Dark Futures Part 2: Emil Pagliarulo

Emil Pagliarulo started his career this side of the fence, writing for the venerable Adrenaline Vault. Since kicking his way into development, he worked in the twilight years of Looking Glass – where he was designer on the eternal Life Of The Party – before moving to work on Bethesda, where he was Designer on Oblivion (Think “Dark Brotherhood”) before becoming Lead Designer on Fallout 3. He’s optimistic about the future, will surprise you by how big an influence Deus Ex was on Fallout 3 and has enormous sympathy for Eidos Montreal…

RPS: It’s been ten years since Deus Ex. Looking back, what do you think? Was that a milestone or a gravestone?

Emil Pagliarulo: It’s funny. Deus Ex came out and I played it when I was at Looking Glass and it was before I had a chance to meet Harvey Smith for the first time. I got to talk to him about his game, and it was very cool. I didn’t know what it was or what to expect, and it was definitely by far my game of the year. I thought it was amazing. And here we are 10 years, and for me personally, no other game had as much influence on Fallout 3 than Deus Ex did. By far. I mean, huge inspiration to the point where I knew I was replicating… I mean, I knew I was stealing from it wholesale at some points, you know what I mean? And happy to do so.

RPS: Looking at the late 00s, the two games most obviously in Deus Ex’s shadow are Bioshock and Fallout 3… which shows the breadth which this sort of covers. One of the themes I saw in the 00s was trying to work out a way to make games like this actually sell. Would that be one you’d agree with?

Emil Pagliarulo: I would. Certainly the types of games I was into. And for me, they represent the soul of Looking Glass Studios. What that means to me is these immersive first-person games which try to do more than just offer an RPG experience or do more than just offering an FPS experience. Again it’s that illusive buzzword “emergent”… which does mean something to some people, and is something to strive for. It’s a genre-busting sort of thing where you want to wrap the player in an experience – and first person is generally the best way to do that. To me, that’s what that represents.

RPS: What’s so powerful about the first person?

Emil Pagliarulo: It’s the feeling of do I control that avatar on screen, or am I that avatar? And for me, the first-person is always about being that avatar. And it comes with its own unique set of challenges. When you’re that close to an environment the simple act of pulling a camera in closely means you have to look at your visual fidelity, because it’s going to have to be so much better. Play a great 3rd person game… and if it gives you the ability to zoom in the camera, do that and then look at the environment and see if it looks as good zoomed in as it does zoomed out. Pretty much 9/10 times the answer will be no. But when you’re making a first-person game with the camera zoomed in and everything in your face you’re trying for the level of visual fidelity which convinces you that you’re in this world. And for me, that’s what it’s all about. It’s like… you don’t need all these 3D glasses for virtual reality! Virtual Reality is that sense of being involved in a world, and first-person is what does that for me.

RPS: It’s interesting that you say Deus Ex was such an influence, as it’s not one which I’ve ever noticed turn up in reviews or comment threads so much. Or is that just RPS?

Emil Pagliarulo: For Fallout 3 specifically, it’s probably because if I say the games are the soul of Looking Glass… well, it’s also the soul of early Bethesda games. Early Bethesda games – much like the games we make today – are very immersive first-person things. Terminator Future Shock! The Early Elder Scroll games like Arena or Daggerfall. So when most people look at Fallout 3, they look at the legacy of this studio and don’t look beyond it… and if they did, they’d find a lot of Deus Ex in Fallout 3.

RPS: Thinking about it, Deus Ex was more in the Bethesda model of open spaces with people in it. The closest an actual Looking Glass game came to that was Ultima Underworld… but by definition UNDERWORLD. Shock killed all its supporting cast. Thief was intense and non-communicative. So – what’s the problem in the larger scale sort of game? Why don’t we see them?

Emil Pagliarulo: A reason you haven’t seen a lot of those games recently is because there’s the big concentration on console gaming, and the boom of the console markets… well, games like that are very hard to do on the console. A game like Oblivion or Fallout 3 on the console is difficult. It’s only because we have experience in doing it that we can conceive of doing it. When you’re making a game on the PC, your Hard-drive is however many gigs. Everyone has 80Gb at least! Those aren’t luxuries you have on the console. For Oblivion, we came close to running out of space on the disc for just the audio. So when you want to have that many people to talk to, with this giant open world with all these people there are technical limitations which present themselves which other studios have tried to handle and have had problem with – and for good reason, because it’s hard.

RPS: I’ve just got off the phone from Randy Smith. It’s interesting to speak to two guys who are informed by some similar ideas, but working on different ends of the industry.

Emil Pagliarulo: I’m lucky enough to be at one of the only places left which makes games like that. For an Ex-LG guy, I think Irrational or Bethesda are the places you’ll want to be to make those kind of games. So it’s been great for me to be here and to hold onto that and still do that… but when I look at a game like Spider, it’s totally different… but great design is great design and fun is still fun.

RPS: What would you do if Bethesda closed?

Emil Pagliarulo: Oh boy!

RPS: Skip past the crying.

Emil Pagliarulo: All of my kids are in elementary school. And before I joined the games industry, I was going to be an elementary school teacher and I don’t think I would ever want to do that again. I think I would still try to do what I’m doing now somewhere else, as close to what I’m doing now as humanly possible. I don’t know where that would be. I really can’t imagine myself being anywhere else.

RPS: Looking forwards, Bioshock and Fallout 3 have shown there is an audience for this kind of game. What now?

Emil Pagliarulo: I look at other companies and what they’re doing, and how they’re trying to approach this sort of thing and how they streamline the experience – companies who are good at distilling the essence of open world type games and distilling the greatness out of them. And I look at Red Dead Redemption, which is probably by far one of the best games I’ve ever played. It could quite possibly be my new favourite game of all time. And I love everything they achieved, and the fact they have been able to distil the essence of what is great in an open world game into its core elements. That’s interesting to me. It’s very much a console game. It’s easy to play. It’s easy to pick up. It’s got a great story. Great music. It’s sort of the unicorn for me.

