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June 16, 2010 3:55 PM   Subscribe

Taking Liberties: a Deus Ex story - on the enduring appeal of the 2000 Cyberpunk RPG/FPS. The Making of Deus Ex. Behind the scenes.
posted by Artw (62 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite

 
If I read these links, I am just going to end up digging out my Deus Ex GOTY CD and wasting my whole evening.

Okay, I'll read them anyway.

laputan machine
posted by lholladay at 4:05 PM on June 16, 2010 [4 favorites]


It's a fundamental issue with modern games, this new style of Disneyland "on-rails" world design. Instead of developing robust systems and allowing them to create fun, the fun is very carefully planned like a ride at Disneyland, and is therefore the same for everyone every time (or very nearly).

Mass Effect 2 is a game that could be quite like Deus Ex, but instead is very very different, because it succumbs to the Disneyland style. Each level and each option are all carefully scripted to ensure nothing goes wrong and you can never find yourself outside of what the developers envisioned. It's a loss of freedom that we miss dearly.
posted by mek at 4:11 PM on June 16, 2010 [2 favorites]


Mek is spot on--I want freedom (and I'd generally prefer freedom to story). Mass Effect was a shit game. The actual DVD was literally a piece of super-compressed excrement that was etched with lasers to produce a storage medium capable of being read by my Xbox. Such a disappointment; all overwrought space opera and nothing interesting to do.

Deus Ex remains one of the best games I ever played. I loved it to bits (warts and all)--I was constantly surprised by all of the different ways to accomplish a task and/or be eaten by greasels. I would have loved to have played Thief (but I'm a Mac, etc.). I can't wait to dig deeper into the links! Thanks for posting.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 4:23 PM on June 16, 2010 [3 favorites]


Mass Effect was a shit game

Yeah, well, in your precious Deus Ex you didn't have the opportunity to go through various colourful loading screens, and then land on a planet in a truck, and then drive around on the boring empty planet for hours and hours, and struggle up vertical inclines, and then your truck falls off, and then you spend another hour finding a different route to find a crashed satellite, which you try to salvage, and you can't because you don't have a high enough tech skill, and then a few hours later you do have a high enough tech skill, and you go back to the planet and find the fucking satellite again and salvage it with a stupid and annoying quicktime event and then you get 5 OmniGel for your efforts, and then you drive to the other side of the planet to mine some gold. You couldn't do that, could you?
posted by turgid dahlia at 4:28 PM on June 16, 2010 [12 favorites]


I hope this new one coming out follows the original's philosophy. Deus Ex 2 was just... I couldn't play it more than half way through. Too upsetting.

I loved discovering and reading that random conspiracy theory book in the NYC arms dealer's underground bunker. One of many unique moments.
posted by Spacelegoman at 4:33 PM on June 16, 2010


I hope this new one coming out follows the original's philosophy....
Human Revolution will use a regenerating health model. This change was made because the developers didn't want players to get into a situation where they were unable to progress due to low health, and would be forced to "scrounge for med packs."
I'm not optimistic.
posted by Iridic at 4:35 PM on June 16, 2010 [3 favorites]


You're a week early, Artw- next Tuesday is the 10th anniversary of Deus Ex's release. I have a great big post with about thirty links in it ready and waiting.
posted by Pope Guilty at 4:36 PM on June 16, 2010 [2 favorites]


If I had the talent I would likely do a mashup game and call it Thiefshock Underworld Ex, and to be frank it would be the single best game ever.
posted by turgid dahlia at 4:38 PM on June 16, 2010 [6 favorites]


Both Deus Ex and Mass Effect were riddled with god awful bugs and glitches that would kill characters, NPCs, dogs and occasionally trees -- that is, when you weren't busy clipping through floors and trucks, falling to a death that would never come.

Bethesda's games are the same way. The wonderful sense of freedom that you get from interacting with the world comes at the high price of crippling bugs and occasionally hilarious glitches.
posted by boo_radley at 4:39 PM on June 16, 2010


Pope Guilty - Gah! Sorry about that.
posted by Artw at 4:40 PM on June 16, 2010


Bethesda's games are the same way. The wonderful sense of freedom that you get from interacting with the world comes at the high price of crippling bugs and occasionally hilarious glitches.

