Deus Ex: The Conspiracy Q&A

The guys at Ion Storm brief us on the progress of Deus Ex's PS2 port.

You'll be stuck finding a PC game that won more awards during its year of release than Deus Ex. The game combined the level of immersion that a first-person perspective allows with the mechanical depth of an RPG system to create a gameworld with levels of interactivity seldom seen before or after its release. Ion Storm, the studio responsible for the game, is hard at work on a sequel for a variety of platforms, and this is common knowledge. So is the fact that the original game is coming to the PS2. We have spent a bit of time with it and have indeed found it to be a more-than-effective translation of the modern PC classic. Still, we can't help but wonder what the recent delays have been about. What exactly is being squeezed in during these last few weeks? And will there be anything pertaining to the series' long-awaited next installment hidden in its depths? It's with these questions in mind that we decided to talk to Ion Storm. Special thanks to Mike Orenich, Steve Powers, Matt Baer, Alex Duran, and Warren Spector for taking the time to talk to us!

Flame throwers are both fun and beautiful.

GameSpot: The game is right around the corner from going gold. How do you feel it holds up against what's currently being released for the PS2? Anything out there that you feel is similar to it?

Mike Orenich: There aren't many games out there like Deus Ex. The similarities between those games and Deus Ex are minor in a lot of ways. What we have here is a game that has a rich story, innovative gameplay, and the ability to truly interact with objects and characters in the world. Unlike some other games, Deus Ex actually gives you multiple solutions to the problems in the game. Your behavior and actions will affect the way that your boss, partners, and strangers react to you. You can play through the entire game like any way you like--sneak through the world using nonlethal tactics or be the judge and the jury! There are three possible endings too, so you decide the fate of the world.

GS: We noticed you guys snuck a couple of extra months of dev time into the game's schedule. Care to tell us what exactly you've been working on?

Alex Duran: There are always code optimization issues. [grins] Outside of rendering (with which I wasn't involved), our biggest optimization issues were reducing memory size, speeding up load times, and reducing the size of saved games. On a smaller scale, we also ended up moving a fair amount of Deus Ex 1 PC code out of UnrealScript and into C++ in order to improve frame rate.

MO: We were working on the little things that add polish to the game--decreasing the load times, adding new sound effects, touching up the interface art, reworking portions of some maps, and adding a few cool features (security camera controls, naming your character, etc.).

GS: We noticed that you've done quite a bit with some of the levels in the preview builds we've seen. Can you talk a bit about this?

Steve Powers: We refined the game and added a bit more color and flair to the situations and characters. Also, exploration will be fun for experienced DX fans since most of the maps were revisited and rearranged or streamlined.

MO: Almost every map has been retouched in the PS2 version. We did a lighting pass, a color balance pass, and redid a lot of textures, signs, etc. (made them high res). For example, the first map--Liberty Island--has been reworked to fit the situation. It looks and plays more like the NSF have actually assaulted the Statue. The secret area--NYC Underground--has been completely redone; people who saved Ford Schick in the PC version will have to face something new. Hong Kong has been improved and streamlined so that there is less going back and forth across the maps. Of course, we kept everything we liked--the last thing we wanted to do was rip out good gameplay.

GS: It's no secret that you're hard at work on Deus Ex 2 for numerous platforms. Any chance of seeing some of the sequel's content, or perhaps some sort of reference to it, in this game?

Swords versus flamethrower: the outcome won't be as decisive as you'd think.

MO: There are not any direct references to Deus Ex 2 in this game, but the story does lend some insight into the Deus Ex world. We are looking at the development of Deus Ex in terms of the world within the game. I can't disclose too much information at this time, but let's just say that we are not taking the standard "episodic" approach to the Deus Ex world. The three different endings in Deus Ex PS2 hint at what is in store for the world as we know it...

GS: Any chance of the sequel coming to the PS2?

MO: This is still under consideration and yet to be determined.

GS: Switching gears, have you guys worked on the game's load times at all? Those were pretty long.

MO: Yes, the load times have been significantly reduced. In addition, the load screen for each map has its own unique screenshot. It's kind of like "intelligence information" that you receive before entering a new area, and sometimes it can even give you clues to what lies ahead. We have also streamlined some of the maps so that you don't have to load them repetitively. For instance, there is a "back door" out of La Guardia that was not present in the PC version, and this gives the player the option of going directly to the next objective. People can still retrace their steps in case they want to search for hidden gear.

GS: Even though you've remained loyal to the old adage of "If it ain't broke, don't fix it," can you list all the PS2-exclusive stuff that will be in the game?

