How I revived Deus Ex Machina

Although I shelved Deus Ex Machina back in 1985, I always believed it was just a matter of time before technology caught up with the idea of interactive movies, and then I could do it all over again, but better. I received a dozen offers to remake it, from well-meaning and not so well-meaning folk, but I turned them all down. There was one hopeful, who sent a proposal in on VHS tape, but instead of pixels, he’d filmed puppets. His business model was amusing – to buy the rights to my own game from him for a large sum of money. Another offering came from a self-taught programmer which at least ran on a PC. Unfortunately, her version only consisted of a credits sequence with her face on it and a home-grown soundtrack of scrotum-clenching horror.

But there was one proposal which was a little different from the rest. It came from a self-confessed pirate of my original game, who said he wanted to atone for his crimes and pay me back for setting him off in the business world while he was still a student. A refreshing gambit. His name was Mário, an Iberian ex-rocker who’d ended up working as Chief Information Officer at the Portuguese Ministry of Justice, with his waist-length hair and ponytail still intact. Interesting. The licensing deal he offered was not unattractive, and I was not saying no. If I was going to remake the game, then harnessing the money of one of the sods who had pirated it in the first place would be satisfying. Then, one month after I received his email, the American bank Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy. Here in the UK, the entire financial system teetered on the brink, and it really didn’t seem like a good time to be taking a punt on a new venture. Mário’s proposals were put on ice, along with all the others.

Deus Ex Machina’s 25th anniversary triggered a spate of interest, and my game started to pop up all over the place. The more I dug into the web, the more bodies came up, and the full truth of what had happened began to emerge. It turned out that pirate editions had made the charts in countries I can’t even spell, and bootleg copies had percolated through the university networks of the civilised world, which means I never really made it in the USA. Deus Ex Machina appeared on the first page of the definitive history of video games. And the inevitable new wave of bootleg products began to infest the online shopping malls, all featuring key graphics and audio from the original game. Well, bugger me. I decided to go for it.

“This time around I wanted to start the player off in awe and leave them in tears” – from cradle to grave in Deus Ex Machina 2.

Interview with the vampire

It was time to call Mário Francisco Valente Baltazar Valente (like New York, New York, so good they named him twice), the Portuguese entrepreneur who had a bank in his pocket and a declaration that it had been his lifelong dream to remake Deus Ex Machina. Who was I to step on that dream? He flew to London and we met on Valentine’s Day to seal the deal. The company he’d created to produce the game was the delightfully named Quirkafleeg, named in honour of Room 40 in Matthew Smith’s bonkers vintage game, Jet Set Willy.

The original version of Deus Ex Machina had taken me ten weeks to deliver in 96 kilobytes for the cost of a garden shed. Now, with oodles of megabytes to play with, the Portuguese economy behind me, and the pick of Europrogrammers to choose from, I reckoned on producing the greatest video game in the history of video games since the last time I did it, for release in 2012. How could we possibly fail? Easy. Tuesday evening, after tea and compulsory prayers, the entire Portuguese economy went tits-up. But all was not lost. Something called ‘crowdfunding’ was taking off, and I thought I’d give it a go.

The new gameplay was my usual mix of the basic four elements of all video games: chess, ping-pong, dice, and bullshit. The original narration as recorded by Jon Pertwee had been warm and encouraging. This time around I wanted to start the player off in awe and leave them in tears. I needed a voice that would be recognised anywhere in the world as the nearest thing to The Voice Of God. So I set about hiring the services of the voice of Dracula: the greatest set of vocal pipes on the planet, Sir Christopher Lee. Obviously, my first step was to check out if he was still undead.

Scaramanga in The Man With The Golden Gun, Count Dooku in Star Wars, and Saruman in The Lord of the Rings (that’s Christopher Lee) with Mel Croucher.

When I met him for the first time, after weeks of wooing by old-fashioned pen and ink, Christopher Lee turned out to be very tall, very frail, and very frank. “This is a travesty!” The voice was magnificent. The verdict wasn’t. “There will be those who will be appalled. You are mocking Shakespeare. Making it amusing!” He sniffed, stroked his silver beard, then waved a hand in what I thought was a gesture of dismissal. It was, in fact, an invitation to shake on it. “I’ll do it,” he growled, in a godly sort of way. Blimey! Christopher Lee, a still-living legend, had just agreed to work with Mel Croucher, a chancer with a silly moustache. But from that moment on, I thought there was a chance of not only bringing Deus Ex Machina to market again, but making a success of it this time around.

Deus Ex Machina 2 was scheduled for release on 19 November 2013, my 65th birthday, the day society would officially recognise me by awarding me my Old Age Pension. The morning of my birthday was beautiful. I trotted off for a seaside dog walk before breakfast. After breakfast, I would hit the button for the game’s release to my backers, supporters, and early adopters. I would then sign some personalised Deus posters, hot off the press from the same printer who’d produced the originals 30 years before. Then it would be lunchtime and the celebrations could begin. But none of that happened, because halfway through walking the dog, Death came knocking and I got smashed to pulp.

But that’s another story.

Rebooting the Machine

I rewrote Deus Ex Machina 2’s libretto fast, and began to cobble ideas together for a new soundtrack for programmers to sync with. And I trawled back through all those offers of licence deals, joint ventures, and dangerous liaisons whereby other people would stump up the money to finance my new version of the game. After all, there were now untold millions of games machines to feed. And it seemed that games formats were about to go mobile, what with the recent success of the iPhone and the upstart Android hitting the market, not to mention rumours of something called an iPad and a Raspberry Pi. The prospect was irresistible.

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