Game Rant recently had the fortune to trap the very engaging and humorous, but not fleet of foot, Jonathan Jacques-BelletÃªte of Eidos Montreal in an elevator so that we could grill him about the studio's upcoming RPG, Deus Ex: Human Revolution.
With a well-timed pull of a fire alarm lever and the maintenance crew in our back pocket, we were able to question Jacques-BelletÃªte for the next 30 minutes without interruption, and to our surprise, he politely responded to our inquiries.
For those who may not know, Jacques-BelletÃªte is the Art Director of this highly anticipated prequel to the original Deus Ex, which was developed by the now defunct Ion Storm, Inc. During our discussion, Jacques-BelletÃªte spoke about how the delay of the release of Deux Ex: Human Revolution will help the final product, how cutscenes are utilized to enhance the story, what kind of DLC can be expected in the future, whether a Deus Ex sequel is already in the works, and why the city of Detroit was chosen as the future home of the cybernetic industry.
Game Rant: Now that the official release date has been announced for August 23, 2011, for North America, will you be able to make any changes to the final game?
Jonathan Jacques-BelletÃªte: It's really all about the fine-tuning, the balancing, and mostly debugging and stabilization. It's such a huge game where there is a bunch of content you may not even see in one play through. We've playtested it quite extensively. We give five days for the playtesters and they finish it in a week. Some don't even finish it in a week. Because they know they have five days, they mostly cater to the main quest and main story line and they finish it in 25 hours.
So if you add to that [time] all the snooping around, if you're a completionist and you do all the side quests, acquiring all the stuff that you can acquire, the time...I don't want to say a number because for that we don't have hard data as to how long. Is it 30 or 35 hours, 40? I have no idea. But it is 20-25 hours for the main quest.
My point is when a game is that big, you realize to stabilize properly and debug it properly and balance it properly — all the economies of the game such as the experience points economy or the money economy or how you upgrade [Adam Jensen] throughout the game - it is quite a bit of work. That kind of experience did not exist in the Montreal game industry even though it's known to be a city where great games come [from]. An RPG had never been done in Montreal ever.
JJB: Yeah, yeah, we're great for a whole bunch of games and a whole lot of game styles...what EA does, what Ubisoft does, what we do. With all that being said, all these great people from those big companies who came over to start Eidos Montreal and do this DX title - making an RPG was not our thing so we really needed to get into it. We're not Bethesda, we're not BioWare, you know what I mean? Those people who really knows what it means. We had to learn. We had to make a lot of mistakes. One of the main things we realized was how much effort, time, and energy it takes to debug [and] stabilize.
GR: Seems like Square Enix is heavily invested and wants to make sure Deus Ex: Human Revolution is a triple AAA title.
JJB: Yeah, absolutely.
GR: When news of a Deus Ex sequel was announced, a lot of fans of the original were certainly curious about the title. But then the pre-E3 video trailer released and both fans and those without any familiarity with Deus Ex came away impressed. Do you feel any additional pressure now that newcomers to the franchise may have such high expectations?
JJB: This was one of our main goals. That is, to get these people onboard as well.
GR: But now they're expecting almost perfection at this point.
JJB: Well, the [original] fans are. That's for sure (laughter). That we've known since the beginning that they are expecting perfection. That we knew. Now if all the new ones are expecting perfection as well, which they should - when you want something, you want it to be great — yeah, there's pressure definitely.
GR: We've seen cutscene footage of the various takedowns that Jensen can perform. Are cutscenes utilized to convey the in-game story as well?
JJB: There's a fair amount of cutscenes, but I think the way we used it, honestly, is quite similar to the first one in the sense that some of the conversations that Adam has with the other main protagonists, that are being evil or good or whatever, are conducted in a cinematographic way. Then there are other bit cutscenes to show you a world event that may happen or stuff like that. I think we use them fairly intelligently. I think it's not overboard. It's not overkill. I think they're there to entertain, to convey the story, to make it move forward. Hopefully, it will be proper balance.
GR: The game itself seems almost like a motion picture because of the quality of the CGI.
JJB: Thanks to Square Enix.
JJB: But in the game, the cutscenes are not CGI. The cutscenes are in-engine.
GR: Is there anything done to bring empathy to the character of Adam Jensen? Is he sympathetic character?