Yeah, I remember in Morrowind I think it was, I had my character equip like a weird crossbow or something and he was catapaulted about a hundred feet in the air, ragdolling like crazy, I lol'd.
posted by turgid dahlia at 4:41 PM on June 16, 2010


Bethesda has nothing on Troika. Troika games were buggy in the same sense that a termite colony is.
posted by Pope Guilty at 4:44 PM on June 16, 2010


Sometimes bugs are fun. Morrowwind was a great game. Oblivion was terrible, largely due to the scaling they felt the need to implement, which made all progress pointless because even sewer rats levelled up with you.
posted by mek at 4:46 PM on June 16, 2010 [2 favorites]


Pretty awesome- always enjoyed Deus Ex. Same problems with the glitches, though. And greasels. :D
posted by the_observer at 4:46 PM on June 16, 2010


I thought I saw a guy in a coat!

Deus Ex, my introduction to GK Chesterton. Such a fantastic game.
posted by khaibit at 4:53 PM on June 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


Troika games were buggy but, in part at least, they were buggy because of their ludicrous ambition. Well, apart from Vampire: the Masquerade: Bloodlines, which was buggy because they had to rush it out and then immediately went bust. That said, the fan community's patches not only fix much of the game but also one's faith in human nature.

Troika (and Ion Storm, as was) remind me somewhat of Quantic Dream, although in a different way. Quantic Dream games aren't necessarily good or enjoyable, but when they are not they feel like not-good versions of games that don't exist in this universe. The not-goodness feels forgivable because of the ambition. Likewise, Deus Ex, Fallout and Arcanum felt like the time allotted in the schedule to bug fixing was spent loading in more options, more complexity and more narrative, leaving something broken but beautiful. Compare that with Deus Ex 2, which I grow fonder of with time but which felt like an attractively presented guide book to Deus Ex to leaf through rather than a properly gripping game.
posted by DNye at 4:59 PM on June 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


ME1's core flaw was that a little before a third through the game, it becomes ridiculously easy to overpower everything through smart ammo set up.

ME2's flaw was that it tried to implement a "Cover and flank" system and built the levels in such a way that there wasn't much room to do any flanking- which meant fights boiled down to mostly staying undercover and relying on biotics- basically, like a Final Fantasy fight with guns minus the crunchy advancement systems.

I still had fun with them both - railgames aren't all bad, I mean, look at most games in the 80's and much of the 90's. A lot of casual games are rediscovering this- you make it clear what game play is about, where you're supposed to go, and what you're supposed to do, and players can just focus on the gameplay itself.

Anyway, I'm looking forward to checking this out. Deus Ex was one of those games I missed out on, and hearing about this stuff and how it builds fanbases is awesome.
posted by yeloson at 5:09 PM on June 16, 2010


Pope Guilty: next Tuesday is the 10th anniversary of Deus Ex's release.
There must be some mistake. I was never supposed to get this old.
posted by Western Infidels at 5:11 PM on June 16, 2010 [7 favorites]


I'll second mek's link to 'Sunglasses at Night' - all the chaos and destruction that you can handle, and if you've played the game, it's pretty amusing. DON'T go to the site if you've never played the game - spoilers!
posted by Zack_Replica at 5:15 PM on June 16, 2010


Lol, Atw, I didn't even read your interior title before posting my comment. Must be a memorable phrase. *high five*
posted by lholladay at 5:17 PM on June 16, 2010


I'm about 2/3 of the way through Final Fantasy XIII and I'm struck by how profoundly frustrating its particular breed of 'polish' is compared to some of the old games like System Shock and Deus Ex. It's not that I mind being on rails, it's that when the rails are dull, there is no escape.
posted by verb at 5:22 PM on June 16, 2010 [2 favorites]


I loved the fuck out of Deus Ex. Discovered it and Max Payne in a bargain bin for $5 each. That was a good day.

I remember when Pac-man came out for the Atari in 1982. That was disappointing.

