View Full Version : Deus- Ex Post Mortem

23rd Mar 2011, 17:18
A couple of people have mentioned that they'd like to see the full version of the interview with Warren Smith and Harvey Spector about Deus Ex and Invisible War that I've mentioned a couple times. They have a really interesting conversation about the two games' strengths and weaknesses. I'm still missing a couple sections, so if you can find them please by all means pitch in.




23rd Mar 2011, 17:24
Thanks! :)

23rd Mar 2011, 17:55
A couple of people have mentioned that they'd like to see the full version of the interview with Warren Smith and Harvey Spector about Deus Ex and Invisible War that I've mentioned a couple times. They have a really interesting conversation about the two games' strengths and weaknesses. I'm still missing a couple sections, so if you can find them please by all means pitch in.




i hadn't seen this before... it seems to be done during development of IW... Harvey smith claims its better than DX. obviously at the time they may have thought that... but.... you know... why?

anyway. his hair is hilarious.


23rd Mar 2011, 18:36
Please don't use it to wage war against EM. What is presented below is the past.

Warren Spector
Deus Ex Designer Diary
Episode 1
September 24, 1999

Dear Diary,

This is my first journal entry and I'm so excited I could just die! Will anyone read this? Will all my new virtual friends like me? What should I say? Should I reveal personal secrets? (What if my mother reads this?! Ack!) Should I talk about that day you-know-who did you-know-what with his I-can't-say-what? Is the whole idea of making this read like a real diary too goofy for words?

Okay, so let's start with the idea that pretending this is a real diary idea is a total lose and move on from there.

But, seriously, I've never done one of these Designer Diary things before. never even done a .plan file. I'm not entirely sure what folks expect. Should I go short and pithy or long and rambling? (Anyone who knows me knows that "short and pithy" ain't bloody likely!) Should I write a step-by-step, in-depth look at how a game gets made or would an impressionistic peek inside the twisted minds of guys who make games for a living be more appropriate?

(Hey, sounds like a band name - Guys Who Make Games - sort of a Men Without Hats for the new millennium. Ties in with the whole, icky "Designer as Rock Star" thing going on in this business nowadays...)

Erm... Sorry. I got a little distracted there.

Look, I'm just gonna wing it and hope for the best. If there's anything you particularly want to see in the upcoming entries in this "diary," send me some email or contact the ION web guys or something and I'll see if I can oblige. If I don't hear from you folks, I'll just do whatever the hell I want and you'll be at my mercy. Bwa-ha-ha!

So, let's start at the beginning. How did Deus Ex get started?

Return with us now to those halcyon days of yore (that'd be back around 1994, for those of you who are sticklers for detail):

System Shock was in full swing out at LookingGlass Technologies under the able direction of Doug Church. The Wings of Glory team was soaring at ORIGIN. David W. Bradley's Cybermage: Darklight Awakening and Tony Zurovec's Crusader: No Remorse were both well into production. The teams were cranking and I figured the less interference they got from me, the better, so I started thinking about what to do next.

I knew I wanted to keep working in the first-person, 3D, immersive realitylroleplayinglstory-driven gaming area. That was a given. But I was sick to death of games involving furry-footed freaks with pointy ears. If I had to listen to one more poor shmoe fake a British accent and misuse "thee" and "thou" I'd just shrivel up and die. And if I had to figure out the effectiveness of the Frizzlebotz ZX2074 Anti-Matter Blaster against an other-dimensional shambler from the stars, I knew I'd go on a killing rampage that'd make the ZX2074 look like a popgun.

I wanted to do a game that Lee laccoca could play without being embarrassed, damn it. Something a little more adult. Something with at least one foot firmly planted in the real world. For inspiration, I turned to Die Hard movies and James Bond rather than Tolkien or Robert E. Howard or my last Dungeons & Dragons campaign. I was convinced the world was ready for something like that.

A bunch of ideas came to mind.

How about a "one-block roleplaying game?" I thought. I worked up a quick proposal for a hard-boiled detective game set in 1930s San Francisco with all the action set in a single city block. I figured we could model one city block and all its inhabitants in excruciating detail. Hours and hours of gameplay from a tiny geographical area.

"Nah. Too nichey," I thought (though I STILL want to do this, someday...).

