Saturday, August 11, 2012

Deus Ex: Intro

[This is part of a series of posts about the game Deus Ex, which, for the record, I recommend buying.]
[The series began with this post.]

Once you've chosen a face, a real name, and a skillset for your character, the game can begin.  It begins with an intro set six months before the game.  For those who might wonder about such things, the intro is entirely skippable.

The camera starts at a spinning globe which is suspended in mid air beneath a giant black stone sculpture of a hand.

It pans down to Bob Page and Walton Simons having a discussion while a woman (Maggie Chow, yes I spoil everything) walks away from the camera.

Bob Page: Your appointment to FEMA should be finalized within the week.  I've already discussed the matter with the Senator. 

Deus Ex is built on a foundation of 1990s conspiracy theories.  The UN is a front organization for evil conspiracies who want to take over the world, our own government has been corrupted, and FEMA is in the business of preparing to take innocent people off to concentration camps.  Interestingly these conspiracy theories persist regardless of who is in office.  The people who believe them seem to want to believe them.

I leave it to someone else to figure out the psychology behind that, though I think Fred Clark may have a good start on it.  The important part here is that FEMA is bad.  It is one national state of emergency away from ending democracy and making us all into slaves.  Or something like that.  The conspiracy theory is still around today.

Anyway, back to the conversation Page just told Simons he'd soon be running this liberty crushing disaster relief agency, and he knows this because he's discussed the matter with the senator.

Walton Simons: I take it he was agreeable? 
Bob Page: He didn't really have a choice. 
Walton Simons: Has he been infected? 
Bob Page:  Oh, yes, most certainly. When I mentioned that we could put him on the priority list for the Ambrosia vaccine, he was so willing it was almost pathetic. 

And now you know that there's a plague, a plague to which Bob Page controls the vaccine.  You also know that Page seems to take a twisted joy in the power this gives over him.  Certainly blackmailing the senator was a means to an end, but it doesn't seem to be something he had any qualms about doing.  Bob Page isn't an ends justify the means villain because for him the means would appear to be fun.

Walton Simons: This plague -- the rioting is intensifying to the point where we may not be able to contain it.
Bob Page: Why contain it? Let it spill over into the schools and churches, let the bodies pile up in the streets. In the end, they'll beg  us to save them. 

A couple of things.  One is that they made the plague, and it might not be the only plague they made.  It's entirely possible that "this plague" is said in order to distinguish it from all those other plagues they've unleashed.

Second, Walton Simons is a hands on villain, Bob Page is an administrator.  Those are two rather different kinds of evil and as a result you'll never really get a chance to Bob's evil shine in the game itself, but in this intro you can see that while evil deeds done with his own hands might be lacking, he's definitely evil.

As Page is speaking the camera shows the dying and the dead in an overcrowded clinic.

Walton Simons: I've received reports of armed attacks on shipments. There's not enough vaccine to go around, and the underclasses are starting to get desperate. 
Bob Page: Of course they're desperate. They  can smell their death, and the  sound they'll make rattling their cage will serve as a warning to  the rest.
Walton Simons: Mmm. I hope you're not underestimating the problem. The others may not go as quietly as you think -- intelligence indicates they're behind the problems in Paris. 

Bob Page: A bunch of pretentious old men playing at running the world.  But the world left them behind long ago. We are the future. 

One of the things that we have to constantly be aware of is constraints, Simons can't say that they control the vaccine and the plague and if they wanted there would be enough vaccine to go around because the first time player isn't supposed to know that yet.

On one level all of this is just to serve as an exposition dump before you start playing.  Any inconsistencies in it can be dismissed as part of the constraints placed on such a dump.

On the other hand, I don't think it makes sense to dismiss it outright which means that when Walton Simons brings up things like the containability of the riots and the availability of the vaccine, we should probably take them as real concerns.  If it were up to him perhaps he'd have more vaccine around and use that to try to leverage the situation into one in which the rioting was containable.

But he doesn't argue the point, he moves on.  The others, he speaks of, are what remain of the Illuminati.  And while he speaks we see a french resistance group in a gunfight against MJ12 troops.  MJ12 being the group with which Page and Simons are associated.

Walton Simons: We have other problems. 
Bob Page: UNATCO? 

This is just weird in hindsight, unless Bob and Walton have been doing some serious work on their own without telling each other and this meeting is where they get together and Walton crituqe's Bob's handling of the vaccine situation while Bob goes, "What the hell was up with that UNATCO thing?"

The reason being that the UN is their puppet and UNATCO, a part of the UN, one of their tools.  Page shouldn't be thinking of UNATCO as a problem unless a lot of MJ12 work was done without notifying him.

I'll get to that in a moment.

Walton Simons: Formed by executive order after the terrorist strike on the Statue. I have someone in place, though. I'm more concerned about Savage -- he's relocated to Vandenberg. 

I'm going to skip over the question of, "In what world does Bob not know this," of course and move straight into foundations.

Almost nothing in Deus Ex was formed just once.  Note, for example, that it takes place in the US, France, and Hong Kong.  When were those places founded?  As someone from the US, I couldn't give you just one date.  Well, I could, but I'd be able to argue the case for other dates as well.

UNATCO was reformed by executive order.  The US finally joined UNATCO which it hadn't done before, a new charter was written, and a new headquarters was donated: Liberty Island.  In the shadow of the terrorist attack that brought down parts of the Statue.

