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Tuesday, July 06, 2004

THE SECOND LIFE OF HARVEY SMITH, PART II

... continued from yesterday.

On helping create the world of Deus Ex, and lending a hand on the latest Thief...

Hamlet Linden: Let's leap a few years to the first Deus Ex, when Warren Spector brought you in to be the lead designer. Talk about the biggest challenges you had on it, and what your evaluation of the final game is now, looking back it four years later.

Harvey Smith: Well, when Fireteam hit Beta, I decided to come to work on Deus Ex. Warren and I had been exchanging mission and game system documents-- several groups within the team had different visions for the game-- but I wanted to create some aspects of Underworld, in a modern environment.

We learned a lot; it was challenging. In retrospect, many parts of the game were too sloppy to even ship, but the whole of all the parts surprised people, and had an impact, which is cool.

HL: Moving over to Deus Ex: Invisible War, when you took over as project director, tell us about the main challenges you faced, in its creation.

HS: Well, you make mistakes on every project. We made one huge mistake that I regret. All the others were trivial.

HS (continued): We tried to create our own renderer and did not manage the process very well-- as a result, we ended up with an interesting renderer that didn't serve the game very well, which required making a game that felt different.

Also, we could have used a few more months.

Deus Ex got to the end, needed polish BADLY and we just blew out the [deadline] date, spending five more months or so on polish. We didn't end up having that time for the second game, sadly. It was mostly our fault, for being too ambitious technologically. But I still really like the game, and parts of the team really came together.

HL: Why were you not able to move the ship date back?

HS: Just because of the sheer expense. When you let things get away from you, from a schedule point of view, you end up with a huge cost. Anyway, like I said, I really like the game, especially on Xbox, but it needed more polish and would have been served better by [another] renderer.

Right now, I am playing City of Heroes, which I love, and I think very highly of their [graphics] engine. It doesn't change the graphics world. But it does just what the game needs to be amazing.

HL: Was the trouble with the renderer what led to the small segmented levels [in Deus Ex: Invisible War]?

HS: Yes. That led to smaller maps. We really had to pare things down due to the normal mapping, volumetric shadows engine, "space dungeon" engine. Like I said, our fault.

HL: So you ended up with smaller areas that are vivid and beautiful, it's just you have to be taken out of them to reload the next segment.

HS: Yeah. My favorite part of DX2 is Antarctica. Our homage to The Thing.

HL: As you know, I'm also a huge fan of the Thief series, so we gotta talk about the latest game; tell me what kind of design work you did on it.

HS: Well, I was always around. and I love members of the team, but it wasn't my project at all. I came in at the end, at [project director] Randy [Smith]'s request, to work on "movement". At the time, movement was bad. All the mantling, jumping, running, ladder climbing, third-person [view], first-person [view], etc.

So, with Mike McShaffry, Sergio Rosas, Randy Smith, Warren and everyone else pitching in, we formed a small strike team to fix movement. it got radically better, which helped Jordan Thomas (lead designer) and the rest of the team started polishing the game and maps up for [product] ship. Sergio Rosas, the art director, has been a friend for almost a decade. He's very, very talented.

HL: Yeah, it's a great game. Seems like they were able to use the same renderer to make bigger maps, by then.

HS: They had time for some optimizations, and their world allowed for smarter use of the objects.

HL: Seems like that's a key case where the technology was hampering the design, in the beginning at least.

HS: Yeah. We just mucked up the tech management. It didn't have to be a hamper. Deus Ex was done with three programmers and [the] Unreal [engine] . Deus Ex: Invisible War had an army of programmers.

I am a big fan of middleware.

Tomorrow: Thoughts on the big picture...

Posted at 03:49 PM | Permalink

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