JJB: That's a good question. That's a great question. I think that's the first time I've ever been asked that question that way. I think he is. He's not a very happy guy, but I think you still empathize with him in the sense that one of the main themes of the game is “why do people do the things that they do.” In everybody's lives, we do things, we want things. Why do we want them? Sometimes we're conscious of it, sometimes we're not conscious, you know? And often let things control.
Like a lot of people what they want [is] control over their lives, or depending on the echelon that they are at, it may be even control of the economy or control of the truth and lies. So we treat that theme at a very different level in the game and we treat it with Adam in the sense that, "why does he do the things that he does?" First of all, he was augmented against his will. Adam is not a character that we say is either for transhumanism or against transhumanism. He says that he wanted to eventually get augmented on his own terms and choose what he could be augmented with. Maybe it would have been just a brain implant or a retinal implant. Then he ends up becoming this war machine.
So then there's different things he ends up needing to settle in the game. Again going back to why does he do the things he does. And there's different things, right? At first, it's like what happened to [Jensen's] company. That's kind of how the game starts. We need to fix that...the bad shit that happened to your company. But then it opens up and that was just the needlehead of a huge international conspiracy. Through that, Adam also finds his own quest, which is not losing an important personal choice again - which is what happened to him by losing a choice of when and how to get augmented. I think through that there is something very human about him. There's something very kind of sensitive almost. You get really into his psyche of how he has been affected by this and how he wants to make sure that this is never going to happen. I think it's good for girls too. I think girls like that.
JJB: That kind of like tortured soul type of thing, even if he's kind of a rough kind of guy. I think girls dig this. Maybe we have something going on here, you know? He's kind of badass for guys and he's kind of like “oh I want to help this guy” for girls. “I want to be with him and try to make him into a better man.”
JJB: So as much as he's definitely not a funny guy, I think you can empathize with him. You can end up liking him.
GR: The overall tone of the game appears very serious. Is humor used at all to defuse this tension?
JJB: I had this question at a Q&A recently and was asked if Adam ever cracks jokes. He doesn't really. It's cyberpunk. It's very film noir. It's very Deckard — Blade Runner and what not. Like I said he's a bit of a tortured soul, but he's very cynical, which is in a way a form of humor some times. I think an actual real joke — he cracks one joke at one point in the end of the entire game to one of the main characters. He has a relationship with the main techie-IT guy [Pritchard] of the corporation Adam works for as a security specialist. They don't like each other. At all. But he is the main guy you are in contact with all the time during your missions - look for this, look for that. They have this banter. Through that, there are definitely some funny things, but they're not jokes per se.
GR: Are there humorous situations?
Yeah. Adam may ask a question and [Pritchard] may reply in a manner like “duh, are you serious? You're really asking me this?” And Adam may reply with a kind of ironic, kind of like “shut the fuck up...” You understand what I mean? They have this relationship that in itself is the humor that we have in the game. (laughter) It probably ends there. You know, it's Deus Ex. It takes itself rather seriously.
GR: Sure. The reason I ask is because, even in serious action or film noir films, humorous moments are often inserted to lighten the mood.
JJB: True. Maybe through the visuals, you may have some composition in the scenery, a little object or something that, I wouldn't say lightens up the atmosphere, but maybe the artists were funnier than the scriptwriters. (laughter). Not taken anything away from the scriptwriters. All my friends are actually quite funny. Maybe we are trying to lighten up the mood sometimes more on the art side than on the story side (laughter).
GR: Without giving any spoilers, can we expect Adam Jensen to fundamentally change over the course of story?
JBB: Without giving too much away, he starts fully human, which is a rather short period of time. That's maybe the first 30 minutes of the game. Then his accident happens. The way we say it is that all the augmentations were installed him during that operation. It's already all there. It's just that he cannot fully control them efficiently straight from the get-go.
The way that we explain it — and a lot is from the books we've read on cybernetic prosthetics and the specialists that we consulted — it's kind of like the brain-machine connection takes time and improves. It's like if you're learning guitar or piano, there may be a chord that you are having a really hard time with for two weeks, then you stop for another week, and you go back and suddenly it's like, “wow” it's easy...like your brain is forming new neurons or connections for that specific chord. Or when a child is born, he's already got a head, two arms, two legs, but yet he can't walk, he can't talk. The eyes don't even function for the first couple of weeks. It's like the brain needs to form those connections.