How about a mission-based, real-world roleplaying game with the player in the role of a guy drummed out of the CIA for his unorthodox methods. Best in the business but too much of a loose cannon. The guy the CIA, NSA, Interpol and what have you go to when the situation's too tough for them to deal with. Yeah! That would be cool. Instead of one city block, the team could build a bunch of small, deep maps. I started thinking about the scenarios I could create - bad guys hijack a 747 and you're the guy with a gun. What do you do? Terrorists have taken an unknown number of people hostage and are keeping them on the 57th floor of a high rise office building. How do you get in? How do you deal with the terrorists you encounter? Do you talk or shoot? Can you keep all the hostages alive? And so on.

Yeah! Mass-market appeal. Real-world stuff. Small and deep rather than broad and shallow. And not an elf or alien to be seen! He shoots...he scores!

I called the project "Troubleshooter," worked up a quick proposal, pitched it to some folks. And got shot down. No interest. Nada. (Heck, at that time. I couldn't interest anyone at EAIDRIGIN in Underworld 3, System Shock 2 or much of anything else in the first-person perspective, real-time category. Very frustrating...) In retrospect, the chilly reception was probably for the best. The technology of that time just wasn't up to the task. Troubleshooter would have been a disaster back then.

Okay, so jump ahead a few years. I'm no longer with ORIGIN. Instead, I'm running the Austin development office of LookingGlass Technologies. I'm producing Thief: The Dark Project, from a distance, and working on proposals for projects to be developed in my Austin shop. I'll spare you the gory details of political in-fighting and the struggles of a company I'm happy to say has completely turned things around and gone on to great and justified success with Thief, System Shock 2 and the Flight Unlimited games. Suffice to say, my office was assigned the task of developing Junction Point, a first-person, 3D, online only roleplaying game that never found funding.

When the LookingGlass gig ended in summer of 1997, I had a core team of five guys who'd done a lot of very good conceptual work on Junction Point. The logical thing would have been to turn that conceptual work into another, similar proposal for some other company. But we were all kinda burned out on the Big Project thing and, instead, put together a proposal for a small, focused, action-oriented game ideally suited to consoles. PC's you name it. I pitched it to a bunch of publishers and out nowhere.

„Why would you want to do a little action game, Warren? Everyone expects an Epic Roleplaying Game from you. Give them what they want."

"Well, this Lancers thing sounds cool. I guess.... But would you be interested in doing a roleplaying game for us, Warren?"

"You know, roleplaying's making a comeback and we want to be there when the market takes off. And you've never done a small, action title before..."

This was the message I got from everyone I talked to.

My response was simple: "Okay," I said. "I'll give you a roleplaying game. Just double my budget and triple your risk." That'd show 'em. I knew they'd back down and give me the funding to do a smaller, lower risk title...

Everyone I talked to said, "Sure."

Everyone in this business is nuts.

Anyway, there was no point in fighting what seemed inevitable. I set out with my core guys • programmers Chris Borden and Al Yarusso, designers Dave Beyer and Steve Powers, and artist Kraig Count to work on a proposal for a Big, Epic Roleplaying Game requiring millions of dollars, several years, huge risk and a team far bigger than I intended to build.

Such are the vagaries of the computer game business...

What we came up with was a neat combination of Troubleshooter and Junction Point. I wrote up a Roleplaying Manifesto (much of which saw print in an article about RPG's for the New Millennium published by Game Developer magazine and posted on the Gamasutra website). On the basis of a simple proposal and a political statement, I came THIS closets starting my own development group and signing a publishing deal with some Very Big Names in the business.

Two deals looked especially good to me. I had contracts on my desk, one ready to sign and one a few negotiating points away from being ready. I was interviewing accountants and lawyers lbleargh!). I was ready to go.

That was when John Romero called and said, "We need to work together."

"Too late," I said. "I'm about to sign a deal here!"

"Don't sign," he said. "I'll be down tomorrow."

To make a long story short, John drove down from Dallas to Austin the next day. He explained what ION Storm was all about (creative freedom, healthy budgets, and a bunch of other cool stuff). He told me that interviewing lawyers and accountants was a waste of time (tough sell there!). By the end of the day, he had convinced me and the guys to give up the dream of setting up our own shop. We became ION Storm, Austin.

From that moment. I had, like, two weeks to whip the (ahem) vague proposal we had in hand into something concrete, something that would get Eidos' multi-million dollar approval at the upcoming ECTS show in London.

What we came up with was the ironically titled Shooter (since it wasn't ever meant lobe a shooter at all, not that anyone got the joke).

