance of the name of the studio?
The obvious genesis of the name stems from the time I was with LookingGlass, in the mid- to late-90s. We worked on a game whose working title was Junction Point—a small-group, online-only SF game, with an interesting persistent element. It was similar in some ways to Guild Wars, I guess. I always liked the name and, as I thought about what to call the new studio, it occurred to me that “junction point” also described the kind of games I like to make and play. I like games that represent the coming together of a lot of genres and playstyles… and I like games that force players to (conceptually) stand at a crossroads and choose which path to take. Both ideas are encompassed by the idea of a “junction point.” So, the name really fit.
FiringSquad: We know you are still not talking much about your company's first projects but what hints can you give us on what Junction Point is working on?
No hints yet. I’ve been down the road of maximum PR and I want to try something a little different this time! When we have something to talk about, we’ll talk!
FiringSquad: You are using Valve's Source engine and Steam delivery system for your first Junction Point game which means you must believe in the idea of digital distribution of games. Do you foresee a time where the majority of PC games will be sold via this method?
I don’t have a crystal ball or anything, to make predictions, but I certainly HOPE digital distribution is a big, big part of our business someday. It’s not that I think we need to replace the current system of publishing and boxed goods and brick-and-mortar stores, but I’m all about offering players more options about how they access our stuff. And digital distribution opens up all sorts of doors for new kinds of content, new game styles and so on. As a player I want options and as a developer I want options—online, digital distribution (and not just of multiplayer games) offers more options for everyone.