Adam has everything already, but he doesn't know how to use most of it yet and that connection needs to happen. As you gain experience points through main quest missions, [side quest] missions, killing people, not killing people — we also reward for not killing — exploration, you can spend those points in unlocking those abilities. So in terms of transformation, in terms of physical transformation, there's not all that much that happens because in the story everything was implanted at the beginning. He won't be operated on later in the game so he'll have a pair of wings on his back. Everything is already there.
GR: One thing that is controversial nowadays is DLC. There's been primarily three kinds of DLC. One is basically the “horse armor” type.
JJB: Yeah, which was the end of the world back then and now you don't hear about it. And all of the horses have armor.
JJB: Mine has (laughter).
GR: The other types you see are the mission-based kind. Some are those you would play during the main game as a side quest, and others end up being more like an epilogue to continue the game. A lot of gamers often complain that they buy a title and there isn't really an ending and they have to buy new DLC...
JJB: One thing I can tell you is that the game you're going to buy on the shelves is self-contained. It's going to end awesome. It has multiple endings. I can't tell you how many, but no matter which one you get or if you replay and get another one, it ends like that. If we do DLC, we'll work it in a way that it's not like a thing you needed [for the main game]. It's either going to be happening while or before [the main story], I have no idea, but I know those concerns. We're fully aware of it.
GR: In designing Deus Ex, was there any thought about making a series of Deus Ex games with Adam Jensen as your protagonist, where it may even lead into the time period of the original Deus Ex?
JJB: Without saying that we're doing it or not, naturally as creators we're thinking about those things. We've talked before over dinner, “what happened to Adam two years after this game.” I think it's a natural process for the creators of a game like that.
Obviously, this one is 30 years before the first one. It's part of the exact same time line. There will probably be cameos in this one or at least events that are predicting what happens in the first one. So there would be ways to do other stuff that totally leads to the Deus Ex 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12 and then finally goes to the first [Deus Ex]. It's totally doable. Whether we do or not, I'm not worried that we won't find great ideas and have great games. And like I said, there would be times where Jeff [Game Director Jean-FranÃ§ois Dugas] would say, “man, I was thinking about this the other day and if we made another one, it would be so awesome.” And then I'm pitching something else. This being said, is it going to happen or not, I have no idea.
GR: With what BioWare did with the Mass Effect series, they were obviously thinking ahead since they were able to integrate choices [from the first game] into the sequel. Will we see this in Deus Ex?
JJB: Because we were starting a brand new studio, because so much of that studio hangs on this game and Thief 4... naturally we think about what sequels could be, but hasn't been planned as a real thing as much as BioWare can do it because they know they're fine in a way. They're already there. They can do that easily. Having thought about this straight from the beginning would have taken us away from focusing on the real thing, which was let's begin by just nailing this one down and having the studio right. And take it from there after that.
GR: Success here will allow you do to multiple sequels in the future.
JJB: Exactly. Having thought about this straight from the get go as there will be three games and let's even communicate it that way would have been a huge mistake for the studio and the franchise.
GR: Since Mass Effect was a new property, gamers may have been willing to give the titles a little more leeway, but with Deus Ex and its fan base, you probably don't have that kind of leeway...
JJB: No way. Not with this franchise. It's always a dangerous thing, without naming other franchises, saying “we're gonna have this trilogy and it's going to be insane” and then the whole thing went to shit. It's a dangerous thing to do.
GR: I'm sure you get asked a lot about Invisible War.
JJB: Yeah (laughter).
GR: I know it's a popular topic. As much as people complain about that game, if you look at Metacritic, it received a score in the 80's.
JJB: Yeah, [the score] is really not bad.
GR: The main complaint from fans of the original Deus Ex was that Invisible War was designed with the consoles in mind. It was simplified. Is DX:HR going to be too streamlined because it's on the consoles?
JJB: Way too simple (laughter).
JJB: Not one bit, man. We have this inventory like Tetris where you have your grenades [and] your weapons. You have to manage the space. The last time we saw this on consoles was Resident Evil 4 where it was like, “man, I have no more space for that new gun. Maybe if I move this one here and I flip it like this and I move my grenades there, I actually have space.” It’s a puzzle. The fact that we kept this in a console game, in an action RPG, shows the kind of commitment that we had not to oversimplify this game. And it may sound a little trivial in the way I’m saying it, because it’s just a freaking inventory at the end of the day…But in terms of how the game is played, in terms of the difficulty level, in terms of how punitive the combat is, how efficient the stealth system is, how much of a real RPG it is — talking to people, getting side quests, all the exploration you can do — all that complexity has not been dumbed down one bit.
