Interview: the art of Deus Ex: Human Revolution

PCG: I thought the idea of going into the third person to take cover was going to feel weird, but actually when I watched the demo it seemed quite natural. I don't think there's any other way to do it with cover, is there? Because the player has to know exactly how much of himself is exposed.

Jacques-Belletete: Absolutely. I'm happy to hear that. It's always felt rather good and natural to us, so yeah, getting all the flak from, uh-

PCG: It's definitely one of the things that fanboys freak out about. Including me.

Jacques-Belletete: [laughs] That's cool.

PCG: Was there anything you liked about the art style of Deus Ex one?

Jacques-Belletete: Well the story that I tell all the time, when I bought it in 2000 my computer couldn't run it at the time, like it had my old old Pentium, so I bought it and I played it at work. It was a sunday afternoon, I think I bought it at 1:30, then at one point I blinked, and it was three in the morning. I'm not kidding. It's really in my top three best games of all time.

I think that's really what Deus Ex is. It's the visuals, it's the music, it's the mood, it's the places they put you into, it's the stories, it's the people you talk to, it's all those things, right? And how the gameplay mechanics chain into one another, and all those choices making it your own fantasy. If you wanna be Rambo or James Bond... I would always be the James Bond, once I was done unlocking everything I would just go shoot everybody, you know, making sure you've got everything.

I think that's really what gives it the essence, and the role that the visuals play in that is that, like I was saying in my presentation, they recreated, or created the cyberpunk archetypes. I don't think it had a very present visual message. I don't think it was trying to convey something very specific, visually, like an emotion or a meaning or whatever, but it was creating the world it had to create in terms of cyberpunk. When I realised that after studying it, I said, “well, you know, those are the things that I gotta make sure that I have in the game, right?”

So obviously our game is not grey and blue, in the sense that we chose a colour pallette for some very specific reasons, and it's not the same as the first one. But all the cyberpunk visual pillars are all there just like in the first one. Then we made sure that we brought back the trenchcoat and the shades, which people really like.

It's funny because focus testing cyberpunk and all that kind of stuff, we had a lot of surprises. We focus tested in London for Europe and we focus tested in LA for North America. Nobody knows what cyberpunk is anymore. That was really, we were like, “What? Come on, guys, what the hell?”

PCG: You mean they didn't know what the word means, or they didn't recognise the style?

Jacques-Belletete: No, they didn't know what the word meant! They had no idea. I'm not kidding, and it's unanimous. Cyberpunk has kind of disappeared. If you look at cyberpunk literature the latest thing really has been the Matrix. In videogames, even, I would say the closest thing to cyberpunk for a long time is probably Metal Gear Solid, in the sense that it's near future, it's anticipation, it kind of deals with the same themes and stuff.

But man, apart from that, sci-fi in games is always really kind of... sci-fi . You know, it's the Halos, the Killzones, and the Mass Effects, all that kind of stuff. Based on the first one we just made sure that we did justice to Blade Runner and Ghost in the Shell and all that kind of stuff. They were the canons, really.

PCG: The Deus Ex 1 art style was slightly all over the place by the end of the game, because they'd started to introduce so many different elements. You had the Greasels hopping about, the Karkian things, and neither of those were particularly well modelled. The Greasels were interesting at least because they weren't the standard mutant thing, but I know what you mean about it not having an artistic message.

Jacques-Belletete: Yeah, yeah. But hey, it worked. It totally worked.

PCG: It seems like if you ask anyone who worked on Deus Ex – well, Warren Spector anyway – he always says that they didn't do anything well, they just tried to do everything at once. Have you taken that philosophy on?

Jacques-Belletete: To be honest with you, I think just rationally, we have no choice really. Don't get me wrong, we're trying to do everything as best as possible. It'd be wrong to have the opposite approach. Now, this being said, there's no way that we could have a stealth as good as I think we have and at the same time always have crazy scripted events a la Modern Warfare 2, where they probably spent six months polishing each one of those events, you know? It's just not possible.

The goal is to have a really good shooter, and a really good stealth game, and a really good RPG. This is it. We can't get around this. Now this being said, we do a lot of stuff. You take Grand Theft Auto, right? You decompose it into all of its little things, and you take them by themselves, and they're not as good as the sum of their parts. That's just the reality of doing a game like that. I think it's just rational, and it'd be lying to say that if you just take our first person shooter, it's going to kick freakin' every single FPS's ass out there, I'd be an idiot to tell you that.

But it's a very solid first person shooter no matter what, and you can play the game just shooting if you want, that's the nature of Deus Ex.