Want to know the development story behind Deus Ex: Human Revolution? What you find out may surprise you. Developing a video game is a long process, and things can change dramatically as the team works on multiple systems like combat, level design, stealth, enemy behavior and then attempts to put them all together.
We spoke with game director Jean-François Dugas and weapon designer Antoine Thisdale about Deus Ex: HR to find out what worked and what didn't during the long road to developing the game. Read on and watch the video beyond the break to get the real story behind Deus Ex.
G4: How has the reaction of the fans of the first two games been? Do you feel as though you've pleased that tough to please demographic?
Jean-François Dugas: I think if you want to be realistic, it’s impossible to satisfy every single person that loved Deus Ex, but I think the overall reaction of the fans of the first two games has been very very very good. For a lot of them, they said that we were able to surpass their expectations, which is very very good news for us, we were really happy. And also I think with the new fans as well, they're getting into that kind of game and they're discovering a kind of experience that they didn't experience before. And overall it has been very very positive. Some people think that we're better than the first Deus Ex, some people are thinking that we're just close to being as good as the first one - Just that kind of debate I think is a great success on its own.
Was there any feature in the game that you guys were particularly proud of, that came out either better than, or perfectly as you expected it to?
What I'm happy with is is the fact that since we have four gameplay pillars, we managed to make them all compelling in their own way and they all work together in one cohesive experience. Where I was a bit surprised - I knew our stealth was kind of fun, we thought our combat was on par as well - but for most players we think that the stealth is stealing the show, which was a good surprise. Our goal was not to have stealth steal the show for players, but when it does, and people see it as a positive and like it - it's good news for us.
But the thing I'm most proud of is that they all blend together into something that is fun to play - it's fun to do combat, it's fun to be stealthy, it's fun to engage in dialogue with the characters and hacking has it's own fun in the mini game itself, with what you can discover in that. So I'm really happy. The fear is that when you start a project, and you know you have different features like that, and those big features all need their own set of sub-features, making sure that all those main features will be as fun as the other ones is a huge challenge, and you're always scared at first that you're going to screw one up compared to another. In the end, we managed to make them all fun, to various degrees, but they're all fun in their own way.
What was the evolution of the skill tree system like? Did it change radically over development?
It went through different shapes, definitely. The Augmentations themselves, we identified them early on in production at some point. So that didn't move quite a bit, we added one or two, and at some point we cut one or two - I can't even remember what they were, but we realized they weren't working with the experience, or we didn't have the time to make them work with the experience. So mainly where the changes happened, it's in terms of how you unlock your stuff. At first it was more, linear I would say, then we went with body parts, and originally it wasn't Praxis points, it was money that you would use, and you would need to install augmentations before you could upgrade them. So we kind of toyed with the concept for a while, until we came up with what we have today.
We kind of went back and forth, and one of the main reasons we played with that is that with the old system, it was forcing you to go to LIMB clinics, and that we decided very early on, before the maps or before we knew how the adventure would unfold - we knew that LIMB clinics would mainly be in the city hubs, and not in the compounds where you go behind enemy lines and things like that. So when we realized that we only had two LIMB clinics in the game - one in Hengsha, one in Detroit - and you were going to revisit Detroit once and Hengsha once, it gave you about four opportunities in the entire game to acquire new augmentations. And we felt it was wrong - players would have a lot of points, or money, and they might want to upgrade something right now, but they can't do it, they have to wait to be in a city to be able to do that. And that's why we revisited that, to make sure that players could have a system that could be more flexible, so even though you might not be in a city for a while, if you obtain enough points to unlock new abilities, you can. We thought it would be more organic and give players more opportunities to play with the system.
The woman at the LIMB clinic mentioned that you have the ability to activate your augments, rather than waiting for them to activate - we were wondering if that was in reference to the current skill system, or perhaps for a system that used to be in the game?
No - we changed the dialogue. When we changed the system, we had to re-record her lines and we adapted her speech to the current system. Basically the logic is that when Adam Jensen is injured, and is fixed with the augments and what not at the beginning of the game, the idea is that in the sense of the Game World, Adam Jensen already has all the augmentations in his body, there is nothing that he doesn't have. It's just that at first, when your brain has to interface with the artificial parts, establishing the communication and being able to use your body the way you could use it takes time. And this is where you play, and you get XP points, you're spending time with your body and eventually, we let you unlock stuff, so it's more like Adam Jensen is becoming more comfortable with his new body and he's able to use some parts that he couldn't use before. That's kind of the philosophy behind it.
