Warren Spector is a black woman.
This, I wasn't expecting. He's demoing the latest Ion Storm in a London Hotel to a room of the usual suspects, and he's just selected his avatar from a list of six, cross-gender and cross-race, selections. He's gone for the black woman.
It's a tiny detail: The ability to choose your race and sex. But it sums up the experience that Deus Ex offers you so well: Freedom to create your game experience in your own image or - frankly - any image you choose. And it's why Deus Ex: Invisible War is perhaps the most exciting prospect on the gaming calendar.
After the demonstration, the assorted nefarious beings that populate this event got their chance for an audience with the famous studio head. We decided that asking how many discs it came on was a waste of the opportunity and tried to get beneath the surface of the game. We know what they're putting in Invisible War - but why are they doing it?
Kieron Gillen: From what I've seen, Deus Ex: Invisible War is very much about streamlining. Some people before they sit down and play it don't really understand. They go "They've lost the skills... so it's not as deep". Which is obviously insane: complexity is not the same as depth. To choose an example which I haven't seen anyone talking about online yet, is the choice to go for a single ammo reservoir for all weapons rather than dozens of them, specific for each weapon. Can you talk about the thought process behind that?
Warren Spector: That's another ulcer Harvey [Smith, Project lead on Deus Ex: Invisible War -Ed] gave me. Oh my Gosh!
Okay - is making a plan about whether to shoot and which weapon to use, based on "How much Ammo do I have?" or "This weapon takes a .357 round and that one takes a 7.62 round and this one takes a... oh, who cares?" All the decisions we made on the design side of Invisible War, and on the tech side, were based on what is required to meet our core gameplay needs.
Differentiated ammo types? I personally think that's a way of grounding the game in reality. Players, even normal human beings, know that there's a bunch of different kinds of ammo in the world. That's an invisible way of sucking the players into the world. Harvey and team disagreed.
Did I think that was important enough to say "No... you must do this?" Obviously not. We'll see how that plays out. I'm a little worried about that too.
Kieron Gillen: Invisible war is risky and is going to be controversial - which is the only way that you're going to get anywhere. If you don't take risks and aren't controversial you're going to be in real trouble.
Warren Spector: Exactly. The last thing in the world I want to do and the last thing I want Ion Storm to do, is just crank out another piece of sausage. The fact that there's a figurative "2" after the game is irrelevant to the creative decisions we made every single day. You don't have to avoid risk or repeat yourself to make a sequel. You identify the core of your experience and go with it. Magnify it. Ammo type is just not core to the experience.
Kieron Gillen: I was recently talking to Doug Church [Ex-Looking Glass Designer best known for his work on System Shock -Ed] about Deus Ex versus Thief. Thief is minimalist, with a carefully selected skill-set. Deus Ex is the ultimate maximalist game, with everything piled in. Would you say that DX2 is less maximalist?
Warren Spector: (Laughs) No. It's just as maximalist, in a slightly different way. Thief is the ultimate game of razor sharp focus. It knows exactly what it is, and it's going to be the best in the world at that. Deus Ex is what I call the Swiss Army knife. You can do anything with it. That is its core gameplay. That "Do anything you want..." is in the service of telling your own unique story, creating your own path and expressing yourself as you play, creating situations and seeing the consequences. Doing what you want and seeing what happens. It is differently maximalist, but we really didn't lose any of the functionality. Lost some of the surface level stuff, but nothing of significance.
Kieron Gillen: Perhaps "elegant" is the word then. Invisible War has everything, but in a more elegant way. You don't notice the joins. When I play it, I'm finding it easier to express myself, as I'm seeing it as an integrated skillset. It didn't always feel that way in Deus Ex.
Warren Spector: We're trying to remove barriers to belief. Trying to remove barriers to action, trying to remove barriers to plans. That's true. I would call Invisible War a more sophisticated game. Deus Ex was like early automobiles. They didn't know what they were doing! They were putting Wagon Wheels on this, and a steam engine and... they were making stuff up! And that's where we were in Deus Ex. Invisible War is a very calculated attempt to streamline and make more sophisticated.
