Saturday, January 21, 2012

Deus Ex Training, Part 4: What The Hell Is Wrong With You People?

[This is part of a series of posts about the game Deus Ex.]
[The series began with this post.  The first post in this section is here.]

So far we've learned to open unlocked doors, unlock doors with keys, break crates, unlock doors with lockpicks, use keypads, and bypass keypads.  We just had all of our equipment confiscated so I wonder what could be next.  The sign on the wall says medical, we open the door and … oh my God! Someone's unconcious on the floor, what horrible thing happened here?

Lying in front of you is a brave cadet who volunteered to be rendered unconscious for this next training exercise. Highlight and search him to find the key to the medical room. Afterward, pick up his body and place it on the medical table so that one of my aides can revive him once the exercise is over.

Oh. Right. You knocked someone out for a training exercise. It makes perfect sense.

The point is to teach you that you can search bodies to get stuff, and to teach you that you can move bodies, which will be useful if you don't want guards to go into panic mode when they come across a comrade of theirs that you've knocked out or killed. Things will generally go better if they're not aware they should be in panic mode than if they're actively trying to find and kill you.

I think that a major missed opportunity in Deus Ex is that apart from right now, the game never considers the possibility that you might want to move a body for altruistic means. It is totally unprepared to deal with the fact that you might, for example, knock out someone who you were ordered to kill (which onlookers will mistake for you actually killing the person) and then take his body to safety so that when he wakes up he'll be free instead of dead (which the game totally ignores.)

For that matter, if you thought someone was worthy of interrogation you might consider capturing them and bringing them back to base.  Again, you can do that but the game won't pay attention.

It ignores the fact that you might want to move someone for any reason other than stopping people from noticing that there's a body there.

The biggest problem for me is that it really seems like this mechanic would be well suited for a resuce mission. When you're moving a body you can't do much of anything else and you cant move all that fast, so the temptation would always be there to ditch the person and fight/run/whatever, but if you did that you'd be ditching the person, and potentially leaving them in danger.

I like that one of the first things TNM did was to give you the option of accepting a mission to rescue and unconscious person. It seemed like a logical use for this game mechanic.

Looking in while you ponder all this is a male scientist, possibly the one who was with the female scientist, possibly a different one. It's impossible to tell because background characters are forced to share appearances. There is more than one male scientist appearance, we've seen two already, but I'm not sure how many there are and it is definitely true that when dealing with background characters just because they look the same doesn't mean they are the same.

Anyway, let's put the volunteer on the table.

Good work. I'll get someone down there immediately to revive Private Winslow. Move on to the next area.

While you're at it, perhaps you could explain why he needed to be knocked out in the first place instead of using a dummy or something.

The next room is dark, but fortunately you have a light augmentation.  Light shines right out of your retina through the lens of your eye onto the stuff in front of you creating flashlight. The plan was for enemies to be able to react to this (because shining a flashlight around is a good way to get noticed and a bad way to remain unnoitced) but that was never implemented.

The room also introduces you to the concept of a light switch. Amazing, I know. Once you're out of there you meet your first repair bot:

You're not a mech, but you're enough of a machine to need repair bots now and then. If you used up some bioelectric energy getting through the dark area, for example, this contraption can charge you back up.

Repair bots are like little power sources. If you actually were a mech perhaps they could repair a broken augmentation, like say if your arm had been damaged, but for the purposes of Deus Ex they can give you a charge, after which they shut down to recharge themselves, and after that they can give you another charge.

This one is sitting in place, but they can actually move around. Unless I'm forgetting something you will never see one repairing anything.

