Deus Ex: Human Revolution Interview
With Eidos Montreal's Mary DeMarle
It's been a long time coming, but Square Enix has finally let the press go hands-on with Deus Ex: Human Revolution - you can read our preview of DX:HR right now. We also got the chance to sit down with one of the creative minds behind the game's concept and story, Eidos Montreal's Mary DeMarle, about the main character, Adam Jensen, his motivations and past, throwbacks to the original Deus Ex, and even get a glimmer of the bright future that the Deus Ex franchise now likely has.
AtomicGamer: We're here with Mary DeMarle, Lead Writer and Narrative Designer on Deus Ex: Human Revolution. We got to play some of the game's intro, both before and after the main character, Adam Jensen, is nearly killed and parts of his broken body are replaced with sci-fi augmentations. Now, one of the things we don't see too much is his opinion on the matter. Does Jensen hate his augmentations?
Mary DeMarle: It's really you that gets to decide if he hates them or not. Story-wise, he starts when you're at a time when humanity is questioning whether this is a good thing or a bad thing and he personally hasn't made up his mind yet as to what he wants to do. [At the start], he hasn't become augmented, and he's getting pressured to be augmented, and he doesn't really necessarily know if he wants to yet. He hasn't made up his mind. And then of course the initial incident happens and he's forced to become [augmented] so now he's dealing with that issue. And he's thrown right into middle of the whole crisis and he's got to figure out he feels about that, but it's you as the player that ultimately gets to decide how he feels about that.
AG: There have been a lot of comparisons made between JC Denton, the main character in Deus Ex, and Jensen. Denton played it like a quiet badass, and he didn't have a lot to say unless it was dragged out of him by other characters. Is Jensen the same in that respect?
MD: In that respect, he does tend to be a more quiet character, a more cynical character. The lead actor was saying, "I love playing this character - I don't really have to do much because I just have to say 'Right.' or various other things." But he can get verbal sometimes.
AG: JC Denton never had an internal monologue. He didn't talk inside his own head. Jensen has done that in the cinematic trailers for Human Revolution, but does he do that in-game?
MD: Not during the course of the game, no.
AG: Pritchard is an interesting character. At first he's like a douchebag version of Deus Ex's Alex Jacobson. He's on the comm, briefing you, and but unlike Jacobson was with JC, Pritchard is constantly talking trash because he doesn't really like Jensen. We don't usually see attitude from characters in that particular role.
MD: Alex Jacobson is a character everybody loves, and they really liked having him as their "companion", so to speak - the briefer - and in this one, we really wanted to have a character that represents who Adam is, in a sense. What I mean by that is that Adam is basically an everyday working-class person who has a job and he has to do it. And like every working-class person, there are occasionally people that you have to work with that you just don't like, but you still have to work with them. And that's the direction we started in with Pritchard. We always want to have that realism of, "this guy is a jerk and I don't like him, but I have to work with him and in the end we can be professional with each other but we just don't like each other". It came from there.
AG: Does it always stay that way, or does Pritchard eventually come around to Jensen's way of thinking?
MD: I think that - I don't know, I think I want you to explore that in the game itself. But Pritchard is who Pritchard is, and it's very hard for people to change.
AG: In the demo we got to play today, we had the intro sequence, then a chance to explore Sarif Industries' headquarters, and finally one mission at Sarif's manufacturing facility. I noticed several Deus Ex 1 references - the first lock code given is 0451, the chance to visit the ladies room and get yelled at about it later, references to Bob Page and Versalife. Were there any I missed in this first part of the game?
MD: I'm trying to think of any that you missed. It was very important to us, because all the people who made the game, the core design team, were all huge fans of the original game. Even though we're creating a new story in that universe that happens 25 years before Deus Ex, we still wanted to have those touches in there, those things that remind us. So, right from the beginning, there were certain things you just have to have - the 0451 code is the first code in every Deus Ex game, and the ladies' bathroom is the classic that everyone always remembers. Bob Page is a big one as well. I'm not sure that you missed any off the bat, but there will be more as you go [further] into the game.
AG: One of the things I noticed is that things like newspapers are on electronic tablets, but in Deus Ex, 25 years later, they were actual newspapers. At some point, I assume some global collapse happens to explain the backwards step in technology.
