Interview: Designing Deus Ex: Human Revolution

PCG: When Adam paid to get into the club in the demonstration, you said that you could have shot the guard outside to get in. If he'd done that would the police have followed him inside?

Dugas: I mean, if he would have done it, it would have been a huge priority just to survive, because there are bouncers inside, outside, there are the Bell Tower Security lurking in the streets. You could survive, but it's going to be tough. It's an option, but you must be ready to have one hell of a time. The key with social environments, we balance it in a way that we don't encourage it. It's still possible, but we balance it in a way that if you want to do it it's because you really feel like doing it.

PCG: I noticed you could drag corpses around. What happens if a guard finds one?

Dugas: If they're not dead, they're going to wake them up, and both of them are going to look around for you. And if the guy's dead, the guy is going to go on alert and just patrol around, and if he sees his friends, he'll be like, “Watch out, there's someone around.” So if you decide not to kill anyone, then hiding them to make sure that they are not awakened is a good idea.

PCG: You can pick up crates and stuff. Can you also take cover behind the stuff that you've placed?

Dugas: Yep, like the crate he moved to go on the side of the big gate in the second part of the level, he could have taken this with him, put it there, take cover behind it. So he can move his cover.

PCG: Can you destroy one of those huge Boxguard bots with normal bullets?

Dugas: Actually, the way we balanced the game with the enemies, it's systemic. In the sense that it's not, “Oh, if you don't have this weapon you cannot kill him.” You could have just a simple pistol kill this big robot, but hopefully you have tons of bullets with you. It's going to take a while. For the purpose of the demo we made it more vulnerable as well, it was one rocket and it's dead, but for the final game it might take more than one rocket to kill it. We don't prevent you from using [any weapon]... obviously some non-lethal weapons won't do anything.

PCG: So it's like in Deus Ex - it was possible, I think, to destroy bots with bullets eventually, but it took a ridiculous amount of time.

Dugas: It was. I've done it, so it's possible, but you need to be really really patient and have a lot of ammo.

PCG: The only way I've ever done is to hack a turret to attack enemies, then watch through a computer terminal until the bot comes in range. It's kind of hilarious, you could just watch it pound away.

Dugas: You can do it in Deus Ex: Human Revolution as well.

PCG: Awesome. But I presume that if you're in the middle of a hack and the bot comes into range, it will attack you?

Dugas: Yeah, absolutely, if you don't plug away from the computer you're going to die.

PCG: Yeah. It was always funny in Deus Ex: if someone ran into the room while you were looking through the camera, they would just kind of stand there waiting for you to finish.

Dugas: [laughs]

PCG: “Oh, it'd just be rude to shoot him!”

Dugas: “Please! Complete what you're doing!” [laughs]

PCG: Can you just punch through any wall?

Dugas: No, if you observe carefully, all those big strong walls, some of them have weaknesses. It's not like Red Faction or something like that. They have weaknesses and if you observe carefully, you might detect them. But you're going to have an augmentation that is going to give you more information, what we call the Environmental Sensor. It's going to bring up your awareness of your surroundings and the possibilities, so you're going to see where there are weaknesses and you can take advantage of it.

Basically today, it was like, there was an enemy on the other side, so the demo combines it with Smart Vision that allows you to see through walls. But if an enemy was not there, you could still destroy the wall. It's not related to the enemy. If there's an enemy there, he's going to take advantage of the situation, but those two things are not necessarily related.

PCG: What do you think Invisible War did wrong?

Dugas: That's a good question, because when we started the project we went back to the first games to look at what was good and what was not good, and in terms of like, multi-path, multi-solution, things like that, Invisible War was quite consistent, probably more than the first game. Because the latter quarter of the first game, and maybe before that, started to become a very straightforward shooter with not as many possibilities as in the first few maps.

So in that respect, I think [Invisible War] was a good game and actually was fun to play. But I think one of the things that didn't help was that in the beginning of the game, you're this Alex Denton, you don't know who you are, what is your background, what are you doing in this world. And all those characters talking at you all the time, they all want something, and it takes hours before it starts to kick in. I think maybe it was too hard to absorb and immerse in that world because it took so many hours.

Also I think that the setting was very far in the future, was more futuristic and less grounded a reality that we can relate to, and those are all aspects of it that made it harder to get into. I'm not talking about, like, universal ammo and those things, I think that's another debate, but more on the broader appeal, I think it's the setting and how you perceive it. In the first Deus Ex you're just the super soldier out of this first nanotechnology project that is successful, and you work for UNATCO, a branch of the UN, and you're this super agent and you have this identity already clear in your head wherever you go. It's near future and you see, like, the statue of liberty, like the head is on the ground - “Oh my God, something happened!” There's something strong that you can relate to that I think Invisible War lacked in the first place.

PCG: Does Deus Ex 3 have an equivalent?

Dugas: Uh, you mean in terms of...?

PCG: In terms of giving the player a compelling fantasy from the first moment, making sure he knows what he's doing?

Dugas: I think we're really closer to Deus Ex 1 in the sense that you know who you are. You don't necessarily know everything about your past, but you know who you are, who you work for, what are the factions that employ you, what is the debate. We wanted to create a stronger character, someone you can relate to. I think a choice that is removed from you, and which you need to cope with, is something that we all have at some point experienced. For us, it was really important to put the players in a world where what's happening, and the dangers, have some sort of analogy to the real world so it's easier to get into.