And I look at that and I wonder how can we get our games more… well, I look at Fallout 3 and think “how could it be more accessible? How could it be maybe a little easier to play?”. Because I think, it’s got a lot of old-skool PC Games soul in it, and sort of inherent in that is some inherent kludginess which I’d like to get rid of. So I’m really looking at how to make the same sort of experiences better.

RPS: That strikes me as a logical extension of what people were are doing in the 00s. Trying to work out a way to help people into it. I’m replaying DX at the moment – and I’m amazed at how much better I process. But fuck me, it’s a mess.

Emil Pagliarulo: But it runs! That’s an accomplishment.

RPS: So – it’s just finding a way to open it up to more people?

Emil Pagliarulo: The other thing that’s interesting about Deus Ex is the sense of choice. I know there’s studios who are big on player choice… but choice and realism are two things which I think when you make immersive sims that you struggle with. Alright! I’m giving the player the ability to make these choices, but are they meaningful? And even if they’re meaningful, are they fun? Do I care? And the same thing with realism. Yes, I’ve made my game more realistic… but is it fun? When you look at any game with a stealth component, like Thief, or the stealth-component in Fallout or Oblivion or Deus Ex… I think you find that designers who are inexperienced in making stealth are always on the side of making it too hard, because it’s more realistic. But finding the balance between realism and choice and where those things matter.

Because it’s one of the things we struggled with on Fallout. When we first got the licence we heard from a couple of places that RPGs aren’t supposed to be fun. They’re supposed to be meaningful. And great! I’d love to make a meaningful game, but if I’m making a meaningful game that’s not also fun it’s time for me to hang up my mouse. That’s something I’m always looking at.

RPS: What games in this area in the last 10 years stand out to you. Anything you particularly admire?

Emil Pagliarulo: All the Rockstar games, for sure. Because I love the open-endedness of them, and that Rockstar are constantly evolving themselves. If you look at the difference between GTA3 and 4 in how they wanted…. well, GTA 4 is a lot more mature in a lot of ways. So I admire that. A lot of the open-ended immersive things get pulled off in MMOs , which is interesting. Because they’re the ones who try it. They’re always PC games, they don’t have to worry about memory, so they try these sort of things, so you get a lot of interesting open world stuff there – like Lord of the Rings: Online. I really appreciate what they did in that game. And Vampire Bloodlines has some of the most memorable characters I’ve ever encountered.

RPS: Anything else?

I play so many games that it blends together! It’s odd, because as a player I go from stuff like that to things like Modern Warfare or Darksiders. So those certainly aren’t the only types of games I appreciate. I’ll tell you where I see a lot of experimentation? The European PC games market is a great place to find these type of game. There was a game… you of all people should know it. You know Boiling Point?

RPS: Oh, I know Boiling Point.

Emil Pagliarulo: I love what that game attempted. For people who don’t know what it is – well, hunting down cartels in an open-ended jungle. It’s really like a contemporary Morrowind in a jungle. So stuff like that. Games that aren’t afraid. Developers who aren’t afraid to try these grand, crazy things. I think the spirit is alive when I see stuff like that.

RPS: During our round-table, we mentioned that people who were teenagers when Deus Ex came out are starting to come into positions of influence. In 10 more years, they’ll be in charge. And they’ll start giving orders. It’s like the baby boomers coming into power. Now there’s a Dark Future for us all.

Emil Pagliarulo: The more games I see like that – the more Deus Exs I see, the better. I’m really hopeful for what Eidos is doing with Human Revolution. I wish them the best. We’re in a strange position here. I understand what they’re going through. They acquired a licence – in the same way we acquired a licence. Not a lot of people probably had faith in them – in the same way that not a lot of people had faith in us. And at the same time, I know Harvey Smith and the guys who made the original Deus Ex and I understand their point of view. This is something they created and don’t want to see it screwed up. So… I think the important thing to remember for people making games like that is that they’re doing it because they love the original and they love that type of game, and they love what that represents.

RPS: It’s a big job. It is the same as when you guys got Fallout. I just said “Fucking hell – I don’t envy them”.

Emil Pagliarulo: [Laughs] Well… you should envy me. It’s a good gig, man.

RPS: Thanks for your time.


  1. Justin Keverne says:

    My rather dubious claim to fame is that at PAX East 2010 I hugged Emil Pagliarulo.

    • HarbourMaster says:

      You also groped an elephant, apparently.

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  2. Freud says:

    I’m trying to wrap my head around the phrase “which is probably by far one of the best games I’ve ever played” and I can’t.

  3. Frank says:

    “and distilling the greatness out of them”

  4. Justin Keverne says:

    Maybe somebody should interview Kieron about what he sees as the future of the “Immersive Sim”?

  5. Jason Moyer says:


  6. D says:

    Anyone else find this a very depressing read after the Randy Smith interview? I’m even afraid to write more, lest I burst into one of those awful quote-style forum reply things.

    • sfury says:

      I don’t want to blame the guy… but mentioning Fallout 3 most of the time – brings me some bad memories.

      I’ll stop here because I’ve got nothing constructive to say about the interview.

      (except I learned here Harvey Smith is now working on another “immersive sim” at Arkane Studios, yay?)

    • John says:

      Really, you found this one depressing? I’m the opposite, I thought Randy Smith’s was a downer because he seemed to think the immersive sim of 10 or so years back is old-fashioned and boring, which I don’t agree with.

      This interview with Emil is much more uplifting to me.

