View Full Version : OT: Warren Spector Blasts ‘PC Gamer’ over 2 ‘Deus Ex’ articles

3rd Aug 2002, 17:05
Well I’ve never seen this before?

In the September edition of PC Gamer UK, Warren Spector’s actually wrote a letter to the ‘readers’ letter page concerning two articles that were written in the June issue regarding Deus Ex. I’ve typed out the 2 articles and Warren’s response, I hope you find them interesting? I think Warren puts up a good fight defending his game, what do you think? As both DX and Thief are very similar games. I’d be interested in hearing what fellow Thief players think about it all?

The first article:


The old ‘linearity’ debate rears its ugly head again – But this time, Deus Ex is under fire. What fresh madness is this? Or is it, in fact, the truth that we simple cannot bring ourselves to accept?

According to Roger ‘Verbal’ Kint in The Usual Suspects, the greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist. If true, it’s a cracking ruse – but it’s nothing compared to the sleight-of-hand demonstrated by the much-lauded Warren Spector.

You see, some people don’t believe in the devil: therefore she can’t claim to have fooled everyone. Yet with one notable exception, the entire world believes that ION Storms 18-month-old Dues Ex revolutionised PC gaming and set standards to which all developers should aspire. All but one agrees that non-linearity is the way forward and all narrative should be open-ended as possible. And the small boy at the back, pointing at Spector and giggling at his naked arse? That’s me that is.

That the deception was so universally accepted is perhaps the biggest triumph of Deus Ex. Like the cheeky inventor who recently claimed to have smashed all theories of thermodynamics by building an inexhaustible energy supply – subsequently and obviously exposed as an almighty hoax – so Spector must be s******ing like a schoolboy ogling his first girlie magazine at the success of his scam. Deus Ex – the future of gaming? Not a chance. No sane developer, particularly of a single player title, should accept this as fact.

How could it be? No form of successful narrative-based entertainment is non-linear, that’s the beauty of it. We don’t buy books and choose which pages to skip. We don’t watch every other episode of a soap. Imagine, then, if it was possible to skip merrily past the Blast Pit in Half-Life, or there was a way to avoid the black-clad assassins. Or if there was an option to miss the Normandy landings in Medal of Honour, preferring instead to be dropped slightly further up the coast where it’s nice and quiet. You wouldn’t want to skip those bits for the world – so why on earth should Dues Ex allow players to choose which route to take?

More crucially, by offing players the choice of how to approach a problem – do you go in by the roof, or through the front door? – You immediately render one choice redundant. That exquisitely designed bit underground, which required stealth and sharp shooting? Skipped past it, mate. I’m sorry – but games are expensive enough without vast chunks of them simply dismissed because you choose to go a different way. Titles spend too long in development as it is. I want to see everything they’ve got, without having to re-play. After all, who ever does?

Non-linearity’s a cute Holy Grail, but the most intense single player titles lead their players by the hand through a series of increasingly spectacular set-pieces. Think No one lives for ever, think Medal of Honour, think Max Payne. Not everyone approaches these games in exactly the same way, yet they leave having seen what the developers wanted to offer. We don’t write our own stories; we want them to be told. Most importantly, we all experience the same tale.

The fact that no-one else has ripped-off Deus Ex says much about it’s influence, and secretly, I think, most will admit it revolutionised ultimately nothing. Instead, it should be seen as an example of misdirection – that Warren Spector stuck so rigidly to the philosophy of non-linearity throughout the game’s development should be considered the biggest irony of all!

Here’s the other article:

Please! don’t make me play… Deus Ex

You’re confused. You’re thinking First person games are his bag and surely he’s completed DX 8 times already – one for each skill level, and another 4 just to explore all the alternative routes and endings. Nope. Never touched it. Save once when it first came in for review, and I spent 5 minutes traipsing the docks and chatting to men in uniform (art imitating life there). It’s just not my bag. I prefer my Augs to carry Steyr branding. If I’m playing gibberish, I need gibs.

So it was that I loaded up ION storm’s one lauded moment in gaming history and was immediately met by…hang on, isn’t that the tune from ‘All your base?’ It might as well be. Dreadful midi pumps out – pompous early ‘80s synth at odds with the supposedly cyber-cool theme and illuminati-esque conspiracy narrative that’s to come. It gets worse. The chunky menu appears with all the polished professionalism of a shareware shooter, swiftly followed by ‘LOADING’ for the first of many unforgivable times.

The game itself plays like an early Spectrum graphic adventure. Objects are incongruous with their milieu and everyone wants to say their piece in realms of cleverly scripted but ultimately tedious dialogue. Small crates sit around waiting for you to position them in order that you can haul yourself onto – wait for it – bigger crates! Why? To collect the clip-art objects, naturally, which – just like 16k red herrings – give the impression that there’s a lot more going on than there really is. And while I’m on the crate jumping, how is it that, as a cyborg with all manner of nano-tech augmentations, you can’t jump higher than 2 feet? The US government got to invest 6 million dollars in Steve Austin, but UNATCO clearly got change out of a monkey for JC Denton.