MD: It wasn't necessarily a conscious decision. We wanted to create a game - since it's only 17 years into the future - that everyone can relate to now, and everyone can recognize now. You realize that everyone has their tablets and their iPads and Nooks, people are already reading digital newspapers. To have that not be the realism of 2027, we felt we were missing something - even if it contradicts the actual Deus Ex. However, we have the fact that the story is 25 years before, and a lot can happen in 25 years. As our slogan says, "It's not the end of the world, but you can see it from here." So, is there going to be a collapse? That will be determined in other episodes.
AG: By "other episodes", you do mean in Human Revolution, right? Not some sequel that's already planned?
MD: I won't comment on that one.
AG: Deus Ex is one of the few games that even dared to take on the topic of terrorism. I've heard in other interviews that terrorism wasn't supposed to be a big part of Human Revolution, but Sarif Industries is attacked by anti-augmentation terrorists. So, does that stay as at least some continuing theme?
MD: We are dealing with the idea of the global conspiracy, and we're dealing with a storyline that is relevant today, so obviously today, we have terrorism and extremism. [Anti-augmentation extremists] Purity First are called terrorists and extremists in that whole controversy that's happening. So there are those kind of themes and touches. We also focus more on, today, globalism, and corporations being stronger than governments - that's something that's very relevant today and our storyline is heading in that direction as opposed to following the route of terrorism per se.
AG: Adam Jensen obviously has a history with Megan Reed, the lead researcher on whatever big breakthrough Sarif Industries made. Will we get into their past later in the game?
MD: Adam and Megan have had a history; they were once very, very close with each other. They've since split, and now he's working with her. You'll get to experience that and a bit of his feelings. We didn't want to make that a central point of the story - we didn't want to make this about the love between these two, because we didn't feel that it's right to, if you're the player, to force you to feel love for a character that you only meet in the beginning of this game before this crucial incident occurs.
AG: Does Jensen talk about her much?
MD: You can discover more about her as the game goes on, the way people talk to Jensen about her, and you'll discover more information as the story goes on about her research which plays into the storyline as well. There are plenty of opportunities within the game to discover more about Adam and his relationship with her, and what it all means. That will become a part of the storyline.
AG: At the end of the intro, she's presumed dead -
MD: She's dead after -
AG: Definitely dead?!
MD: Didn't you see the newspaper [after the intro]?
AG: Yeah, but when we last saw her, it looked like she just got knocked to the ground -
MD: Then it faded to black and you didn't get to see the rest.
AG: So there must be something there. Gotta be something there. She's still alive.
MD: You'll have to play the game to find out.
AG: Maybe she's augmented and she's a boss later in the game.
MD: [laughs] I'll have to think about that.
AG: In the last 15 or so years in TV, movies, and games, we've seen a big move away from protagonists being gallant heroes to open-ended characters or anti-heroes. Possibly someone who kills a lot of otherwise-innocent people, but for the "right" reasons. Is that where you're going with Jensen?
MD: Where we're going with Jensen is to allow you to determine what kind of a hero he is. The game allows you to play completely non-lethally if you want, or you can play it incredibly lethally, and the game will reflect that, and comment on that in various ways throughout. For us, it was more about creating realistic characters who feel real. Therefore, we didn't want to have any black or white distinction in characters, 100% good or 100% bad. We don't have that. Deus Ex is all about shades of gray and having that dimensionality that allows you to be either-or in any one given time. I'd say that's kind of the direction we wanted to give for that.
AG: In Deus Ex, JC Denton is forced to betray UNATCO, the government agency he's been groomed to work for, and the player doesn't have a choice there. It seems likely that at some point Jensen will be asked to betray someone. Will players get choices like that, or does Jensen decide those matters without any player intervention?
MD: You have to always choose who you're going to trust, and make your decisions accordingly in that sense. Ultimately, is there a forced betrayal along the lines of Deus Ex? We don't like to force anything.
AG: With JC Denton, he was special. He wasn't the first one to be nano-augmented, but he and his brother were the first big public ones to go on missions. Jensen's not like that. What challenges did that bring in that he's not the Jesus figure.
MD: That's a very good question. Never had that one before, so I don't have an answer ready. The challenge, I think, in creating Jensen was exactly that - a lot of video games, it seems that you are the "special" one. You are the chosen one. When we struggled with the storyline in initial development, we did have to find what it is that makes Jensen special like that. Hopefully we found it, hopefully you'll discover it, but it isn't the same as it is with JC. It's not like everybody knows this person is special. The challenge was, really, just creating the storyline and an interesting character that will come out of it. Hopefully we've succeeded.
AG: Well, I think I've run out of questions for now. Thank you so much!
MD: Thank you.