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Behind the Scenes Look in the Making of Deus Ex

The Introduction

BackDoorBandit: Eberon, my new astonishing counterpart has answered my request for his first major task in a very professional, diligent, and simply awesome manner. I asked him to be thinking of who he wanted to interview for his first interview, and to also be thinking up questions for the interview. He immediately responded within a days time with questions that I couldn't believe I never thought of. I asked Harvey Smith, aka Witchboy if he'd mind answering some questions and he said, "Send them to me. I can drag anyone else in if i need to." Needless to say, Harvey did not disappoint. This is THE INTERVIEW that the Community has needed for so long. It truly is an honor to not only post this 'Behind the Scenes Look in the Making of Deus Ex', but also an honor to have someone of Eberon's caliber here at DeusEx-Machina.

Eberon: When I decided on a topic for this interview, I thought that the most important, in-depth, in-touch interview would be one that would reach deep down into the mushy brains of the people behind the game and take out the jewels of knowledge within. I actually raced through the game as fast as I could to pick up any final details I could before sending off the final questions, and I have to say that I didn't even finish the game. I did what I did the first time: I stared in awe at the amazing detail in the characters, levels, and story that make up this excellent game. I believe that it's the small details and other things that we gamers can relate to that bring us a step closer to the developers and the art of creating the game itself. Without further ado, I present the wonderfully detailed and intriguing responses of the Deus Ex team.

Witchboy: First off, let me say that when making a game like Deus Ex (or any game with high-fidelity world re-creation), you ideally want a staff of people who all understand the collective vision, yet who bring their own flavor to the game. So I've collected answers from the DX2 team designers who also worked on DX1. For us--though we were in conflict a lot--making DX involved a collaborative process wherein we all contributed little pieces to the game, then took elements that other people had created and sprinkled them through our own areas, to further cross-link the world. We all operated from a global set of ideas, but individual writers and designers had enormous control over the mixture of 'atomic units' that composed the final game. As we said (mantra-like) throughout the development of DX, "The devil is in the details."

The Devilish Details

DeusEx-Machina: Are there any significant keypad codes in the game? What about the passwords?

Witchboy: The first keypad in the game is 0451, an allusion to System Shock's allusion to Fahrenheit 451 (Once when I was in Boston, years ago, I went to lunch with some friends from Looking Glass. When we returned from lunch, we came to the locked door that led back into the LG offices. Rather than open the door for me, Art Min stopped and said, "Quick, what's the code?" I punched in 451 and the door opened...). Also, almost all the Paris ATM codes are the names of characters from various paper RPG campaigns run at some point by me and/or Steve Powers--characters like Salem, Morbus, et al. One of the codes is the year of my birth, 1966. It seems that each time I came up with a code or password, I tried to use something meaningful, even if no one noticed. For instance, I looked over at my office phone once and used an alpha/numeric from the touch pad that spelled ILLUMINATI (4558646284). But the code was too long, so I only used the first 6 digits or so.

DeusEx-Machina: There are many books in the game for the fans' (brief) reading pleasure. How did you choose which books and passages to include?

Witchboy: Our writers created most of them. Each designer created one or two, I think, for his own missions, including one I created that was sort of mocking the fact that the player, in all these RPG-type games, is the biggest criminal in the world. He sneaks past people, breaks into their homes, takes their belongs, etc. Can't remember what it was called, but it was a brief "passage" book with some archaic language.
Steve Powers: Gordon Quick hid his journal under his bunk, and in it he admits his romantic feelings for the daughter of Max Chen, enemy of his triad. If there had been time and resources, she might have been a character in the game and the Romeo and Juliet scenario might have featured JC in the role of the Friar. If JC brought the triads together in Hong Kong, we can assume that Gordon and his love lived happily ever after. At least until JC brought about the end of the world...
Chris Todd: In some cases the designers left placeholder text for the kind of book they'd like to see and I used that as a jumping off point whenever possible. Where no preference was given, I'd either pick an existing public domain text that I liked and thought was appropriate (for example, the speech from Shakespeare's "Richard III" in Beth's bedroom), or simply make something up. In a couple of cases, books were homages to authors I like--the mystery novel scattered throughout the game was my small tribute to Andrew Vachss, a writer for whom I have tremendous respect. You can find out more about him here:

DeusEx-Machina: What is the significance of the ubiquitous book, "The Man Who Was Thursday"?