Shooter, which eventually morphed into Deus Ex, was a cross between Troubleshooter and Junction Point but with an X-Files, turnef•themillennium twist. Instead of a Real World Roleplaying Game we decided to do a game set in the world conspiracy buffs THINK we live in. And we decided that the technology was still not ready to recreate the world as it exists today (about which more in a later diary installment) some pushed things into the near future.

Ta-Da I We had a game idea. We had funding. We were ready to begin serious pre-production. It was September of 1997.

NEXT EPISODE: Pre-Production Rules!

Warren Spector
Deus Ex Designer Diary
Episode 2 - Pre-Production Rules!
March 16, 2000

Dear Diary,

It's been months since I've had the time to sit down and reveal to you all of my secret hopes and dreams. You know me - I get all distracted working with my teammates making games and stuff. Before you know it the days turn to weeks, the weeks to months.... I hope you didn't miss me TOO much. Anyway. I'm back now and I'll try never to be gone so long again.

I left off last time with us getting hooked up with ION Storm and tides and having a proposal and the core of a team and all. We were ready to begin pre-production.

One of the most important things when you're beginning a project into have a clear idea of what you wanted to do. Not that you aren't going to change your mind and see ideas morph in totally unimaginable ways, but you have to start somewhere. We started with a manifesto a set of clear goals and a set of principles or rules we could use to filter a host of decisions we knew we'd be making during development.

The details of Deus Es- plot, character, game system design • have all changed radically since that beginning but CONCEPTUALLY, the game still follows most of those rules and meets many of the ideals outlined in that manifesto.

So, what WERE those goals (in the beginning)?

Deus Ex Goals

* Character differentiation was to be paramount. Such differences would be expressible, minute-to-minute in the gameworld, resulting in a unique gameplay experience for each player.
* All game problems (no puzzles!) would be solvable in a variety of ways. This seemed critical to making character differentiation meaningful. The idea was to create a believable world and then offer game systems that encouraged players to explore that world in whatever way or ways they chose. The game would tune itself (however slightly) to the player's play style rather than forcing a designer's play style on players. We were tired of games that kept us on rails, offering the illusion of freedom and interactivity but without the reality. We're a long way from being able to create a game in which players are truly free to do whatever they want - believe me, there'll be plenty of illusion in Deus Es. but we have to start taking some steps on the road to player control.
* Choice would be associated with Consequence. What good is player control if all choices lead to the same result? Without real, predictable consequences, choice is irrelevant. (Probably why so many games seem so trivial it's because they are!)
* The game would be set in the real world. Speaking personally, I was tired of goofy fantasy stuff and alien invasions. So, in Deus Ex, everything in the game would be real, based on something real or based on something someone, somewhere believed to be real. Me can show you the research behind most everything in the game, no matter how outlandish it may seem!) More important than my personal frustration with the fantastic, it just seemed like a more realistic setting combined with the problem orientation of our game would allow players to apply a little real world common sense. Fire a gun in the real world and common sense will pretty much tell you what's going to happen. Do it in a game set in a fantastic alternate dimension and there's no telling. We wanted that real world common sense stuff.

And what were the rules we generated to help us achieve our goals and ensure the kind of gameplay experience we were after?

Deus Ex Rules

* Always show the goal 'Players should see their next goal (or encounter an intriguing mystery) before they can achieve (or explain) it.
oCuriosity encourages players to find the route.
oThe route should include cool stuff the player wants OR should force the player through an area he wants to avoid. (The latter is something we don't want to do too often.)
oMake sure there's more than one way to get to all destinations.
oDead ends should be avoided unless tactically significant.

* Problems not puzzles It's an obstacle course, not a jigsaw puzzle. Game situations should make logical sense and solutions should never depend on reading the designer's mind. And there should always be more than one way to get past a game obstacle. Always. Locations will be reachable in several ways. All missions, locations and problems will be specifically keyed to:
oSkills (and skill levels)
oAugmentations (and augmentation levels)
oObjects oWeapons

* Forced failure CAN be fun but usually isn't Getting knocked unconscious and waking up in a strange place or finding yourself standing over dead bodies while holding a smoking gun can be cool story elements, but situations the player has no chance to react to are bad. Used sparingly, to drive a story forward, okay. Don't overuse!
* Players do; NPC's watch 'It's no fun to watch an NPC do something cool. If it's a cool thing, let the player do it. If it's a boring or mundane thing, don't even let the player think about it - let an NPC do it.
* Pat Players on the back regularly. Constant rewards will drive players onward. Make sure rewards get more impressive as the game goes on. One of the most powerful player rewards is having the world react-and react logically to player action.
* Games get harder; players get smarter - Make sure game difficulty escalates as players become more accustomed to your interface and more familiar with your world. Make sure you reward the player by making him or her more powerful as the game goes on.
* Think 3D A 30 map cannot be laid out on graph paper. It haste take into account things over the player's head and under the player's feet. If there's no needle look up and down - constantly - make a 20 game!
* Connectivity is everything 'Maps in a 3D gameworld must feature massive interconnectivity. Tunnels that go direct from Point A to Point B are bad; loops (horizontal and vertical) and areas with multiple entrance and exit points are good.
* Gameplay will rely on a variety of "tools"