Were there additional augmentations and takedowns that Adam had that just didn't make it into the final game?
Yeah absolutely. We wanted Adam Jensen to be able to perform takedowns from cover, without having to leave your cover to takedown an enemy. We wanted to have other moves that were kind of uncanny, that we didn't have the time to pursue. And in terms of augmentations, without going into details of all the augmentations we cut, we wanted to have wireless hacking - things like that that didn't make it into the final game.
Near the beginning of the game, when Sarif is tasking you with your first mission, he asks you if you want to go in up close, or keep your distance and he gives you one of two guns, We were wondering - this guy has a bit of money, why can't he just give you both?
*Laughs* In real life, - I guess he would have given you whatever you wanted to go with. Why we didn't - it was to try to encourage, or to put players in the mindset of: What kind of player are you? Are you the one who wants to go guns blazing, or do you want to be more careful? Do you want to take them in close combat, or from a distance? So even though the game doesn't force you in one path or another, it was just to put that kind of mindset in the head of the players. Instead of going with total realism, we wanted to encourage the players to, at least at the beginning of the game, to kind of explore how they wanted to play the game.
Were there other games, movies, literature or pop culture references that inspired the look of Deus Ex? You can easily see a Blade Runner influence in the way the world looks; are there other things that the team drew inspiration from?
It was a wide range. Blade Runner was one, because it's kind of the ultimate classics in the cyber punk aspect. So it was a good reference, but it was not like "Oh my God, Blade Runner is the cult classic, so it's all about it." It was more a collection of influences, from all over the place. We watched Robocop, even Johnny Mnemonic, we went back to Ghost in the Shell, and we watched a lot of documentaries. Also we have been influenced by new trends in architecture, modern architecture, and European architecture things like that. Other animes too, other than Ghost in the Shell. Even fashion. Like it was all over the place, there is not one thing that was THE reference; it was a collection of things. And the challenge for us was to create the universe in which those influences would fit together in a very harmonized way.
It was our way to do things - our art direction, we call it Cyber Renaissance because obviously it's been influenced by Renaissance aspects - architecture, and what not of that time. And the cyberpunk archetypes that we know and all those other things, and it was all about making sure all those things worked together. And finding those influences, and just making them work together took us two years! So just that little thing was very challenging. And it was important that the visual style was also supporting the philosophies and the themes of the game. It was not art for art. It was art with a purpose. It was art that was supporting the gameplay. It was all those things at once. So the influences came from all those places, and we knew what we wanted to do with them, imagery needed to tell a story as well.
We talked with Antoine Thisdale about the weapons, about how there were more weapons originally? What were some of the weapons you cut?
One that I would have loved to have had was the Flamethrower. Mainly because it was a throwback to the original Deus Ex that the fans would have loved. But at the time we had so many things to do, and you look at your weaponry, when you design, you need to understand what you're shooting for. What kind of experience, what kind of fantasy the players going to be playing in. And you need to make sure you have the weaponry that covers all those aspects first. Like the Flamethrower would have been a nice addition, but when you look at the playing style and everything, there are weapons that are more important, or have a better strategy aspect to the playstyles than the Flamethrower. So when we have to cut, we look at the more exotic ones that can be kind of fun, but overall, if you keep the flamethrower, but remove the Combat Rifle, I think there's something missing somewhere. And this is how you need to look at those things to make sure you don't get exited with exotic stuff when the basic stuff that's important is there.
And then with the Augmentations - was it challenging developing augmentations that worked in the open world?
Yes, of course it's challenging because, the thing we wanted to avoid, but we couldn't avoid 100%, was that we wanted to have all the augmentations be as pertinent as the next ones. We wanted to make it so if a player purchased it, it wouldn't be useful all the time, but enough so that it was worth purchasing. Like I said, I'm not totally sure we mastered that aspect. It's challenging, we always have to go "Okay this is my augmentation set, and this is my environment. How is it giving me access to something that wasn't before." So we were always playing the maps with the augmentations, and exploring. And there were some maps where there were no opportunities to use your augmentations - it begins to become just a shoot or stealth kind of map. So we were going back to the map realizing where the problems were, and addressing them. So it was a sort of iterative process, until we were satisfied with what we have. You always have the constraint of time, and the constraint of how many people you get, so you always try to address the issues in the limit of what you can do. But that's how we preceded.
Was the choice to kill bosses story-driven, or did you want to make sure you had a big action element to the game?
