Gaming Age: Could you tell us a little bit concerning the story behind Deus Ex?
Warren Spector: Well, we've tried to keep the details of the plot from getting out this long, so we might as well stay the course a while longer!... About all I want to say is that the game is set in the near future, in a world where everything conspiracy buffs believe to be true is REALLY true. There are forces in the world that have operated behind the scenes for millenia but, as the game begins, decide it's time to come out of the conspiratorial closet, if you will, and take overt control. But before they can act, you enter the picture -- a nanotechnologically augmented agent for UNATCO, an anti-terrorist organization. Only problem is, it quickly becomes apparent that UNATCO may not be what it's cracked up to be -- once you figure that out, things get a little...strange. But, ultimately, Deus Ex is a game where you can put off the apocalypse and play a pivotal role in determining what the world looks like at the end of the day. I guess there's no problem revealing that there IS a critical enemy at the bottom of things, but we're all really happy that the game doesn't devolve into the traditional Kill the Evil Bad Guy unless YOU choose to play it that way...
GA: Why was the decision made to use the Unreal engine instead of id Software's Quake II or Monolith's LithTech engines?
WS: We just really like Unreal's combination of capabilities, expandability, tools, and cost. And there was the promise of a level of support (since realized) that was tough to beat. Unreal seemed like the engine that would make implementation of the game we envisioned as easy as possible. That isn't to say it was easy -- just ask the programmers about that! -- but there wasn't anything else out there when we started looking that had the combination of features Unreal had. The decision wasn't really that hard...
GA: Was there something that particularly inspired the creation of Deus Ex, or was it an idea that just seemed to come together?
WS: Like most games, Deus Ex is the result of lots of different inspirational elements. I came to the table with some strong ideas about what kind of game I wanted to make. I knew the game would be in the spirit of Underworld and System Shock and Half Life. I also knew I didn't want to do another fantasy or straight SF game, so the real world setting and (I hope!) believable storyline was pretty much going to happen. The conspiracy stuff grew out of a lot of websurfing and discovering all sorts of wacky conspiracy theories and sensing a growing "millenial weirdness." The fact that my wife was an X-Files junkie played into things pretty heavily, too. But the game was far more than just me coming up with that early conceptual stuff. That's the easy bit. A game is a communal effort and once guys like Steve Powers and Chris Norden and Al Yarusso and Harvey Smith and Bob White started kicking around ideas, things really started to take shape. All I did was give the game a push in a particular direction and then see where the team wanted to take it. To get the real story of Deus Ex, you'd have to ask the team members what their inspirations were!
GA: Since Deus Ex is all about conspiracies and secret plots, can you tell us what types of mysteries we can expect to unravel within Deus Ex?
WS: Nope. Wouldn't be much of a mystery if I did that now, would it?
GA: What kind of game is Deus Ex? Is it all out action? Perhaps a little more adventure and RPG-like?
WS: That's probably the thing everyone on this team is most proud of - we don't know WHAT to call the game! (The marketing guys love us for it, too, let me tell you.) Seriously, one of the things we set out to do was make a game that combined the coolest elements of shooters, RPG's and adventure games. To be frank, the simplest way to approach the game is as a shooter, and I expect lots of people will play it that way and have a ball. But if you slow down and talk to folks and follow the plot really carefully (including all the optional bits), you might just feel like you were in an adventure game. And, then, if you really take the time to develop your character's skills in non-combat ways, you can have just as good a time being a roleplayer. So, I'll let you decide what kind of game Deus Ex is.
GA: Could you name some of the locations that are possible to visit in Deus Ex? Have they been designed to replicate real-life structures or are they completely fictional?
WS: We built the Statue of Liberty. There's a temple in Hong Kong that was modeled after a real place. Battery Park in New York City... The part of Paris where you find the (public) entrance to the Catacombs... Yes, there are some real world places. And in those locations we tried to be as accurate as we could without compromising performance or gameplay. But, really, what we wanted to do was make you FEEL like you were really in New York or Hong Kong or Paris. That's far more important than slavish devotion to reality.
GA: Are you a loner throughout the entire game, or will there be characters who can join up with you to help out at certain points?