After that you've completed phase one of training, you're introduced to cameras and warned that terrorists use security cameras too so watch out, hidden in the room with the first camera is some ammunition which appears to serve no purpose because there isn't a gun in this entire level.  (At least I don't think there is.)  You get to do some jumping and crouching then come into a room where... well let's let Jamie explain:

You need to go through the door up ahead, but it's blocked. Those wooden crates are too big to jump and too heavy to lift, so use the metal crates near the wall to build steps. [snip game mechanics]

Uh, Jamie, those aren't wooden. They're metal. All of the crates in the room are metal. Some of them are actual metal crate objects and other are crate shaped game geometry with metal crate textures slapped on the outside, but they're all metal. You know what's not metal? Wood. Wooden crates are not metal. Metal crates are not wooden. Moving on.

Next we meet a ladder, also there's a candy bar hidden in a pipe.


An obvious reference to Soylent Green if ever there was one. Soylent Green is loosely based on the 1966 novel Make Room! Make Room! If you want to know how loosely, the whole “It's people,” thing from Soylent Green referenced in Deus Ex does not appear in the novel. Both are about a world struggling under the weight of overpopulation, though, and are thus wholly unlike the depopulated world of Deus Ex. As I said before, just because something is a reference doesn't mean that we should assume things are the same.

Then we come to the thing I was talking about when I said training is here so you don't forget to left click:

We get some complaints about this swimming obstacle because the water's contaminated. Recruits forget to grab the HazMat suit and end up in my office. Not pretty. Or they forget that they have to put the suit on by selecting it and pressing the left mouse button. Remember that the HazMat is disposable; you can wear it only once, and it operates only for a fixed duration. Use the ramp on the other side of the pool to climb out.

No. You get complaints about the swimming obstacle because even with the hazmat suit you get injured and what the fucking fuck? What possible purpose does this serve, Jamie? You're a doctor you bastard. Do No Harm. Why do you need to see if I can swim in a straight line in a hazmat suit anyway? And even if that is vitally important the water doesn't actually need to be contaminated. You could just say, “Pretend the water is contaminated," and I'd play along. Seriously, what's next? Having me defuse real bombs and get real bullets fired at me?

Wait! Forget I said that. Never mind. Do not take notes. Please, just pretend I never said anything.

Anyway, what is the real purpose of this? Is it just so you can watch me get hurt? It is, isn't it? That's why there are two windows in this room. The head of UNATCO, Joseph Manderley, is watching me through one of them while his secretary Janice Reed paces, you watch me through another window, and a female scientist looks at a monitor. You probably all have popcorn.

In fact, the the reason for it is probably to force the player to use the medical bot at the far end of the obstacle.  These can do for health what the repair bots do for energy. They can also install nano augmentations.

Before I used the medical bot I ate the candy bar. I healed two points of health. Does that make any sense? Does it matter?

It might be worth pointing out that Deus Ex has location specific damage, the locations are your right leg, your left leg, your right arm, your torso, your left arm, and your head. Each location has 100 points of health when healthy. If the torso or the head reach zero then you die.  If your arms and legs are damaged it's much harder to do things with them.  You can reach the point where you are no longer able to stand, for example.  (You will never lose the ability to crawl, otherwise there wouldn't be much point in the game going on.)

Moving on we meet another trooper, but I already told you everything he could possibly say. Past him we move into the next map. So I'll stop there for now.


1 comment:

  1. Putting my thoughts on all four parts together here.

    Observation rooms were of course used very well in Portal, though there the designers were careful to give them exits.

    Data + Interpretation = Information!

    I don't think there's an easy solution to the problem of training. An in-universe voice makes it sound as though the protagonist is an idiot who doesn't know how to use doors. An out-of-universe voice breaks immersion.

    As a roleplayer I don't have the option of a diverse design team, but when I'm running a game and working up an NPC I'll quite often roll randomly for sex if I don't already have a strong impression of the person.

    I'm glad you feel this way about treating bugs as bugs. I regard television in the same light: you can go to great lengths explaining why Doctor Who has a tattoo in one episode, or you can say "Jon Pertwee got it one night during WWII, and they didn't have the ability to cover it up in post-production".

    I'm told that Soylent Green was sold to the studio as a cannibalism movie. Well, sort of...