An interview with Warren is always fun. When he lets himself get frisky, he says interesting things.
In this case, there were three things that jumped out at me:
- Immersive sims are thinking games.
“The reality is we ask people to work,” he told GamesIndustry.biz . “It’s an interesting thing. The immersive simulation is not the kind of game where if you keep moving forward, like a shark, you’ll eventually win. It’s not the kind of genre where you just solve a puzzle the designer created for you, or kill everything that moves and you win. It’s a genre where you have to decide what to do, you have to choose how to interact with the world. That is work, it requires brain power. So I suspect that’s part of it.”
This is exactly the distinction I’ve made in my own writing between “persistence” and “perception.”
A persistence-focused game (which most are) can be won by applying some effort over time. There’s nothing wrong with that! It’s absolutely a real kind of fun – it just happens to be the kind of fun some people like specifically because it doesn’t make any mental or emotional demands on them.
But that is a very different kind of game from one that’s designed to be perception-focused (or power-focused, or people-focused). A perception-focused game requires and rewards broad (not tactical) insight, awareness of patterns at different scales, and (at its best) creative planning. In short, perception-focused games are thinking games.
I think people are naturally wired to prefer different kinds of fun. So it seems to me that quite a few of the problems in game design and marketing come from not recognizing this – from making a game that, for example, asks players to think, and then expects that game to be popular with gamers whose preferred kind of fun is explicitly about avoiding thinking (and feeling).
- It sounds like Citadel Station in SS3 will not be visited by the player only through dreams or memories or reality-warping, but in the actual physical reality of the SS3 world:
We’re also going to bring back Citadel Station in some form – was it entirely destroyed? If you go back to the original game, you can find the answer. There were some survivors of those early games, so being able to tell people what happened to those characters is fun.
- Immersive sims go multiplayer?
“Also, it’s probably time for us to go multiplayer,” [Spector] concluded. “I think we have to see that. We’ve been talking about it for years, nobody’s done it right.” The history of the immersive sim is one of single-player campaigns, so how on Earth would a multiplayer version work? “If I told you, I’d have to kill you,” Spector said.
So is this what Warren has been hinting at when he’s talked about System Shock 3 doing something that hasn’t been done before, as in his PCGamesN interview:
“There’s at least one thing that’s pretty crazy, pretty insane,” he explains. “I have no idea if it’s going to work – but no-one’s ever seen or done it before, I’ll say that.”
If this is the case – if System Shock 3 is being designed primarily as a multiplayer or co-op immersive sim, rather than as a single-player experience – then I have a couple of thoughts.
One is that I look forward to seeing what such a game looks like. I won’t play it, but I expect it would be a fascinating game design experiment.
And two is that I wonder if multiplayer, as a persistence-rewarding kind of design structure rather than one that allows for concentrated thinking, may be a feature that the perception-enjoying fans of immersive sims so far just aren’t wired to tolerate.
I do think if anyone could figure out how to blend immersive sim and “other people” successfully, it’s probably Warren Spector. And if it could be done, it might open up the market for this new form of immersive sim.
But if that’s where this is going, I would not be quick to dismiss the objections of gamers who enjoy single-player immersive sim experiences. There may be a tighter connection between “people naturally inclined to prefer immersive sims because they’re thinking games” and single-player experiences than some would like to believe.