GDC Europe: Epic Mickey designer encourages inspiration from other media, as long as games donít lose themselves in doing so
Warren Spector, the widely-respected Disney Interactive creative director, says there’s no shame in stealing the most useful elements of other media.
However, the Junction Point founder urged caution on taking inspiration too far – he said developers who mimic film, as so many do, are in danger of missing what makes games unique.
Speaking at a keynote session on the first day of GDC Europe, the Epic Mickey designer said developers should be cautious of relying on other media to tell their story.
“We are in a sense an amalgamation of all these other media,” Spector said.
”But is that all we are? That question has always really bothered me. I just can’t believe that. We don’t want to make games like other media. We cannot be bound by the conventions of other media. We have to make our own conventions.”
Hitting his point home, he said: “If you want make your game as a movie, you should be making movies”.
He added: “We have to embrace what makes us unique. I believe in the power and potential of games to change things. Movies use dream logic, radio uses imagination, and we are different.
”We are special in that we are different. Other media can evoke emotions, bur we can offer the reality of choice, and I think that’s what we’re meant to do.”
Spector, a one-time novelist who studied film and TV, has drawn ideas and cultured his own theories from a host of respected creatives, all spanning across a broad range of entertainment forms.
To name a few, he has worked with the likes of Spiderman movie producer Laura Ziskin, Incredible Hulk writer Peter David, director John Woo, animation group Pixar, and novelists such as his wife Caroline Spector.
The Epic Mickey designer took the audience through a broad range of media that videogames compete with in the battle for consumers’ time and money – explaining in detail how each can offer inspirations and red-herrings.
He began with film, and made the sharp claim that there are many film techniques that shouldn’t be emulated in games.
”We are at our best when we don’t cut from image to image and from place to place [like films do],” he said, “because when we do… we destroy the interactivity of games. We destroy the illusion of what makes games work.”
He defined films by their “magic moments” – memorable scenes painstakingly put together by writers that the audience takes away with them.
”We all know about those moments in games [such as in Resident Evil] when dogs fly through windows,” he said, “but games are not about magic moments, or one-shots. Games are about the repeated action. Our job is to change the context around the repeated action.”
Moving on to radio, Spector was alarmed that the radio’s capable, near-century-old storytelling traits are rarely observed by game creators. He went through a number of old radio shows which, demonstrably, decorated scenes and painted atmosphere just with sounds.
He said that graphics have, of course, got much better over the years, but not to the fidelity of a movie. “In that sense we are still making cartoons”, he said, “and sound is a really powerful tool that we can use to create atmosphere”.
Spector cited further narrative mediums, from board games to spoken word, yet his summary was that games have their own place in the eclectic range of entertainment media.
”Games have the power to transport you” he said. “When you play a Star Wars game, it’s you who decides whether to join the dark side. When you play Half-Life you become Gordon Freeman. We are about the only medium that doesn’t cut away [from that immersion].”
He continued: “If we embrace what is unique about our own medium, we allow our own audiences to express themselves creatively. We are unique in the human history in allowing audiences to be creative with their entertainment. We need to stop telling players what to do. We need to get them to tell their own story.”