Interview: Designing Deus Ex: Human Revolution

Tom Francis at

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The thirty minutes I saw of the third Deus Ex game were exciting, but raised a lot of questions. So although I had time to ask game director Jean-Francois Dugas some wide-ranging stuff about Deus Ex 1 and 2, I was particularly keen to grill him on the ins and outs of how this game's systems actually work when you're playing. Refreshingly, he was willing to answer in detail on almost every subject. Without further ado:

Not how it actually plays, according to Dugas.

PCG: What did you like most about Deus Ex?

Dugas: A lot of things. Actually it's fun because when I think about this, I remember when Ion Storm the studio was born and everybody was working on Daikatana, and I don't remember their other game, and there was this little game I was reading about in PC Gamer one day. “Deus Ex? That sounds interesting.”

When this game came out it was like, “Wow, this title is surprisingly subtle”. What I liked about first was the universe, those characters and this film noir story. I was really immersed into it. Then it was that with creativity alone you can solve your challenges; that was really cool back in the day.

For me, a really good part was that the game was answering back to what you were doing. It wasn't really necessary to destroy everything or to kill everyone. I was like, “Gosh!” It was the first time ever that I had that kind of experience. So those things all together were really key aspects.

PCG: Yeah, on the first level, if you kill absolutely everybody, I hadn't noticed until recently, but your brother has a completely new line of dialogue: “You're a complete jackass!”

Dugas: [laughs] But that was strong, because even today not many games do that.

PCG: There seems to be a focus on making content that all players will see because everything is so expensive to make, and takes so much time. You don't want to record more dialogue unless everybody's going to hear that line. Anyway, how does the hacking minigame work?

Dugas: Actually, today on purpose we didn't talk about it, just to let you understand what you can do with it. But basically it's very simple. It can be deep, but the basics are very simple. It's a network, and you just enter from the IO port and you need to reach the registry, to get your information. Basically you have a data-course of routing that is protecting the network. As you capture nodes to get to the registry, on each node you capture there's a probability of being detected. If you're detected, the subroutine starts to trace you back to your point of entry, and at that moment you try to get to the registry before it gets to you.

If it doesn't wake up because your hacking abilities, augmentations, have hit the roof, then you can just go to the registry without being detected. If you're detected, the computer locks, the alarm rings, if there are still enemies around they'll go in to investigate the area, things like that.

PCG: So it sounds quite a lot like the System Shock 2 hacking, but with an extra layer added on.

Dugas: Actually yes and no. Yes in the sense that it's a minigame like in Bioshock. I mean it's not the same minigame, but it's a minigame. But the other aspect is that you totally stay in the game. So, today was hacking, but he could have looked with the camera, looked around if enemies are coming. So basically, if there's an enemy next to you, trying to hack might not be a good idea, because you can get shot at and killed.

PCG: For me, the moment that I got Deus Ex was when I realised that if there's two guys around a corner, you can't just run around and shoot them both. It seems, from the demo we saw today, that you're incredibly powerful in Human Revolution. Do you force the player to think around situations, or can he always shoot his way through?

Dugas: We're balancing the game, but in the demo you've seen today, it wasn't possible to die. He was invincible in the first place. That was more to showcase the game and the potential. In the game itself, we don't want it to be a run and shoot game. We're balancing it out like if you try to run and go at the enemies, 2, 3, 4 bullets maybe, and you're dead.

I mean, you can acquire the augmentations and the weapons that will make you a very kick ass killer on the field, but it doesn't mean that it's running all over the place, it's going to be hard. So, taking cover, looking at the possibilities and trying to find other ways, are all the possibilities that will often times save you from dying. It's really important to us to balance the game in a way that is going to encourage you to explore the augmentations, to explore the maps, to explore all the different tools around you.

It doesn't mean that it's going to impossible to be a straight shooter, but it's going to be quite challenging.

PCG: What are the rules for when you can do takedowns like the wrist-blade stabbing moves?

Dugas: The rules are very simple. You need to have the augmentation, and you need to get close to an enemy.

PCG: Does it matter whether they can see you or not?

Dugas: If they see you and you're not dead, it's going to be a different animation, because you're up front so it's not the same thing as surprising them from behind. What I've been explaining today is that basically there are two ways you can off them. You can press the button to kill them, or you can briefly press it just to make them unconscious. So when all the arm hatches are opening and he's going with his blades then it's killing, but if they're not opening then [it will be non-lethal]. So it's all in the player's control. Basically you can come from the front and still do it, but you need, to come in from a corner and surprise him. If you come from afar and you try, he's going to start shooting at you, and the chances that you survive are low. It can happen, but they're very low.

But you can do them anywhere, anytime, it's up to you. It's contextual, but it's not scripted. You could go in the city and do it to the civilians in the store and everything, but it's not necessary.