The last time I got to shake hands with Warren Spector was almost ten years ago. He was on-stage at IGN’s booth at E3 explaining that what many perceived as flaws in Deus Ex: Invisible War, like the simplistic circular interface, were actually long part of the plan he had for the game. He would’ve even put them in the first game if he could. Warren was friendly, but it was obvious that after Invisible War’s mixed reception, he was on the defensive. We could relate, considering the pedigree of the original and how much of our opinion of Warren hinged on that series.
Just days ago, Disney Interactive, which has its own troubles, announced the closure of Junction Point Studios, which Spector had co-founded after leaving Ion Storm and Deus Ex. Unfortunately, the two Epic Mickey games the studio shipped also debuted to mixed reviews.
A free agent again, one has to wonder: will Warren need to keep playing defense forever?
Before we fell in love with his cyberpunk adventures by way of System Shock and Deus Ex, Spector worked for Steve Jackson Games making role-playing games. Y’know, games with books and rules and character sheets, a class of game that Dungeons & Dragons resides in. He wound up with Origin in the early nineties and worked on first-person roleplaying games like Ultima Underworld that would later inspire small franchises like The Elder Scrolls. His team got tired of developing dungeon crawlers and wanted to do something fantastic, winding up with the futuristic horror FPS/RPG hybrid System Shock. Lured by John Romero to create an Austin, Texas-based satellite to his new studio, Ion Storm, Spector took the Unreal engine and married it to a thrilling tale of conspiracy and technology called Deus Ex, released in 2000. Again, big hit.
Spector enlisted Harvey Smith to design Invisible War and the rest is history. Smith would have a rough couple years before winding up in greatness with Dishonored while Spector’s Junction Point would be acquired by Disney, which made sense for him and a little less sense for the rest of us who weren’t quite acquainted with his love for the Mouse. Early leaked artwork indicated some adventurous and dark steampunk-inspired direction that would probably entice people who would normally never give a core Disney property a first look, much less a second one. And it was Warren Spector. C’mon now.
Instead, we got a Wii-exclusive platformer that was widely-panned for being dreadfully mediocre. Spector took the blame, because to be fair, he doesn’t really have a lot of experience in the third-person platforming realm, unless there was a huge chunk of Citadel Station I’d missed. This past holiday, they released the sequel on every platform on the planet and still failed to leave a mark.
Now I’m not suggesting Warren stick to the tried and true of your career, we’ve got plenty of role-playing games, although not quite as many cyberpunk games as we’d like, but it wouldn’t hurt? Right? I know he’s plenty capable of producing something great but maybe, like Brian Reynolds, he was on some kind of sabbatical? He’s legendary, well-connected, and even teaches the stuff in Austin, so I’m curious what’s the hold up?
We’ll be waiting for Spector’s next great thing, but will it ever come?