WS: Well, if you're asking whether there's a party, as in many traditional roleplaying games, the answer is, "no." In that sense, you're a loner. However, there are times when NPC's will assist you and either follow along during a mission or lead you places. And there are always allies -- at UNATCO and, well, let's just say elsewhere, later in the game -- who offer advice and information and all. You are very much the center of attention, as you might expect in a single player game where one of our primary design goals was to allow you to create a unique alter ego, but no one can save the world alone, not even you.
GA: Is there any chance that we might see a multiplayer mode of sorts included in the final package?
WS: Argh! I hate being asked that question. See, we all really want to do multiplayer. All the character differentiation stuff that makes the single player game work translates pretty well into multiplayer. (Yes, we've done some tests...) But, fundamentally, Deus Ex was conceived and implemented as a single player experience and that's where our time, energy and focus has been and must be. Multiplayer isn't something we want to just tack on -- it's a completely new game. Maybe we'll tackle that entirely different game someday. I hope so. But, tempting as it is to try to do something like that now, it would just be irresponsible, so single player it is. For now.
GA: How will Deus Ex's artificial intelligence react to your presence? Will we have to create an all out shoot-out before they do anything to stop you, or will the slightest wrong move proclaim your doom?
WS: Wow, I hope we fall somewhere in between the two extremes you mention! No, you're not going to have to get in an all-out shoot-out to provoke NPCs. Frankly, a lot of NPC's will get upset with you if you grab a candy bar off their desk (though I doubt any of them will shoot you over such a minor offense!) The trick with the AI will be knowing how NPC's feel about you -- or whether they even know you're around. I mean, you can go through the game toting the biggest gun and cutting a swath of destruction but you can learn a lot (and save a lot of ammo) simply by being patient and listening in on what NPCs are saying or watching what they're doing. Sometimes, you're way better off being sneaky and avoiding trouble. But the thing about Deus Ex is that you always have a choice. Combat or no combat? Direct, frontal assault or find a sneaky back way? The choice is yours, as I say, but once provoked to anger, the AI will prove quite the challenge, I assure you!
GA: Is there anything specifically that comes to mind when it comes to a feature that makes Deus Ex stand out from the rest?
WS: Well, there are a bunch of unique features, of course, but the one I'm most happy about is that we're working very hard to let players pick their own playstyle rather than forcing them to play the way we want them to. It gets back to what I said a minute ago -- you don't HAVE to sneak around or kill everything that moves. It's your choice. That shouldn't be a radical idea but the way people have responded to it, I guess maybe it is. And that kill/don't kill choice is just one example of the kind of choice we try to provide throughout the game. I mean, there are almost always multiple paths through the world, multiple ways to solve problems.
GA: How close is Deus Ex to being release?
WS: Pretty darn close. But I have to say all the multiple solution, multiple path, player choice stuff is making Deus Ex a royal pain to balance. The player who wants to sneak and use his or her wits has to have as much fun as the heavy weapons player. Needless to say, that's quite a challenge. So, close as we are to completion, balancing is still an ongoing process and we HAVE to get it right. Also, we have a ton of speech to record and integrate into the game. There's just an amazing amount of dialogue! That's going to take some time, yet... But things are coming together really fast now. We're getting there...
GA: We recently saw that Ion Storm was looking for a Dreamcast programmer. Could this mean we might see Deus Ex on the Dreamcast sometime in the future?
WS: Beats me. I heard that some magazine quoted me as saying we were already working on a Dreamcast port of Deus Ex. Don't know WHERE that came from. We've certainly thought about it and I, personally, would love to see the game ported to the Dreamcast and every console system on the planet. But we don't have anyone working on it yet! Still, anything can happen.
GA: Is there anything else you'd like to say to our readers before we close?
WS: Yeah, sure -- Vote in the November election. Doesn't matter who you vote for (long as you think about it a bit). Just remember that every vote is important. And turn off your computer once in a while and read a book. Oh, and if you do give Deus Ex a whirl, try playing without killing everything in the gameworld that moves. I mean, that'll work but there are other ways to solve problems, know what I mean?