There's a saying in television production or so a college prof of mine told me):
Proper Prior Planning Prevents Poor Productions NW 6 Ps)

With that saying in mind, we spent the first six months of Deus Ex (before we had an engine), with a team of about six, in a crummy little office, just thinking about how we could turn the high level goals outlined above into a game.

* We hammered on the setting and decided to move the game into the near future to buy ourselves some room to play around - the real world, as we quickly discovered, was VERY limiting. Ultimately, we settled on a "James Bond meets the X-Film," conspiracy-oriented background.
* We did a LOT of research into "real" conspiracies: Everything from the Kennedy Assassination to Area 5110 the CIA pushing crack in East LA to Dwight Eisenhower's UFO connection to Freemasons with tunneling below the Denver airport to build abducted baby restaurants for alien invaders at George Rush's direction. And we all know George lush is sworn to serve the Queen of England. Only a fraction of this stuff ended up in the game but it gave us a peek into the minds of conspiracy buffs that was both scary and useful.)
* We worked out a bunch of missions more than 25 of 'em, taking the player from New York to London to Paris to San Antonio and Austin to Siberia to MONAD to Sunken LA Ipost-earthquake) to the Moon. We had wars in Texas, raids on concentration camps to free 2000 prisoners from UN troops under FEMA control. II look back on this period in the game's development as the "what the heck were we thinking?" era!)
* We worked on backstory stuff so we'd know what was going on in the world, even in places the player never not to visit. Not that there were many such places left in our early mission write-ups!)
* We started creating a cast of characters, hundreds and hundreds of them. Many of them didn't yet have specific roles in the game. Ultimately, this list proved both a help and a hindrance to designers as they fleshed out the missions. Characters sometimes suggested missions or subquests but often ended up just being filler we ultimately had to cut.
* We hammered on game systems:
-A skill system that didn't depend on dierolls or tracking skills at a fine level of granularity,
-A system of special powers inanotech augmentations) that differentiated the player character from ordinary humans. °A conversation system with some nifty cinematic elements and some elements borrowed from console RPG's,
-A bunch of 2d interface systems including inventory, skill & augmentation upgrade screens, map screens, computer screens, even a text editor so players can take notes.
-Several player reward systems
-Skill point awards
-Augmentation availability
-Weapon availability

* We evaluated game engines and determined that, of the options available toes at the time (spring '98), Unreal was the clear winner.

By March of '98, we had about 300 pages of documentation and thought we knew everything we'd needed to know to make a game. Were we ever wrong...

Clear goals and a detailed script are all well and good, but design is an organic process. Goals change. Men, do they ever!

In the time between March of '98 and April of '99, that 300-page design doe mushroomed into over 500 somewhat bloated pages of game description, much of it radically different than what we thought of and wrote initially.

Why did our thinking and goals change? Come back for Design Diary, Episode #3, appearing on a Deus to website near you, soon...

23rd Mar 2011, 18:36
I think these two points are important:



it's about immersion

23rd Mar 2011, 19:44
Please don't use it to wage war against EM. What is presented below is the past.

Don't know why but this "past" reminded me I wanna hit EM in the nuts!

23rd Mar 2011, 21:35
Please don't use it to wage war against EM. What is presented below is the past.

The Customer Is Always Right


24th Mar 2011, 00:02
Awesome, thanks for posting guys! :)

24th Mar 2011, 00:59

Falling Down. Exellent film :)

24th Mar 2011, 06:37
Thats twice I've seen that clip from falling down here. I approve.

24th Mar 2011, 06:42
i hadn't seen this before... it seems to be done during development of IW... Harvey smith claims its better than DX. obviously at the time they may have thought that... but.... you know... why?

anyway. his hair is hilarious.


Well they had to sell the game... :)

24th Mar 2011, 09:45
Hey Nexus.. amazing, amazing post up there, Warren's diaries etc. Just great man