      Maybe it’s because I really liked Fallout 3 …

    • Tarqon says:

      I thought it was horribly depressing too. He basically says that 1. console storage restrictions are holding back games (hopefully this will be less bad in the next generation of consoles) and 2. gaeplay needs to be simplified to be made accessible. The rest of what he says makes sense, but these two things just make me think current-gen games are a lost cause.

    • drewski says:

      @ Tarquon – the problem is that immersive sims are, by nature, extremely expensive to make because you have to create so much content. In order to justify spending so much money on a game, you *have* to make it accessible to as wide an audience as possible – because otherwise you won’t get the sales.

      Red Dead Redemption is a great example, I think. The improvements in accessibility, without sacrficing any of the good bits, from GTA IV to RDR is very noticable, and it makes me a little reluctant to go back to the GTA series now because I know I’ll have to fight the interface far more than I should.

  7. Shazbut says:

    I like this guy. Straight talking, optimistic, and seemingly one of the only people who have made an immersive sim that ever wants to make another one. Instead of, oh I don’t know, something about Mickey Mouse…

  8. bhlaab says:

    “for me personally, no other game had as much influence on Fallout 3 than Deus Ex did. ”

    Hey, I’m just sayin’ here and all but maybe that game should have been… you know, Fallout.

    • sfury says:

      Oh man. I’m really tempted to say some bad things about Bethesda here, but I’ll shut up instead.

      +1 anyway

    • Nickless_One says:

      I thought the same thing
      and then at the part about meaningful/fun I was like “Well then, why is F3 neither of these?”

    • Mungrul says:

      He’s also bending the truth somewhat here. A lot of the criticisms directed at Bethesda during Fallout 3 development regarding “fun” were directed at their specific idea of “fun”. Specifically, highlighting the stupidity of comments about making everything explode because it’s more “fun” and being able to chop someone’s head off and put it on a shelf being hilarious.

      I ain’t fond of Pagliarulo in the slightest. He’s more a spin-doctor than a developer.

    • Atrocious says:

      I’m with you guys. Now a lot of things about F3 became clear to me.

  9. Rohit says:

    I still don’t see a relation between Bethesda’s games and Looking Glass’s.

    • bhlaab says:

      I don’t see much of a relation between Deus Ex and Thief besides a rudimentary control system and a camera perspective. But far be it for me to trample on the very concept of an entire series of articles…

  10. subversus says:

    yeah, it’s a great interview. The guy clearly knows the scene. I wish somebody’d revive Troika and give them a budget to make VM:B 2. It’s like the greatest RPG I ever played

    /sheds a tear

    • subversus says:

      and I was thinking about Deus Ex during my first walkthrough of FO3. It had the same multifaceted approach to completing quests.

  11. Gritz says:

    I’m surprised he didn’t mention Arkane. To me, they’re the major devolper that picked up where LG left off.

    • Rinox says:

      Couldn’t agree more. Arx Fatalis was a gem in that specific ‘niche’.

  12. Xercies says:

    No i can see what he is talking about kind of Morrowind and Fallout both had that kind of Deus Ex…kind of immersive sim feel to it. Fallout 3 was a really good game I thought.

  13. Dominus says:

    Meh… what a big gap between Randy’s interview and Emil’s… Randy was a lot more coherent and wise and Emil was like a teenager rockstar. ‘Tis such a shame, its like a comparing PC with Console…

    Life of the Party is the only thing Emil worth getting credit from me.

    And I find it ridiculous that none of the developers has the guts to admit that Fallout 3 its big pile of shit.

    • subversus says:

      Get off your high horse. “Wise” like he’s The Great Chinese Sage or something. The ultimate goal of these games is to have fun and Emil don’t have any complexes to acknowledge that. Randy was talking about innovation in experience and Emil was talking about making the game fun.

    • Hidden_7 says:

      Because it isn’t. I get that there are people that didn’t like Fallout 3, and that’s understandable, because there are some problems with it, but there are a lot of people who genuinely enjoyed it because it does a lot of things right. Neither side is right or wrong, they just value different things in games. Just like Tom Chick didn’t like Deus Ex because for him the things it did right weren’t enough to make up for the things it did wrong.

      So I get that the things Fallout 3 did wrong were unforgivable for you, but it’s not true for everyone. I had a wonderfully engaging time playing Fallout 3, it ate up many hours of my time, like all Bethesda games. It’s not perfect, there’s room for improvement, but that doesn’t mean it’s a failure by any stretch. Personally I look forward to seeing what Emil gets up to next.

    • Dmo says:

      I enjoyed F3 very much and thought it stood quite well on its own merits within its own context, but I also thought F2 was a pile of muddled crap padded out by lame jokes.

      My imperviousness to nostalgia may explain it all.

    • Baboonanza says:

      Agreed with regards to Fallout 2. I loved Fallout but find it odd that the second one is revered, because to me it was considerably less interesting. I also loved Fallout 3, though I played for the first time with substantial mods which probably helped.

      Differet strokes for different folks, live and let live etc.

    • jeremypeel says:

      Yes. I understand Bethesda’s frustration sometimes when people confronted them about living up to the Fallout ‘legacy’ with a completely different team, when they knew perfectly well that Fallout 1 and 2 had almost entirely different teams working on them.

      Fallout is one of my favourite games. Fallout 2 is not.

    • Soundofvictory says:

      I think we should all take off our rose-tinted glasses. Fallout 1 and 2 were amazing. Fallout 3 did not really… continue the Fallout series. However, if you look at it by itself, without comparing it to the first two, I think its safe to say it is a Good Game. I don’t remember who made the comment about the Tom Chick interview the other day, but they basically said we should be able to objectively recognize whether a game is good or not despite what our personal tastes on the matter may be.

