What Went Right
1. A clear high-level vision. It's pretty self-evident that you can't achieve goals if you're not clear about what they are. We knew with a high degree of confidence what kind of game we wanted to make. This was possible for two reasons. First, Deus Ex is a natural outgrowth of work done by and in some cases with the late, lamented Looking Glass Technologies. We were inspired as well by games made at Valve, Origin, and a host of other places. Many of the things we wanted to do were a reaction to things they (or we) didn't do, didn't do well or couldn't do at all in earlier games. We weren't building from scratch, but rather building on a foundation already laid for us.
Second, and on a personal level, Deus Ex is a game I've been thinking about since right around the time Underworld 2 shipped. I've tried to get a game like this started several times (as Troubleshooter at Origin; in some respects, as Junction Point, for Looking Glass). Those games didn't happen for a variety of reasons:
Still, I never stopped thinking about these games and, despite their failure to reach production, they laid much of the conceptual groundwork for Deus Ex. The lesson here is that if there's a game you really want to make, don't give up on it. Someone will be foolish enough to give you the money eventually.
As an interesting (I hope!) historical footnote, I include here for the first time publicly, complete with typos and misspellings, the very first proposal I ever submitted for the old Troubleshooter concept back at Origin. Note the budget and projected release date and, oh, those system requirements! Note also the similarities (and differences) between Troubleshooter and what eventually became Deus Ex. [Troubleshooter Proposal]
1.0 High Concept:
It's Underworld-style, first-person action. But this is no fantasy. It's today. The real world.
No monsters. No magic. All action.
Everyone knows the movies: Die Hard, Passenger 57, The Last Action Hero, Under Siege, Dirty Harry...
Everyone knows the stars: Arnold Schwarzenneger, Steven Seagal, Bruce Willis, Wesley Snipes, Clint Eastwood...
Everyone knows the weapons: .44 Magnum, Ingram Mac-10, Atchisson assault shotgun, Browning High-Power, mini-Uzi...
Everyone knows the situations: It's you against the world, you against terrorists, psychos, the dregs of society. They're armed with high tech weapons and they've taken hostages.
You know what to do....
The question is, are you good enough?
2.0 Why this is an ORIGIN product:
It's Hollywood-inspired, big-budget, non-stop action. It's significant new technology. It's a logical extension of our existing first-person line -- we have fantasy covered with Underworld, we WILL have science fiction covered with Bounty Hunter, we have the real world covered with... well, we don't. Troubleshooter is bigger than life, but it's clearly rooted in the real world. I can't believe no one's done this before -- we have to jump on it before someone else does!
3.0 Product Overview:
You're an ex-cop turned "security specialist." That just means you get all the dirty jobs no one else has the guts to do. When the government or the police or business can't handle a problem, they call on you. Bomb threats? You get to check 'em out. Hijackers threaten to take over a plane? You end up on board. Some radical group takes a millionaire's daughter hostage? You get the call to go in and get her out.
You scope out the situation, checking maps and photos, walking around the site, probing for the best way in, the way that will put the fewest innocent people at risk. You try to talk a madman into surrendering before he blows himself and his hostages to kingdom come. You crawl through air ducts and sewers hoping you don't attract the attention of the bad guys with all the guns. You shoot it out with terrorists wielding enough firepower to take on a third world army.
Troubleshooter is a mission-oriented action simulation with no huge plot -- just get in and get out of each mission. Maybe 10-30 minutes of action per scenario. None of this 100 hours to finish the game and get your reward stuff. Like a flight sim, but it's just you, on the ground, with a gun.
I originally envisioned this as all new technology, but I could probably leach off of Bounty Hunter, once that project gets going. In game play, I see it being like Underworld in the richness of its world simulation, but like Wolfenstein in its emphasis on action over roleplaying and inventory manipulation. Ideally, I'd like to incorporate a head-to-head modem/network option, allowing one player to be the bad guy and the other to be the troubleshooter.
4.0 Technical Overview:
IBM PC 486, 4 Megs RAM, 320 x 200 VGA, full sound board support. Mouse, joystick and keyboard supported.
Traditional ORIGIN buyers. I also hope the basis in reality and the short duration mission structure make Troubleshooter appeal to overworked older folks (the ones who have the money to buy machines capable of playing our games...) who just want to work off some frustration and then get back to their real lives.
Planned ship in Q4 (March '95).
High. There are all sorts of technological unknowns, things I want to do that haven't been done before. All in all, this is probably the toughest project on my wish list, but it might be the most satisfying... We might be able to minimize the risk by leaching off of Bounty Hunter.
Looking for concept approval so we can Go For Script.
Several years passed. Lots of games somewhat like Troubleshooter came and went. Game budgets went up dramatically -- $500,000 indeed! I left Origin and go to work for Looking Glass. Troubleshooter stayed on my mind.
