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Having been unfairly attributed as "the creator of Ultima Underworld" in the past, the designer and producer of Deus Ex sets the record straight.
NAME: Warren Spector
FIRST EVER GAME: Space Rogue and Ultima VI
ALSO WORKED ON: Martian Dreams, Bad Blood, Ultima VI: The False Prophet, Space Rogue, Wing Commander, System Shock, Thief: The Dark Project, Deus Ex, among others
NOW DOING: Running Ion Storm Austin
>> How did you get into the games business and what was your first commercial project?

The first commercial game work I did in was development work on Matt Costello's single-player "pick a path" adventure, "Thing In The Darkness" published in an early issue of Fantasy Gamer magazine.

The first "real" papergame work I did was editing and rules development on TOON: The Cartoon Role-playing Game (designed by Greg Costikyan).

I wrote a bunch of role-playing adventures and boardgames on my own (I think "Orcslayer" for GURPS may have been the first, but I'm not sure) but I don't know if anyone'll care about that.

The first electronic game work I did was, well... I was assigned to several projects when I signed on at Origin, all in-progress simultaneously: I worked with Paul Neurath on the plot and mission flow-charting for Space Rogue, and wrote all the dialogue for that game. (Paul rewrote every word, I'm pretty sure, and I think I ended up with an "additional materials" credit or something). Paul gave me quite the education. I also worked with Richard Garriott on the plot and missions for Ultima VI and continued on that project as Associate Producer for the duration. Working with Rich on the UVI plot was totally eye-opening. Together, those two experiences probably determined pretty directly the kinds of games I wanted to work on from then on.

The first projects I produced on my own were Bad Blood and Martian Dreams, both in collaboration with a guy named Jeff George (who has since basically dropped off the face of the earth, despite the immense promise he showed back then). Chris Roberts was listed as co-producer on Bad Blood but, really, he was off making Wing Commander at the time - all I did on THAT project was try to keep people out of his way!
Martian Dreams was the first game I'd call my own (though, again, Jeff George was the project director, so a ton of credit goes to him and Mike McHaffry, the lead programmer, led a team of terrifically talented people). But Martian Dreams wouldn't have happened without my initial work - I came up with the basic setting and plot and all the historic characters and worked with that team on a daily basis to implement it. So that'd probably be my "first" game in some cosmic sense...

>> So you were not "the creator of Ultima Underworld" as many people seem to think?

I was the Origin producer on Underworld and I contributed significantly to the project design as well as process, but I get far too much credit for Underworld's development while Paul and Doug get far too little.

Just to be clear, Paul was the guy who came up with the original concept that became Underworld and founded a development studio to make the game; Doug was the first programmer officially hired to work on the title but, frankly, it took me about ten minutes after talking to him for the first time to realise he was the Project Director, if not in name than in fact. Without me, the game might have been later or different; without Paul and Doug it isn't too much of a stretch to say the game would never have happened.

I just hope you don't UNDERESTIMATE my contribution to counterbalance the fact that I typically receive too MUCH credit for Underworld! I did sweat blood over that game...

>> If you had one special, overriding memory of working with the Ultima Underworld team, what would that be?

The Underworld team was something really special. They were a bunch of young, brash, MIT students and ex-students. Kids, really. Most of them lived together in a place they called "Deco Morono" ("Ten Dumb Guys") but they immediately put the lie to that the first time I set foot in the place. I mean, maybe my memory's faulty and I'm misremembering what happened but I swear there was a conversation going on in old English when I arrived. And I don't think anyone was quoting Chaucer - there were people TALKING in old English. Morono indeed!

Eventually, the
Underworld team moved out of the Blue Sky offices in New Hampshire (and stopped working out of dumb guys) and, in the dead of winter, found themselves in a terrible little office in Somerville, Massachussets. Paul found the place - in the basement of some social services building, meaning there were always interesting people around! I don't know what he was thinking... Anyway, the place was locked when we arrived for the first time but several of the team members just whipped out their lockpicks (physical hacking being a big deal at MIT, apparently) and we were in. The wind whistled in under the doors so badly, we had to stuff towels under them to keep from freezing. Throw a bunch of folding tables, a bunch of folding beach chairs, a fax machine and anywhere from 6-10 people into a room so small I wouldn't put three people in it nowadays and you've got the picture.

But in that little office, that team created some serious magic. I mean, the sense of doing something incredible was palpable. They may not have noticed - they were too busy MAKING the magic or maybe they were just too young or new to the business to realise how special they were and how special what they were doing was. But I was there those last few months, working on docs, going over buglists with them, testing the game as it changed, daily, and I felt how special it was every minute I was there. It isn't too much to say I felt HONOURED to be there with them.

That team was more cohesive than any I've ever worked with. They were more audacious and enthusiastic than they should have been under any circumstances, let alone under the pressure of completing their studio's first game - a game unlike anything anyone had ever seen. It was an absolutely incredible experience - one I feel lucky to have been able to share.

Oh, and make sure you tell the story of Kevin Wasserman, MIT PhD and ace playtester (!), who managed to get through Underworld in something like 47 minutes. Lots of people challenged him, but I don't think anyone ever beat his time...

All I'm saying is make sure the team gets appropriate credit. It's great that people are going to read about Paul, Doug and myself, but they should know about Dan Schmidt and Jon Maiara and Marc LeBlanc and James Fleming and Tim Stellmach and Kevin and the other people who changed the face of gaming in a draughty little basement in Somerville...
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