"Thank god for the indie space" because the mainstream gaming market isn't making much progress, according to Deus Ex designer and industry veteran Warren Spector. His comment came in an interview with Gamasutra in response to a question about how game design has changed in recent years.
"I can't believe I'm about to say this--I'll never work in this industry again--but in the mainstream space I really haven't seen a whole lot of progress," he said. "It seems like we're getting more finely tuned, prettier versions of games we've been playing for years."
Without naming any names, Spector said the indie space is moving things forward more substantially. "Thank god for the indie space; there are people trying interesting things there," he said.
Spector recently announced plans to join OtherSide Entertainment to work on System Shock 3. As part of the move, he will leave his teaching job at the University of Texas.
He also offered up some ideas for what he wants to do at OtherSide, beginning with making more "robust character" and improving character AI.
"I see a variety of places where we could make some strides that would help take games to the next level," he said. "The biggest one, for me, is more robust characters and character AI. We've gotten very good at combat AI, we've made great strides there, but I don't think we've done much in the world of non-combat AI and interacting with people --human or otherwise. We haven't done a lot with conversation, and establishing emotional relationships with characters in games. So I'd very much like to play with that."
He also hopes to help build systems that give players the power and freedom to make their own stories; he cited Dishonored developer Arkane as laying the groundwork here.
"Also, while I've seen some efforts, especially from the guys at Arkane, to sort of extend the design philosophy of Origin and Looking Glass--that whole 'immersive simulation' and its philosophy of empowering players to tell their own stories. I'd like to go further with that," he said. "It's nice to see more people trying, but I think there's a ways we could go as well, in terms of empowering players to tell their own stories. Those are the directions I'm going to try to go in. We'll see if I can pull it off."
Spector also explained that he's not moving to the Boston area to join OtherSide, but will instead set up a studio of his own in Austin, Texas. It will be a much smaller operation that Junction Point, the Disney-owned studio he ran for Epic Mickey and its sequel before the outfit ultimately closed its doors.
"I've done the big team thing. We had 200 people at Junction Point, in the studio itself, and 800 people around the world working on the game," he said. "So I've done the big-budget, huge team thing, and at this point what I'd like to do is smaller, lower-budget, almost like 'games-as-a-service' model games that require somewhere between 10-20 people to make. I don't want to get much bigger than that."
"I think we can work with external partners to create a virtual, larger team that will allow us to compete with the larger teams and the larger budgets without actually having to build that. I don't want to get so far away from the game that I have to spend all my time running an enormous studio and dealing with publishers. I want to be in the thick of it, so smaller teams is part of the deal."
The full interview covers a range of other topics; you can read it here.