Aside from seeing the next Deus Ex in action at this year's E3, we also managed to catch up with Lead Game Director, Jean-Francois Dugas, as well as being joined by Jonathan Jacques-Belletête, Artistic Director, to talk about the franchise.
You're advised to read our first impressions of Human Revolution first, as we do touch on a few points I make there, but it's not a must of course. In a fairly lengthy chat, we talk about where they think Invisible War went wrong after the original, player choice in the sequel, why now and other things that include the amazing CGI trailer and more.
Seeing as this year’s E3 buzz-word seems to be “reboot,” I have to open with the obligatory, “Why now”? question. So... why now?
Jean-Francois Dugas: Deus Ex is a fantastic game, it has been there for a while, it’s inspired a lot of games in recent years and everything. It was a natural thing to bring back the game that’s influenced so many video games today and bring it back with a spin so it’s fresh for today. We think that Deus Ex kind of has this appeal that can capture the audience of today so we thought it was the right time to bring it back.
How long has it been in production?
Wow. So in the presentation they talked about the 4 pillars that make up the game. Can you give us a little more insight about how you’re planning to implement that into the gameplay?
JFD: Absolutely. With the 4 pillars, the 2 primary ones are stealth and combat, so basically you can play the entire game using stealth or combat, or you can switch back and forth between them. It’s up to you how you want to play this game.
With hacking and social, basically they are supporting roles that can fuel the stealth and the combat and also the exploration... so the way you want to role play this character. Do you want to be a very sneaky agent or do you want to be a real fighter or things like that? That is going influence your character, you’re going to upgrade your character and then you’re going to choose to go left, go right, do this, do that, have certain weapons or certain augmentations, do this do that. So, those are the key pillars that will let you go through the entire game like that. Obviously all the augmentations are going to fuel the combat aspect, the stealth aspect, the social aspect and the hacking aspect as well.
How much do the augmentations let the player do in Human Revolution?
JFD: Basically we have, at this point we haven’t locked down the final number, but we have tons of augmentations to fuel the four game pillars and basically you can upgrade yourself dependent on the money you have and the XP points you get. You might choose to be a jack of all trades and try to have augmentations in all fields and everything – so you’re able to do a bit of everything – but you’re not able to max out all the possible things.
If you go, you want to be more specialist kind of thing, like the sneaky guy or whatever you choose, then you will have the economy to invest in certain specific augmentations and then you’ll unlock all the abilities and be a real specialist at what you do and maybe you’ll be able to access the other augmentations. So everything is all about choice and consequence, like what you do will influence how you’re going to play the game and how you play the game will influence what you’re going to do. It’s basically that kind of an experience.
How far does the player choice mentality extend? Do you map your own storyline or is it a linear story experience with the chance to get to the end game as you please?
JFD: Basically, the overall story is somewhat linear because it’s a huge conspiracy that you have to go through layer after layer. We basically take the player by the hand on that respect, but all the actions you do, like all the decisions you make as you meet people and you encounter certain challenges and everything, here you have some possibilities to make decisions that might have an outcome later. So, for instance, we have a point in the game where you need to go into a police station, there’s a morgue there and it’s locked down and you need to retrieve some information. You need to get in there, so you can fight your way in, you can sneak your way in, whatever.
But also, if you explore a bit and go to the front desk, you will meet a character that you will discover is one of your old colleagues and you try to convince him to help you out. He knows that if he lets you in, it’s his job that’s on the table – he can’t do that – and with your character you can try to convince him. If you do, later on, you might meet this guy again and he’s like “I lost my job, what are you going to do about it?” Again, you have another way to solve that situation.
So we try to have all those kinds of choices and consequences on all levels. The low level in the gameplay mechanics are if you decide to go left or right, if you decide to be stealthy or combat orientated – obviously the experience is going to be different. And on the story side, depending on how you deal with some characters – the decisions you make – it’s going to affect later outcomes or decisions or even have some tie-in with the endings as well.
From what we’ve seen at E3, there seems to be this added emphasis on the small things... the attention to detail. How much effort have you put into making it feel like you’re part of this real-life living, futuristic world?
JFD: First you have to hire a crazy detail-orientated Art Director *points at Jonathan Jacques-Belletête* *laughs* That helps a lot *JJB grins* and basically, why I’m saying that is because with the art direction it’s the aspect that is the most obvious, because it’s in all aspects of the game. Details for us are really important to really create this sense of immersion to let the players get into this world and feel immersed. They don’t necessarily notice all the little details, but they are there and it makes the world feel credible and alive... and we do it for all the characters, the clothing and everything.