Deus Ex 2 was anguish. I wanted to break things.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 5:35 PM on June 16, 2010


Yeah! Max Payne! That was another game that just unrelentingly KEPT ON GIVING. It would not stop. I would say, "Max Payne, surely you must be tired of giving me hours of enjoyment" and Max would be all "I AM ON RED BULL AND SPEED AND I WILL NOT CEASE UNTIL MY HEART EXPLODES!" Kiss kiss Max Payne! You are a king.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 5:38 PM on June 16, 2010 [7 favorites]


Oblivion was terrible, largely due to the scaling they felt the need to implement, which made all progress pointless because even sewer rats leveled up with you.

I didn't mind that so much as the crashing. Consistently. In one of the missions to let my character into the Mage's Guild. Even after I completely wiped out and reinstalled the game (multiple times), tried multiple releases of video drivers, started over from the beginning (because the game decided it would crash every time I attempted to save), contacted Bethesda -- which was the worst idea, by far, since in every email they sent they would claim that they had no information about my case number, ask for all my information again, and assign me a new case number which would be forever lost by the next correspondence. And, yes, this was all with the Unofficial Oblivion Patch.

Also: Mass Effect? More like CRASH Effect, though that was because it doesn't like my sound card. Thankfully, I found that game dull enough to simply give up on.

I've just started playing Deus Ex for the first time, and I like it, thusfar. I've also been meaning to play some more Fallout 3 whilst waiting for New Vegas, but I think I updated my video card drivers since playing it last, so I'll have to find a version of them that will not make that game also crash every few minutes.

Goddammit, Bethesda.
posted by The Great Big Mulp at 5:44 PM on June 16, 2010


You gotta get with the console age Great Big Mulp, your game-crashy experiences will decrease significantly. It will just be the entire fucking console that breaks.
posted by turgid dahlia at 5:49 PM on June 16, 2010 [2 favorites]


It's true. I need to get over sucking at FPS-type games on consoles.
posted by The Great Big Mulp at 5:50 PM on June 16, 2010


I used to blow at them too but the Xbox 360 controller, at least, is just perfectly designed for FPS games as far as I'm concerned. Only drawback is it's not standard mapping across the board so one game's X To Crouch is another game's Press Left Stick To Crouch, which leads to a great deal of hilarity and hijinks as I'm sure you can imagine!
posted by turgid dahlia at 5:58 PM on June 16, 2010


It's a good article, but it says little about one of the things that really stood out to me in Deus Ex: The storytelling. It's not just the fact that the story is a brilliantly conceived one (which roystngr did a good job of describing) but the way the game makes the player feel like a part of the story. You don't witness it happening in non-interactive cutscenes. It's told through interactions with other characters, through emails and newspapers you can read in the game environment, and, perhaps most importantly, through the actions of the player, which, due to the fantastic level design as described in this article, makes you feel like you're really in control.
posted by Stove at 6:44 PM on June 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


I decided I wanted to play as a super good guy, so for the first few missions I went completely nonlethal. Gas grenades, stun prod, tranq darts, the whole thing. After a mission in Hell's Kitchen, where a firefight goes bad and kills a bunch of UNATCO soldiers, I end up back at HQ, and this kid Lloyd, who's basically a glorified secretary and thinks I'm awesome, says to me, "Don't worry about what the guys are saying about Hell's Kitchen. I know you can do more than throw gas grenades and use a prod!" It's a little thing now, but back then that blew me away; I hadn't yet played a game that recognized what I'd been doing and responded accordingly, making some people respect me and others sneer at me. That was when I really fell in love with the game.
posted by Errant at 7:27 PM on June 16, 2010 [3 favorites]


Deus ex was brilliant because it walked the fine line between sandbox games, and story/mission driven games, and walked it well. Something that I've yet to experience outside of the Deus Ex franchise.

You always had a goal and had no other option except to work towards it, but there were so many different ways to interact with the mission / achieve your objective that you still experienced the environment as if it was a sandbox.
posted by FuzzyLumpkins at 7:28 PM on June 16, 2010 [2 favorites]


mek: "Each level and each option are all carefully scripted to ensure nothing goes wrong and you can never find yourself outside of what the developers envisioned. It's a loss of freedom that we miss dearly."

