PC Zone issue 181 is out today - complete with the results of the Zone team exhaustingly compiling our 101 favourite PC games of all time - in which sci-fi RPG/shooter Deus Ex has come out on top.
Speaking exclusively to the mag, Warren Spector reveals here how the game was created, what is was actually like working for the now-defunct Ion Storm and his reaction on being number one...
"First, let me say what an honour it is to have been associated with the development of Deus Ex - to see it named the "best game ever" is pretty incredible. I'd be lying if I said I didn't have great expectations for the game when I started thinking about it, and the team really rallied around the idea of changing the way people thought about and played videogames. But actually to be honoured as the best game ever? Well, that's just amazing.
"Perhaps the most amazing thing was that the game got made at all. I first thought about a game like DX back in 1995, when I was still an Executive Producer at Origin, which was owned by EA. I was a huge believer in the "immersive simulation" game style, exemplified by games like Ultima Underworld, and I wanted to push the limits of that sort of game further. But I could never get the project off the ground at Origin or, later, at Looking Glass. (I think it was lack of interest at Origin/EA and it was mostly a lack of money at LG!) But then John Romero and Ion Storm came along and said, "Make the game of your dreams. No limits." It took me about two nanoseconds to say "Yes!"
"The development of the game was...interesting, to say the least. The end result was pretty solid, pretty coherent and, as I've said in the past, pretty much exactly the game I imagined when I first started thinking about it, even though ever single detail changed. But, man, the process of getting to the finish line was painful.
"Working for Ion Storm was a best of times/worst of times situation. The guys in Dallas were shouting "suck it down," to the world (both figuratively and literally) and their high profile allowed the Austin office, where DX was made, to fly under the radar of our funding/publishing partner, Eidos. But I'd be lying if I said we didn't suffer some psychic pain every time some magazine would publish all of our emails or some writer would talk about the marble inlaid floors, the ship parties for games that wouldn't ship for years or an ad would appear threatening to make someone someone's bitch. And, as great as it was working with Eidos most of the time back then, you don't want to know how many times I was pressured to "just make a shooter..."
"Down in Austin, we had a team of incredibly talented people, many of whom didn't get along at ALL. Talk about a dysfunctional family! We had programmers who wouldn't talk to designers, artists who wouldn't talk to programmers and a design team that split right down the middle on every topic - half of the designers wouldn't talk to the other half! It was incredible. And tense. But out of that tension came something really special. I'm not talking about the game - it's for others to say if the game is good, bad or indifferent. But what WAS special was the experience of working on it.
"Man, we had some talent at Ion Storm Austin. I wish I had time to talk about every person on the team but let's just look at the leads - Chris Norden (lead programmer/assistant director), Harvey Smith (lead designer), Jay Lee (lead artist) and Sheldon Pacotti (lead writer). Those guys all burned with passion to make something great, something unique, something that would show that games can be more than entertainment for kids or adolescent power fantasies run amok. They all wanted to make a game that might actually change things. Of course, they barely spoke to one another, which made our daily leads meetings a ton of fun for me as the team's den mother, but, whether they realized it or not, each of them brought something unique to the table, something we needed to make a great game.
"Chris brought a hard-nosed, often brutal sense of reality and an awareness of what could and couldn't be done. His ability to say "no" was critical to our success. And, frankly, half the time Chris said something was impossible he'd have that thing working 24 hours later, which was always cool and inspiring.
"Harvey brought a bluesky creativity, an analytical design sense and a commitment to our mission that inspired everyone on the design team. I set the direction, the high level goals and approved everything in the game, but Harvey was the guy in the trenches, guiding the day-to-day creation of the game systems and the game world that made DX a success. And he had the gumption to tell me when something I had come up with in a fever dream or something - notably a skill system and some elements of the overall story - just wouldn't work. And he always came up with better alternatives. Harvey saved me from myself over and over again, and always made the game better as a result.
"Jay Lee brought a "can do" attitude and a work ethic that was nothing short of awe-inspiring. He could do it all--concept art, texturing, modeling, animation, cinematics... you name it--and he often HAD to do it all. He set a standard for all of the artists to meet. And he never complained, about anything or anyone. On a dysfunctional team of hot-heads (and, yes, that includes me!) he was kind of the glue that kept everything from falling apart.
"Sheldon Pacotti brought both writing and programming skill to the table. Programmers who can write are rare; writers who can program are rarer. Sheldon was - and is - both. Given the story/plot/dialogue-driven play of Deus Ex, the game pretty much couldn't have been made without someone like Sheldon on board. But Sheldon brought something more than skill - he brought a breadth of knowledge and experience that extended way beyond the norm. There aren't many people who can talk about philosophy, nanotechnology, the politics of terrorism, the dangers of life in a machine age. Sheldon brought all those ideas to life and that, maybe more than anything else, set the game apart from all the kill-the-monster and save-the-world games out there.
"Much as I love those four guys, I almost hate to single out the leads. Just as people often make the mistake of ascribing game creation to a single individual (me, in the case of DX), it's a shame to undervalue the contributions of each and every team member. Clearly, there isn't time or space to talk about everyone - and talking about anyone would mean leaving someone else out. The idea of creating a game that allowed players to choose their own path through a compelling world, with believable, real-world problems, was powerful. Our need was to create something truly interactive, that got players "off the rails" drove us to solve all-but impossible problems. Working on Deus Ex was hard. It was gruelling. It was stressful. But, at the end of the day, none of us had a choice about it - we had to deliver the Game of the Year. Just making a good game, even one that sold incredibly well, wouldn't have been enough.
"It's incredibly gratifying to be recognised for your work. Winning more than 30 "best of" awards in 2001 was terrific. And hearing from players, as I still do, who've played the game five... ten... twenty times (or more) is, well, it's actually a little scary. But it's cool! Having other developers tell me that DX changed the way they think about their work, about the kinds of games they make - and seeing games come along that were openly inspired by Deus Ex, now that is a great, great feeling.
"But, honestly, all the accolades pale before the experience of being part of the team that made Deus Ex. So, thanks to PC Zone for recognizing Deus Ex as a great game. But my deepest thanks go to the team that made it possible."