None of those answers. *Laughs* With the original design, they were meant to be like the rest of the game, where you have different choices - you can be stealthy, you can be lethal or non-lethal, you can be combat oriented - and bosses were falling in the same category. The thing is we ran into several issues during development left and right, and we couldn't do it the way we wanted to do it. And I want to mention something, because in the last couple of weeks on the net, a lot of people are criticizing the company Grip that helped us in making the boss fights, in terms of AI and stuff, and they are getting a lot of criticism - like "Oh now we understand why the bosses are not that good, because it was Grip," and I want to set the record straight.
Grip did an excellent job with us for the mandate they had, they did exactly what we asked for, and so the only people responsible for the boss fights are us internally. The thing is we couldn't make them with the vision we had first, and when we realized that, we were so far along in the development process that cutting them totally would have created other problems elsewhere in the storyline which would have created more damage to the experience. We decided to support them, even though they were more combat oriented - the goal was that at least they will be somewhat entertaining, and we won't make them frustrating.
Obviously, it was a big failure - a main point of frustration for players is the boss fights. And we do a lot of playtesting internally, that let us find a lot of problems with the game and let us address them, and with the bosses, this is where people playing the game right now differ. During the tests, when we asked if they were frustrating, they said no. It happened, once in a while that you had a player that struggled, but the average player didn't struggle with them. So we were kind of shocked in the end that, fair enough they're inconsistent with the design of the game, and we knew that based on what we already discussed, but that they were frustrating - that has been a big big surprise for us. That was not our intent at all. But the lesson is learned.
I'm sure you guys are reading forums, watching YouTube videos - have the players done anything that surprised you or done anything that you didn't even know was possible?
There were things, even before the game came out, like when we were watching play testers, sometimes they were doing stuff that we didn't think - sometimes it was a simple thing, sometimes it was more clever stuff. Some players, with the robots - the smaller ones - players who were struggling a bit, one player in the Tai Yong Medical section, took things from around the room and pinned the robot into a corner because he didn't have the ammo anymore to destroy it. It was funny to see that kind of stuff, we didn't see it before.
Even this morning - I was having trouble throwing the basketball into the net, and I saw a video this morning of a player that was doing it from several crazy angles from all over the place, I don't understand how he can do it, but hats off to that guy *laughs*. We've seen a lot of things like that. Or like all the fun videos with Adam Jensen dancing and whatnot - that was hilarious. We were all passing the video to people internally, and we just laugh and we've watched it several times. It was really funny - it was the "Safety Dance" video I'm talking about. Things like that. And every week, there's someone who comes up with something new. So yes - we have a fun time watching what the fans are doing with the game *laughs*
Looking back at the game, is there anything that you guys would change? You talked about the bosses, which it sounds like you might re-tool. But is there anything where you say, "Well, next time around we'd like to do this, or do this differently?"
If we were to make another game in the series, definitely we would look at what we did, where we were strong and where we were weak. And we would probably ask ourselves how we can go deeper in the areas where we were already strong, and how to address the areas where we were weak. The boss fight issue is a good example. So we'll see in the future if we make another game.
The Latisha character - I know you've released a statement about her, but is there anything you guys wish you would have done differently around that character?
When that thing came out, it flashed up for a few days I guess, and it said what I think it had to say, and I think that's the end of the story.
When you play the game, how do you go through it?
Personally, I'm more of a stealthy guy, and I like to take as few lives as possible. So if I can play it all without killing anyone I will do it. If I screw up or I'm in trouble, then I'll fight for my survival. But I like to be that kind of ghost that reads everything, picks up everything, and eliminates the threats without being seen. That's kind of it. And once in a while when I'm really mad, I just pull out my gun and just shoot everyone. But that's not typical *laughs.*
Do you have a favorite gun?
My favorite weapon, and strangely enough it's the Crossbow, because of course it's very lethal, but at the same time it's also silent. So it goes with the stealthy approach. It's just the fact that it makes no noise, and it can be so brutal nailing someone to the wall or something like that. It's just so satisfying. So it's my favorite one. It's not the one I use the most, but when I do it's always a pleasure.
What about the team there, are you working on another game, are you going into support mode for Deus Ex?
It's an interesting question, and I'll be happy to answer it in the future, but not today. Thanks so much - I hope you do not get stuck on the boss fights!
Is there anything that the players haven't discovered yet in the game?
It's hard for me to answer if players have found everything in the game, because since it's a big game, and a collaboration with a lot of people, and a lot of people put in their own Easter eggs, or their own little secrets, and there are things that I haven't found yet.
Thank you so much.