Well, to be frank, Deus Ex is kind of like that too. The only difference is that there are several linear paths through the level, as opposed to just one.
posted by archagon at 7:47 PM on June 16, 2010


I also loved Deux Ex, but I am still of the opinion that Morrowind is the highpoint of computer RPG's. If not for the pure size and detail of the gameworld then for the freedom to do what ever the hell you wanted. Oblivion was a regression as far as gameplay is concerned. Sorry to derail but for all you Elder Scrolls fans check out this website. I have always wished that this could be finished but It's been years and years. I was happy to see they are still working on it though.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 7:55 PM on June 16, 2010


The only difference is that there are several linear paths through the level, as opposed to just one.
If we take this at face value and agree that this applies to Deus Ex, then we also have to agree that San Andreas was a linear game with many linear paths through it.
posted by FuzzyLumpkins at 7:57 PM on June 16, 2010 [2 favorites]


Deus Ex is linear in its progression from mission to mission (apart from dialogue changes and alternate endings), but each individual mission itself is very nonlinear.
posted by Stove at 8:58 PM on June 16, 2010


Just wanted to plug Alexander Brandon's site which offers a number of tracks for streaming or download. I guarantee that listening to them will instantly bring you right back to that damn Hong Kong level that took forever but got you the awesome nano-sword, flirting with people at the Paris disco, running for your life to get to the top of the 'Ton, and a million other memories.
posted by Rhomboid at 9:17 PM on June 16, 2010


Oh also, I never tire of watching the Deus Ex speed run.
posted by Rhomboid at 9:26 PM on June 16, 2010


Fun fact: I have the elevator music midi from System Shock as my ringtone! :D
posted by turgid dahlia at 9:40 PM on June 16, 2010


My point is, I never felt like I found myself "outside of what the developers envisioned". There's no emergent gameplay.
posted by archagon at 10:28 PM on June 16, 2010


If I read these links, I am just going to end up digging out my Deus Ex GOTY CD and wasting my whole evening.

Indeed.
posted by Rangeboy at 11:37 PM on June 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


I demand that all paths in video games be n-dimensional torii henceforth.
posted by kaibutsu at 1:32 AM on June 17, 2010


By the way, Denton, stay out of the ladies restroom. That kind of activity embarasses the agency more than it does you.

I'll second mek's link to 'Sunglasses at Night' - all the chaos and destruction that you can handle, and if you've played the game, it's pretty amusing.

I remember that link from a while back. Seriously hilarious.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 2:56 AM on June 17, 2010


Deus Ex is on my 'must play one day' list, along with the disc of Beyond Good And Evil I have lying around somewhere.

Is the PS2 version of DE worth playing, or is it something that must be experienced on PC? This may sound perverse, but I prefer the tactile experience of targetting by analogue stick to the cheaply instant gratification of mouse aiming.
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 5:53 AM on June 17, 2010


Mmm, Deus Ex. I remember re-loading the game after years of it sitting on the shelf, and being posessed to take the perfectly lined up sniper rifle shot to kill one of the principle secondary characters right near the start of the game. Suddenly the first part of the storyline changed, and a whole path was unavailable. I guess I expected the character to be invincible for storyline reasons.

Also, a fan-made installable mod that simulated the Matrix. It upped the momentum, lowered the speed of the world, and sped up the character. Jumping off the statue of Liberty whilst emptying the clip on the assault rifle before hitting the ground and breaking both legs was never so satisfying.
posted by LD Feral at 6:40 AM on June 17, 2010


I loved Deus Ex. Every once in awhile, it will go on sale via Steam and I'll come so close to buying it, just to play through one more time.

I try to explain my admiration to other people and it ends up sounding like my love for old school Doctor Who. Yes, the graphics (special effects) are dated, but the story is just so damned good!

My only complaint about the original game: I never had enough tranq darts.
posted by grabbingsand at 7:42 AM on June 17, 2010


Every once in awhile, it will go on sale via Steam and I'll come so close to buying it, just to play through one more time.