      My guess at why a lot of people didn’t like FO3 is that it was not perfect. It had a lot of good things going for it (weapon variety, weapon/item crafting, quests with multiple solutions, huge free roaming world, etc). Well guess what? Deus Ex is far from perfect and it is STILL AMAZING! I bet in three or four years time we will all look back at Fallout 3 and think: ‘Oh yea! That was a good one!’

    • drewski says:

      Fallout 3 was great. Best game I’ve played since Vice City.

  14. Flimgoblin says:

    Fallout 3 didn’t hold me but Morrowind was awesome – I had a tower made of mad things which you had to fly to get into. You just don’t get that on consoles…

    Boiling Point! I’d totally forgotten about that game – so much potential, so many bugs, though it had the same problem GTA4 had for me – the main plot kept getting in the way. Nagging in the background saying “you’ve not finished this yet”, rather than letting me just go play in the sandbox.

    Plus you’d have thought given Twilight, True Blood etc. being the zeitgeist someone would have commissioned another Vampire: game by now.

  15. SirKicksalot says:

    Every time I hear Emil’s name, I remember this Fallout 3 related gem:

    “It’s so depressing that you have to see the humor in it,” says Pagliarulo. “If not, you’ll lose your mind or slit your wrists. Part of your brain refuses to admit it will ever happen, so you have to look at it and laugh. The dark humor of talking to an old lady who’s really nice to you, and then blow her head off, put her head on a counter, and pretend to talk to her…there’s a certain charm to that.”

  16. Inigo says:

    @Justin Keverne
    ‘Maybe somebody should interview Kieron about what he sees as the future of the “Immersive Sim”?’

    Fisty McGillen The Pint Size Puppet Pal Reporter?

  17. Zwebbie says:

    I had always thought that nobody at Bethesda had ever played Deus Ex or Vampire: the Masquerade – Bloodlines… now I’m not sure what to think anymore.

    • disperse says:

      I always thought Bethesda was being too ambitious. Like they created these huge worlds and, at the last minute, realized they had to put something to do in them. I mean, Deus Ex had large levels, sure, but they were levels, not huge land masses.

      I mean the idea that some poor level designer had to place, by hand, every rusty can in FO3….

    • Hidden_7 says:

      There were plenty of parts of Fallout 3 that allowed you to approach things in various ways, similar to the way Deus Ex did things.

      Bethesda isn’t great at writing memorable characters, but that doesn’t mean they have no idea what memorable characters look like, just that it’s difficult to do.

      Personally I think Bethesda has a very nearly flawless winning formula. You can already tell their hearts are in the right place, they just need to work on executing a little bit better. They need to hire some better writers, get a better engine, or animators that doesn’t produce quite so wonky animations, and start poaching some voice actors from Bioware. They do that and I feel their games will be almost unassailable. I’m really looking forward to New Vegas to see if the equation Bethesda world + Obsidian writing is as amazing in real life as it is in my head.

  18. HDCrab says:

    Red Dead Redemotion is my favourite typo this year.

  19. karthik says:

    I know he’s probably not the guy to ask, but I need to know: What the hell is up with Bethesda’s walk animations? Why even offer a third person perspective if it’s so broken?

    • drewski says:

      Because pure first person games freak out people who want to play in third person.

      It’s basically appealling to a very small section of the population who would be interested in their games, but for the first person perspective. I don’t see the problem with adding accessibility to a game for potential customers if it in no way harms the rest of your customers, which the wonky perspective doesn’t.

      Just play in FPS like God intended and ignore the wonky walking.

  20. Bassism says:

    I think this was an interesting interview, and one that leaves me with rather more hope than Randy’s. At least Emil seems committed to keeping the spirit alive in today’s world as much as possible, while Randy just decided that iphone gaming is where it’s at. Don’t get me wrong, Spider is an incredible game and incredible experience, but is by design a lesser experience.

    I find it interesting that he specifically points out console development as offering technical challenges to producing the kinds of games he’d like to see. Somebody needs to poach all these guys, hire them to a small team, give them a modest budget proportionate to expected revenue from pc compared with consoles, and tell them to go nuts and create the best PC exclusive they can come up with, forgetting entirely about buzzwords, shiny graphics, and mass market appeal.

    I’m pretty confident that there are enough guys in the world clamoring to make a modern day Deus Ex to make something spectacular, and just as its always been, if they make a spectacular game, it will sell well.

    Of course, it won’t sell like a console game. But if you pull back from the huge numbers involved in console AAA development, there’s no reason you can’t still be successful.

    • Corrupt_Tiki says:

      You just contradicted yourself with the statements ‘tell them to create the best PC exclusive they can come up with’, forgetting about buzzwords, shiny graphics and mass market appeal – if you don’t appeal to the masses you wont sell.

      It’s sadly the reason we have CoD #(5-6?) and a new NFL Game Every year <- they sell to the masses, where as sadly games like pathologic don't.

      Remember the majority of 'gamers' now days are …derpa derpa… and listen to G-Unit while smoking crack

    • Baboonanza says:

      ‘You just contradicted yourself with the statements ‘tell them to create the best PC exclusive they can come up with’, forgetting about buzzwords, shiny graphics and mass market appeal – if you don’t appeal to the masses you wont sell.

      It’s sadly the reason we have CoD #(5-6?) and a new NFL Game Every year <- they sell to the masses, where as sadly games like pathologic don't.'

      But that was exactly his point I think. Games like MW2 chase the mega-profits to be made from multi-million console sales, but to do that you also need to spend mega-bucks. He's suggesting something a bit more like an indie title, though really somewhere in between the two, which has some merit. You don't necessarily need to make mega-bucks to cover costs, pay everyone a decent salary and make a game thats more rewarding than a generic shooter.