Anachronisms are rife too. “We’ve created one of the most sophisticated robo-cops ever made. What manner of hi-tech weaponry shall we arm him with?” I know a crowbar? And why not demand that he crawls behind boxes to avoid detection, and needs to drink Quattro to replenish his energy? Genius. Oh, and we’ll make him a bit fat too. “But then he won’t be cool”. Give him some shades. “Yeah nice one”

Just as the phrase Deus Ex Machina has been appropriated and bastardised for the sake of pithiness but at the expense of sense – managing to simultaneously patronise it’s fans while sycophantically congratulating them of their own intellect – so too the games pretensions (the complex sub-plots, conspiracy theories and dialogue), provide intellectual endorsement while acting as a smokescreen to disguise a fairly standard action adventure. Or I could be talking bollocks. Whatever, I’m not a fan. And having heard a character spout “ The corporations are so big, you don’t even know who you’re working for. That’s terror. Terror built into the system” I can’t help imagine the writer responsible had one eye on ION Storm’s towering Dallas HQ as he penned it

Warren Spector’s response:

I just had to take a virtual pen to virtual paper after reading the two pieces about Deus Ex in you June issue. Matthew Piece’s contribution to the issue’s ‘Please! Don’t make me play….’ Feature was typically witty, well written and to the point. Different strokes for different folks and all. The devil’s Advocate column, by Simon Byron, was a bit of a different story. Witty? You bet. Well-written? Absolutely. Expression of personal preference? Totally – but, I’m afraid, the piece was presented as if those personal preferences were, in fact, well…facts.

I agree wholeheartedly with the author’s contention that “no form of successful narrative based entertainment is non linear” today but I disagree that it’s impossible to create such a form. Just because all previous narrative media have been linear doesn’t mean all future narrative media have to be.

In fact, the coolest thing to me about working in games is precisely that we are creating a new medium, with new capabilities, rather than rehashing what works in movies or television programmes or books. The fact that games are responsive to player input and potentially non-linear is the one and only thing that separates them from these earlier forms of entertainment. Don’t tell me that we should stop trying to take advantage of what makes games unique. I have no interest in playing or making games that are, in essence, second-rate movies.

To the author’s point that he doesn’t want to skip past any parts of the game, anymore than he would want to skip past pages in a book or an episode of a soap opera, I ask, why not? Is it a value-for-money issue? If so, then cite individual games like DX as failing to provide adequate value for money, rather then claiming game developers should work to ensure that players have no choice but to see everything ( thus ensuring every player has exactly the same experience of supposedly interactive works).

In DX, you were offered several paths, all of which ended up in basically the same place, at least as far as the story was concerned. We brought all players back to the same place in the narrative at the end of every mission precisely so we could tell a story that would meet movie and book-lovers expectations. No one missed any interesting plot-critical events. However, within each mission, we tried to give players enough choices and enough information about those choices to make informed decisions and hoped the player choose a path that suited them. In other words, we didn’t just arbitrarily allow players to avoid interesting events but, rather, asked them to decide how they wanted to play, based on who they wanted to be in the game world.

In the end, the argument isn’t, or shouldn’t be, about linearity versuss non-linearity but about players getting to make real, creative choices. It’s about balancing the emotional impact and the narrative power of scripted sequences experienced by all players versus the admittedly ‘cooler’, sometimes less emotionally engaging power of games that allow players to express themselves through play. The former are about showing off how clever and creative we are as developers; the latter is about designers and players collaborating in the telling of a story rather than about viewers/readers being told a story. I prefer the latter; Mr Byron prefers the former. We may have failed in our attempts to live up to my ideal but, if we did, it was a failure of implementation not a failure of concept in my opinion.

Oh yeah; one more thing. To the author’s comments that I must be strutting around crowing about how DX put one over the world, well, come on. That’s silly. I look at DX with a fair degree of pride, notably in a team that embraced a difficult concept and worked insanely hard to achieve even some of our lofty goals. Having said that, I assure you, I see more flaws in that game than the author of your Devil’s Advocate column ever could.

If anything, I spend my time fretting about the game’s failures and looking for ways we can do much better in subsequent games, the better to live up to my own expectations and those of players like Mr Byron and Mr pierce.

Warren Spector
Studio Director, Ion Storm
Project Director, Deus Ex

Some strong words from people with very differing views on how computer games should be made and played I’m sure you’ll agree…but who’s right? Personally I think there’s more than enough room in the computer world for both types of game. I love non-linear games and making my own mind up on how to play a game. But I also enjoy playing linear games that don’t offer the freedom like a game like DX or Thief does. I know one thing Thief wouldn’t be half the game it is now if it had a linear approach to it’s development nor would DX!

