Warren Spector says balancing violence in System Shock 3 is 'very hard'

Famed game designer Warren Spector has never made any secret of the fact that he's not a fan of overdone violence in videogames. He criticized Rockstar for Grand Theft Auto 3 all the way back in 2005, calling it "a stunning accomplishment as a game design" that was wasted on "the ultimate urban thuggery simulation," and last year he expressed disgust at numerous games that appeared in a "greatest hits" video of violent games that was put together last year for the White House.   

In an interview with VGC Spector said that reluctance to embrace violence has carried over into his work on System Shock 3. Assuming it's similar to the first two games, the new System Shock won't be a straight shooter, but there will be shooting, and plenty of evidence of violence—broken bodies, blood on walls, all that kind of good stuff—that's occurred prior to the player's arrival. That's presented something of a challenge for Spector, who joined developer Otherside Entertainment in 2016 to head up development of the game

"It’s very hard, to be honest with you. System Shock at one level is a survival horror game and achieving horror is about creating tension and making people stop to wonder what lies around the corner," Spector said.

"There are expectations with a game like System Shock that I’m going to go a little bit further [with violence] than I normally would. So what I’m trying to do is listen to my team, listen to the audience and adjust my beliefs, or work within my beliefs, appropriately." 

Spector said that he still hopes to make a game without weapons one day. Epic Mickey "was kind of an attempt at that," but he reckons that the paint thinner players use to erase objects qualifies as a weapon and so it's not quite what he's ultimately hoping to achieve. 

He also walked back his comments on that White House video, describing its use to critique the entire medium as "a trap" that he may have fallen into because of his "tendency to overstate to make my point." But he stood by his broader point, saying that he wishes developers would sometimes show a little more restraint—and that gamers would push back against over-the-top depictions of violence. 

"I genuinely don’t believe that games cause behaviors, but there is good taste and bad taste. I think developers have some obligation to just be sensible about stuff," Spector said. "But I also don’t want to fall into the trap of telling people what games they should make." 

System Shock 3 still doesn't have a release date but Otherwise revealed the very first teaser for the game in March, and brief as it is, it's also very System Shock-y, and very promising.

Andy Chalk

Andy has been gaming on PCs from the very beginning, starting as a youngster with text adventures and primitive action games on a cassette-based TRS80. From there he graduated to the glory days of Sierra Online adventures and Microprose sims, ran a local BBS, learned how to build PCs, and developed a longstanding love of RPGs, immersive sims, and shooters. He began writing videogame news in 2007 for The Escapist and somehow managed to avoid getting fired until 2014, when he joined the storied ranks of PC Gamer. He covers all aspects of the industry, from new game announcements and patch notes to legal disputes, Twitch beefs, esports, and Henry Cavill. Lots of Henry Cavill.