Deus Ex: Interview with Warren Spector

This is an interview with Warren Spector, then director/producer of Deus Ex, archived here for posterity and that was originally published on, a domain that we own.

1. What is the current situation with the Deus Ex level editor; will it be released to the public?

>>WS: You bet we’re planning to release our content creation tools to the public. I’ve done a complete 180 on the subject.

For the longest time I felt that making DX missions would be so much tougher than making, say, a cool map for the average shooter, that releasing the tools wouldn’t work. We’d just frustrate people. But recently, hearing about and seeing what folks have done with the LookingGlass tools, I’ve changed my mind. We’ll be releasing not just our level editing tools (a modified version of UnrealEd) but also ConEdit (our conversation editor).

It’ll be interesting to see what players do with a tool that allows them to create NPCs who talk, fight or both (depending on how you interact with them). And you know people are going to come up with all sorts of cool weapons, objects and augmentations and stuff that we never even dreamed of. It ought to be fun.

Now, having said all that, we don’t have a time frame yet — we’re still trying to get foreign versions of the game wrapped up, track and evaluate problems players are having, now that the full game is on the shelves and we have many thousands of playtesters, and so on. Soon as things settle down a bit, we’ll figure out what we have to do to package up our tools and get them out there.<<

2. If the game is a huge success (which the demo indicated it will be) what are the chances of multiplayer (especially co-op, but deathmatch also) making its way into Deus Ex through either a patch or add-on?

>>WS: We want multiplayer as much as anyone, believe me! The heavily interactive world and character customization stuff just screams for multiplayer support. But there are a lot of issues to resolve and we’re talking right now about what would be the best way to handle it. Should we just dive right into a full-blown Deus Ex 2 (which really ought to have multiplayer right out of the gate)? Should we put together a fairly small-scale, standalone add-in that allows competitive multiplayer scenarios? Should we do a multiplayer patch? We’re still evaluating the possibilities.<<

3. Is there any chance of (working) OpenGL being added in a patch? The OpenGL rendering in the demo doesn’t seem to work.

>>WS: I’m afraid we just don’t support OpenGL and don’t really anticipate supporting it in the future. If enough people tell us they want or need it, we’ll see. Right now, we think Glide and D3D are enough.<<

4. From the demo, we were able to play 1 “section/level/zone” and that was it. What shocked me was that it led me on to believe there was another “level” to play. I talked to the boss in the game, I got a new weapon, and then that was it, the demo just ended. How come? I felt that the demo was backwards, and that the “talking” portion of the game should have been ENTIRELY at the beginning and then had action and then ended the demo after the action. What was your thinking behind doing it opposite? (BTW, that’s a nice long question for you).

>>WS: Many moons ago, the first mission — which ended up being the demo — was set up as you describe. Talk to everyone first and then get into the action. What we found was that players wanted more action up front. If you think about it, every James Bond film starts 007 off in an action sequence, then the credits roll and THEN the story proper starts. That’s kind of what we ended up doing in Deus Ex. You start out with some scene-setting interaction on the dock then — pow! — you’re in the thick of things and THEN, once you’ve dealt with a crisis, you get into the character interaction and story stuff. Immediate peril followed by catharsis followed by a little denouement, before another action sequence… That was our thinking, anyway.<<

5. In regards to the game’s design, what did you focus on the most: Gameplay, graphics, AI, level design, or something else? Why?

>>WS: It’s all about gameplay. We licensed the Unreal engine specifically so we could focus on content creation, which paid off big-time, I think. Of the things you list, I think all but graphics fall clearly in the gameplay arena. Basically, we had people on the team who spent much of their time focusing on system design, others who focused primarily on level design and still others who focused on AI. It all fed back into the game, we played, we revised. There’s an argument to be made that we may have been too assembly-line-like in our development process but the end result is pretty solid, gameplay-wise so we didn’t go too far wrong, if at all.<<

6. A lot of people are calling this a System Shock 2 “rip off”, now I must agree that the game is similar in the way you play SS2, but many things are different. Why did you choose such a similar format as SS2 for this game?

>>WS: Couple of things. First of all, I was the producer of the original System Shock, developed by some incredibly talented folks at LookingGlass Technologies. I spent years working with some of the folks who made Shock 2. Is it surprising that we share design philosophies and want to make similar kinds of games? I don’t think I’d characterize DX as a rip-off of anything. In fact, it’s a little embarrassing to admit but Deus Ex was in development BEFORE Shock 2 got started and its overall design didn’t change as a result of seeing what they did. Like I said, it’s just a question of those folks being friends and colleagues and us all sitting around talking about the kinds of games we want to make and being in agreement about it. Some similarities are inevitable. If anything, I’m flattered by the comparison. I just wish we’d shipped before they did! 😉 <<

7. What do you think of John Romero and Daikatana, and will we be seeing a “Warren Spector is going to make you his bitch” on the Deus Ex box?