      However, as Kieron as mention in both interviews the real reason we don't see these games is that the economics just don't quite work. It costs too much to make first-person games to make them work for niche markets IMO, and PC piracy probably doesn't help this. The only people who seem to get away with it are the Eastern European devs, presumably because they have lower costs and a substantial and ill-catered-for home market.

      Hopefully there will come a time in the future when tools improve and costs can be reduced. Hoepfully this will co-incide with the 'Deus Ex players taking over' and we'll get a renaissance of sorts.

    • drewski says:

      Yeah, it requires too much content. To do immersive on a limited budget requires a very small area you can jam pack with content, or a large area painted with broad brush-strokes, neither of which will appeal to the PC market who expect continents filled with tiny detail for the price of a sandwich.

  21. Ragnar says:

    I don’t understand why the best immersive sim from recent years never get mentioned in these articles: Dwarf Fortress

    You have it all there: A rich world (per player that is) with lots of history. Lots of emergent gameplay. And some of the best stories told in gaming history are from DF.

    • Kieron Gillen says:

      Ragnar: It fits the Sim part brilliantly, but doesn’t even touch the Immersive part. You’re not in that world, which is at least as much of the point.


    • Mungrul says:

      I’d argue that point Kieron; while you may not have an avatar in the game world, you can become incredibly invested in your fortress and dwarves. Of course, this does raise another interesting issue; can immersion only occur through the player being a manifest entity in the gameworld, or is it simply a term to emphasise how involved a player can become? I prefer the latter school of thought myself.
      I would also argue that Dwarf Fortress’ lo-fi looks demand a level of attention from the player so great that immersion in the experience is inevitable.

    • The Sombrero Kid says:

      Whether or not you felt immersed in Dwarf Fortress is entirely down to you and your imagination, the game does absolutely nothing to help immerse you in the world which is were a game would earn the title immersion sim, people with good imaginations can become immersed in anything but the game has to be designed as immersion to earn the title.

      Also I feel the root of your argument is that the completeness of the simulation is what makes it immersive however claiming that the completeness of the simulation is all you need for immersion is i feel about imagination, i think to be called immersive you have to make efforts to link your simulation to the world of the player, to make them comfortable with it, one of the best ways to do that is to give them a first person perspective and bipedal avatar, although it’s not the only way, certainly a graphical representation of the world would seem like a must.

    • Ragnar says:

      @The Sombrero Kid

      So what you are claiming is that you can’t get immersed in a book because you read it and because they are most often not in first person? I almost always get more immersed while reading books than while playing video games.

    • Mungrul says:

      Again, it comes down to the definition of immersion.
      Using your points, one could argue that books do nothing to aid immersion; they have no graphics, and horror of horrors, you have to actually read them to get their message. But that’s plainly ridiculous. I don’t think anyone can argue that books are incapable of immersion.

      I will agree that the barrier to entry prevents that “instant gratification” flavour of immersion that seems to be most popular in the medium now, but I would also argue that the level of detail present in Dwarf Fortress goes beyond simple graphical representations of a world, allowing for personal interpretations of events and characters. And once you invest some imagination in these interpretations, they become yours in a way that photorealism just can’t compete with.
      How many movies adapted from novels have you seen where you’ve thought “That’s not . He/she’s taller/shorter/more blonde/more dour!”?
      True immersion in a subject is something that carries beyond the immediate experience and begins to permeate your thoughts outside of it.

    • The Sombrero Kid says:

      What I’m saying is the genre of immersive sim has noting to do with how immersive you found it and everything to do with how dedicated the designer was to the concept, when you are immersed in books it’s the power of your imagination that dictates the immersion meaning that immersion in books and dwarf fortress are completely subjective, in immersive sims by trying to get it as close to the human experience as possible lowers the imagination barrier to as close to nil as they can.

    • Kieron Gillen says:

      None of which matters when the people who invented the phrase “Immersive Sim” meant something which does not include Dwarf Fortress.

      I’m taking a hard line, as there isn’t an argument here. Argue that DF should be one of the games to *inform* Immersive Sims in the next decade, and I’d agree with you. But it’s not one, and grouping it with them is missing the point of the debate entirely.


    • Ragnar says:

      @The Sombrero Kid

      What Mungrul said. I.e, immersion has (at least for me) much less to do with graphical representation and first person view, than with the level of detail I can get from the world I am presented with. The reason for why Deus Ex is so much more immersive than Half Life is the level of detail that exist everywhere in Deus Ex. There is all these books you can read, news reports, small tidbits of information in emails, datacubes, etc. *That* is what provides immersion, not the first person view.

  22. the_fanciest_of_pants says:

    Good interview.

    Always liked Emil, he’s responsible for some absolutely brilliant things.

    I recently replayed the Shalebridge Cradle and fuck me.. Even though I’ve played through the damn game three or so times it had me quaking like a leaf. NO other game (or film for that matter) has made me that scared.

    • Kieron Gillen says:

      That wasn’t Emil. That was Randy and Jordan. Randy was yesterday and Jordan… abstractly today. Maybe tomorrow.


    • jeremypeel says:

      So we’ve got Jordan Thomas and Harvey Smith yet to come too? Kieron, you spoil us. With all of my favourite developers. If you could find some way of working Rod Humble into this I might die of happiness :-P

    • Justin Keverne says:

      Personally I really want to hear what Doug Church has to say on this topic, though apparently he’s not a fan of giving interviews, which is of course his prerogative.

    • dspair says:

      Oh yes, Doug Church! The man.

    • drewski says:

      Jordan? Excellent.

    • Kieron Gillen says:

      Justin: Yeah, Doug’s a tricky guy to get to. I managed it once.

      I’ve also lost Warren’s e-mail, which is annoying, for obvious reasons.

      EDIT: Ken couldn’t do it, as 2k didn’t think it wise for him to be talking theory stuff at the moment. Which, assuming that means “he’s got a game close to being announced” I can see their point.


