Deus Ex - The Story Behind Liberty Island

Liberty Island, the opening level of the original Deus Ex, is considered by some to be one of the most iconic video game levels of all time. And if you're interested in a detailed story of how this level was created, you should check out this PC Gamer article that features numerous quotes from Harvey Smith, one of Deus Ex's original designers and the current boss of Arkane Studios.

A few paragraphs to get you started:

Since its release in the summer of 1999, Deus Ex has become one of the most beloved games on PC. Set in a bleak cyberpunk future, Ion Storm’s ambitious first-person RPG, which was directed by Warren Spector, features deep systems, sprawling levels, emergent play, and a thrilling, conspiracy-laden plot. But one afternoon in Austin, Texas, where the game was developed, designer Harvey Smith and other members of the team were convinced that the game they’d been working on for years was destined for failure.

“We brought in Caroline Spector, Warren’s wife, and she was the first person outside of the team to play it,” says Smith. “She got off the boat at the dock and she picked up a box and threw it into the water. She got into the water and swam around. She tried to interact with a seagull. Then she tried to float on top of the crate.”

It’s worth noting that, in 1999, being able to manipulate physics objects like this in a realistic, simulated world was more of a novelty. And so this experimentation continued for 20 minutes as Harvey and the others watched over her shoulder, suddenly filled with dread. “We were gnashing our teeth,” remembers Smith. “We were like ‘God, we’ve fucking failed. She’s not even starting the mission! She’s just screwing around on the dock with all the stuff I put on there’.”

But then, suddenly, she turned to the anxious developers and told them in no uncertain terms that this was the most fun she’d ever had playing a game. “We were like ‘Holy shit! She enjoyed that?’. So we just doubled down on these quiet moments in the levels and the object physics. We already believed in these things ourselves, but it was very validating to hear it from someone else.”