Kaelin Consulting

Mark W. Kaelin

I have over 25 years of experience in the electronic publishing industry. I was an editor for CBS Interactive for eleven years, where I was responsible for acquiring, editing, and writing technical content for daily publication on CBS Interactive properties TechRepublic.com and ZDNet.com. My duties included the recruitment and development of contributing talent. Prior to CBS Interactive, I was an editor with ProQuest for 12 years, where I developed, designed, edited, and maintained an array of university and business school supplemental curricula products. Before ProQuest, I was a public accountant for five years, specializing in tax preparation and in compilation and review engagements. In addition, I have performed independent consulting services over the last 30 years for various business clients.

Deus Ex: A foreshadowing of our gaming future

Originally published in September 2000.

Name: Deus Ex
Genre: First Person Action/Role Playing
Developer: Ion Storm
Publisher: Eidos Interactive, Inc.
Multiplayer: No
Requires: 300 MHz Pentium II (Pentium III recommended), 64 MB RAM (128 MB recommended), Windows 95/98, DirectX 7.0a with compliant video card (3D accelerator recommended) and sound card, 150 MB uncompressed hard drive space.
Retail Price: $39.95
Street Price: $29.95

"If the evidence doesn't seem to fit a particular conspiracy theory, just create a bigger conspiracy theory.” - Robert D. Hicks, In Pursuit of Satan

Deus Ex – pronounced De-S-Eks

Every once in a long while, a computer game hits the store shelves that transcends what up to that point had been the established industry standard to set a new level of accomplishment in computer gaming. Deus Ex, developed by Ion Storm and its resident computer game legend, Warren Spector, is the latest ambitious title that breaks those rules and sets that new standard. Combining elements from adventure, role-playing and first-person games, the plot and level of interaction in Deus Ex foreshadows the future of computer gaming.

Trust No One

The story in the game is long and complex, mixing and matching some of the worst and some of the best conspiracy theories currently prominent in modern folklore. The military-industrial complex using extraterrestrial technology, rich and powerful men hiding in shadows using ordinary people as their lab rats for biological weapons, and even old legends about Templar Knights are part of the twists and turns that serve as the Deus Ex plot.

Arriving in the middle of this swirling mass of popular evil conspiracies is your character, JC Denton. Fortunately, JC is the very latest example of man-machine evolution. He is augmented with nanotechnology that makes him stronger, faster, better than the average man on the street. JC is an agent for the United Nations Anti-Terrorist Coalition (UNATCO), an organization commissioned by the UN to combat the fringe terrorist elements of society.

Of course that only scratches the surface of the real story. JC realizes that appearances can be deceiving and soon begins to question who he is and what he is doing. This where Deus Ex really shines, because from that point on JC has to make some tough choices concerning whom to trust and more importantly, whom not to trust. Each and every choice has a ripple effect on the rest of the plot, leading JC in several directions and complicating matters almost beyond his control.

Besides JC, there is a multitude of characters inhabiting the tension-filled universe of Deus Ex. JC’s interaction with these other characters is where the adventure and role-playing elements of the game take place. By issuing quests, this interaction will determine the skills JC can acquire when they are completed. The character conversations also yield valuable information and clues that will advance the story.

The user interface for Deus Ex is your prototypical first-person-shooter (FPS) interface. Environmental manipulation, character interaction, weapons choices, and inventory management are all handled with the usual efficiency of the FPS format. The additional role-playing and adventure game elements usually take place during cut scenes. However, the Unreal game engine allows the “cut scenes” to actually take place within the game as semi-scripted events. It is difficult to explain, but it is very effective at maintaining plot tension because the player is never really out of the game watching a movie.

Deus Ex is a very slickly produced computer game. The various environments are detailed and the level of interactivity within the environment is truly amazing. Little atmospheric touches like flocking pigeons, strutting stray cats, harbor sounds when near the harbor, and jet sounds near the airport, help flesh-out a realistic game environment. The environmental textures are well detailed, especially at higher video resolution, and the character animation while a little stiff is serviceable. While the music and the sound are well-produced, they never jump to the forefront of the action. Some more enlivened weapons sounds, however, would be welcome.

Documentation is typical for the modern FPS. That is to say, it is sparse. The 20-page manual merely gives a taste of the knowledge required to successfully complete the game. The rest is learned in the training levels that can be played before actually entering the game itself. The installation was smooth, although it was very extensive in terms of required hard drive file space.

Truth versus Ambition

All of the preceding praise is not to imply that Deus Ex is perfect. With such an ambitious title, problems are inevitable. Sometimes the artificial intelligence controlling the enemy characters during battle is extremely dumb. Bad guys will run around corners looking in the wrong direction making them easy to handle. Other times the AI is omnipotent. If one bad guy sees you, every bad guy on the entire level sees you no matter where they are or what they are doing. This dichotomy means that some of the game is too easy and some is too difficult. Unfortunately, you never know which, so you can expect to unceremoniously die often.

Election-year politics has again raised the issue of violence in entertainment, including video and computer games. The game industry has been accused of marketing games to inappropriate age groups. I believe the industry is doing this and that it needs to stop, but that doesn’t absolve parents from their responsibility. Deus Ex is rated Mature by the ESRB. That means the game is not for children. And even though you can play the game without killing anyone, it still contains violent and disturbing images.

Bottom Line

Deus Ex represents the next step in computer gaming interaction. It is an ambitious title that tries to expand beyond conventional genres and often succeeds. However, the scope and ambition of the title often overwhelms the capability of current technology, revealing glaring holes in design and logic. Yet, even with the flaws, the game is highly recommended. If you equate the level of sophistication of Deus Ex with the level of sophistication in Donkey Kong some 20 years ago, you can get a sense of what the future holds for computer gaming. Experiencing such a ground-breaking game is well worth the cost.