3D: Did you ever have a hard time implementing the conversation
logic correctly? Were there times in which you'd find that the
conversation you just wrote didn't add up to what actually happened
(or could happen) in the game?
Oh, yes, players are an unpredictable bunch -- and so are AI-driven
NPCs. In the early stages, I often fudged a dramatic situation,
assuming that the player would be a good guy and try to rescue
who he was supposed to, but inevitably a bug would come back
saying "I killed Sandra, but then her Dad acted like JoJo did
it!" I often had to request special mission-scripting to set
flags in cases like this. Players have a ton of freedom in the
Deus Ex engine. They can kill NPCs who have important conversations
-- or scare them off to the other side of the map. It took quite
a while to work out all of the odd things that could happen,
like two NPCs talking to each other over a distance of a couple
hundred yards. In one mission, there's a raid on a crowded club.
I wrote tons of overheard and cinematic conversations to flesh
out the space but at first didn't create distinct "during the
raid" and "after the raid" conversations for all of the NPCs
-- a massive undertaking. This led to crazy conversations, where
a cop assures you that the mall area is safe just as his buddy
is getting blasted with a rocket, for instance. Austin and I
finally worked most of this out, after much revision. Mixing
story-rich areas with combat was a very difficult and dangerous
task -- but I think it leads to some of the more engaging experiences
in the game.
3D: A few days ago you released
a book over the Internet. Can you tell me a little bit about
this book; does it have anything to do with the Deus Ex?
I wrote the book in 1994-95, so it's not Deus Ex-related. It
does have a lot to do with the future of gaming, though. I'd
describe it as a "soft" science-fiction novel about the far-future
of computer technology and nanotech, a somewhat conceptual look
at how human beings might fare in a world where anything can
be digitized. The difference between Demiurge and other books
in a similar vein is that the novel focuses on copyright and
the meaning of a "copy" in a digital environment. "Content wants
to be free" is a popular rallying cry on the Internet; meanwhile,
the big corporations hire armies of lawyers to go after Napster,
the Warez sites, 2600 Magazine. We're seeing a wholesale war
against hackers this year, and I think it's only going to get
worse. In Demiurge, I start with the somewhat surreal premise
that a person can be copied. The same type of political struggle
over digital piracy is going on, and (I hope) it becomes more
personal and engaging because the contraband is people. Among
other subplots, a detective defects from the World Police, and
the authorities have to create an illegal "copy" to track down
the "original." The original has abandoned his wife and son,
and so the copy has to sift through the evidence of a life he
never lived and doesn't quite understand. This all sounds rather
kooky, but I think it makes for some interesting dramatic situations.
Unless I write like Al Gore, there should also be some laughs
3D: What do you think about the future of print? Will we still
have printed books and magazines 10 years from now, or will
we all be using those cool Star Trek style electronic pads?
In 10 years, yes. Probably in 30 years, too. Old fogies like
me and John Updike will still want to have our knowledge arranged
in dusty volumes around our homes. "The bulk of my own college
books are still with me, rarely consulted but always there,
reminders of moments, of stages, in a pilgrimage... Books preserve,
daintily, the redolence of their first reading -- this beach,
that apartment, that attack of croup, this flight to Indonesia"
(John Updike, NYT Op-Ed, June 18, 2000). But notice that all
of the eloquent arguments in favor of the paper book are founded
upon nostalgia. We heard the same impassioned arguments in favor
of typewriters 15 years ago. The old people may cling to their
tools -- and their funny-looking Izod shirts -- but I don't
expect my children to give a damn whether they can touch the
oft-thumbed pages of their father's antique copy of Gravity's
Rainbow. They'll want to look cool walking to class, not lug
around a bunch of junk in a backpack. In 50 years... paper books
may very well be a novelty item. No matter how intelligent or
articulate you are, you can't argue against economics. Writers
will want to distribute their work without paying loggers, paper
mills, printers, truckers, editors, cashiers; etc., and readers
will want search capability, storage capacity, cross-referencing.
It will happen. We're just waiting on a convergent device --
not dedicated "eBook reader" hardware -- but a general ePaper
device for browsing the Web, word processing, sending email,
and -- yes -- reading books.
3D: Finally, what's you favorite computer game of all time?
Impossible to answer, but I'd say the original Adventure cartridge
on the Atari systems of the early '80s remains one of my all-time
favorites. I'm still amazed at the replayability. By randomizing
the location of a few simple elements -- three colored dragons,
three colored keys, a sword, a bridge, a magnet; etc. -- the
game created an infinite variety of "adventure" stories and
dramatic situations. I'd really like to see a modern game go
small enough and deep enough to allow such an infinite variety
of player-created stories. Deus Ex makes great strides in giving
the player many ways to solve an objective; I'd like to see
that development carried on to the next level.
thanks go out to Sheldon Pacotti for taking the time to do this
interview with us!