Kieron Gillen: Something else I chatted to Mr Church about was how it was very easy to innovate in System Shock, since they had no idea what they were doing. Do you think it was harder to innovate in Deus Ex 2 because you were returning to philosophical ground you covered before?
Warren Spector: I think it would have been harder for me personally to innovate in Invisible War, which I identified very early. I felt my bones calcifying. I was stiffening up. That is exactly why Harvey Smith is the Project Director. Well, that and that fact because... he's my guy. He's been in my shadow for twelve years, and it's time to let the poor guy get a little sun on his face. Which is why I'm peeved he's not here...
But putting a different project Director at the helm, with me being chief Kibitzer and fingernail biter, ensured that it would have enough difference from the first one to feel fresh. And a few new people on the team too.
Kieron Gillen: One of the things which I remember from various Deus Ex post-mortems - and correct me if I'm wrong - that Deus Ex originally had two lead designers.
Warren Spector: Oh dear God.
Kieron Gillen: And it often felt like a game with two lead designers, while this from what I've seen seems very much the other way.
Warren Spector: Well, Harvey would disagree violently with what I'm about to say, but I think the tension between the two design teams actually made the game a little better. Harvey was the meat. His team were the meat in the stew. The other guys provided a bunch of chilli-peppers - a little heat. The clash of ideas, I think - you're right - lead to a little inelegance. But also to the kind of varied gameplay which people responded to. And now that we know what people respond to, we were able to make it more elegant and straightforward successfully.
Kieron Gillen: At the end of Deus Ex, it was essentially voices shouting at you like "Do this!" "No! Do this" "No, this!" "This!" From what I've seen of Invisible War, this appears to have been extended to the whole game. It's like having parents having a divorce, constantly pulling you in different ways.
Warren Spector: It's pretty wild. Sometimes the different factions give you different goals, which is cool because you can actually play the game through several times and see completely different stuff. Not just interactive stuff - but different stuff. But my favourite moments are when people give you diametrically opposed goals on a single map. Kill this person/Don't kill this person. Destroy this thing/protect this thing.
You can't imagine how much I want to see millions of people play this game. It's completely out of our hands. It's done. I don't know what they're going to respond to... I think I do, but I don't know. I just want to see it.
Anyway - yes, you're right. The entire game is suffused with that. And you decide which directions, if any, you want to be pulled in. During the course of the game, we let you surf the wave - do whichever goals you want and create your own faction. But at the end of the game - and I'm so happy about this, though it may kill us.
In the first game, our endgames were general enough for players to find what they want in each. Here, not everyone finds what they want... and they still have to make a choice. Which is maybe the most valuable life lesson to take from this. There are no happy endings. There is no easy answer. There is no bad guy you can kill to make everything right. That one comes through loud and clear.
Kieron Gillen: Down endings in PC games are an odd one. A few try them, and just end up stinking of nihilism. Others - and I'm thinking of the tragedy of Planescape Torment here - succeed beautifully. But, ultimately, if you're worried about it... why take the risk?
Warren Spector: Well, it's an interesting risk. I can't wait to see how people respond to it. At some levels, that's good enough. And Eidos trust me and my studio enough. We have a track record of not taking the type of risks that destroys us critically or commercially. Costing some sales is not the same as not being profitable. We're still clearly profitable and it's an interesting thing to try out. And it's not like these are down endings per se - these are all endings that follow naturally from the goals expressed from all the groups in the game. They are for the purposes of the game, how the world should look. We can't have infinite end games. The team didn't want to encourage one single ending - so we ended up with a bunch that made you think.
Kieron Gillen: Even in the early game, the WTO [World Trade Organisation -Ed] and the Order are pulling you either way. I don't like either of them, really, being not particularly interested in religion or capitalism. I can see where that's going and...
Warren Spector: Oh no you can't.
Kieron Gillen: I can... oh, you're right. I can't.
Deus Ex: Invisible War will be released in Europe in February 2004.