Matt Baer: We have a new intro cinematic as well as a new cinematic for each endgame. We have some nice-looking load screens that show you a preview of what's to come at each level transition. Personally, I think one of the biggest graphical enhancements we have made would have to be the new interface. It not only looks better, but it also functions better. Another big change pertains to our characters. The PC version used mesh-based characters, but the PS2 version is using a skeletal animation system. This results in much smoother and more realistic motions. In addition to that, there are a handful of other minor graphical improvements. For example, the vision augmentation and spy drone have both been given a graphical face-lift. The team seems to agree that both are much better now than in the original game.

You don't have to destroy everything in sight, though it is certainly a viable option.

SP: We have simplified and streamlined the interface so that the player has efficient control over the game's many functions. In the PC release, we had a very complex interface for using objects, augmentations, interacting with the world, inventory, and other game screens. Now, because we had to work within the constraints of the controller, the player can use all of these same features, but it is much simpler and quicker. Also, there is never a need to take your eyes off the screen to activate a control, whereas in the PC version, orienting your fingers on the keyboard required glancing down from time to time--well, it did for me, anyway. Character animations and models are also much cleaner and prettier. The PS2 gives us much more capability in these areas, and I think the allies and enemies are a generation above the PC versions.

MO: The addition of the vibration function with the PS2 controller, the "plant and aim" feature, and the "quick augs" feature are my favorites. I have always felt that controller vibration in response to game events is a great mechanism for feedback to the user. It creates a tactile connection between the player and the game. For example, in Deus Ex PS2, when you are close enough to a military bot, you can feel it walking. These bots are massive, and the vibration they cause when they move helps to create a very ominous feeling.

The plant and aim feature allows the player to aim with precision. Moving the right analog stick on the controller performs normal aiming/looking, the cursor is always centered on the screen, but the view also changes. This allows users to quickly adjust their view and aim. When you want to slow the movement down for a precise shot, all you have to do is hold the L2 button on the controller and move the right analog stick. This activates the plant and aim feature that allows you to move the cursor around on the screen while the view stays put. The plant and aim feature works great for players who like to sneak up on their targets or lean around corners to snipe people. Once you get the hang of this feature, you can take your combat to the next level.

The quick augs feature has to be my favorite, though. It makes using your augmentations simple, and I find myself using the augs more often than I did in the PC version. Basically, you assign any combination of augs to the triangle button on the controller. Once you have assigned your augs, pressing the triangle button during gameplay will turn them on, and pressing it again will turn them off. So let's say you have the power recirculator, ballistic protection, and the aggressive defense system set to the quick augs button. At the first sign of combat, you press the triangle button, face the enemies, and then tear them to pieces with the plasma rifle. Or, you have the speed enhancement and cloak augmentations set to the quick augs button...this allows a quick and stealthy getaway if you run into the wrong situation.

And in case people don't know, you can actually play Deus Ex: The Conspiracy with a mouse and keyboard. It is fully functional but not "officially" supported.

GS: Finally, do you have any words about the Deus Ex phenomenon for the audience?

Warren Spector: There are so many conspiracy theories involving FEMA and a shadow government that it isn't even funny. Ironically, when word came out about G.W. Bush's secret government in underground bunkers, all I could think was "Hey, we put that in our game years ago!" I can point you to the executive orders passed over the last 40 years that made G.W.'s move possible...

All of the weapons and augmentations were based on real-world research (though, in fairness, there aren't a lot of real-world analogues yet)--even the electronic ballistic shields and personal cloaking devices are things that scientists are working on right now.

Several locations were "real": the entrance to the Paris catacombs, the Statue of Liberty. Built from photos and blueprints.

Nanoaugmented agents soon to be real: http://news.cnet.com/2100-1001-859877.html

Messing with security devices allows you to clear your path of annoying attack bots, and perform essential recon.

The mechanical hearing and visual augmentations that Gunther and Anna have are this close to being commercially available today. We based a lot of that stuff on a Discovery Channel program called The Real Bionic Man.

The greazel was fictional, but, during development, paleontologists discovered a feathered dinosaur that was similar enough, so we took to describing the greazel as a genetically altered bird, regressed (evolutionarily speaking) back to its dinosaur roots. And the bioengineering described in the game is stuff that's in the news all the time now.

The idea behind the gray death as an engineered disease mirrors a lot of people's beliefs about AIDS. And the idea of the government withholding the cure for a dread disease is also a conspiracy oldie-but-goodie.

The black helicopters--silent, swift, and deadly--were based on real conspiracy research.

The features and form of the "grays" found in Area 51 and elsewhere were based on what UFO folks believe one of the visiting alien races "really" looks like.

GS: Thanks for your time!

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