Underwater cities, zero-g combat, and a Mexican invasion were cut from the final game.
While Deus Ex is often remembered as one of the greatest games of all time, it's easy to forget that someone had to actually build the darn thing. Now we have a look into the growth and development of this classic thanks to the original design documents, annotated by legendary producer Warren Spector himself. Originally titled "Majestic Revelations", it was slated to be an "RPG Adventure" with a Christmas 1998 release date. However, by the time it shipped two years later, it was almost unrecognizable from its initial form.
Lead writer Sheldon Pacotti told Eurogamer his take on Deus Ex's development; "Warren once commented that in the beginning he envisioned the game as X-Files but he somehow ended up with James Bond". While "Majestic Revelations" still featured JC Denton as an augmented terrorist-hunter, he worked for the rather bluntly-titled "Terrorist Limitation Coalition", instead of the more subtle "United Nations Anti-Terrorist Coalition". As the title suggests, the Majestic 12 initially played the role of an openly aggressive villain engineering war in Mexico instead of the dark, secretive organization with which most players are familiar. While most of the characters and plot points survived the title's evolution, their roles and behavior often shifted dramatically. "Most successful stories coalesce around the characters at their center and that's what happened with Deus Ex," Sheldon explains.
While the final game featured plenty of globe-trotting, the design documents reveal a dizzying list of additional locales that didn't make the cut: Mexico invading Texas, a space station, an underwater city, and the villainous Denver airport itself. "I had this sense that [Majestic Revelations' plot] was too crazy, too much," explained lead designer Harvey Smith. However, whenever possible, the remaining art assets were repurposed into new locales. For example, the space station was used as Area 51, saving time and sidestepping the issue of coding zero-g combat.
While the scope of the game was pared down for thematic reasons, the mechanics were also similarly trimmed. The skill system, while initially much more expansive, was reduced down to those with "more demonstrable effects". For example, increasing weapon skills would increase accuracy instead of damage, a much more immediately noticeable progression for the player.
The development history of Deus Ex is a textbook case on how to properly produce a game, which is ironic considering Ion Storm's troubled story. Even though the final game underwent some significant rewrites, it always stayed true to its core vision. Sections in the design docs labeled "Deep Simulation, Small Environment", "Problems, Not Puzzles" and "Believable, Object-Rich Worlds" show that the developers know what made their game special and focused on that. Undoubtedly, their efforts paid off. The meme is true; every time Deus Ex is mentioned, someone reinstalls it.