List Ex Machina: 5 Things I Wager You Never Knew About Deus Ex

I spent all weekend drinking and playing games with friends, then I ran eight miles. When I got home, I immediately drank two cans of grape soda and started reinstalling Deus Ex on my laptop. I don’t know what it is about sustained debauchery that causes me to regress back to 2001, but after demolishing Liberty Island (ALWAYS GO GEP GUN) and Battery Park I’m finding this dystopian blast from my PC gaming past a pleasant place to sit a spell, kick up my aching feet and lose myself for a moment in the familiar sights and sounds of childhood.

There’s nothing I can tell you about the actual plot of Deus Ex that will surprise you, but I thought it might be fun (and hangover-friendly) to dig through the old developer diaries and bring back a few choice nuggets of goofy trivia to tide us over until Human Revolution is published this summer. For example, did you know there was a Deus Ex stage play that was to be performed in 2002, but the German theater troupe who was to perform it lost the rights to do so just weeks before opening night? How about the hidden rave at the end of the game? No? Then how about…

1. The Liberty Island Skyline Foretold the Future

Seriously, start up the first level and check it out; the New York City skyline in Deus Ex shows no signs of the World Trade Center’s iconic twin towers, despite being part of a PC game published during the summer of 2000. The art files that included the famous structure were removed from the final game due to memory constraints, and the remaining skyline art was simply mirrored across the level to create a creepily accurate facsimile of what a dystopian future NYC might look like.

Okay, that was an easy one but I had to be sure you’d played past the first level. Let’s dig a little deeper, shall we?

2. JC Denton Is Bisexual

Actual character concept art.

Most of us clever types peg JC as a cheap allegory of Jesus Christ, pat ourselves on the back and call it a day; the truth is the folks at Eidos kept the name of our protagonist as gender-neutral as possible to permit the player to choose their own gender. Ultimately the plan proved too grandiose for the programmers at Eidos to implement in time for publication, so gender-swapping (as well as a ton of other awesome ideas, including a text-parsing AI and a trip to the Moon) got cut from the final game.

3. Mechs Are Second-Class Citizens

Seriously, they have their own bathrooms and drinking fountains and everything. Every time you run into a mechanically-augmented agent in Deus Ex their hardware is portrayed in a terribly menacing manner, but digging through the environmental dialogue scripts and the developer bible reveals the life of a ‘mech is pretty rough:

Mechanically augmented humans have their own airport security systems and have to register with government authorities. They are second-class citizens, looked down upon even by the non-augmented poor. There’s no way a mechanically augmented human can pass for normal for very long. They’re not allowed in certain locations and have separate facilities, ostensibly tailored to their unique needs but really as a way of controlling them.

– Deus Ex Developer Bible

Maybe now you don’t feel so great about triggering the miniature explosives buried inside Anna and Gunther’s skulls, huh? Given that we’ll be playing Human Revolution as one of the first mechanically augmented humans in the world, I’m cautiously excited about how the developers could use this fictional universe to play around with the nature of being human and how the color of your skin/armor/arm-mounted machine gun affect the actions of those around you.

That’s probably weird.

4. A Digital Tombstone Marks The Passing Of A Real Fan

I forgot to take a screenshot of the tombstone, so here's a spooky mausoleum. Zoinks!

Remember that time you slunk through that cemetery with the weird groundskeeper and battled a bunch of G-Men in the Dowd family mausoleum? Well, one of those innocuous tombstones you ducked behind in the Baltimore Cemetery stage memorializes Lord Brinne, a known alias of deceased RPG superfan Bill Iburg. Iburg evidently had a reputation for enthusiastic and thoughtful discourse on many popular RPG fora in the ’90s hosted by now-defunct services like Angelfire and GeoCities, and after his untimely death multiple memento mori cropped up in popular contemporary CRPG titles like Ultima IX, Morrowind and Deus Ex in memoriam.

I often think that contemporary indie game development is spiritually similar to PC game development in the late ’90s, before financial insolvency forced most PC development studios to close up shop. The communal sense of sharing feels very similar; I can’t imagine anyone at Epic Games would consider paying tribute to a particularly loyal fan, but I can see the guys at Mojang moulding a brick in his honor.

5. The Internet Is Self-Aware

I forgot to grab a screenshot of this too, so here's some more totally rad concept art.

How many AI play a part in Deus Ex? Beating the game will leave you well-acquainted with Icarus, Daedalus and Helios, but there are two others you might have missed; Morpheus haunts the basement of Morgan Everett’s manse (you can get Denton to chew scenery like a champ by engaging the AI in an overwrought pseudo-philosophical game of Twenty Questions) while the fifth and final AI is The Oracle, an enigmatic intelligence that spontaneously coagulated from the drek of the Internet.

In my latest playthrough I came across an anomalous email on Smuggler’s computer from “rosycross” that mentioned an Oracle, so I goosed Google in the right direction and found a list of Rosicrucian conspiracy theories that led me to The Nameless Mod, an unabashedly hardcore fan project that includes a smorgasbord of DX lore. I dug around for any mention of the “rosycross” emails, and here’s what I found:

“These emails were sent by the Internet Oracle. The Oracle is an AI that pretends to be a society of people exchanging information based on the old Usenet Oracle, but serious rather than funny. The Oracle was not made by people, and thus does not have a purpose assigned to it; its only goal is information and understanding. The Oracle was created when the Internet itself, or some subset of it, became aware of its own existence. While the way people use it is the same as the way the Usenet Oracle worked – submit a question and get an answer in exchange for answering questions yourself – there is an important difference. Instead of the Oracle priesthood sifting through the questions and answers looking for the most humourous of both, you now have an AI doing the sifting, trying to sort out the truth. The Oracle’s origins are rather peculiar. They say if you have an infinite amount of monkeys at an infinite amount of typewriters, one will eventually bang out Hamlet. Apparently, if you have a bunch of idiots at a bunch of computers, one will inadvertently create an AI.”

– Chris the Cynic, NPC, The Nameless Mod

There are conspiracy theorists who are convinced that the developers of Deus Ex wrote dialogue for a self-aware Internet and nobody noticed.

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