3rd Aug 2002, 17:29
Originally posted by RiCh
Warren Spector .....But I also enjoy playing linear games that don’t offer the freedom like a game like DX or Thief does. I know one thing Thief wouldn’t be half the game it is now if it had a linear approach to it’s development nor would DX!

Well at least he acknowledges that THIEF is. When, who knows, but he remembers the game. :D

3rd Aug 2002, 18:00
If I was Warren Spector I would've just said "The author of that 'Devil's Advocate' artical is an idiot." Good thing I'm not a spokesperson, I guess ^_~

3rd Aug 2002, 18:55
What page is the article on ? On the cover of the September Issue it says;

The Inside
scoops you
can't get

- Deus Ex 2

Among others.

I've looked through the mag several times but have yet to find an article on Deus Ex anything.

3rd Aug 2002, 19:22
Originally posted by howie
What page is the article on ? On the cover of the September Issue it says;

The Inside
scoops you
can't get

- Deus Ex 2

Among others.

I've looked through the mag several times but have yet to find an article on Deus Ex anything.

Check this link and click "this issue" on the right. Read disclaimer at bottom of page regarding OVERSEAS EDITIONS

I suspect that RiCh is talking about the UK edition which is radically different than the US version. The only mention I can find in the US publication is:

PC GAMER Sept 2002 Page 42 =DeusEx 2
" " " " " 47 = Thief Date 2003 (by Ion Storm)
Developer ION STORM
Publisher EIDOS
Release Date 2003

"ION STORM bills itself as the 'home of the immersive simulation.' For its action/RPG Thief III, the developer has built a custom system that promises to push game AI to new limits.

'Our AI (NPCs) take lost of factors into account to determine how well they can see a target, including distance, line-of-sight, occlusion, amount of light, and speed and size of the target," explains AI programmer Paul Tozour. All of which are necessary traits for enemies tracking a silent intruder like Thief III's hero/burglar Garrett.

'In Thief III, the AI will have an evidence tracking system, which means it will retain information about which events made it suspicious and where," adds Tozour. "The AI will be able to draw better conclusions about which areas should be searched for intruders. When the AIs say 'it must have been rats,' they'll have really deduced that, although if you're playing the game well, the probably won't be right."

3rd Aug 2002, 19:37
Ah yes sorry Howie, I should’ve stated like the tBm said, I’m referring to the UK version of ‘PC Gamer’ which I doubt has no resemblance to the US counterpart. tBm’s link is correct and the articles in question are in the June edition with Tron on the front cover. This months mag has Medieval ‘Total War’ on the front cover and Warren’s letter is in the readers letter page. On a plus side it also has UT thievery’s on the cover DVD :D time to install UT and see what the fuss is all about :)

3rd Aug 2002, 19:40
Originally posted by theBlackman

Well at least he acknowledges that THIEF is. When, who knows, but he remembers the game. :D

I think that last part was RiCh, not Warren :)

3rd Aug 2002, 19:53
just didn't get it!!!! I've stated many times before as to how much I really enjoyed Deus Ex and I'll say it again...I loved this game..one of the very best I've ever played!!! :) I was so immersed in this story/character and the unique gameplay it offered. It did matter how you selected to play it...albit you did have to change your tactics at times to get through it...but ultimately you had to play it both ways...sneaky/combative which I thought was great! However, if you wanted to be all trigger happy you could too. I preferred to play it both ways as defined by the circumstances.

The music...I thought it was terrific...just the right moods and I have a particular favorite that I was able to download and keep on my HDD for additional play (mp3) called "The Streets of New York"...great sound/beat.

I have replayed it several times and it's ability to allow you to approach it in differernt modes allows for changes in the way you play it...so what more could a gamer want? Replay abiltiy is definately there IMHO.

Now as for comparison to Thief...yes there are some similarities as far as being somewhat non-linier...but still led you to where they wanted you to go...but you have a choice in how to get there within the games perimeters...and that's what makes them fun to play and replay. Freedom with certain restrictions that can't be totally avoided but as much as can be allowed and still have a meaningful game to play.

So as far as I'm concerned...you just do your thing Spector and we'll all have a good time with your desire to make the best game your all able to create for us at this time given technology and the freedom to do so (not the least of which is funding! :)

So here's to DE 2 and T3...they're both gonna be great and I'm gonna die a lot I'm sure in this new environment of smarter AI's :eek: but it will sure be fun learning how to do it! :D Ta and Good Hunting!

