If you haven’t played Deus Ex Mankind Divided you should. It’s a compelling view of the pitfalls of transhumanism plus a really fun game. Amazingly the team at Eidos actually learned something! Gamers spoke and were not a fan of how the previous game ended, looking back on the choices they’ve made Game Director Jean-Francois Dugas joins the program to talk about Deus, specifically how the improved on the ending.
“For me, if I look back at [Deus Ex] Human Revolution, there are two aspects to the ending that you referred to.
With the button system at the end, it was not our original idea. Our original idea was that, depending on which of the endings you support, you were supposed to have challenges along the way that would make you fight for that idea and therefore, you would have had time to really think, “is it really where I want things to go?”
Unfortunately, as the production was ramping up, we didn’t have the time we wanted to [show] our vision; it sounds simple, but sometimes producing is not as simple. In the end, we couldn’t achieve the vision of how we wanted that portion to unfold.
We decided to go with the button thing because, like you said, the point was all about the journey and the story was over. No matter what we did with that gameplay sequence the ending would have been the same no matter what. I wanted to [have] something that either you totally embrace and love, or you hate, but you’re not in between. With the historic footage and voiceovers, some people loved it, and you have another portion of our audience [that] were like, “Oh I hate when games don’t know what’s happening next.” To me, in the end whether you hated it or you loved it I’m happy, because I wanted something that would have an impact on the audience.”
Video interview below with Transcript from Intern Anton to follow
Interview with Jean Francois Dugas
Andy: One of our favourite game franchises here, that has been our favourite for almost decades is the Deus Ex series. They provided an alternative to the traditional RPGs that really wasn’t there yet. We got to see a revamp of that, the previous Deus Ex, now the new game is coming out this year: Deus Ex Mankind Divided. I’m speaking with Jean Francois the game director of Deus Ex. He’s taking some time to chat with me, thank you so much.
Andy: Just to introduce people to the game, the elevator pitch if you [would], what are the Deus Ex games all about?
Jean: It’s an action RPG series, which you play the role of someone that unravelled worldwide conspiracies and it’s a game all about choices and consequences.
A: This time around we are going to be given that sense of choice in a really big way. Speaking with the lead actor we talked a lot on the show before, how does the role of choice work on this dystopian universe?
J: What we always try to do, no matter what subject we’re exploring, is to put the player in the middle of all these challenges and those borrowed decisions and let the player experiment with the games. What is really important is that when you do something, the world reacts to what you just did. We live by that. It can go from talking with someone. Depending on how you deal with the person you’re talking to, it will affect how that person reacts back to you, or if you go and try to confront someone, you have to be able to deal with the people protecting that person. If you didn’t kill anyone or you did kill people, [certain people] are going to react to you in a different way. Let’s say you meet someone and they propose to you a deal, you shake hands with that person or not; depending on if you do it [or not] it’s going to change a lot of “beefs” during the adventure. For us it’s really a question of making sure that we’re giving you feedback and consequences to everything you do.
A: Like you said, the idea of consequence is very important when it comes to these games. The circumstance that you just talked about, whether or not you kill any of the characters and meet your target, how do you make that impact affect the story more than maybe one or two different dialogue branches at the beginning and then it’s exactly the same regardless? What are you guys doing to stand out in terms of that?
J: It depends. We have different level of choices with different levels of consequences, then we have some consequences that are just to give flavour, the world is reacting, sacrilege[ing] what you just did, but sometimes it doesn’t go beyond that. Nevertheless, it’s important, even though it’s very shallow in a way because it makes the game know what you did, it reflects more on your personal choices and therefore you have a more intimate relationship with the game. That is just one level. If all the choices would be like that I’d agree with you, but in the end it doesn’t change much. It’s trying to hit the right balance. When it comes to that, our goal is always looking at challenges the players going to face and what kind of encounters is going to happen.
We’re looking at, “what if the player wants to do this and do that?” Okay what would be the consequence to that? Then we brainstorm then go on and on. What we do to ensure that it’s not shallow is that we fully explore every choice, ones that are going to have ramifications on the direct story or in parallel with the main story. The way we achieve that is all of our choices are custom built. In terms of narrative, to make them more meaningful we’re really fleshing those choices out by “hand”. With the Deus Ex experience, it’s not totally an open experience, but it’s [also] not a total linear experience, we’re in between. I do believe that it’s really important that we flesh those moments as much as we can so you have a very particular experience.
That being said, going into fully branching consequences we would produce the game for years to come because in the end we cannot build 300 different stories for 300 different minds out there, even more as we’re talking about millions not hundreds.
