Summary: Jakub caught Harvey Smith in a bear trap and did... bad, bad things to him... Pulp Fiction gimp bad things. Finally, Harvey talked and spilled the beans about DX2, commenting on issues like the ammo supply as well as general questions like who is behind the whole Deus Ex storyline!
Harvey:: Actually, my first role as project director was on Technosaur, an RTS that got cancelled after a year of production.
Warren and I share a lot of beliefs, from a game design standpoint. I think he leans toward story while I lean toward abstract gameplay. But, overall, we're both in line with the Ion Storm game design vision shared by many people at the company. On each Ion Storm project, there is a core of people--a cabal--who understand and LOVE the gameplay philosophy. Everyone influences game design decisions, but these people are key to the process here.
FiringSquad: When you sat down to work on the Invisible War design document, what were the biggest fixes from Deus Ex you wanted to make?
Harvey:: Wow, good question, because we did spend a lot of time analyzing and deconstructing the first Deus Ex game. We came to some strong conclusions: We knew that being a hybrid shooter/adventure game/RPG was key. We knew that a deep story with themes related to power and control was core to the Deus Ex experience. Perhaps most importantly, we wanted to continue with our high level vision related to 'multiple solutions to problems' and emergent gameplay. We did a lot of this behind the scenes during the game design preproduction phase (with a subset of what would eventually be the full team), and it informed the entire project.
Additionally, after Deus Ex, we wanted to improve the AI and pathfinding, we wanted to streamline the interface (preserving the features and power, but making it more elegant) and we wanted to avoid 'forced failures' in the story (as when we offerered the player the illusion/false choice of siding with the bad guys).
SIDEBAR: This interview was conducted before Turkey Day.
Harvey:: There are so many...generic examples like players building Rube Goldberg physics puzzles to blow open doors with chain reactions, or game characters accidentally breaking security windows in a firefight, setting off alarms and waking up nearby sleeping security systems (like turrets).
One of my favorites: Players figured out that they could throw down a spiderbomb grenade (which spawns an allied spiderbot AI), then use their bot domination biomod to take over their own spiderbot. These players then run around as the spiderbot (in an 'AI possession' mode that is part of the bot domination biomod) and do all kinds of interesting things: Attacking and leading away guards, parking the bot near locked doors so they can detonate the bot later and blow open the door, etc.
Also, at one point it's possible to have a major fight with one of the critical characters, who appears flanked by allied security bots. One of the testers saw this happening and instantly dropped a scrambler grenade, switching the factions of all the bots. The bots immediately tore up the major character. We never planned this, but it was a really creative, on-the-fly use of our tools. (Of course we left it in the game...)
FiringSquad: What reasons did you have for removing skills from Invisible War?
Harvey:: Well, to be more accurate, we merged the augmentation and skill systems into the biomods system. Then we added the track of black market biomods. The old Deus Ex functionality that we wanted is still there, plus there's now some new stuff related to ethics and how 'dark' your character can be as he (or she) moves through the world. The reason we did this: We wanted the game features (like computer hacking, which was previously a skill), to be as robust, powerful and interesting as possible. At the same time, we wanted the player's interface for using those features to be as elegant and consistent as possible (not just in the video game 'interface' sense of the word). In some cases, the old Deus Ex systems overlapped, which made them 'weaker' from a game design standpoint. For instance, in Deus Ex, should I upgrade the Swimming skill or the Aqualung augmentation? It's hard to know what the difference between those two will be...they overlap a lot. All the choices in Deus Ex--Invisible War (which has more character choices to be made, I believe) involve clearer, more powerful decisions. Now the decisions are more orthogonal, more brutal.
SIDEBAR: Harvey has to be the nicest and most open game designer Iíve ever talked with.
