Upon first arriving at Eidos Montreal, the developers gave us a general overview of the game. The presentation began with a little history lesson on the previous titles in the series, as well as a breakdown of what the team saw as the core tenets of the franchise. The main focus was on the element of choice: giving the player the tools and the playground to achieve their goals in whatever fashion they saw fit.
It was acknowledged that the second game, Invisible War, was something of a let-down to fans, what with its over-streamlining of the RPG elements, as well as the dilution of the game's overall complexity. However, the developers believed that even the second game adhered to the degree of choice and freedom offered to the player, when tackling objectives, that has become one of the best-loved aspects of the original game. With this in mind, though, the team set out to create a game that would by turns do justice to the original game while also having a unique identity of its own–a daunting task, given the expectations of the jaded fan base.
The presentation then shifted to an explanation of one of the main themes of the new game: transhumanism, or the idea of human beings transcending their physical and mental limitations through the use of bioprosthetics, or augmentation in series nomenclature. There have already been instances in our own world of human beings being "augmented," like Oscar Pistorius, a South African sprinter with replacement legs around whom controversy has spawned about the possibility of his having an unfair efficiency advantage over other runners. There was also mention of a man who had had his lost hands replaced by mechanical ones, giving him back a huge measure of his own personality functionality.
With modern advances in the tech, "augmentation" is a field of science and medicine that will undoubtedly continue to grow, and stemming from that, the developers began to ponder a number of questions that have found their way into the thematic presentation of DXHR. In the future, would people be willing to replace perfectly good parts of their body with mechanical ones? Would they be able to afford it? Would they hide these augmentations or show them off proudly? Should we aim at "playing God" and attempt to alter our natural capacities? As they sat down to write the story and develop the world, the team made guesses at all of these questions, and they hope that players will find themselves wondering just as much when they finally sit down to play after the game launches.
With DXHR, the dev team set out to create a world that had a basis in reality, while still having a distinctive visual identity of its own. They knew that certain aspects of the original game–that grounding in reality, a vast conspiracy, and the concept of the human racing being at a turning point in its history–were all things they wanted to include in the new game. They wanted to make sure that the game had a series of choices that all demonstrated consequences; choices about how Adam would evolve in a gameplay sense, how humanity would evolve, and how, in a general sense, a player would play the game. When developing the plot, they did their best to present from a neutral standpoint so a player could make these choices organically.
With that, the presentation delved into the aspects they aimed to "get right" from a gameplay perspective. First and foremost, they wanted to make sure that they built a game with an RPG as its core. They achieved this by building up from the oft-mentioned "four pillars" of gameplay: combat, stealth, hacking, and social. They wanted to ensure that there was a strong focus on character development, which they achieved through the augmentation system. An additional degree of customization was added by expanding on the weapon upgrading system seen in the original Deus Ex. Lastly, they wanted to make sure that the inventory management aspects from the original were polished up and brought up to modern standards, while still maintaining the essential Deus Ex style.
One concept the team wanted to get right was the necessity of tactical awareness in the battlefield. This awareness is essential, regardless of whether you choose to bust down the front door and blow away the villains or sneak in and out the back without ever being seen. As such, the augmentations focus heavily on supplying the player with the appropriate information and abilities to carry out their missions via their chosen style of gameplay. This open-endedness was something they really wanted to focus on. They wanted a player to make creative use of all their abilities as they progressed through the nonlinear levels, offering multiple pathways and possibilities for completing an objective.
Next up for discussion was the game's vaunted "social boss fights." Unlike normal conversations in the game, these are the key moments in the story when it becomes essential for Adam Jensen to sway the person he is speaking to, by any means necessary. The development team wanted to ensure that these "fights" felt like a psychological puzzle, but also functioned on a human level, insofar as one would feel as though they were speaking to an actual person. To that end, watching facial expressions and listening to the person's tone of voice could take you all the way to victory, even without any social augmentations.
Regarding the game's very distinctive art direction, the team was aiming for "different, but with meaning." They believed that the art design affected the game, because to a large degree the environment of the game can tell us as much about the story as the dialogue. Paying close attention to the environment a character is found in, or to the place that character lives, can give important clues to their motives and intentions.
The final part of the overview presentation delved into the game's audio. The creative team wanted it to paint a picture of 2027 that was as distinctive as the visual design. They felt some pressure here, because of the phenomenal work done by Alex Brandon on the original Deus Ex, but the entire team agrees that listening to Human Revolution composer Michael McCann's music still gives them chills, months after first hearing it. Sound director Steve Szczepkowski aimed to create a potent sense of the world in the game by mixing ambient music, environmental noises, and sound effects.
The presentation ended here, and next I was off to chat with several of the game's designers to discuss some more specific aspects of the game!
©2011 Square Enix, Eidos Montreal. All Rights Reserved.