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"Did you ever have a hard time implementing the conversation logic correctly?"

Speedy 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?

SP: 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.

Speedy 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?

SP: 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 involved.

Speedy 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?

SP: 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.

Speedy 3D: Finally, what's you favorite computer game of all time?

SP: 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.

Special thanks go out to Sheldon Pacotti for taking the time to do this interview with us!

by Ryan Wissman

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