    • jeremypeel says:

      I really hope that it’s because Irrational are close to an announcement. Plenty of folk (myself included) were expected them to be working on XCOM (or X-Com, as they might have called it) so now it’s even more intriguing. I remember Ken said something about it being a surprise that makes sense to fans who know Irrational, or words to that effect.

  23. Ragnar says:


    Maybe not so much in dwarf mode. But Dwarf Fortress has an adventure mode too. Which certainly fits the bill for the immersion part too.

    • The Sombrero Kid says:

      Adventurer Mode seems like it fits the bill closer but is it really the best ever? I’d find that hard to believe, since it’s wholy dependant on the world you’ve made in fortess mode surely, deus ex with a bunch of shit maps would not be the same game.

    • Kieron Gillen says:

      Ragnar: I’m sorry man, but it doesn’t. I know what you’re saying, but – as we talked about in Randy’s interview – we’re talking about definitions of genres. If it’s not in real-time and is a strategy game, it’s not a real-time strategy game.


    • Ragnar says:

      No it isn’t necessary to have old fortresses to play in adventure mode. Although you can enter old fortresses if you are so inclined. What you can do is travel around the whole world you created and visit all places etc. Read more about what you can do here: link to df.magmawiki.com

    • Ragnar says:


      What I’m getting at isn’t really that the Deus Ex-alikes should ditch graphics and become precisely like DF. What I do get at is that Dwarf Fortress should provide a lot of inspiration for how to move the immersive sim genre forward and perhaps think outside the subgenres well defined limits a bit.

      For the record, Deus Ex is one of my absolute favorite games of all times.

    • Kieron Gillen says:

      Ragnar: Ah – you’ve just done what I said I’d agree with upthread. Agreed totally.


    • Ragnar says:

      I was probably a little too argumentative when calling DF an “immersive sim”. I just think that we should look beyond the current crop of FPS-titles and Action RPG-titles to look where the immersive sim should be headed.

    • Justin Keverne says:

      Dwarf Fortress is just one example of many different types of games that I feel could, and should, have an influence on the future of the “Immersive Sim”. There’s also a lot of great work going on in the Interactive Fiction space regarding non linear narratives, and simulation of social interactions and other non combat orientated forms of conflict resolution.

      One of the strengths of Deus Ex was its integration of adventure, simulation, and role playing game elements into a (predominately) first person experience. The belief that there are useful concepts outside the traditional influences is an important one.

  24. Wizlah says:

    Have to say kieron, these interviews are proving to be the real meat of the deus ex retrospective. whilst it’s always fun to talk about deus ex and admire/laugh/bitch about it, listening to developers discuss its concepts in terms of what they’re doing now (rather than what they liked about it then), is the most thought proviking.

    Like someone else said in this thread, it’s great that people rate the characters in Bloodlines, or are prepared to cite Boiling Point (which I’ve never played, but feel like I might one day). Interesting that Emil cites the European (but mainly eastern European/Russian I guess) developers.

    Also both him and Randy smith both cite the challange of graphics aiding immersiveness. I liked Smith’s point yesterday that 2000 may have been a sweet spot in gaming simply because graphics could only do so much, allowing the developer to focus on the world more. I can think of two points which follow on from this.

    First is regards Midwinter, which your boiling point review raised. It’s been well over a decade and a half since I played it, but at that point, challenging gameplay, sensible design and a huge environment actually compensated for the shortcomings in graphics and sound. I have one or two vivid memories of my first playthrough of that game, in particular trying to reach and recruit the sniper/hunter guy with the little kid who was good at skiing and not much else. It became immersive because that was a hard thing to do – plotting out the best route to take advantage of the kid’s skills, trying to avoid enemy military units because he couldn’t cope, and eventually adapting as best I could. Emil talks about a realistic world and accessibility as being key parts of an immersive experience (although I think he regards accessibility as a desired goal more than a necessary condition), and I can’t help but wonder if desiginers should be thinking of other ways to improve immersion. Mass Effect 2’s mini games are a classic case of gameplay helping to break immersion. A good stealth mechanic generally promotes it, but as he notes, it can be pretty unforgiving and get in the way of accessibility.

    My second point is simple – sound. Granted, sound in Deus Ex wasnae the best, but carefully thought out soundtracks (which Deus Ex did manage, along with Bloodlines, if I recall correctly) go a long way to helping atmosphere in the game. Obviously, thief is a fine example of brilliant sound design. I think great sound comes with it’s own problems – it limits immersion when you can only use so many voice actors, doubly so when the voice acting is terrible. But I tend to think this is less of an issue in a total immersion sim than it would be in dialogue heavy crpg’s. And sound can make up for less than optimised graphics.

    • Kieron Gillen says:

      “Have to say kieron, these interviews are proving to be the real meat of the deus ex retrospective.”

      Thanks. That’s what the plan was.


    • Justin Keverne says:

      Midwinter and more specifically Midwinter 2: Flames Of Freedom, are incredible games, and so many of the ideas contained within have yet to be attempted again. I guess Boiling Point and the like come the closest of anything.

    • LionsPhil says:

      Midwinter! I’m oft amazed by how little love that game gets. Hell, hang-gliding and vehicles? It was more ambitious than Deus Ex in ways…and ran on an Atari ST.

      RPS should embrace the “personal computer” meaning of PC rather than the “100% IBM PC Compatable” one and retrospective it. Ye-e-e-esss…

    • Kieron Gillen says:

      LionsPhil: That *is* the definition of PC which RPS uses.


    • LionsPhil says:

      KG: Ah, excellent. The last time I remember RPS asking the crowd what the scope should be (“do Macs count?”), some Angry Internet Men must have really gone off the rails because by the time I looked the entire comment thread had been locked away in an extraspatial vortex by an exasperated editor, never to be seen again.