A: It’s about making content that’s interesting but also thinking about how many people are actually going to get the stealth gameplay, should they get a whole new story because of that? It’s a difficult thing, I imagine a lot of your fan base really wants that stuff but you only have so many resources.
J: Exactly. One thing I like to say is that we have one big story, but as that story is being told to you will differ from players according to their different choices they will make. All of us will have the same story, but how it’s being told to us is going to be different. Trying to encompass all the different directions [would mean] we’ll never complete the game.
A: There was a little bit of controversy with previous titles about the ending. We talked a lot about choice and clearly, that’s a huge focus this time around, are we going to be faced (SPOILER) with a similar sort of ending in which the consequences are a choice of press a button? The magic box type of thing that a lot of people didn’t enjoy. I think a lot of times it’s about the journey, maybe not about the destination, but this time around what is your perspective on how to develop an ending for Deus Ex [Mankind Divided]?
J: For me, if I look back at [Deus Ex] Human Revolution, there are two aspects to the ending that you referred to. With the button system at the end, it was not our original idea. Our original idea was that, depending on which of the endings you support, you were supposed to have challenges along the way that would make you fight for that idea and therefore, you would have had time to really think, “is it really where I want things to go?” Unfortunately, as the production was ramping up, we didn’t have the time we wanted to [show] our vision; it sounds simple, but sometimes producing is not as simple. In the end, we couldn’t achieve the vision of how we wanted that portion to unfold. We decided to go with the button thing because, like you said, the point was all about the journey and the story was over. No matter what we did with that gameplay sequence the ending would have been the same no matter what. I wanted to [have] something that either you totally embrace and love, or you hate, but you’re not in between. With the historic footage and voiceovers, some people loved it, and you have another portion of our audience [that] were like, “Oh I hate when games don’t know what’s happening next.” To me, in the end whether you hated it or you loved it I’m happy, because I wanted something that would have an impact on the audience.
A: You got what you wanted then?
J: I got what I wanted, seriously. When we had the stats, 50% of our audience thought it was brilliant, 50% percent thought it sucked. *laughter*
A: It’s interesting to ride that line, and now you’re looking at it. It’s cool if you’re a fan of the previous games to know what you had planned and the realities of game development. This time around, how are you making sure that there’s not that dissonance of Adam Jensen played one way the entire game and now he has to grab a rocket launcher, how do you do that?
J: I knew where you were going, I heard that our bosses were not our biggest achievement last time.
A: I wouldn’t necessarily say that because they were fun, but the way I was choosing to play the game, it didn’t coalesce that way that you guys made that worked so well. So this time around what do you think?
J: It’s a little bit like the ending I was just talking about. Last time we had some issues. Our original vision was not to force you into combat, but we had to make some choices. For all the people who are combat oriented players, they enjoyed the experience and they thought they were not too challenging. For guys like you who are more stealthy or non-lethal approach, it was a big slap in the face. When you look what we did with the Missing Link which was the DLC for [Deus Ex] Human Revolution, you had the boss fight at the end, and that was totally consistent with the rest of the game. You could continue to maintain your approach, and it was totally supported. When we revisited [Deus Ex] Human Revolution with the Directors Cut we were also able to address the issue minus the fact that you had to kill them because the story, cinematics, everything was there and [we] couldn’t change that. In terms of flexibility for sneaky players or whatever type you are, it was supported. For Mankind Divided, you can be sure that you will have full on flexibility whether you want to be stealth, combat, lethal or non-lethal. It was just a question this time around of not, “what did we do wrong last time?” We knew what we were doing wrong; it was the decision that we had to make during production and towards the end. This time around we didn’t run into the same problems. From day one, we knew we had to address it; it was a non-issue because resources were put on it as soon as possible.
A: This time around the game has had several delays, but from what you’re saying, those delays/changes in time, does that allow you to not make those same financial decisions and development decisions that you had to do with the release of the first game?
J: No, I think those are unrelated. With Mankind Divided, it took more time than we originally wished for. One of the first reasons that is very simple is that we switched engines at the beginning of the project. More often than not, when you change technology you always think you’ll be able to reveal the whole game quicker than you’re able to do it. Technology is much trickier today than it was 15 years ago. It takes time, it took time with Mankind Divided.
It was first announced for February, now we’re delaying it until August; at that point it was just simply giving it the time to polish the game and to balance it properly. It was nothing else than that. People think we’ll take the extra time to add new content or things like that, it was not the case. The case was that it was a new engine, it was not reaching maturity until recently. Now we have the proper time to play the game and make sure that we deliver that best product we can.