I don't think I lasted past the first sale, yeah. I can't help but replay it ever couple of years, and I'm in that line of folks wishing that anything else quite like it would come along, because it keeps getting older and more familiar every playthrough and I'm running out of surprises. I hope this new thing is at least decent.

I've got a copy of Deus Ex 2 sitting around that one of these days I'll play through. My expectations couldn't be lower, but I still want to know.

And Arcanum! Oh for a second Arcanum, with actual goddam debugging as part of the design and release process. I loved every bit of that game except for actually trying to play it.
posted by cortex at 8:47 AM on June 17, 2010


I am still of the opinion that Morrowind is the highpoint of computer RPG's

I'm with you. When I played it on xbox I thought "Wow, games are really going to explode now that we have this highpoint to look up to." What I failed to realize was that Morrowind was a crappy way to get you to buy the DLC in a couple months. Because you're still playing it.

And yeah, Deus Ex was amazing and one of the best written games of all time, but the AI was miserable. Way too easy to exploit.
posted by lumpenprole at 9:30 AM on June 17, 2010


Ooh, Arcanum. I bought a dodgy copy somewhere in Asia when it came out, and got home much later to find it worked not at all. Have never played it and always wanted to.

DE and Max Payne are both worthy games to pick up and play (again) anytime. I'm still not sure if Max Payne 2 is actually alright or it just seemed that way after I ratcheted down my expectations to basement level after DE 2.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 9:40 AM on June 17, 2010


My expectations couldn't be lower, but I still want to know.

I played through Deus Ex 2 a few years ago and I didn't think it was quite as bad as everyone had made it out to be. I mean, yeah, definitely go into it with lowered expectations -- maybe that's why I didn't find it all that objectionable. It's been a while and I don't recall much but I remember being initially frustrated with the controls and mechanics and it took a while to start getting to where I was enjoying getting into the plot and atmosphere as opposed to just doing things that I'm told to do to get to the next level. And towards the end it seemed like they were overly fetishising some of the elements from the original and things got clunky and rote again. But the mid-game had some enjoyable parts and I remember not being entirely unsatisfied.
posted by Rhomboid at 9:59 AM on June 17, 2010


No, no. Deus Ex 2 I loathe.

What I don't remember is how good Max Payne 2 is. My impression is "not bad", but that may have been influenced by the shitty impression DE2 left on me, as I was fearing more of the same.

Glad you found some good in DE2. I couldn't make myself get through very much of it.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 10:18 AM on June 17, 2010


Is the PS2 version of DE worth playing, or is it something that must be experienced on PC?

The mechanics transfer fairly well, but there's a lot of loading. Bring a book.
posted by Iridic at 11:10 AM on June 17, 2010


You haven't seen loading until you've played X-Com on the playstation. Woof.
posted by cortex at 11:19 AM on June 17, 2010


This may sound perverse, but I prefer the tactile experience of targetting by analogue stick to the cheaply instant gratification of mouse aiming.

Very perverse, but it sorta makes sense, especially for a game like Deus Ex.

What I wish is that someone would come up with a compromise control method. Targeting with a joystick is much harder than aiming a gun in real life, but whipping a mouse cursor around effortlessly is much easier than aiming a gun in real life. It's great as a game mechanic in something fast and cartoonish like Quake or UT, but it would be cool to have more restricted movement for more realistic shooters, but not quite as vertically crippled as console controls.
posted by straight at 11:21 AM on June 17, 2010


This may sound perverse, but I prefer the tactile experience of targetting by analogue stick to the cheaply instant gratification of mouse aiming.

I respect your personal philosophy on it and am glad you get something meaningful and satisfying out of the process. For my part I think an console analog stick is a shitty device for FPSes, full stop, and wish that mouse-and-keyboard was supported natively in console games.

I've sort of made my peace with console FPSes over the last few years, in part by restricting myself mostly to non-twitch, non-deathmatch shooters, but its a grudging peace at best and I find some games just utterly unplayable even still. Personal preference, I know there are many many people who prefer, and kick ass with, console controllers. But I made a lifebond with the mouse and keyboard somewhere around Quake and don't think I'll ever be able to break that.

