SAN FRANCISCO—Cyberpunk RPG Deus Ex celebrates his 17e anniversary this year, and original game director Warren Spector took the opportunity to describe the development process of the classic game at this year’s Game Developers Conference. The quick chat was light on the nitty-gritty, but in addition to offering a unique take on the game’s original story, Spector explained how the game was nearly disrupted by work on a branded project for another “successful” game series.
Spector had just finished his work on Thief: The Dark Project at Looking Glass Studios Austin, and his parting from there was unceremonious: “Looking Glass ran out of money, let’s face it.” Spector described his financial situation as “begging” at the time, returning to a game idea he’d pitched years earlier on Origin and Electronic Arts called Problem (Gunner). That action-RPG concept is said to have starred an ex-CIA agent from the 1990s named Jake Shooter, who now worked as a “hard-boiled private detective.” It would probably have shared elements of Deus Ex—especially stealth and “play how you want” elements – which Spector had dreamed of post-Thief.
“I’ve blown the dust off” Problem solver) proposal and convinced a company I won’t name to let me make an RPG in a successful line of RTS that I won’t name,” Spector told the crowd. “I was about to sign the contract.”
Hearing this, Ion Storm founder John Romero called Spector and said, “Don’t sign that contract. Join Ion Storm and make the game of your dreams.”
Without confirming anything but that vague statement, game fans will have to connect their own dots to guess which real-time strategy game series is the Deus Ex the creator would have worked instead. The biggest RTS series at the time, in 1997, was: warcraft and Command and Conquerand it’s easy to guess which of those two series came closest to Spector’s Problem solver) proposal. (Plus, Spector’s EA-heavy Rolodex may have had more phone numbers for one of those franchises.)
The rest of Spector’s talk featured stories he’s told before (including one about his inspirational 1978 Dungeons and Dragons game featuring acclaimed cyberpunk sci-fi author Bruce Sterling) and a “what went right, what went wrong” breakdown of the game’s development stages. In particular, he regretted hiring two “chief designers” and admitted that he had to fire one of them to get the game finished. “It was sad, but it was the right thing to do,” Spector said.
In others never confirmed Deus Ex Details, Spector told the crowd that lead actor JC Denton’s initials actually stood for “Jesus Christ.” “But there’s more than that,” Spector warned the crowd. Those initials were not intended to compare the character to the biblical figure; instead, he often used “Jesus Christ, Ben” as an exclamation to a colleague. Using “JC” in the character’s name was actually an inside joke. (Spector also admitted that he had “no idea where the game’s source code is,” when asked if the code might ever be released to public use. “I can’t believe I said that while I was being taped. “)
Spector is currently Studio Director at Otherside Entertainment, overseeing the development of games such as System shock 3.