  25. jeremypeel says:

    So, this is Emil:-

    “For Fallout 3 specifically, it’s probably because if I say the games are the soul of Looking Glass… well, it’s also the soul of early Bethesda games. Early Bethesda games – much like the games we make today – are very immersive first-person things. Terminator Future Shock! The Early Elder Scroll games like Arena or Daggerfall. So when most people look at Fallout 3, they look at the legacy of this studio and don’t look beyond it… and if they did, they’d find a lot of Deus Ex in Fallout 3.”

    And this is me, yesterday:-

    “Y’know, I’d argue that Fallout 3 took the immersive sim style in new directions. When I started playing I was immediately struck at how much the minute-to-minute gameplay reminded me of Deus Ex, Thief et al. Open world, rather than more concentrated depth, may not be the direction most of us are hoping for, but it’s certainly a valid one and Fallout 3 provided plenty of fantatic emergent opportunities because of it.

    I think people are often too busy comparing Fallout 3 to Fallout 1 +2 (and to a lesser extent, Bethesda’s Terminator games) to think about what other lineage it might be following. The project lead was Emil Pagliarulo for Christ’s sake!”

    Now, I don’t want to claim Emil and I are on the same wavelength, but…

  26. mrrobsa says:

    Lousy fun coming in and ruining my meaningful experiences. Less fun in games please.
    I’m over halfway through Fallout 3 now and the choice elements are great, I’m liking it a bit more than I liked the first 5 hours and judged on its own merits it’s a kick-ass game. But it doesn’t meet the genius of Fallout 1 or 2 and ultimately I can’t really see it as a Fallout game.
    Great interview though.

  27. Cooper says:


    Crap voice acting because it was limited by it needing to be possible on consoles.


    Every time I fire that game up (and quickly become disillusioned again) I do wonder just how different it could have been if either it were PC only, or had some extra love put into the PC version…

    • AndrewC says:

      You’ll have to explain why the performances had to be so stilted was Ram limitations.

    • Justin Keverne says:

      So what’s The Witcher’s excuse for terrible voice acting?

    • Dominic White says:

      Not a joke – the publisher stiffed the devs on international voicework. There’s a reason why the english script was about 2/3 the length of the Polish original: The publisher wouldn’t pay for extended recording studio time. They had to cut down the amount recorded just to record it at all.

      The Polish audio track is excellent though. Polish Geralt emotes about fifty times better than his monotone, deadpan english counterpart.

  28. Tim Ward says:

    So if Deus Ex is really the gravestone of the genre, then the immersive sim must be the first genre to have died before it even got a name, since I don’t remember anyone talking about the immersive sim until long after Deus Ex was recognized as a classic.

    Now, ‘immersive sim’ is a rubbish name for a genre. It is a tautology, any ‘sim’ is by definition ‘immersive’ if it does it’s job well- the whole point of a sim is to make the experience as indistinguishable from the reality as possible, and to minimize any reminder to to the player that what they’re experiencing is not real. People build mock cockpits to play flight sims. I’d call that at least twice as immersive as Deus Ex.

    Meanwhile, the immersive sims produced after the term was coined, namely Deus Ex 2, Thief 3 and Bioshock are notable in being neither immersive, nor sims. Why? They abstract too much and the game world is too lazily realized. They are very obviously games. I don’t know how anyone can call Bioshock and Deus Ex 2 any kind of sim with a straight face, let alone an immersive one.

    So, basically, since we started talking about immersive sims, no one has managed to make one either in the sense of living up to the title of the genre or the legacy of Deus Ex, Thief, et al. Oh, except GSC, who weren’t actually trying to make an immersive sim except in the sense that they wanted to make a sim that was immersive. So, maybe it’s time to rethink the immersive sim completely, eh, since it must have one of the highest talk to actual achievement ratios in the whole industry?

    • jeremypeel says:

      Actually, I think ‘immersive sim’ was a term Ion Storm bandied about a lot during the development of Deus Ex. And it certainly wouldn’t be the first genre to die out before getting it’s name (try Film Noir for a start).

      I think you’re right that both Invisible War and Bioshock are often too gamey to be called sims – although I could never agree that Thief 3 is lacking in immersion – and I think Frictional Games made some good points as to why in a blog post that I’m going to find when I’ve got time. Maybe it’s the terminology that we’re falling foul of here though.

      And yes, I think the conclusion we’re gradually reaching through these discussions is that the immersive sim needs some rethinking in order to progress.

    • The Sombrero Kid says:

      You can make simulations that are not immersive, a phyisics engine modeling a world printing locations to the console is an excelent simulation but horribly unimersive, but i agree that the term isn’t an accurate description of the genre which is why i guess kieron and the like push the word not as a description but a label.

    • Hmm-Hmm. says:

      What would you call them then? First person sims? Adventure sims?

    • Tim Ward says:

      First Person RPGs.

    • Kieron Gillen says:

      JeremyPeel: I dunno if it was used internally, but I first heard it off Ion Storm Austin circa DX2 starting to be revealed.

      It is, of course, just the name they want to use. The Klaxons called themselves Nu-rave. Sometimes you roll with it, if you can see their point.

      (As in, a sub-genre which Bioshock is inside while ME2 is definitely outside. Becase ME2 is – as Jim told us – a shoot’n’chat.)


    • jeremypeel says:

      Ah, maybe it’s not quite so ancient a monicker then, I don’t remember where I (think I) read about it.

      This is the thing – I suspect the only reason we still call them immersive sims is because it’s a subgenre in which the defining features are impossible to distill into a word or two. Its major proponents have been called stealth games, FPS’, horror games and RPGs; uniting them under a title that at least originates from some of the creative folk involved in making them seems to make sense, if not total sense.

