Warren Spector

Junction Point (Looking Glass RPG) [PC – Cancelled]

Junction Point is a cancelled (initially) fantasy MMORPG / (then) sci-fi RPG that was in development by Looking Glass Studios (Austin team) in the mid ‘90s, an ambitious project conceived by Warren Spector (Wing Commander, Ultima Underworld, System Shock, Deus Ex), Steve Powers (Ultima VII, Deus Ex, Dishonored, Prey) and Allen Varney (Star Wars: Galaxies). This was their original, unfinished idea that would later led to such popular games as System Shock 2, Deus Ex and Bioshock.

Looking Glass are mostly known for their work on Ultima Underworld, System Shock and Thief: The Dark Project. Which such a high-profile portfolio of cult-classic RPGs we can only imagine what Junction Point could have been if only completed.

The game was never officially announced by Looking Glass, but we know about its existence thanks to old resumes and interviews by people who worked on it. The game was initially conceived as a fantasy MMORPG in the vein of Ultima Online, Lineage and EverQuest, but after a while the team decided to resize their ambitions and changed the project into a single-player sci-fi RPG.

The plot of this “sci-fi” version of the game would involve some kind of cult located inside an abandoned asteroid mining colony. On the old Steve Powers’ website we can read some details about one of the missions in the early Junction Point prototype:

Briefing: “We have been making incredible progress in understanding the genetic structure of the Hauranid under the direction of Dr. Lycombs, a microbiology genius. Lycombs has fallen under the influence of the Guardians of the True Path, a cult that worships the Hauranid as divine beings. The cult is located inside an abandoned asteroid mining colony, where the members have set up a hive of sorts, attempting to emulate their sacred leaders. The militant cult is led by Merril Rumby, and has a captive hauranid kept in suspended animation. He has the doctor working on a method for combining the genetic material from the hauranid with humans, to create a hybrid species that is ‘closer to God’.  We’ll pay for the following services…”

  • Primary goal: Return Dr. Lycombs to Corporation X for deprogramming.
  • Secondary goal 1: Return or destroy any research materials Lycombs has compiled.
  • Secondary goal 2: Eliminate Rumby

Problem 1: The passages throughout the colony are zero-g.

Possible solutions: Cult members use micro jets to “fly” through the complex.  The player can take the micro jets from a member and use them. He can use flight skills here.

Problem 2: Mine was plutonium-like substance. Radiation may damage health or certain technology.

Possible solutions: Care must be taken to avoid radiation areas. A radiation resistance nano helps.

Problem 3: Player wants to get rid of the colony in a spectacular way.

Possible solutions: Seismic charges, found in an old mining equipment storeroom,  can be used to blow open airlocks, clear rubble from passages, bust open the dome, or even break up the unstable asteroid if placed strategically in the tunnels throughout the mine. (an old portable computer with emails sent to the former mine superintendent gives clues that this is possible, computer skills make the chance of recovering this data much higher)

Problem 4: Collapsed tunnels bar the players way.

Possible solutions: Use old mining equipment to break through barriers.

Problem 5: Eliminate Rumby

Possible solutions: You find a genetic accelerator gun in the lab that will shoot out a cool ray and cause humans to become genetic human/hauranid hybrids (read: deformed) in a painful, traumatic transformation.  It is currently programmed with Rumby’s DNA, and will only work on him.

Problem 6: Cult members are making it difficult to complete objectives.

Possible solutions: Hive members have networked control chips implanted in their brains used to simulate the hive-mind. A  controller for the chips can be found in Rumby’s sanctuary, and it can be used to prompt the members of the hive to certain actions. (alert, sleep, congregate, repair…)

Problem 7: Find frozen hauranid

Possible solutions: Kill Hauranid captive by screwing with hibernation controls.

Revive Hauranid captive by screwing with hibernation controls. Conscious Hauranid calls for a rescue.

Problem 8: Secure escape vehicle.

Possible solutions: If you find the keys to the planetary skiff in the sanctuary, you can escape using the vehicle in the ore loading/unloading bay instead of signaling for pickup.

As written by Warren Spector during an AMA on Reddit:

“That was just a small, small part of what we were trying to do. I totally recall the Junction Point game (and spent many nights worrying that someone would come along and tell me I couldn’t call my next company that!). Though it evolved over time, the ultimate plan was to make an MMO unlike all the others that were out at the time. Frankly, there are a ton of ideas in the design doc we generated that STILL haven’t been tried. If I were an MMO guy, I might give those ideas a whirl, but I’m pretty much not an MMO guy.”