Harvey:: We thought it was a very cool "nanotech" idea...the notion that guns of the future would be able to reconfigure inert matter into the desired caliber/shape. Deus Ex is all about self expression. Partially this is done through playstyle and weapon/tool choice. In Deus Ex (and some other action games), the player often favors a particular weapon throughout the game. However, they're also picking up the ammo for other weapons as they travel through the world. So, at the end of the game, the player realizes that they have tons and tons of ammo for all the weapons they don't use. In Deus Ex, some players would choose, say, a sniper rifle, use it throughout the game (conserving ammo and running desperately low). Then, at a certain point, players would realize, "Hey, I've got 99 shotgun shells!" We wanted to solve this problem. Nanotechnology worked well as a contextual justification.
With regard to reloading, there was a big internal debate. Some people like it a lot because it's a known game design weapon behavior...a tactical aspect of combat of which good players must stay aware. It also makes the weapons feel a little more realistic. Other people on the team just thought it was frustrating--to forget to reload and die as a result during combat. Also, some people liked the science fiction aspect of nanotech no-reload weapons.
These were not necessarily the Right Design Decisions, but they are, as you say, 'interesting.' We're comfortable experimenting...we're not so nervous about game design that we are dogmatic. We like taking some risks here and there too.
FiringSquad: What do you see as the major obstacle right now, when it comes to making a game? Processing power? Development time? Manpower? Inadequate development tools?
Harvey:: The production values of modern games, the complexity of technology and the size of the teams make game projects a nightmare to coordinate. It's very difficult to get everyone aligned with the core vision.
FiringSquad: The Omar (a cybernetic organization with a hive mind) play a significant, if tangential, role in the game. Is there a back story to them?
Harvey:: Yes. Cybernetics, though passe in science fiction right now, is still a great concept: How much of your humanity would you give away for 'improved' aspects of life? Bruce Sterling included a similar group in one of his short stories. The word Omar is Russian for lobster, I believe. The idea is that this technosect started out as a Russian black market tech cult, then spread. Through the game, the player can buy interesting black market weapons and biomods from the Omar.
SIDEBAR: I find the Omar kinda cute, actually.
Harvey:: Sheldon Pacotti was the lead writer for Deus Ex and Deus Ex--Invisible War. He and Sarah Paetsch worked with the game design team on all the missions, and those two wrote the AI one-liner 'barks' and the conversations. Aside from drawing from seminal video games, 'paper' roleplaying games and their own fevered imaginations, people on our team have drawn inspiration from Philip K. Dick, Umberto Eco, (nonlinear stuff like) Karen Elizabeth Gordon's The Red Shoes and Milorad Pavic's Dictionary of the Khazars (to see how other writers deal with building drama when you don't know what sequence readers/players are going to encounter passages in), Alexis de Tocqueville (Democracy in America), Bertrand Russell (Principles of Social Reconstruction), the tv show "24," Thomas Pynchon, Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children, the movie Blade Runner (and other canonical cyberpunk like) Snow Crash and Neuromancer. (As writer Sarah Paetsch said at one point, "We're not all that cyber, but it's the same landscape, overrun and blighted by commercialization and sprawl and sometimes some sort of apocalypse.") We also tried to stay up on current nanotech development and recent science reports.
FiringSquad: How different will the Xbox version be from the PC game, technically?
Harvey:: The PC version features high-res textures for the maps/environments and high-res textures for the characters. Also, if you prefer mouselook or setting the game at a higher screen resolution, PC is the way to go. However, the Xbox versions lets you lie on the couch and play with a controller, on your big TV, with your awesome home sound system.
FiringSquad: How does developing on Xbox compare to PC or PS2 development?
Harvey:: Xbox (console) is easier in some ways, since the hardware spec is totally fixed/known. In other ways it's harder, since you have so little RAM. As with many things, neither is 'better,' but both have trade-offs. Very much like game design decisions.
FiringSquad: Thanks for your time, we know you must be very busy in these final days of development!
Harvey:: I love talking about the game. We are very happy with Deus Ex--Invisible War. We think it turned out better than Deus Ex in every single way. It gets much better several hours into play, when players start playing with creativity, actually playing improvisationally. I hope that word spreads about the ways in which this is a different gaming experience.
Harvey speaks on FiringSquad about Deus Ex 2! So what do you think about the interview? Let us know in the news comments! Yes, anonymous posting is allowed!
SIDEBAR: Maybe the end isnít my only friend.
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