They did a tremendous amount of research and stuff for all the environments, and the gameplay we have little details for everything and we think it’s with that kind of depth that you create a richer experience.
Obviously it’s a franchise has an esteemed history, how do you think new players to the franchise can approach it? Will they miss out on anything? Can you pick it up at the third and not feel out your depth?
JFD: We see Deus Ex: Human Revolution as a reboot of the franchise. We kind of approach it from a new IP angle, so it’s new characters, a new main character, new locations, a new story, so you don’t need to be an old Deus Ex fan to appreciate Human Revolution, but obviously we can pay homage to the old games as well. So if you’re a guy who appreciated the old ones, you’ll find some touches here and there that go back to the original ones.
So there’s plenty of nods to the old games in there then?
JFD: There’ll be some things. I don’t want to reveal too much today, but definitely, we pay attention.
Jonathan Jacques-Belletête: Yeah, of course we thought about them. Quite a bit.
You say it’s a “reboot” of the franchise, what have you taken from the originals gameplay wise and brought forward? What have you left out?
JFD: That’s not the angle we took. Basically, we were more like approaching it like back in the day. Like, “You know what, we’ll go back to the original games and just play them and try to understand what works, what doesn’t work?” And when we were seeing things that we didn’t feel were that good, it was not necessarily about ditching them. It was more about, “Is that important? Can we make something cool out of it?” So it was more about making sure that we hit the core essence of the experience and making sure it’s in Deus Ex: Human Revolution. So for us it was not about, “Keep this,” “Remove that,” it was more about what made sense to have a great Deus Ex experience.
JJB: It was really pragmatic. Just like looking at the stuff that we need.
The first Deux Ex is generally classed as the greatest game of all time, while the sequel fared quite well, but was leagues behind the original. Have you looked at... what went wrong I suppose you could say? Where it lost its way? And how you intend to get back to the original’s success?
JFD: Definitely. We looked at both games, so we saw good in both. It was not like, one was good and the other one is not good.
JJB: Yeah, we all had stuff to learn from both games. That’s how we actually approached it. It’s really about what can we learn from both of them.
JFD: Exactly. One of the things with the second one was that from a level design perspective, their approach was more consistent throughout the game, as opposed to the first Deus Ex, that at some point starts to become more linear and more direct.
Invisible War was more consistent on that, but I think that maybe the far future setting was putting a big distance between the player and the environment. The main character was not as fleshed out and the background was maybe not as compelling. So I think all those things didn’t help to immerse players into the world quite like the first, but in my opinion, it was a good game.
Obviously you get the benefits of the Square Enix team in Japan with the CGIs now and that was clearly evident from the pre-E3 CGI trailer. It must be good for you guys to have this new extra leg to lean on. What was it like working with them? Was it a one way relationship? Did you tell them what you want? Or did they take the assets and just run with it? On another level, did they give you feedback and assistance outside of the CGIs?
JFD: John was more involved than me in the day-to-day of following up with those guys to make a trailer and everything, but in terms of the creativity, it was totally carte blanche – a blank slate. So we worked with – it was a trio – a company called Goldtooth...
JJB: That’s for the trailer. For the game itself, Square Enix hasn’t been involved.
JFD: But even for the trailer, it was a collaboration. Our art direction, our style of the game, the type of game we were making was already established and they just supported us.
JJB: Yeah, they just supported us. The thing is that the whole visual style was already there, Square Enix [Visual Works] just took what we designed and they just turned it into this amazing CGI trailer, which is like the best CGI I’ve ever seen, personally. But in terms of design direction, it’s all ours and they just took it and shot it up into the stratosphere. Literally.
JFD: It’s funny because some people say, “Oh, it’s Square Enix, we can see the Japanese touch in what we were doing”...
JJB: *laughs* But that’s from us!
JFD: Yeah, that’s from us because we’re already fans of that. *laughs*
JJB: Those are already aesthetic elements that our design – even way before we were bought by Square Enix – those were aesthetic directions that were in the game already. So pretty much anything that you can see and you’re like “That’s so Square Enix!” it was probably already there by us because we’re big fans.
And when can we expect it to drop?
JFD: Eventually in 2011.