In the fall of 1997, before Ion Storm entered the Deus Ex picture, I drafted a manifesto -- a description of an ideal game -- and also a set of "Rules of Role-Playing." Much of that material ended up in an article published in Game Developer ("Remodeling RPGs for the New Millennium". Here (for more of those historical reasons mentioned above) is the original draft of my Rules of Role-Playing, circa 1997:
The Rules of Role-Playing
A year or so later, Deus Ex lead designer Harvey Smith clarified and extended the original rules as follows:
DEUS EX Rules Amendments & Addenda
Drafted by Harvey Smith (and endorsed enthusiastically by me) in 1998
The details of Deus Ex -- plot, character, game system design -- all changed radically since the days of Troubleshooter and manifestos and rules and rules addenda, but conceptually the game still follows most of the rules and meets the ideals outlined in the Game Developer article. With these conceptual tools in mind, the Deus Ex team was able to assess design decisions and game system specifications, in light of what we wanted players to experience during the game and in light of our ultimate design goals.
So What Were Our Goals (In the Beginning)?
How did we intend to move from abstract ideas to game design specifics? We had to take our thinking to a deeper level. We had to start thinking about what we wanted players to be doing and thinking about as they played the game, rather than what we would be thinking about as we developed it.
This led to some critical concepts, outlined here:
To recap: Know what your gameplay goals are and what kind of experience you want players to have before you spend ten seconds thinking about anything specific. Nice talk, but what did clear goals, manifestos, and commandments buy us?
2. We didn't skimp on preproduction. We spent the first six months of I (before we licensed a game engine), with a team of about six, just thinking about how we could turn our high-level goals 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 conspiracy-oriented background.
Here's what we had when we started: the very first design proposal (again, as is) for Shooter, our ironic working title for a game we never intended to be "just" a first-person shooter. [Shooter Proposal]
Real-world spaces, such as the Statue of Liberty in New York City, can be compelling game spaces, but offer unique challenges to game developers.
First of all, ignore the projected ship date of Christmas 1998. That was never possible, not for an instant. I don't know what I was thinking. Anyway, other than that (ahem) little misstep, the original Shooter doc does a pretty good job of describing the game that eventually became Deus Ex. Details changed. System specs definitely changed, but overall I don't think anyone can say we didn't deliver the game we said we would.
But how did we get from Shooter to Deus Ex? What were our first steps?
Roleplaying in a World of Secrets, Lies and Conspiracies
Target is Christmas 1998.
Modern Day plus about 50 years (to allow us to fudge reality, where necessary).
Half-Life (Sierra), Fallout (Interplay), The Dark Project (LookingGlass) Goldeneye (N64).
Several unique, real-world locations in the U.S., Europe and Far East.
1st-person 3D with external camera views available as player option.
The world of the 2050's is a dangerous and chaotic place. Terrorists operate openly, espousing a hundred beliefs and killing thousands of innocents to call attention to their causes. The world's economies are close to ruin on a scale not seen for over 100 years. The media openly encourage the worst in mankind. Governments seem powerless to deal with the situation.
In hidden meeting places around the world, a cabal of men and women confer. These are the leaders of societies so ancient and yet so secret, most people refuse to believe they exist. For hundreds, perhaps thousands, of years, they have controlled the world's finances, information flow, weapon production, medicine, religions… Now, as the world descends into chaos, they meet to determine if the time has come to emerge from the shadows, to take overt control of a world they have run from behind the scenes for so long. But, unable to reach agreement, they begin instead an internecine war that brings civilization even closer to the brink of destruction.
At the same time, in several major cities around the globe, another group of men and women -- the deadliest the world has ever known -- lie in wait. Enhanced senses, increased intelligence, biomechanically supercharged muscles and fantastic weaponry make these augmented agents all but unstoppable. And each is implanted with a tiny, high-tech brainwashing device which, activated, can turn its host into a helpless buffoon or a remorseless, conscienceless, killing machine -- whatever the controller wishes.
You are one of these agents.
Recruited from among the elite of the world's intelligence agencies, and endowed with nearly superhuman abilities, you await a signal from the most ambitious, most manipulative and most dangerous member of the shadowy cabal, a man known only as "Adam." Horrified at the chaos he sees all around him, he has concocted a plan to end the secret war and restore order to the world -- at his signal, you and your fellow augmented agents, will emerge to cripple or destroy each of the ancient and secret societies, in turn, clearing the way for a savior (Adam, of course) to take his rightful place as leader of all the societies. Once in control of the societies, he will offer mankind a simple choice: Obey and live in an orderly world free of pain and suffering, a world of Adam's creation; refuse and die.
Adam wants only to save the world from itself -- it's up to you to stop him.
The question is, can you assemble enough clues to figure all this out? Can you find and recruit the allies you'll need to survive, including the other augmented agents? Can you free yourself and the others from the grip of Adam's brainwashing device and put a stop to the secret society cabalists and the master manipulator, Adam. himself?
Each mission leads the PC deeper into a morass of suspicion, false motives, paranoia and conspiracy involving the highest levels of government, the media and the military-industrial complex. The missions stand alone but, taken together, they add up to a big story, with the player at the heart of earth-shattering yet believable events.
Set in a world very much like our own (if the conspiracy buffs are right), Shooter combines the best of The Manchurian Candidate, Robocop and Colossus: The Forbin Project in a world inspired by The X-Files and Men in Black.