  29. teo says:

    I hope you do an interview with Casey Hudson; Mass Effect 2 is much more of a successor to Deus Ex than BioShock or Fallout 3 ever were. I do miss the ‘immersive sim’ aspect but I don’t think BioShock or Fallout 3 did that part well anyway. Deus Ex was a simulation, everything in the world behaved rules that you learned. BioShock’s world interaction begins and ends with out of place minigames. In Fallout 3 you can pick stuff up but you still can’t interact with it, it just goes straight into your inventory. I don’t think these games have learned any of the right things from Deus Ex.

    • drewski says:

      So what are the “right things”? The only thing you’ve mentioned is that picking up things goes straight into your inventory. Is Deus Ex really about carrying plants around?

  30. Tim Ward says:

    @jeremypeel, I will fight anyone who says Thief 3 isn’t a pretty good game and a semi-worthy sequel to Thief, but it’s not especially immersive. Not unimmersive, but no more immersive than the next game really. Too many concession to un-reality, like the other two games I mentioned. Primarily it’s a technological problem – the levels were too small to be /really/ convincing locations. Like, you play the first level of Thief and… that’s someone mansion. All of it. And you can go anywhere in it, exactly as you could if you were really breaking and entering. Then you play the first level of Thief 3, and it’s pretty good and it looks fantastic, but you know it’s too cramped to be a real space. And the free form city was just a disaster.

    So, I think Randy’s point in the other interview is an important one, about the technology being in the right place: they couldn’t keep competitive on graphics and keep the kind of world you need and release it on the consoles. So, I hope that’s a big part of the reason the ‘second generation’ of immersive sims were nowhere near as good as the first generation, because the technology might just be there again.

    And I also hope the actual reason isn’t “No one who made them really understands why they were so good in the first place”, because that explanation works just as well.

    • jeremypeel says:

      Agreed on the tech stuff – I really do believe that the limitations of both consoles at the time and Ion Storm’s engine-making abilities played a big factor in making that ‘second generation’ less ambitious in many respects and more gamey.

      It’s a real shame that, although I generally roll my eyes at claims of consolification, the games of that generation I cared about the most (Invisible War and Thief 3) were both unmistakeably damaged by their development for Xbox. I still consider parts of Thief 3 to be the most immersive I’ve ever played, but you’re dead right about the ‘open’ city, the problems are pretty much summed up best there.

      I think the interviews we’ve seen so far suggest that developers generally do know what made these games great, and what we’ve seen so far of Deus Ex 3’s level design seems to suggest that the possibilities of the technology are really opening up again, finally.

    • The Sombrero Kid says:

      The people who made them are pretty much the smartest people the games industry has ever seen, i’m confident that most of the people at looking glass knew why there games were good, the analytical culture of games design was born in Texas, those people however universally have not been trusted with a triple A budget since Ion Storm collapsed, Randy Smiths working on iPhone Games, Harvey Smith got stuck on some midway shovelware, Warren Spectors making a Wii game, Doug Church on boom blox and Paul Neurath on mobile games, the list goes on.

    • Justin Keverne says:

      Born in Boston would be potentiall a more accurate assesment, Looking Glass Studios was based there, and a large number of it’s employees came from MIT. Though it’s true there was a lot of overlap with folks from Origin Systems who were based out of Austin I think, and I’m fairly certain there was a Looking Glass Studios office in Austin for a brief time.

    • Tim Ward says:

      Yeah, see that’s the problem. They have an analytical culture of game design, but their analysis hasn’t actually delivered: the games just aren’t very good. Well, ok, Thief 3 is pretty good but it was only saved by some outstanding level design. There are reasons DE2, Bioshock and Thief 3 might have failed (and they all failed to one degree or another) other than wrong analysis, but questions like “was deus ex really an “immersive sim”, or was it just an RPG with first person shooting” and “Emergent gameplay: is it that big a deal” need to be asked, because there are problems in those games which have nothing to do with memory limitations or consoles.

      Anyway, we’ll see what Deus Ex 3 does. It looks very promising, but the as always we won’t know till we get our hands on the game.

  31. teo says:

    No, but it’s one of the few things I think they have in common except it’s pointless in Fallout. Deus Ex was systemic in its interactivity, Fallout doesn’t understand that at all.

  32. Jakkar says:

    Poor tastes, Emil. I trusted you, once ;-;

    They’re missing the point; the great games just gave you a world without much developer intention. A mountain of functional features, an AI ecology of sorts, and a player who can influence this world and be influenced in turn.

    For the console generation, they’re just trying too hard to give us clear and obvious CHOICE MOMENTS, instead of letting us discover our own opportunities.

  33. Randy Smith says:

    I’m unsure about how Emil’s interview stirred up more controversy than mine, but I just want to clarify my own personal opinions here:

    – Emil is an EXTREMELY capable, intelligent, and versatile designer from whom I’ve learned a lot and who is as devoted as anyone else I can think of to delivering the highest quality player experience. He’s been a huge, important ally in the history of the “immersive sim”. Of course, you might not prefer his take on it, but don’t discredit the guy’s talents! :)

    – Fallout 3 is not just a technological and artistic tour-de-force, it’s a fantastic game on a variety of game design levels. I felt like I sold it short during my interview because I was focused on “what’s next”. FO3 is one answer to “what’s next,” but I’m more excited in some other ones.

    – Immersive Sims are rad, and I hope I get to work on another one someday, ideally the one that “would have surprised the living shit out of all of us at Looking Glass back in 1999” or whatever I said.

    Thanks for all the interest and thoughtful discussion. It’s been great to read. :)

    – R

  34. Alec M. says:

    What’s the name of the old game in the first picture? Redguard?