Chris Todd: Aside from the fact that it's one of my favorite books, I thought the subject matter was appropriate: a group of men bound by a common secret fighting against an anarchic conspiracy of almost occult immensity. You can read the complete text online at: Chesterton had an amazing mind and was a brilliant writer. As a bit of trivia, he's also one of Neil Gaiman's favorite writers and served as the model for the character of Fiddler Green in "Sandman."

DeusEx-Machina: Whose idea was it to include references to the Oracle? Could you briefly explain the concept to the players that aren't with the old times?

Chris Todd: Wow. I'm impressed (and amused) that someone caught this. One of the challenges of this kind of writing is producing a lot of small bits of text which still somehow impart a sense of character or atmosphere to the rest of the game; after a while it becomes difficult to keep track of who's who, so I fell back on using an old trick where most of the characters in the game had some personality tic that would inform their dialog or writing, even if it was never explained... So for the Oracle I decided that somewhere out there on the Net was a gestalt computer intelligence that operated as a clearing house for information--the catch being that you had to pay it in information it didn't already have. It attempted to hide its nature right out in the open by pretending to be an automated server that responded to questions. And when I thought of _that_, it tickled a memory from the misty past of Usenet, where people would post questions to the "Internet Oracle" and have to answer a question from the Oracle in turn. Questions and responses would get posted, usually in The whole thing was a rather mysterious bit of collaborative performance art/stand-up comedy routine. If you want to know more, do a Deja search for "Intro to the Usenet Oracle." Anyways, almost none of that was implicit in the game, but now you know what I was thinking about (which is probably way more than you wanted to hear).

DeusEx-Machina: In the first level of the game, there's a datapad that gives a login and password along with "PS: We *will* beat you in darts this saturday, suckas!". Is there any significance to this? I'm hoping I can get some sort of explanation, because I know lots of people have asked about it. On that same note, there are an awful lot of darts in the game. Is someone on the team addicted to darts?

Witchboy: That comm van and compound (in back of UNATCO) was modeled after one of the high security satellite communications stations I worked in while in the US Air Force. I spent 3 years in Germany, working the night shift in vans like that. We played a lot of darts to keep from dying of boredom. We'd leave each other little notes at shift change.

DeusEx-Machina: A frequently asked and much speculated question pertains to the Daedalus message the player receives when going back to Hell's Kitchen the 3rd time. Daedalus contacts JC through the infolink and says "Incorrect inform -- ps -cl attach. Streets clear. No danger." What does this mean? (Sounds unix-y...)

Sheldon Pacotti: Yeah, that's a geeky Unix allusion. "ps -al |". "ps" lists all currently running processes and "|" "pipes" the output of that command into another process, not specified. Looks like there's a typo in my conversation file. I have "||" instead of "|". Not sure if that ended up in the game or not. I'm a little fuzzy on the command-line options for ps. I know the "a" lists *all* running processes. I think the "l" creates a longer report -- but it's been years since I worked on a Unix machine.

DeusEx-Machina: Is the soda "Nuke" a reference to the infamous narcotic from Robocop 2? Why was it named "Nuke"?

Ricardo Bare: No--it was not a Robocop reference. Artist, Clay Hoffman, seeking a name that sounded even more caffeine-ladden than Jolt, asked the Muses for inspiration, and they answered his supplication with "Nuke." Speaking of food product names, the succulent treat of sugary goodness known as 'Montebites' comes to mind...this delicious morsel of chocolate was christened "Montebites" after our very own designer Monte Martinez.

Chris Todd: The description for the other candy bar ("Choc-o-lent Dream") is a "Soylent Green" in-joke.

DeusEx-Machina: Were there any other planned endings or story paths that the character could have taken originally (such as, joining the NSF, another ending, or maybe allying with another group)? Were there any other groups slated to be into the game but didn't make it?

Witchboy: God, too many to go into (Hopefully, someone else will field this question). The game was originally 3 or 4 times larger, on paper.

