Ex shipped in June 2000. Sales were, and continue to be, strong,
worldwide. Critical response (with one or two notable exceptions) has
been positive. We've already won several "best of year" awards
in the U.S., the U.K. and Germany. Needless to say it's gratifying when
people appreciate your work.
did a lot of stuff right on Deus Ex; we did a lot of stuff wrong.
In this article, I'd like to take the opportunity to looks at some of
that stuff. Specifically, I want to discuss:
- The design philosophies that led to the creation of Deus Ex.
- Technology licensing: where it helped us and where it hurt us.
- Scheduling methodologies and why they all failed (as they always
do, on every project…)
- Management structures and team building techniques, some of which
seemed like good ideas on paper but turned out to be unmitigated disasters
- The public relations triumphs and nightmares that often seemed as
if they'd have as much impact on our success as the quality of our
start with a simple question for those of you who have no idea what
Deus Ex (a.k.a. "That Game with a Wacky Name") is…
Deus Ex player's alter ego, J.C. Denton, strikes a heroic
is Deus Ex?
try to be brief. (Those of you who know me know I'll probably fail…)
Deus Ex is set in a near-future version of the real world (as
it exists if conspiracy buffs are right). For some real shorthand, call
it "James Bond meets The X-Files." (Remember that seemingly
innocent claim that Deus Ex is set in the real world. It'll come
up again shortly…)
Deus Ex is a genre-busting game (which really endeared us to
the marketing guys) -- part immersive simulation, part role-playing
game, part first-person shooter, part adventure game.
an immersive simulation game in that you are made to feel you're actually
in the game world with as little as possible getting in the way of the
experience of "being there." Ideally, nothing reminds you
that you're just playing a game -- not interface, not your character's
back-story or capabilities, not game systems, nothing. It's all about
how you interact with a relatively complex environment in ways that
you find interesting (rather than in ways the developers think are interesting),
and in ways that move you closer to accomplishing your goals (not the
a role-playing game in that you play a role and make character development
choices that ensure that you end up with a unique alter ego. You make
your way through a variety of minute-to-minute gameplay experiences
(which add up to a story) in a manner that grows naturally out of the
unique aspects of your character. Every game system is designed to differentiate
one player-character from another, and to allow players to make decisions
that reflect their own biases and express character differences in obvious
ways in the game world.
a first-person shooter because the action unfolds in real time, seen
through the virtual eyes of your alter ego in the game world. Your reflexes
and skill play an important part in determining your success in combat.
However, unlike the typical FPS, Deus Ex doesn't force you to
shoot every virtual thing that moves. Also unlike the average FPS, in
which gameplay is limited to pulling a virtual trigger, finding blue
keys to open blue doors and jumping to reach seemingly inaccessible
locations, Deus Ex offers players a wide range of gameplay options.
finally, Deus Ex is like adventure games in that it's story-driven,
linear in narrative structure, and involves character interaction and
item accumulation to advance the plot. However, unlike most adventure
games (in which you spend the bulk of your time solving clever puzzles
in a search for the next static, but very pretty, screen), Deus Ex
asks players to determine how they will solve game problems and forces
them to deal with the consequences of their choices.
Ex was designed from the start to combine elements of all of these
genres. But more important than any genre classification, the game was
conceived with the idea that we'd accept players as our collaborators,
that we'd put power back in their hands, ask them to make choices, and
let them deal with the consequences of those choices. It was designed,
from the start, as a game about player expression, not about how clever
we were as designers, programmers, artists, or storytellers. Which leads
naturally to a discussion of having clear goals -- the first thing I
think we did right.