3rd Aug 2002, 20:05
Originally posted by Komag

I think that last part was RiCh, not Warren :)

Now that I re-read it you are probably correct. The lack of closing quotes to end the first portion threw me off. :confused:

3rd Aug 2002, 20:31
Sorry for the confusion tBm :D I was a little done in typing all that out , all fixed now. But I’m sure Warren loves Thief as much as I do though :D

Shadow Creeper
4th Aug 2002, 19:06
I absolutely love both Deus Ex and Thief. I am so glad that Warren Spector had the vision he did in continuing two of the most immersive games I have EVER played. The replay value alone is what makes these games so special. Any flaws I may have noticed were unimportant in my eyes as the games hold my interest.

6th Aug 2002, 04:58
I played, and enjoyed Deus Ex, but I especially liked Thief...that and System Shock 2. They both have a similar intensity and immersion to them, more so than any other game I've played. The non-linear nature forces players to adapt to the situation, keeping players on their toes and sometimes getting some heart-throttling close calls. Deus Ex didn't have the emotioal kick of Thief and System Shock 2, in my opinion, but that's not because it was non-linear.
It looks to me like the author based his entire opinion on non-linear games on Deus Ex. I enjoyed it, but there's alot that could've been better...I never blamed that on the fact that it was non-linear. I'm looking forward to Deus Ex 2...I read an article that said it's gonna have lighting that *brace yourself* affects how visible you are, a revolutionary sound engine, and startingly realistic AI.

6th Aug 2002, 05:41
Originally posted by ChangelingJane
If I was Warren Spector I would've just said "The author of that 'Devil's Advocate' artical is an idiot." Good thing I'm not a spokesperson, I guess ^_~

That makes two of us. :D

6th Aug 2002, 13:41
The first article makes a good point, in amongst all that grandstanding, and represents a large slab of the gaming world in many ways. The philosophy behind Deus Ex goes against 15yrs of, thoroughly entrenched, video game culture. For a very long time people have played a game to experience the entire content of the thing; to see what's next, to see what's at the end, to find all the secrets. The writer's worry of knowing that by making decisions he is missing some content is not to be lightly dismissed as a factor in a gamer's mind. "play it again different" isn't much of a retort either. Few, and particularly those in this 'arcede-y' end of the culture I'm talking about, go into a game with a mind to replay it from the start. A game has to prove itself worthy of replay.
These are the things gaming has been about for quite a while. To go against it with more open ended approach not only presents a staggering array of design problems (like real consequential events, branching storylines etc) but is also quite daring. I'm impressed Deus Ex did so well, considering even those who absolutely love it will often admit that it's a bit confused and has many flaws (but plenty of people will tell you there's really only one way to play it, even other options exist the path of least resistance for them is irresistable).
On the bright side, Spec and crew are kinda riding the new games boom and a new generation of people less exposed to the arcade culture and the linear end of gaming are coming through.

There's a lot to be said for the 'hybrid' style too, like Thief and Grand Theft Auto 3. The 'open ended gameplay-linear narrative' approach is quite ingenius when you think about it.

6th Aug 2002, 15:37
Personally, I love that aspect - the idea of making decisions for yourself, choosing what YOU want to do, even though, no matter what, the outcome will bring you to a certain area or objective, is totally awesome. It gives you a sense of BEING JC - you're more than just some person who bought a video game, you're actually this character, and you make his decisions, just like you would if you were really him. :)

I love that aspect!!! :)

Shadow Creeper
6th Aug 2002, 22:39
[QUOTE]Originally posted by THEthief
Personally, I [b]love that aspect - the idea of making decisions for yourself, choosing what YOU want to do......

I agree with you wholeheartedly. I like being the one who chooses. When I played "Black and White", for example, I got SO frustrated at the fact that I couldn't choose even the RATE of speed I wanted to play. With "Return to Castle Wolfenstein" I liked the game but hated the fact that I HAD to kill everyone I ran across. Even though those games are not in the same genre as Thief or Deus Ex, I still compare them because I throughly enjoyed the latter and WANTED to play them again and again.

6th Aug 2002, 22:54
One of the things I like about Thief is you don't have to "finish" a mission. You can run around in Ambush, Lost City, Kidnap until you wear out your keyboard or mouse looking for an alternate way in or out of a building.

Or climb to an area that is "there" but not really part of the game sequence and maybe see something else. Like the tops of the towers in Assassins, or around to the front of Angelwatch in "Uninvited Guest".

Granted this can be boring as hell to some. But the fact that it CAN be done is one of the attention holding aspects of Thief.

Shadow Creeper
7th Aug 2002, 00:21
[QUOTE]Originally posted by theBlackman
[B]One of the things I like about Thief is you don't have to "finish" a mission. You can run around ... looking for an alternate way in or out of a building...Granted this can be boring as hell to some.

Boring? Not for me. I search every tiny detail in an area until I am satisfied I have done everything that can be done!