It will turn out that UNATCO was responsible for the attack on the Statue, using it to become more than it once was, now rechartered and backed by US dollars.

That Page is unaware of this either implies taking a lot of narrative convince to get the exposition in, or a giant amount of autonomy on Simon's part.  (He would have had to carry out a terrorist attack and manipulate the political response all without Bob noticing.)

While UNATCO is being discussed the camera shows what is probably the ceremony at which UNATCO was rechartered.

Bob Page: Our biochem corpus is far in advance of theirs, as is our electronic sentience. And their...ethical inflexibility has allowed us to make progress in areas they refuse to consider. 

Ethical inflexibility is how you know Savage and his people, whoever they may be, are a hell of a lot more likely to be good guys than the people currently having a chat.  While this is said we see one of MJ12's secret labs.  And our first greasel.

After this the camera will return to Page and Simons.

Walton Simons: The augmentation project? 
Bob Page: Among other things -- but I must admit that I've been somewhat disappointed in the performance of the primary unit.
Walton Simons: The secondary unit should be online soon. It's currently undergoing preparation and will be operational within six months. My people will continue to report on its progress. If necessary, the primary will be terminated. 

The primary unit is JC's brother Paul.  He's the first human being to accept nano augmentation without rejection.  The secondary unit is JC himself, the clone of Paul grown in the same womb.  You start the game by listening to two of the movers and the shakers of the world discussing killing your brother because, hey, they'll still have you.

The camera cuts to a lab deep within Area 51 where a clone is being grown, unlike JC it's being grown to adulthood inside a tank.

Bob Page: We've had to endure much, you and I, but soon there will be order again, a new age. Aquinas spoke of the mythical City on the Hill. Soon that city will be a reality, and we will be crowned its kings. 

A lot of people assume that Bob Page and Walton Simons both planned to backstab each other in the end.  I don't.  I think Page is sincere here.  His plan for world domination includes being co-king, not absolute monarch.  I never get the sense that either Page or Simons doesn't trust the other.  I think they are genuine friends.

I think that friendship might even be necessary to them.  They have both done horrible unforgivable things, betrayal was just the start, if they didn't have something good in their lives to ground them I'm not convinced that they could function as well as they did.  It's hard to be all evil, all the time, I think the friendship between Bob Page and Walton Simons is their not-evil time.

Second thing.  As near as I can tell Aquinas did not speak of a City on a Hill.  All kinds of other people did, not the least of which being Jesus, but I can't locate Aquinas doing it.  The best I can do is find a commentary on the gospels by Aquinas which includes the phrase because it's in the Gospel being commented on.  I seriously have no idea what the Hell Page is talking about here.

Anyway, the camera goes black.

Bob Page: Or better than kings. Gods.

And that's the end of the intro.



  1. ObPeeve: you can't pan down, because pan is a horizontal side-to-side movement. You can tilt up/down, pan left/right, zoom in/out. (You can also dolly in/out, which is to move the camera rather than changing focal length. Doing both at once in opposite directions is the infamous "dolly zoom" overused in horror films.)

    I've run a modern scenario in which FEMA is locking people up in order to prevent zombie apocalypse (while not giving away full details, to avoid panic), and the player characters are a bunch of militia types who don't like their friends being locked up. It rarely ends well.

    I can see your justifications making sense, but I can't help suspecting that some of the reason for apparent inconsistencies between this setup and the eventual situation is that things were changed at the last moment during the production of the game and they didn't have time to re-record the intro - or, alternatively, they decided to ignore the inconsistencies in order to make things more threatening at this point.

    On a metanarrative level: presumably this conversation isn't something that JC actually experiences, or at least not something he knows about during early stages of the game? Does he ever find out about it?

    1. The intro was done by Chris Todd, who is responsible for ingame text, he doesn't usually do dialogue as that was someone else's job. He was hired later in production, after most changes were already made.

      I think that most of the problems with the intro are him trying to give the player the information they want to give, including foreshadowing, without giving stuff away.

      The player isn't supposed to know that UNATCO is a wholly owned subsidiary of of MJ12, for example, and, "I have someone in place," sounds sinister without letting the player know, "the entire organization belongs to me."


      As for whether JC ever experiences this. No. He does not. He'll eventually stand in that room, but due to him not being psychic he will not experience echoes of the conversation.

    2. Innnnteresting. So this is explicitly something to get the player in the mood even though it does some violence to the narrative structure.

      You've played the game, and I haven't. Do you think it would work as well if it didn't throw in these blatant early clues as to who the bad guys are - i.e. if it tracked JC's experience and didn't give this outside information?

    3. I don't think that any of the information it gives is really necessary. I say that as someone who basically knows the game by heart, so I don't really know what it's like to play the first time anymore, but I think that one could do without the mood setting.

      I've never really considered the possibility of an intro-less deus ex, but I see no reason why it wouldn't work. What it does more than anything is establish Bob Page's personality, his, "Let it spill over into the schools and churches, let the bodies pile up in the streets. In the end, they'll beg us to save them," is a side of him you'll never see again. You'll see the results of him having that attitude, but you won't see him come out and say it.

      You'll soon learn that UNATCO was formed after the Statue attack, you'll eventually learn that Savage has relocated to Vandenberg. I don't think a lack of an intro would have messed things up.

      Especially if it were replaced with some kind of JC centric intro, where you could deliver some of the same information.