What I wish is that someone would come up with a compromise control method. Targeting with a joystick is much harder than aiming a gun in real life, but whipping a mouse cursor around effortlessly is much easier than aiming a gun in real life.

True. I'd like to imagine there's something better than a mouse waiting around the corner, but in the mean time I'd prefer games to deal with it in terms of smart design—let me express my intentions neatly and quickly with the mouse, and find some way to make laser-robot aiming less possible in software terms using something diagetic that doesn't feel like a cheat or bad coding.

Managing accuracy as a function of movement seems like the best current method: whipping around like a ninja means blowing out the per-bullet accuracy of your otherwise-neatly-targeted fire until such time as you check your movement and aim.

I wish VR would hurry up and turn into a viable popular gaming paradigm. Let me point a plastic gun at the bad guys with three degrees of freedom. I am willing to wear silly goggles and stand on a mat in my living room to accomplish this.
posted by cortex at 11:40 AM on June 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


I am willing to wear silly goggles and stand on a mat in my living room to accomplish this.

Seconded.
posted by lholladay at 11:42 AM on June 17, 2010



Play Armed Assault II. They simulate the heft of a weapon by giving the targeting reticule momentum. I turned off, because it's annoying as hell.

Operation Flashpoint, Armed Assault I and ARMA II are from the same company. Like Deus Ex, they are open ended sandbox shooters, although they are not as RPG as Deus Ex is. Still, the campaigns/missions are very interesting especially Cold War Crisis from Operation Flashpoint.

Like Deus Ex, the games are supported by a massive community of modders and tweakers which greatly extends the game's value.

One of the things I've long wished for is more of an effort to revamp older games to run on new hardware. Not sequels - Just update the graphics, input, and maybe the AI - but don't fuck with the content. Hell, I'd buy a new Deus Ex every year if they did that.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 11:44 AM on June 17, 2010


I would happily pay $5 for the Black Mesa mod over Steam, when it's done. Of course, it'll be free.

Hmm... maybe I should find a way to throw them $5 to help get it done...
posted by Artw at 11:58 AM on June 17, 2010


For people who like the choice bits of Deus Ex, I recommend Alpha Protocol. The combat and central plot aren't as cool, but it does a really good job of letting you do whatever the heck you want within a spy conspiracy setting. You can make some pretty dramatic choices that change the outcome of the game, and it does a great job of responding to most of the asshole things a player could do. It's also got a decent RPG system for levelling up your stealth vs. shooting abilities. I recommend melee or assault rifles.

Here is a spoilery but out of context youtube video that illustrates the "worst case" of choices and conversation options you can take. Everything the characters refer to is something you made an actual choice about, and my playthrough was dramatically different than this one.
posted by JZig at 2:39 PM on June 17, 2010


For my part I think an console analog stick is a shitty device for FPSes, full stop, and wish that mouse-and-keyboard was supported natively in console games.

I was the same, and I was mega-excited a few years back when there was a rumour floating around that Microsoft was going to bring out a keyboard and mouse for the 360, but then they didn't and the other day I finally got around to installing Thief 3 on my crappy old laptop and the feel of keyboard-and-mouse controls just made me grimace.
posted by turgid dahlia at 3:16 PM on June 17, 2010


Okay. I reinstalled and played up through arrival at Hong Kong. This game really does not stop being fun.
posted by lholladay at 8:19 AM on June 18, 2010


If anyone wants to do the same, I recommend these:

Official Patch
HDTP
New Vision
posted by lholladay at 8:21 AM on June 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


Which ending did you choose? (Helios the first time, as it seemed like the least worst option)
posted by Electric Dragon at 8:35 AM on June 18, 2010


For people who like the choice bits of Deus Ex, I recommend Alpha Protocol.

I'd shy away from this game for awhile. It's a few patches of bug fixes away from being a good experience. I do think there's a good game in there, but it's incredibly frustrating as well, right now.
posted by mek at 11:03 PM on June 18, 2010


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