Developing Deus Ex: An Oral History

Gamasutra managed to corner some of the original Ion Storm team members - including project director Warren Spector, lead programmer and assistant director Chris Norden, composer Alexander Brandon, and lead writer Sheldon Pacotti - for a series-of-interviews-combined-into-one about their original FPS/RPG Deus Ex, the decisions that were made during its development, how it dictated each of their futures in the video game development industry, and more. There are two pages to read through, so I quoted a handful of interesting paragraphs below:

Spector: Okay, there were some frustrating arguments with people - not John!... with people who thought I should "just make a shooter." But I was able to fend them off and make the weird genre mash-up we ended up making.

Yeah, that game-of-your-dreams stuff was pretty good.

Norden: Warren had a bunch of awesome ideas, and we kind of put them together and they kind of formed the early framework for what Deus Ex became: this freedom-of-choice action-RPG with a lot of really awesome writing, which Sheldon did, and pretty cool tech at the time. Just cool open decisions, you know? Where you could do whatever you wanted, and approach problems in any way you wanted to.


Spector: I realized that the team structure I'd set up was fatally flawed. I brought in a team of what I thought of as "Ultima guys" - traditional RPG designers. And I brought in a team of what I thought of as "Looking Glass guys" - immersive simulation designers. I thought I could manage the tension between the two groups and end up with the best of both worlds.

Man, was I wrong. What I ended up with was kind of a war, where I had to call one team Team A and the other Team 1, because neither team would be "B" or "2!" I eventually had to merge the two teams under one lead designer - Harvey Smith - who kind of fell into the Looking Glass mold. It all worked out okay in the end, but it was pretty stressful for a while!

Brandon: I had lunch with Warren not too long ago, and he's the first to say, "Boy, yeah, did we fuck a lot of shit up at Ion." He puts himself in that mix. It's great to hear him say that, because I know I made a lot of mistakes, and learned an awful lot.

The lessons I learned there were how to communicate, and how to foster good team dynamics in an in-house situation. When you're working full time with somebody, you need to learn how to express yourself in a proper, honest, succinct way. For most people -- I don't care if you're in the game industry or not -- that's not easy. You're not trained how to do that in school, really. You have to learn it on the job, through practice and experience.

From what I can recall, there was no continuously updated design doc for Deus Ex. If there was, I never saw it and I didn't get access to it. As a matter of the fact, for the original Deus Ex, since I came in near the tail end, I was mainly asked to do audio tasks to help ship the game.