>>WS: Well, you won’t be seeing that motto on ANYONE’s box anytime soon, I’m guessing! As for Daikatana, I haven’t had a chance to play it so I don’t have an opinion.<<

8. What was the reason for the unnatural shortening of the release date from June 30th to the 22nd? It has been Ion Storm’s previous policy to simple delay. Are they attempting to redeem themselves?

>>WS: First of all, it’s NOT ION’s Storm’s POLICY to delay! We, like everyone in this business, try to take as little time as we can without compromising quality. Now, with that out of the way, we moved the release date up for the simple reason that the game was ready and there was lots of competition coming. We wanted to beat them to market and we could do so without compromise. It is kind of incredible that we beat our street date — THAT doesn’t happen often in this business!<<

9. Will there be a Deus Ex 2, and will you be doing it?

>>WS: I hope Deus Ex is successful enough to warrant a sequel. We certainly have a lot of ideas. Will I be doing it? Sort of. If it happens, it will be done in this office — none of us want to give up our baby. But the project direction will be handled by DX lead designer, Harvey Smith, rather than by me. He and I have been working together since he was the lead tester on System Shock and I know his design sensibility as well as I know my own. We work really well together and he’s ready to step up and play an even larger role than he did on Deus Ex. I’ll still be around (probably more than Harvey wants!) but he’ll be Da Man as far as the day-to-day management and implementation of one of our in-house projects goes. And DX2 seems like a logical thing for us — and him — to do.<<

10. What are your plans after Deus Ex (game development-wise)?

>>WS: Too early to say. Like I said, we’re looking into the possibility of a Deus Ex 2 and the possibility of something multiplayer. I definitely want to see us get into some console development. We’ll be exploring that possibility, for sure.<<

11. Where did you get the game’s name? I can tell you that we were very lucky to get, because coming up with another name would have been impossible!

>>WS: The origins of the name “Deus Ex” are shrouded in mystery. I honestly don’t remember who came up with it but, given that most people thought I was nuts when I expressed enthusiasm for it, it’s probably my fault… It comes from the lit crit term “deus ex machina” which means, “god from the machine.”<<

12. This game seems to have a lot more of a plot to it, and has a Wing Commander sense when it comes to making decisions. Do you feel that this game could be played over and over again, taking different routes, and therefore, making Deus Ex, in truth, several games in one?

>>WS: Certainly, we’re hearing about folks playing the game more than once and trying lots of different ways to get past game problems. But replayability, while a nice side benefit, wasn’t the real reason for making a game where player decisions count. If you want to see the real reason, check out some of the message topics on the ION BBS or on Usenet — people are posting stuff about how they got past an obstacle and other people are responding with their own stories about how they did it differently. That’s totally awesome! What we wanted was a game where each player’s story is different. And it looks like we may have succeeded.<<

13. How much modifying was done to the Unreal Tournament engine? Heavy, light, middle? What did you add/take away?

>>WS: Define “heavy, light, middle.” We added our own UI libraries, all the 2D stuff is ours, the conversation system is ours (and, man, did programmer Al Yarusso do a great job on that!), the inventory and all the other interface stuff is ours. We did a lot of AI work. All the weapons are ours… We just did a bunch of stuff. I guess, if you forced me, I’d say “middle.”<<

14. Why does Deus Ex run so laggy on my Athlon 550 with a Riva TNT2 card on 800 X 600 X 16 in Direct3D? Was this a driver issue in the demo? Is it fixed in the final edition or will it be a patch?

>>WS: We’re still looking into D3D issues. Enough people have commented that we recognize it was an issue. We’re working with the appropriate people to see what we can do about a fix. In the meantime, we recommend turning detail textures off and, if necessary, running at a lower resolution.<<

15. How was the experience in developing the game? Did the staff get along well and grow together like the Partridge Family? Or was there a split between programmers, sound engineers, and graphic designers?

>>WS: Making a game means basically living with twenty or so people for a couple of years. Some are going to get along. Some aren’t. There’s always tension between tech guys and non-tech guys. Throw in the additional tensions created by our desire to make a game that defied categorization and it’s kind of a miracle we didn’t all kill each other. But we didn’t. And as the arguments about what the game should be faded and the game itself became playable, things started to come into focus. In the second half of our production process, the game came together and we could all SEE the stuff we’d been discussing in the abstract… That’s when the team came together, too.<<

16. The below questions are all about MULTIPLAYER, and if you can answer them, please do so, if not, you may skip them.

>>WS: I think I’ll pass on answering questions about multiplayer. Our plans aren’t firmed up enough to warrant discussion at this time…<<

17. In regards to mod development, will there be a source code released (SDK) or anything so that the mod community can get at Deus Ex, prolonging its life in the gaming community?

