Deus Ex Machina (video game)

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Deus Ex Machina
Developer(s)Automata UK
Publisher(s)Automata UK
Electric Dreams
Designer(s)Mel Croucher
Programmer(s)Andrew Stagg
Platform(s)ZX Spectrum, MSX, Commodore 64, Android, iOS, Ouya, Windows, Linux, Mac OS X
October 1984
    • EU: October 1984 (ZX Spectrum)
    • EU: 1985 (MSX)
    • EU: 1986 (C64)
    • WW: January 30, 2015 (Android)
    • WW: February 2, 2015 (iOS)
    • WW: February 14, 2015 (Ouya)
    • WW: February 20, 2015 (Win, Linux, Mac)
Genre(s)Art game, music game
Mode(s)Single player

Deus Ex Machina is a video game designed and created by Mel Croucher and published by Automata UK for the ZX Spectrum in October 1984 and later converted to MSX and Commodore 64.

The game was the first to be accompanied by a fully synchronised soundtrack which featured narration, celebrity artists and music.[citation needed] The cast included Ian Dury, Jon Pertwee, Donna Bailey, Frankie Howerd, E.P. Thompson, and Croucher (who also composed the music). Andrew Stagg coded the original Spectrum version, and Colin Jones (later known as author/publisher Colin Bradshaw-Jones) was the programmer of the Commodore 64 version.

The game charts the life of a "defect" which has formed in "the machine", from conception, through growth, evolution and eventually death. The progression is loosely based on "The Seven Ages of Man" from the Shakespeare play, As You Like It[1] and includes many quotations and parodies of this. The original game would later be rereleased alongside a sequel/remake in 2015.


Players of the game take control of a defective machine which has taken the form of the human body. The players would experience the different stages of life, all the way from being a cell to being a senile old being. It is considered to be a work of audiovisual entertainment although the game itself does not have sound. It is separated into an audio cassette where the tape needs to be played alongside the game.[2] The length of the audio cassette is 46 minutes which is also the length of the game itself. Although the game could be played without the audio cassette, it would make it easier to understand with the help of the soundtrack. The soundtrack includes songs, musical compositions, and also voices of famous actors. As the game comes with a full transcript of the speech, it could at times be played without audio.[3]


Despite critical acclaim at the time, the game did not conform to conventions of packaging and pricing required by distributors and retailers and the game was sold mail-order only direct to the public. It subsequently gained cult status as an underground art game.[4]


Croucher retrospectively viewed the game as a disappointment, saying "I should have sold the game at a sensible price. But I wanted to put a lovely poster in it and nice packaging and a double vinyl gatefold" and that as a result the price of £15 compared to the more usual £8 meant that sales were low, and the game only broke even.[5]

In 2010, the game was included as one of the titles in the book 1001 Video Games You Must Play Before You Die.[6] In 2014 Croucher released a book about the game's (and his) history, and the making of the new game, entitled Deus Ex Machina - The Best Game You Never Played in Your Life.[7]

Rereleases and sequel[edit]

A re-imagining of the game went into production in 2010, under the title Deus Ex Machina 2, once again under the design and creation of Croucher. The new cast is led by Sir Christopher Lee as The Programmer, with Chyna Whyne as The Machine, Chris Madin as The Defect, Joaquim de Almeida as the Defect Police, and original Ian Dury session vocals.[8] It was eventually released on 11 March 2015.[9] It marked the final performance of Christopher Lee that was released in his lifetime, being released 4 months prior to his death. Alongside the sequel, a remastered version of the game entitled Deus Ex Machina, Game of the Year, 30th Anniversary Collector's Edition was released for the Android, iOS, Ouya, Microsoft Windows, Linux and Mac OS X.[10] A second remastered version, Deus Ex Machina - The Final Cut, was released in 2016 for Microsoft Windows, Linux and Mac OS X.[11]


  1. ^ "SFE: Deus Ex Machina".
  2. ^ "SFE: Deus Ex Machina".
  3. ^ "Deus Ex Machina for ZX Spectrum (1984)". MobyGames. Retrieved 2018-12-11.
  4. ^ Houghton, David. The Top 7... Maddest British old-school games - 1. Deus Ex Machina (1985). GamesRadar. 19 October 2009.
  5. ^ Campbell, Colin (2013-09-25). "The one-hour life of a 1980s video game auteur". Polygon. Retrieved 2018-12-11.
  6. ^ Mott, Tony (2010). 1001 Video Games You Must Play Before You Die. London: Quintessence Editions Ltd. p. 79. ISBN 978-1-74173-076-0.
  7. ^ Croucher, Mel (2016). Deus Ex Machina: The Best Game You Never Played In Your Life. Andrews. ISBN 9781783336920.
  8. ^ "Deus Ex Machina 2". Archived from the original on 2010-03-27.
  9. ^ "DEUS EX MACHINA 2 on Steam".
  10. ^ "Deus Ex Machina: Game of the Year, 30th Anniversary Collector's Edition Releases". MobyGames. Blue Flame Labs. Retrieved March 19, 2020.
  11. ^ Jones, Colin (July 28, 2016). "Deus Ex Machina - The Final Cut". Blogger. Retrieved March 19, 2020.

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