In 2014 I spent six months researching two cancelled Deus Ex games that had been in production at Ion Storm Austin before it collapsed. Neither of the games were announced at the time, but with help from the Dolph Briscoe Archive at the University of Texas I was able to uncover design documents, concept art and more.
Both games were cancelled ahead of release and suffered from protracted, troubled development. The first attempt, called Deus Ex: Insurrection, was led by Art Min – a long time collaborator with Warren Spector. The second, called Deus Ex 3, was developed by Jordan Thomas, who later worked on Thief, BioShock and The Magic Circle. I spent a long time speaking to both Art and Jordan about their visions, the collapse of Ion Storm and the legacy of Deus Ex.
Each of the games would have been very different and Jordan’s in particular sounds especially exciting – an open world version of Deus Ex that would have been similar in structure to Crackdown. Sadly, it wasn’t to be and the studio was closed by Eidos before development began in earnest.
Here’s a quote from Jordan Thomas about the closure of the Ion Storm and his feelings about it almost a decade later.
“There’s a reason the place closed and it was chiefly hubris. There are many people who will tell you that the publisher f***ed us but, no. No. The method failed. Making a smaller, more intimate Deus Ex was on nobodies mind. Including mine.”
For the Unlimited Hyperbole Christmas Special I invited you to tell me what you’d change about the games industry – but there was one response I didn’t include. It asked me what I think of the way games journalists are paid and I promised just to reply to it later.
This is a topic that’s close to my heart, so prepare for the answer to be quite aggressive…
In 2014 I spent several months doing exclusive research on a collection of Warren Spector’s design documents and game pitches in the Dolph Briscoe Archive at the University of Texas. I found out about the archive after a series of conversations with Warren about game preservation and his history before Ion Storm, at Origin Studios.
“There were lots of game ideas that came out of my group at Origin,” offers Spector. “Arthurian Legends, Transland, PassTimes, Operator…They never went anywhere… [but] we were all coming up with ideas left and right.”
Unfortunately, because of the broad scope of this feature there were few people I could chase down for interviews. Only one pitch had a name on it and two decades have faded the details for all the Origin staff I could raise. I spoke to everyone from Creative Directors to Tech Support, but the fogginess was sadly pervasive – an important lesson on why we need to preserve this information quickly.
This piece took a long time to research and includes details and design documents for everything from a Sega Genesis port of System Shock to several cancelled educational games which Origin Studios was considering.
This Christmas I’ve bought Unlimited Hyperbole back for a special episode, during which I threw the microphone into the crowd and asked you, the listeners, to send in submissions telling me the answer to one question.
If you could change one thing about your involvement with games, what would it be?
I was astonished by the responses which came back and I’ve presented them all here as straightforwardly as I can, with as little droning and editing from me as possible. Settle in for a longer, rougher and more optimistic episode of Unlimited Hyperbole than ever before, with submissions from the following delightful people and a download mirror provided by Split Screen…
Last week Jason Dewey interviewed me for a new video series he’s doing called Press X to Speak. I talked about what I like about games, what I hate about them and what my biggest professional regrets are. This teaser clip features me talking about The Secret of Monkey Island and why I enjoy co-operative singleplayer more than just straight multiplayer. Watch it, do.
The way I play games has changed a lot over the last decade. Much of it is what you’d expect from a maturing – or aging – gamer. I don’t have as much free time now, for example, so I tend to prefer shorter games than I did before. Or ones which value my downtime as highly as I do, at any rate.
Generally speaking, these changes have been for the best. I play a wider variety of games now than I used to and I’ve become more selective about what I’ll sink my time in to. Gone are the days of completing every Tony Hawk challenge just to unlock all the skaters.
There’s one change I’m less keen on though; one which I have to fight against constantly. I call it sleepgaming and I think it’s a growing problem for many seasoned gamers.
This year I left games journalism behind to start a new career, but despite that I still write the occasional article. The latest was for Alan Williamson, who asked me to contribute to a special charity issue of his digital magazine, Five Out Of Ten.
Alan gave me total creative freedom, so I decided to write something really pretentious. For a change. It’s about my evolving attitude to games in both a personal and professional sense and the sacrifices that come from following your dreams too fully. It opens with the review event where I realised I wanted to leave full-time games journalism behind…
The longer we prattle on, the emptier the hyperbole becomes. Dishonored is great, but the more we speak the less certain I am we’ve got anything to say… I remember Braid for the ninetieth time in a hundred games: another title we loved before we understood.
It’s probably an article that’s very typical of me, but Five Out Of Ten is still worth picking up despite that. I play second fiddle to the likes of Dan Grilopoulos, Christian Donlan, Helen Lewis, Maddy Myers and Leigh Alexander, so there’s plenty of actually good stuff to read. And Alan wrote something too.
Five Out Of Ten is available on a Pay-What-You-Want basis and all the proceeds go to the Special Effect videogames charity, so do some good this Christmas and grab a copy now.
Steam Trading Cards. When Valve introduced them, my first reaction was to cringe. It seemed a crass new direction for the store and the notion of turning game-playing into a wider card grind was one I didn’t want anything to do with. I sold the first cards I got out of curiosity, made 20p, then quickly lost interest. This wasn’t for me.
Until earlier this week, when Teleglitch was reduced to £2.25. I’d had Teleglitch on my wishlist for a while, but I was also trying to save money and couldn’t justify any expense. So, I set myself the challenge of raising the money in a single day, just through Steam Trading Cards.
After all, everyone’s read about the man who swapped his way from a paperclip to a house. This goal didn’t seem anywhere near that grand…
In 2013 I spent several weeks researching the origins of the first Thief game, Thief: The Dark Project, for an article for RockPaperShotgun. This turned out to be the first in a series of investigative pieces I wrote for RPS and Eurogamer, focusing mainly on cancelled games in the Thief and Deus Ex series’.
This first article, Stealing History: Dark Camelot and Thief, investigates the two cancelled projects that preceded Thief: The Dark Project and which heavily shaped its final form. These are Better Red Than Undead, a cancelled Ken Levine game about Russians and zombies, and Dark Camelot, a steampunk reinterpretation of the Arthurian myth.
With help from Thief developer Randy Smith I exclusively uncovered unused levels, early trailers, concept art and plot information.
“The world was more modern than the traditional Arthurian elements. Steampunkish, but with no gunpowder,” says Marc. “I remember seeing sketches of Merlin with a top hat, and there was talk of Knights covered in corporate logos like NASCAR drivers… We didn’t want to be straight up orcs and elves; we wanted to build something unique and memorable. Something we could own.”
I spoke to a whole bunch of the original Looking Glass Studios team for this article and owe a lot of thanks to Randy Smith and Marc LeBlanc for their help.