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Deus Ex: Invisible War Preview

publisher: Eidos Interactive
developer: ION Storm
genre: Shooters

PIV 1300, 256MB RAM, 32MB Video Card, 2GB HD
ESRB rating: M

release date: Dec 02, 03
» All About Deus Ex: Invisible War on ActionTrip

ActionTrip was very fortunate to get a chance to chat with damn-nearly every important person working on Deus Ex: Invisible War at the moment. The original Deus Ex was highly acclaimed and is one of the most intelligently executed PC titles of all time. Naturally, the expectations are running very high for Deus Ex: Invisible War, and given the screenshots and information we've received, it looks as if those expectations will be realized. We talked with Lead Writer Sheldon Pacotti about the story, as he reveals some new information about the plot; we ask Harvey Smith-Project Director-to clarify a few points about the game that have been published on other sites. QA Test Lead Dane Caruthers talks about his experience with the game, and Chris Carollo, who is the Lead Programmer on the project talks about the AI system (and touches on the AI in relation to Thief III), and the physics of the sound system. In addition, Associate Producer Tara Thomas and Producer Bill Money, uncover new details about the specific choices that will be available to the players, and the heavily modified next-generation Unreal Engine technology that will power the game's impressive visuals.

Surely, you will agree that this is more DX: Invisible War info than you can shake a dead cat at, so without further ado, we would like to thank the Deus Ex team (and EIDOS PR Kjell Vistad - Ed) for their time and leave you now to read their answers and marvel at the new shots from the game:

Action Trip: We know that the story takes place around 2070, and that it involves shadowy organizations and terrorists. We also know that it's not nearly as simplistic as that, so give us your account of the basic plot.

Sheldon Pacotti, Lead Writer: In Deus Ex: Invisible War we've tried to take the next step in nonlinearity. We've tried to reduce the number of choke-points, an example being the place in Deus Ex where the player must turn against UNATCO, whether he wants to or not. From the very beginning of the game, organizations are vying for the player's loyalty, and this dynamic manifests itself both as (1) parallel paths through a mission and (2) decision-points where the player must show his loyalty to one and only one organization. So we're moving toward decision-points instead of choke-points, and we're allowing players to miss some things, if they choose. What this means for the conspiracy story is that a given faction often sends the player to discover the secrets of its enemies, while keeping its own secrets well-hidden. The player's mission-objectives lead directly to a greater understanding of the 2070's geopolitical situation, which becomes directly relevant during the game's decision-points. Without going into specifics, Deus Ex: Invisible War's plot begins with what you might call a 2-space story, where two factions vie for the player's loyalty, moves toward a 3-space decision-point during the second-to-last mission, and ultimately widens to include four possible endgames. We've sacrificed some in-your-face storytelling in order to grant the player the freedom to make these decisions as he sees fit. It will be interesting to see how players react.

AT: How does the story in the sequel relate to the one in the original, and how has the world of Deus Ex evolved since 2050?

Sheldon Pacotti: Well, twenty years have passed. The political situation is much less stable than it was in Deus Ex. Instead of countries, antagonistic organizations permeate every city -- a global trade syndicate, a unified world church, an omnipresent black-market monopolized by a race of cyborgs, a neo-Luddite secret society that wants to destroy all body-modification technology, a cabal of utopian thinkers bent on transforming society; etc.... groups not unlike the "clades" in Diamond Age by Neil Stevenson. As the player navigates this fractious landscape, he develops his own loyalties while uncovering the secret loyalties of others. Since many of the personalities on the world stage are characters from the first game, such as Chad Dumier, leader of a retooled World Trade Organization, the player also becomes aware that the world of the 2070s has grown out of decades-old rivalries -- and isn't at all what it seems on the surface...

AT: How do you feel about dealing with the issue of terrorism in the game? In light of what has happened in the past couple of years, have you had to modify your story a bit to make it, erm, less current?

Harvey Smith, Project Director: No. We're all about being "more relevant," not less. We don't consider it bad to invite people to think about complex issues. It's what the game is all about, for the players who want that.

AT: From what we could gather on the interface, you guys have made it a lot more intuitive for the players. You said you're merging the skill system with the bio-mods and getting rid of a classic inventory. Now you realize of course that this kind of approach is probably more difficult to carry out than it would be to simply stick with the traditions. Not to mention that you might alienate some classic RPG players who LIKE fiddling with many stats. Can you give us specific gameplay examples of how this new, more intuitive interface will work, and what are its specific advantages?

Harvey Smith, Project Director: Let us take those one at a time, since some aspects of the question are inaccurate.

We definitely want a powerful, intuitive interface. And we want it to look amazing. Jared Carr (DX2 artist) is going for a very high-tech ghostly retinal look. We think the interface works well as a PC and Xbox control scheme. Half of us are hardcore first-person RPG or shooter players, and we're all happy with it.

We're not ditching classic inventory, we're just improving it. Each item takes up one slot, so you don't have to play Tetris with all the odd-shaped objects. But you still have to make critical inventory decisions, because we provide a limited amount of inventory space. As I said, some of us are long-term, hardcore RPG fanatics.