In late ‘90s Warren Spector left Looking Glass Studios and soon received a call from John Romero: it was the start of the new Ion Storm Austin team and the conception of Deus Ex. As told by Spector in the book “Postmortems from Game Developer“:

“Deus Ex is a game I’ve thinking about since right around the time Underworld 2 shipped. I’ve tried get a game like this started several times (As Troubleshooter at Origin, in some respect, as Junction Point for Looking Glass). Those games didn’t happen for a variety of reasons, but I never stopped thinking about them and, despite the failure of those games to reach production, they laid much of the conceptual groundwork for Deus Ex.”

As Ion Storm Austin director, Spector later oversaw development of Deus Ex: Invisible War, released in December 2003, and Thief: Deadly Shadows, released in June 2004. Soon after Spector left Ion Storm and officially announced his new company: Junction Point Studios, named in honor of the cancelled RPG he was working on during his last months at Looking Glass.

Junction Point was also used as the early project name in the pitch document for System Shock 2. In 1997 former Looking Glass developers Jonathan Chey, Robert Fermier and Ken Levine founded “Irrational Games” and soon started work on System Shock 2. As we can read in an interview with Chey by GamesTM:

“When [System Shock 2] was originally being discussed it had a name attached to it,” says Chey, “which was ‘Junction Point’. Some work had been done on it by Looking Glass’s Austin Texas studio, which was being run by Warren Spector. Then I think they decided that maybe they wanted to leave and start their own studio, and went on to produce the first Deus Ex game.” Looking Glass co-opted the efforts of Irrational Games, believing the team would work on Junction Point. “I remember seeing some design documents or something like that,” says Chey, adding that though little work had been done, there were some elements to it already. “I think it involved some sort of hub – the junction point – where you went on various missions,” says Chey, “but we liked the idea of doing a System Shock sequel so we put together a pitch for that and got Looking Glass interested in it.”

After working on such games as Freedom Force and SWAT 4, in 2007 Irrational Games published their most popular project: BioShock.

Only a few screenshots and a short video from the Junction Point prototype are currently preserved. If you know someone who may have more footage or documents from this lost project, please let us know.

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Space Race [Cancelled Pitch – MegaDrive / Genesis]

Space Race was a game being pitched by Warren Spector to Origin for the Sega Genesis / Mega Drive either on cart form or for the Sega CD. According to pitch documents, Spector was looking for concept approval so they could then create the script. Space Race could have also been developed for PC as well and would have required 4 Megs of RAM and a 320 x 200 VGA. The PC version would have been based on Wing-3 technology and had the possibility of modem/network play.

The game is described as a 3D racing game with a difference and was likened to Road Rash and Super Monaco Grand Prix, but taking that intense racing action into outer space, with the player at the helm of a futuristic space-racing ship. The basic plot for the game would have been based in the distant future mankind has met a myriad of alien races in the solar system, and they together have created a championship of space racing that would pit the very best from each planet against each other.

Some of the design elements promised within the pitch document were that the ships would be customisable so depending on your race style or the course, you, the player would be able to make alterations to your ship to suit.

Some of the tracks are also described, there would be tracks that would have a road type surface, but more interestingly there were tracks that would be wide open and would have no horizontal or vertical constraints and as long as the player touched the appropriate checkpoints they would continue in the race. There would also be enclosed winding tunnels with walls made of energy that if the player touched them their ship would take damage but nothing is described as to what this would affect.

A few race types are mentioned, there could be straight up races where no contact between vehicles would be allowed, but there were also planned demolition derbies where it would be last vehicle standing. When the player wins or ranks in a race, they would earn points for their standing in the Space Race championship and money so they could upgrade their vehicle.

All of the items described may seem like it could be quite hard to implement on the Sega Genesis but Warren Spector said “Technologically, I don’t think there’s anything challenging in here, and the design would be a piece of cake, one of the simplest we’ve ever done.” The proposed budget for developing the game was $200,000 for the Sega Genesis but would have been higher for a PC version.

Also pitched was that the drivers and ships could be licensable allowing for more revenue to be made from the game if it was a success. Spector believed that the only game that was being developed at this time that was close to Space Race was CyberRace for the PC and that looked like it was going to be a hit. CyberRace can still be played using DOSBox emulation, but the game came out with middling reviews and was described as “Stylish but not very good”.

This could be one of the reasons that Space Race was not taken any further than this pitch, but as all of the information that can be found about this game is in this document, it is hard to obtain anymore details. If you do have any more details please feel free to contact us.

Many thanks to Joe Martin for the document.

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