>>WS: Our current plan is to polish up the tools and documentation a bit and release them. Don’t have a time frame or anything yet, so all I can say is sit tight.<<

18. Will we see an add-on to Deus Ex, or will this be a stand-alone game, where the only thing we have to look forward to is the possibility of a sequel?

>>WS: Too early to say. We’re discussing some add-in possibilities, both internally and with some folks outside, but nothing definite. Assuming the game sells well enough to warrant it, I think you can count on an internally developed, full-blown sequel.<<

19. Where did you come up with the player names?

>>WS: The name “J.C. Denton” came from some friends of mine, Brad and Barb Denton. (Brad’s a terrific writer — if you haven’t read his novels Blackburn or Lunatics or some of his short stories, go get ’em now!) We needed a nice, unisex name to go with the “Denton” bit and “J.C.” flowed nicely. Of course, we didn’t end up offering the female player character option so there was no real need for the unisex name but, oh well. By the time we finally made the male-only decision we were all so used to calling the character J.C. we just stuck with it.<<

20. Regarding weaponry, did you try to stick with standard weapons, or are you going all out?

>>WS: If by “all out” you mean coming up with weapons that were all cool, useful and decidedly different in functionality then I’d say we went all out. We have a bunch of weapons, several tied to each of our weapon skills. How do YOU think we did?<<

21. Approximately how many items, including weapons, are there in Deus Ex (from boxes, to garbage cans. Anything you can pick up, I consider an item)?

>>WS: Man, there are hundreds of items! I couldn’t even tell you off the top of my head!<<

22. As per the games skill point system, is it possible to become a master at every skill by the time you reach the end of the game? Why?

>>WS: There’s no way to get to master in every skill. Everything in Deus Ex is designed to differentiate one character from another. That’s the secret to differentiating player experience. If every player could get every skill to master level by the end of the game, everyone would end up with the same character, with the same options for interaction. That’s not what we were after.<<

23. Same question as above, but for augmentations: Can you get every augmentation in the game by the end?

>>WS: Same answer. The augmentation system was designed, largely by lead designer Harvey Smith, to force each player to make choices. Each augmentation canister you find can be configured in one (and only one) of two ways. Once you choose, that’s it. You can’t change your mind. So choose wisely!<<

24. Do metal boxes still float in the final version, and why did they float in the demo?

>>WS: Sure boxes float. The reason is simply that there’s good gameplay in floating boxes. You can use them as cover or as an impromptu bridge… If they’re explosive, you can shove ’em toward enemies and blow them up. The game was designed to look as believable as possible but, in the end, the needs of gameplay always win.<<

25. How many different weapon modifications are there for the game?

>>WS: A bunch. I think I’d rather let people discover the details for themselves than describe them all here.<<

26. Who composed the musical score, and was it written in a way to go along with the game’s storyline and plot?

>>WS: The music was written specifically to go with the storyline and, like many games since Wing Commander, to change based on what’s going on at any given moment. Most of the music was composed by Straylight Productions and, principally, by Alexander Brandon. (Alex has since signed on with ION Austin full-time, as our Audio Director!) Alex rocks — he actually played the game constantly as he was composing (and managing the other composers) so he was able to make the music fit the locations perfectly. In addition, we got Reeves Gabrels to compose several “club tunes” for us. A lot of people haven’t heard of Reeves but most everyone’s HEARD him. He’s a guitar god with several solo albums to his credit. But he’s best known for having played with David Bowie for the last ten or twelve years. He also worked with Bowie on the music for Eidos’ Omikron game. He’s awesome. Check out Reeves’ website at His recent CD, Ulysses, is terrific.<<

27. Any chance of a Deus Ex: The Movie?

>>WS: Ha! That’d be cool. I don’t think I have much to say about whether it happens or not, and I haven’t heard anything from the people DO have a say. But it sure would be great.<<

28. What percentage make-up do you feel Deus Ex is? Example: 50% First Person Shooter, 30% Sneaker, 20% Role Playing Game.

>>WS: I don’t know. I hope the percentage varies based on how each player decides to play. That was one of our goals, at any rate.<<

29. Is there any other information regarding Deus Ex that you can disclose to us at this time?

>>WS: Man, with almost 30 questions, I think you’ve covered everything!<<

Once again, thank you for your support, and congratulations with the release of Deus Ex.

>>WS: No problem. Good luck with your site.<<

Share this article:

If I'm not working or spending time with the family I'm probably gaming. Some of my favorite recent games I've played are Far Cry 5, World of Warcraft Classic, and 7 Days to Die.

Articles: 5378
Notify of

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments