Deus Ex: Human Revolution Interview
with Eidos Montreal's Jean-Francois Dugas
For fans of the original Deus Ex, few titles have been looked forward to with as much excitement and anxiety as the upcoming third addition to the franchise, Deus Ex: Human Revolution. After the unsettling changes made to accommodate the console audience in 2003's Deus Ex: Invisible War, many die-hards had given up on the idea of a worthy sequel ever being made. Fast forward seven years and here comes Human Revolution, an intricate and ambitious title that's got us all stirred up, looking like it just might live up to the legacy of the original game.
Recently, we spoke to Eidos Montreal's Lead Designer, Jean-Francois Dugas, to find out all we could about this potentially unforgettable game. With four months left in development, it seems Eidos would speak more candidly about the game but in this exchange, Dugas seems to be playing his cards fairly close to the vest.
AtomicGamer: One of the themes in the first Deus Ex was of the reach of government and authority figures. Of the three endings (and the effect that the first game's Tracer Tong ending had in Invisible War), it seemed like the team at ION Storm preferred the idea of JC Denton combining with Helios to become the benevolent dictator. Is that true?
Jean-Francois Dugas: I can't speak for Ion Storm and their intentions because only they know them.
AG: Human Revolution is a prequel which means its ending will have some constraints, but are the themes (of Big Brother watching) going to play a key role in the plot, or will there be others you're focusing on instead?
JD: I don't want to enter too much in the details of the story because spoilers aren't fun but we do focus on Transhumanism themes and what it means to be human. Of course, we expand beyond that because there are other themes that blend naturally into the main one.
AG: Deus Ex was one of the only pre-9/11 games to explore the topic of widespread terrorism, but clearly the image of today's terrorists doesn't quite match up with the domestic terrorists that the first game's developers depicted. Knowing what we know a decade later, are you making terrorism a big part of Human Revolution's themes, and if so, how do you reconcile the real world's global terrorism problem with the view that the original game had?
JD: Terrorism is a part of our experience but it's not central to it. There's a debate about what it means to be human and we're entering the ethical realm of "should we be able to become what we can become?" which is polarizing people's view on both sides of the question. And with any difficult subjects, you always have people who are taking things at face values thinking they will change the world through radical actions. And that's part of the game but explore this on other levels of society through politics, corporations, etc.
AG: How did you decide to focus in on a pre-set hero in the person of Adam Jensen rather than allowing the player to choose between male and female as in Invisible War?
JD: Early on, we knew we wanted to create a strong character that people could connect/relate to. We wanted to create a strong emotional connection between the main character and the players. and that came at the price of abandoning the male/female choice. And to be honest, I do not mention the additional costs in terms of money, time, disc space, resources, etc., required to support the male/female option. It's not always as simple as it sounds.
AG: Will there be any character customization at all? In the first Deus Ex for example, you could choose hair and skin color.
JD: Again, to be consistent with our goal of trying to create a strong character, we had to make the difficult decision of abandoning these kind of features early on.
AG: Will we see any of the first game's characters, or since it's 25 years before the first Deus Ex, perhaps some older relatives? :) Barring that, will there be any other kinds of nods to the first game?
JD: Without spoiling anything, you can definitely look for some nods to Deus Ex. Some very subtle ones and maybe some not so subtle ;)
AG: The music from Deus Ex was many of our fondest memories of the game. What can we expect from Human Revolution's soundtrack?
JD: You can expect a powerful score from Michael McCann who has been working with us for quite a while now under the direction of our Audio Director guy, Steve Szczepkowski, which does a fantastic job at getting the best out of Michael to create a unique Deus Ex soundtrack. Just last week, we finished the Opening Credits movie for the game with Michael's soundtrack on it and it just blew me away. It's emotionally powerful yet subtle. It feels fresh and it perfectly fits the mood we're going for.
AG: So many games nowadays pair up intense action with at least basic RPG systems; it's a combination that has its roots in games like Ultima Underworld, System Shock, and indeed, Deus Ex. But now that everyone seems to be doing it, how do you innovate? Or do you?
JD: I don't think mixing the action/RPG elements in a single game is innovative in itself anymore. But you can still be innovative in the way you present it to the player, how the game experience is going to feel, to play out, etc. Or, at least, I do believe our game feels fresh. I think we innovate in the visuals; the details we put into the map is incredible. In gameplay, I think we push the social aspect in our social "boss fights", we push the degree of freedom and the narrative, for examples. While not entirely new, it's quite unseen in first person games.
AG: When bringing action and RPG together is it enough to choose between wholesale innovation or refinement of pre-existing designs, or do you find you have to do both at the same time?
JD: I think you always need to go for a little bit of both. Total innovation is hard and experimental by nature, thus potentially expensive. So, you need to balance out your efforts. Also, when you deal with a franchise that has core values, you can't go in the opposite direction either.
AG: We noticed that the E3 2010 demo of Human Revolution was run on a PC. Is Human Revolution "at home" on the PC, and what kind of features, beyond the usual graphics and control configuration options, do you have planned for it?
JD: Actually, it was on PS3 if I remember correctly. As cliché as it sounds, for us, it's not about platforms, it's about making the best game we can and it needs to be great everywhere it lands. And this is the honest answer.
AG: Some hardcore Deus Ex fans have already dismissed Human Revolution after reading about the third-person cover system and regenerating health. Do you feel like you can successfully bring these old-school fans back from the brink to give Human Revolution a try, and if so, how?
JD: If we're successful at making a great game and this is our goal, I think the fans will want to play it. And I'm confident that they will judge the game as a whole, for what it is regardless of some different personal preferences which I totally respect.
AG: Deus Ex essentially had an experience point system, without levels, that allowed you to spend the points to rank up JC's skills in a variety of areas from swimming to computer hacking to melee attacks. Do you plan on messing with that formula at all, and if so, how?
JD: We have an experience point system that allows you to unlock your character's augmentations. So, there are no skills per se, they're part of the augmentation system.
AG: The art style in Human Revolution is of particular interest to many gamers who have an eye for art and design; the combination of Renaissance fashion with a Blade Runner-esque "dirty" science fiction future is a very alluring one. But the E3 trailer and demo also showed us a more sterile and spartan future in some scenes, complete with sleek, high-tech weaponry and corporate espionage all around. How do these themes combine?
JD: The Cyber-Renaissance art style is our main angle. It helps support the story, characters, the game's themes and to give our own flavor. Since it's used as a mean to convey something very specific, it can't be all over the place otherwise it would dilute its power, its message. Still, even when it's not as present, there is, most part of the time, a very subtle presence that can be felt on different degrees. So, the underlying visual driving force is constant through the game making it look homogenous.
AG: The Human Revolution trailer starts with protagonist Adam Jensen's nightmare of melting his wings off while flying straight upwards, like Icarus did in Greek Mythology. The benevolent AI that helps JC in the first game is named Icarus. Coincidence? The Icarus myth serves a very specific purpose in the Trailer.
JD: It is the analogy to Transhumanism. The wings symbolize the will to be more than what we are and the sun represents the potential dangers of pushing it too far.
AG: Does one of Human Revolution's endings have Adam's consciousness transferred and converted into the Icarus AI? :)
JD: (joking) Yes, of course! Now the conclusion of the game is spoiled! LOL! ;)
Thanks to the Jean-Francois and the whole team at Eidos Montreal for being so gracious. We'll have more coverage of Deus Ex: Human Revolution on AtomicGamer soon!