Sheldon Pacotti: At the last minute, a few months before shipping, I suggested that we create a "losing" cut-scene for when the player dies in Area 51 and a cut-scene for evil players who wanted to join Bob Page - but we were out of time at that point. There were certainly some cuts in the number of groups in the game. The cathedral in Paris was going to have Templar guards, for instance. Gary Savage's crew were going to be called "Salvagers" and they were going to be under attack by "Pirates," I believe, but again due to time restraints the pirates were replaced by MJ12.

Steve Powers: There used to be a slave trader on a junk in Kowloon. JC was to board the junk, free the slaves (in order to talk to one critical one) and bring the slave lord to justice. He could arm the slaves and turn them loose against their former oppressors, but things got really messy when MJ12 attack helicopters located JC and began attacking the junk.

Monte Martinez: In Mission 14's "silo" map there is a scientist named Howard Strong who has turned against the X-51 scientist. In a last-ditch effort to stop J.C., Strong tries sabotaging the rocket headed for Area 51. In the shipping version of the game, this boils down to Howard madly throwing grenades at J.C. Not what we had planned, originally, to say the least. The original Vandenberg storyline consisted of 2 factions, the Raiders and the Salvagers. The Raiders were a hostile group trying to get a hold of the Salvager base. Gary Savage (leader of the Salvagers) was (going to be) killed during the mission and Tiffany Savage (his daughter) would have only agreed to help the player if he could have brought the murderer to justice. According to the plan, Gary's body would have been found in the radioactive tunnels with a password scribed on the wall in blood (This would have been the login for his computer and would have pointed the finger at Gary's assistant, Howard Strong, exposing Strong's ties with the Raiders and his plans to take over the base). J.C. then could have fought through the Raiders to reach and kill Howard Strong, or, as wacky as this sounds, J.C. would have had to beat Howard Strong's killer spider bot in a battledome constructed for robot wars. This is where the spider bot actually came from. Then there was also a love story between Tiffany Savage and Ned Strong (Howard's son).

DeusEx-Machina: What is the significance of Lucius DeBeers? Does shutting down his life support have *any* effect on the game at all? What was he put there for?

Witchboy: I came up with the notion, for the Paris missions, of adding this evil old man, an old Illuminatus. The idea was that Morgan Everett used him as a think-tank, promising Lucius that he would be revived "as soon as the technology becomes available." Of course, the technology was already available. I wanted to show that no one (in our world) is innocent, even the "good guys." This cast a dark cloud over Everett. The notion behind Lucius was that he was the previous generation's Illuminati, sort of like the Smoking Man from the X-Files. I used the name "DeBeers" because of some of the conspiracy theories revolving around that name (Look it up...). Sadly, shutting down Lucius doesn't actually do anything other than piss Everett off. We ran out of time, or, as is actually the case in game development, I spent the time on something else, like the saboteur/Jock's death that we planned and executed at the *last* minute during development. We toyed with the idea of letting the player actually revive Lucius, but it was a real can of worms and he was a minor, late-introduced character, so it seemed risky (and wasteful of project time that could be better spent on something more integral).

Sheldon Pacotti: He doesn't have much significance outside of Everett's hideout. Everett keeps the old Illuminati leader around in order to pick his brain from time to time and maybe to satisfy some sadistic part of his personality. I imagine that a person plotting to take over the world would have a few personality quirks. Aside from his immediate relevance to Everett, however, Lucius DeBeers doesn't really impact the game.

The Wrap Up

Now that is what you call one hell of an interview, and behind the scenes look in the making of a great game. I cannot thank the staff of Ion Storm Austin enough for their time in answering the above questions. All I can say is this, "I'm a native of Texas, and when I come home, I plan on visiting the ISA office. It looks like I'll be buying you all a round of beers." Is that a good enough thanks?

Also, all you fans out there email Eberon and give him his props, because he's the one that came up with all the questions, and he's the one that deserves full credit for this interview. Eberon, thanks a million man, it truly is an honor to have you onboard and I appreciate all the work you've done thus far, and will continue to do for the site.

Be sure to check out our other interviews with ISA:
Harvey Smith Interview
Alex Brandon Interview
"DX2 Artist/Designer Clay Hoffman's view of the world: DX2 Project Leader Harvey Smith, DX2 Art Director Whitney Ayres, and DX2 Designer Monte Martinez discussing the game."

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