It's also really big in the sense that the second one [Invisible War] was really confined. That's one the things that I really did not like when I bought the second one. Somehow they did not manage to make it as open as the first one. It's definitely not what we did. The city hubs are huge. The streets, the alleyways, going on the rooftops, it just really never ends. It's not Grand Theft Auto [though].
At GDC, we had a lot of our peers [play DX:HR], which was so fricking awesome. Tons of people...
GR: Ken Levine of Irrational Games...
JJB: He was there. Warren Spector. [Hideo] Kojima came and there's two other people from Irrational Games. The guys from Bethesda, they love it. Since E3, we've had this connection with Bethesda about [DX:HR]. Nobody has ever said that they felt that the game felt dumbed down. There was never a comment even remotely close to that.
GR: You mentioned the size of the cities. The footage shown to date has been very stylized and detailed. Because of this, can we expect that area maps are not reused?
JJB: There is very little of that. That's what I wanted, but I'm surprised by how much we've achieved it. Because for a game that is so big and has so many different locations, so many different palates and visual themes... there have so many discussions with the lead artist, the lead level artist, the leading texturer about all those things about how are we going to make this happen without re-use. It kind of happened somehow.
We have an insane amount of props rarely seen in games. There's over 1300 props in the game. For example, because it's a conspiracy game, you end up exploring a lot of secret labs, office spaces, where you need to find information. For each of those office spaces, we designed our own sets of furniture. Each one of them will have their own tables, coffee tables, chairs, office desk for different levels of the hierarchy...like the desk for the boss and the desk for the clerks. We could have an IKEA catalog with all the products...
JJB: But seriously, add to the fact that each location has its own art direction, color palette, architecture, it's actually quite surprising how you never ever feel like you've been thrown again in the same palette basically.
GR: As far as game locations, it's interesting that Detroit is one. With all the riots in the Deus Ex videos, I kept thinking, "where's Robocop when you need him?"
JJB: You know it's interesting that Jeff [Jean-FranÃ§ois Dugas], the game director, came up with the idea of Detroit. At first, we were like, “What? Who the hell wants to go to Detroit?” And the whole Robocop thing was not even in it, which is kind of funny because a lot of what happens to Adam at the beginning is very Robocop-ish. He gets shot and then he needs to get operated [on] and then he's got those augmented arms. But we never saw it as Robo — it was really afterwards that we were like “wait a minute here.” The cool thing about Detroit and why we chose it at first is that Detroit has had a lot of economic problems lately. That's where the car industry is from, but the car industry has had so many problems because of the economy and oil and factories are closing. So what we're saying in the story is that there was this huge crash in Detroit. The car industry died and now the cybernetic industry is trying to rejuvenate Detroit out of those technologies. In the 20th century, Detroit lived off the car industry and now in the 21st century, in our world that we created, [the city] is coming back to life through cybernetics. It's kind of cool and thematically, it all kind of fits somehow. You see the landmarks...the Renaissance Center. People from Detroit will feel somewhat at home.
GR: Will everything that happens in DX:HR support the events that occurred in Deus Ex and DX: Invisible War? Did you put the story line of Invisible War to the side?
JJB: No, we haven't put Invisible War to the side because it's so far in the future that there is very little relationship between the two. Rationally, [there] was not much to link. But between the first and the third [Deus Ex], fans will have good laughs and have good reminiscences.
GR: Are you excited about the new release date? The window for competition at that time appears to be pretty good.
JJB: I think it is. The first Bioshock came out in August 2007 and it did really well. I think Madden's come out in August.
GR: The NFL just locked out the players. They may not have a season.
JJB: Is that true? Well, I don't feel — I mean it's a great game and trillions of people buy it — but it's definitely not the most worrisome thing that a Madden game comes out when our game comes out. Think it's a great window.
Also, the real reason we chose that date is because we want to give people their summer. We want people to go out and play. If the game had come out in May, the game is so good, people would just stay inside all summer (laughter). No, I'm just kidding.
GR: It's possible. It's possible.
JJB: It was a very humanistic choice (laughter).
Deus Ex: Human Revolution releases for the PC, PlayStation 3, and Xbox 360 on August 23, 2011.
Source (images of JJB): Tumblr