The BioMod system is really cool. It includes the augmentations from Deus Ex, plus we've moved the skill-based powers over as well. So the "Computer" skill has become "Neural Interface." The player still has tough choices to make: Each body location can only hold one BioMod. And each BioMod has 3 discrete tiers of functionality. For instance, the player can implant the Spy Drone or Enhanced Vision BioMod into the eye slot. Let's say the player chooses Enhanced Vision. Level One is thermal nightvision. Level Two allows the player to see organic heat signatures through walls. Level Three allows the player to see thermal footprints left by organic units walking around. So, ultimately, the player has to make tradeoff decisions about which BioMods to choose and about which ones to upgrade. (I didn't even go into the Black Market BioMods, which allow an entirely different, and very creepy, set of powers to be implanted instead of the conventional set. For the eye slot, for instance, the Black Market BioMod is a Skull Gun.) As always, we want the player to be capable of building a character that suites his or her style. But we also want to force tough strategic decisions.

AT: It is said that, in the sequel, players will get to explore the game world even more so than in the original. Can you give us a few gameplay examples of this?

Dane Caruthers, QA Test Lead: One of the biggest draws about the original Deus Ex was the freedom that the player was given to find their own path through the game. Exploration played a large part of that, and the player was generally rewarded for exploring, either through resource rewards, background story info, or interesting interactions with NPCs. Often while exploring, the player would find a way through an area that the designers hadn't actually thought of. A good example of that in Deus Ex would be that after sending the NSF signal in NY, the fastest way to escape the angry troops inside the building was to turn on your speed augmentation, put on some armor, and simply jump off the roof and hope your legs didn't break. They're all in favor of this sort of approach, and it's part of the base philosophy of the studio. The descriptive phrase for this is 'emergent gameplay', which at a very low level means simply giving the player a variety of tools to work with and then seeing what they do with them in a reactive environment.

AT: How hard will it be for players to finish DX: Invisible War by shooting their way through the game? Is the stealthy approach so heavily favored that we simply won't be able to do it by completely disregarding stealth?

Tara Thomas, Associate Producer: We want the player to author his or her own experience. If he/she wants to play the game by killing everyone and everything, then that is their choice. On the other hand, if the player never wants to draw a weapon or confront an enemy, we allow for that as well. Having the player form a plan and then giving the player the ability to execute that plan are key to the Deus Ex experience.

AT: What are some of the new AI tricks used in DX: Invisible War that we haven't seen in any of the sneaker shooters that are currently on the market?

Chris Carollo, Lead Programmer: Most AI's are very digital in their perceptions of the world: You're either in their view cone or not. The AI for Deus Ex: Invisible War and Thief 3 is much more analog. Our AI's take into account darkness, distance, view cone, peripheral vision, visual acuity, and time (that is, how long they are looking at something before they "see" it). Also, they're constantly listening to sounds in the world, all of which take into account the actual level geometry. So sounds travel down hallways and through windows, giving the AIs appropriate directional cues. All of this comes together to form AIs that are regularly interacting with the player in the interesting gray area between being oblivious to and being fully aware of the player.

AT: Why do you think that 'outsmarting' a preset scenario is more fun than outsmarting the AI, or are you just saying that because of the limitations of today's AI code? (We're referring to one of Harvey's earlier statements that a dumb AI is more fun than a smart one.)

Harvey Smith, Project Director: I don't think that. Preset scenarios are less exciting to me than dynamic situations (often created by really good AI). The comment I made-which has been somewhat misunderstood-is that the goal of AI is not to be smart. The goal of AI is to provide an interesting foil for the player. This is something that many people in the development/game design community have been saying for years.

AT: What neat code tricks are you guys using to make the characters look so realistic?

Bill Money, Producer: We are using normal mapping to give the characters extra depth. Normal mapping allows our characters cloths to look crumpled and creased without adding extra polygons. Our real-time 3000 poly characters look closer to the 10,000 poly characters we generated a few years ago for print ads and posters. We also use specular and environment mapping to provide the final level of detail.

AT: The importance of lighting and shadows in this game... How is it an integral part of the gameplay?

Chris Carollo, Lead Programmer: Well, it obviously affects how visible you are to the AIs, and now that we're working with a unified dynamic lighting model, you can mould your environment to your advantage in ways that you previously couldn't. You'll still be able to turn off lights to be more stealthy, but you can also place objects in front of lights, or construct shadowed patches in places that are tactically advantageous to you.

AT: Tell us a bit more about the physics sound; why should gamers be excited about it, and what does it bring to the gameplay?

Chris Carollo, Lead Programmer: There are really two ways that physics sound improves the game, one abstract and one more concrete. The more abstract way is that it makes the objects in the world behave as you'd expect, so you don't have to suspend disbelief or re-learn how objects make sound. Coupled with our Havok-driven physics simulation, the world just feels more unified, realistic, and immersive. From the concrete perspective, it identically feeds into the AIs' perceptions of the world, so you can immediately understand how to distract or mislead the AIs using physics sound, whether it's by rolling a barrel down some stairs or throwing a tin can at a wall. Our sound propagation system, physics system, and physics sound system all work together to allow the player to consistently understand the environment.


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