Deus Ex Machina (video game)

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Deus Ex Machina
Deus Ex Machina Coverart.png
Developer(s)Automata UK
Publisher(s)Automata UK, Electric Dreams
Designer(s)Mel Croucher
Platform(s)ZX Spectrum, Commodore 64, MSX
Genre(s)Art 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 other popular 8-bit formats.

The game was the first to be accompanied by a fully synchronised soundtrack which featured narration, celebrity artists and music. 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 and includes many quotations and parodies of this.


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.[1]


Players of the game are to take control of a defected 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 visual-audio 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. 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.[2]


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.[3]

In 2010, the game was included as one of the titles in the book 1001 Video Games You Must Play Before You Die.[4]

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.[5]

In 2014 Croucher released a book about the game's (and his) history, and the making of the new game. The book is entitled Deus Ex Machina - The Best Game You Never Played in Your Life. The game's sequel was eventually released in 2015.


  1. ^ Houghton, David. The Top 7... Maddest British old-school games - 1. Deus Ex Machina (1985). GamesRadar. 19 October 2009.
  2. ^ "Deus Ex Machina for ZX Spectrum (1984)". MobyGames. Retrieved 2018-12-11.
  3. ^ Campbell, Colin (2013-09-25). "The one-hour life of a 1980s video game auteur". Polygon. Retrieved 2018-12-11.
  4. ^ Mott, Tony (2010). 1001 Video Games You Must Play Before You Die. London: Quintessence Editions Ltd. p. 79. ISBN 978-1-74173-076-0.
  5. ^ "Deus Ex Machina 2". Archived from the original on 2010-03-27.

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