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Deus Ex writer on cancelled Ninja Gold

"Did branching narrative right," says Pacotii.

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Image credit: Eurogamer

Ninja Gold, the cancelled Junction Point-developed movie-tie, could have moved the art of the branching narrative in games forward by a decade, according to its writer.

Sheldon J. Pacotti, who was the principle writer on the first two Deus Ex games, told Eurogamer as part of an interview looking back on the Deus Ex series that Ninja Gold aimed to make the entire game structure change based on player decisions.

"Like any action title there was a lot of unknowns in terms of how the team was going to be able to ramp up to really build it, all the art and the interactions," he said.

"But in terms of storytelling, it's one of just a couple of times in my career where I think we've had a story that really did the branching narrative right."

Ninja Gold, announced in 2007, was to be developed by Epic Mickey creator Warren Spector alongside the Hollywood movie of the same name with director John Woo's help.

Woo came up with the idea of a group of ninjas that was part of a centuries-old legacy and bloodline now forced to confront the reality of covert warfare in the modern world.

The concept was based on the premise that the Yakuza and the Russian mob were involved in gold being stolen in South Africa.

But Ninja Gold was cancelled when publisher Vivendi killed all its unannounced projects in one fell swoop ahead of its merger with Call of Duty publisher Activision.

Pacotti, who left Junction Point just over three years ago to develop an indie game, Cell: emergence, said Ninja Gold had an "interesting" way of doing branching narrative.

"Branching narrative gets the short end of the stick when people talk about story in game," he explained, "but I don't think there's ever been a game that really does a thorough, solid branch. Even the two designs I've liked that I've worked on have had just one branch.

"You play half the game or two thirds of the game, and all your small choices you make build you into a character and based on this aggregate of decisions you go one way or the other.

"It ends up affecting your personal life, it affects the history of the world, and countries rise or fall. And it affects your game mechanics, your game tools. The whole experience has this really deep fork in it.

"We had something like that in Ninja Gold that was pretty interesting. I'm sorry that didn't come to fruition because I feel like almost a half a decade or a decade has been lost in terms of taking the linear, branched narrative and doing something really deep with it."

Pacotti pointed to Heavy Rain developer Quantic Dream and Mass Effect creator BioWare as examples of studios that do storytelling in games well.

"But I don't know if anyone's taken a branch and just made the whole structure of the game change because of it. That's what we were shooting for [with Ninja Gold]."

So, why did it fail?

"There was expense involved. In fact, every time I've had ideas like that there has been a reasonable push back from the team. No one wants to build two versions of a map, right? One that's on fire, one under water. That's what you need to do to make the branch have that weight.

"But it'll happen someday. When I have my millions then we'll do it."

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