Interviews// Deus Ex: Human Revolution

Posted 11 Oct 2010 12:21 by
It may have been nearly a decade since the last iteration, but Deus Ex still has a lot of fans. And so it should, it was one of the most genre-defining games ever released on the PC.

And now Eidos Montreal is being so bold as to make a prequel to Warren Spector's millennium classic. Jonathan Jacques-Belletęte is the art director for Deus Ex: Human Revolution, and he knows more than anyone the pressure that's on his shoulders.

But any fears that the game's pedigree is set to get tarnished should be put to rest in meeting the guy. A huge fan of Spector himself, he and the team behind the game are more than dedicated to ensure that they not only create a good Deus Ex game, but that they understand just what the original is all about.

I managed to have a good chat with Jacques-Belletęte ahead of his demonstration at last week's Eurogamer Expo to talk about the expectations of Human Revolution and the inspiration behind the artwork.

SPOnG: How have you approached the design of the game? Is Cyberpunk still a very big theme here?

Jonathan Jacques-Belletęte: Yeah it's definitely, 100 per cent, Cyberpunk in style. I don't think we could have done it any other way. This being said, one of the things we asked ourselves right from the beginning was that, with the power of consoles today, we could have reproduced Blade Runner exactly as it is in the movie. You know, make a world entirely inspired from that.

But we didn't want to do that, because it's been done before... and it's been done perfectly before in the movie, right? So even though we knew we wanted some of that Cyberpunk design, we also wanted to add our own flavour to the game. That's where the whole Renaissance influences come in, and how we get this sort of Cyber-Renaissance stuff.

We mixed that with the Cyberpunk aesthetics, and a lot of contemporary stuff as well, we looked at a lot of modern architecture in industrial design and interior decoration. There's some crazy buildings planned for the next couple of years and projects that you can already find information about and see what things are going to look like. Putting all those things together, I think that's a big part of Human Revolution's visual direction.

SPOnG: The Deus Ex series has a huge pedigree attached to it. There's got to be some pressure in making a game under that name and living up to it. Was it a challenge for you to maintain that level of development expectation?

Jonathan Jacques-Belletęte: Absolutely. We knew straight from the get-go what we were getting into. We are all huge fans of the series... I mean, there's just no way around that sort of pressure – it's a cult game.

It didn't affect us in a negative way you know - nobody lost sleep over it or anything – but we knew we had big shoes to fill, and it was a big part of our work. In Summer 2007, when we started development, we went back and played the hell out of the originals to make sure that we understood what made them such great games.

We had to really ensure we knew what the gameplay pillars were, and it's not just about mechanics – it's about why you get those specific emotions when you play, about the essence and the soul of the game. Our challenge was to try and reproduce that, and only once we understood the Deus Ex games at their core did we allow ourselves to graft our own ideas around that. It was really about making sure we knew how to do it, before starting to put our own ideas in there, that was important.

We had no real reason to leave our last jobs – many of us previously worked for Ubisoft Montreal, all on great projects. I was actually doing the art direction for Avatar at the time. We all left really because we wanted to make Deus Ex. That was the thing that attracted us, but at the same time we knew that it both wouldn't be easy, and that people wouldn't be very happy if you messed with the formula too much.

SPOnG: Trying to get that balance right... was that the reason why it has taken quite a while to get this far in development? Any major hurdles that you had to jump over along the way?

Jonathan Jacques-Belletęte: Definitely, there were hurdles. I wouldn't say that's the reason why it took the time that it did. I think any studio that starts from scratch has some challenges to overcome and that takes a bit of time.

When we started out, there were only five of us working from rented offices, no technology, no large team... I think any title that would start with those conditions aiming to be AAA status would take that amount of time, hurdles or not.

It's pretty much how long it takes to make a new IP. At the end of the day that's what we did with this game, we treated it as a new IP. You can't really find three million people that know about Deus Ex 1, unfortunately. It's just a fact. So the length is really what was needed – that being said, it wasn't easy at all (laughs)! I'd be lying if I told you this has been a walk in the park.

Visually, it's very stylised, and that was difficult to maintain while creating our own environments in the Deus Ex franchise. It was really hard to do this fusion of Renaissance with Cyberpunk whilst making it look credible as either an object or as an environment.

I have an amazing concept artist team, they found it really difficult too. I couldn't come into work with a picture and say 'this is our reference, this is what we're working towards.' There were some really wacko things that we drew up that we ended up ditching, until we found what the recipe was. And for gameplay it was largely the same thing, in trying to get this Deus Ex feeling across to the player.
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