A: It just takes more time. I talked before about systems and how important it is. Like I said before, I loved playing passivism, completely non-lethal last time, this time around there seems to be a lot more options if I do want to play that way, and if I want to play more combat oriented.
J: One of our goals when we started this project was to really look at combat and bring it on the same level of satisfaction as stealth. Those two concepts are very different; they don’t have the same benefits or the same satisfaction experience. Last game, combat was not necessarily the best part of the game, stealth was really interesting. We wanted to make sure we were bringing combat on the same level as stealth as much as possible, like if you decide to go that route, it’s a good experience. More possibilities, a more tense experience, it was one of our focuses.
Another thing that was also important, that it’s allowing flexibility in no matter what style you play either stealth or combat. What I mean by that is for example, in the last game a lot of the tools (when I say tools it’s whether it’s a weapon or augmentation) the stealthy ones were often times non-lethal and the combat ones often just lethal. In our minds it was, “maybe I want to fight, but that doesn’t mean I want to kill.” Or, “I want to be sneaky but it doesn’t mean I want to be peaceful.” We wanted to make sure that this time around you can play combat, and still maybe maintain your non-lethal approach. Or maybe be a very stealth oriented player and be a mass murderer. *laughs* It’s your call. It was just a question of trying to make the game more flexible to the different types of players and not necessarily associating stealth with non-lethal & combat with lethal. It can still be that, but it doesn’t have to be, like those concealed weapons in his arm that are non-lethal, but can be used on the fly quickly. He also has the blades, but those are lethal. It was trying to bring more options to the mix that existed in the last game.
A: Looking at some of the footage that you’ve shown so far, the feeling of fluidity is a lot stronger this time around. It seems you’ve done away with some of the cumbersome sub menus you have to go in when you are engaged in combat. I love the mechanic of Adam Jensen looking at his gun and making changes as things are happening, I think that’s phenomenal. What other choices have you made to improve that sense of fluidity?
J: It’s a very interesting question because for us, it was going to who Adam Jensen is in this new game. If you remember [Human] Revolution his tagline was, “I never asked for this.” Back in those days it was [the] story of a guy [where] something happened to him and [he] tries to overcome that event and try[s] to come to peace with his new body. Mankind Divided, Adam Jensen’s tagline is more like, “At some point you have to let go and embrace what you have become.” It’s basically that he’s the man 2.0. He’s kind of a weapon. He has so many possibilities that most humans don’t have. For us, when we look at that, it was Adam Jensen taking charge. He’s accepted who he is and is trying to use it in a good way. [That] needs to be reflected in the gameplay as well. Jensen needs to be more fluid, he needs to be more someone in control. He’s taking charge and being proactive. All that reflection on those things, and the story arc of the character, made us go into looking at his gun arms, other augmentations; it can’t be the same, it needs to be much more fluid. This guy is on the next level. As a player, you should be able to play him and feel on the next level, not struggling as much as it was with the last game.
Now we’re able to assign augmentations on the d-pad on the controller, also the shoulder button that can be used, therefore [giving] you five slots to put any augmentation the way you want according to your style. You can just be in the game, play, shoot guns, or stealth your way through environments [by pressing] on the d-pad or the shoulder button to instantly use your augmentations that you prefer. It makes for a much better experience. It allows for a one two punch experience. Adam Jensen is able to not only move lateral, but he can also move from cover to cover in front of him, so it allows more flexibility to experience the fight. In the last game, when you were in cover, you had to pull out of cover [to] perform a takedown on enemies and then go back in cover. This time around, you can be in cover, once someone comes close by, you can take them down instantly without having to pull out of cover. All these thing together and the overall control scheme, its much closer to most of the first-person shooter standards that we see today; it makes for a much easier to get into experience. Once you get a hold of the augmentations and everything, it’s a much easier game to play, much more fluid that it was in Human Revolution.
A: A lot of the improvements you mentioned, I love the connection of why they were improved has a narrative focus. Adam Jensen [has] a different perspective this time around. Not only is the character different, but the way that the character interacts with the world is different. A lot of games don’t really give you a reason why things have changed. We haven’t spoke to the narrative yet about Mankind Divided, what exactly is the mechanical apartheid?
J: First, it’s a term just to invoke an idea in the minds of people because we’re talking about segregation. It’s a world two years after the events of Human Revolution. At the end of the last game, someone tried to control augmented citizens in the world, he perverted the chip that was installed in them and they all went into frenzy where they had hallucinations, started to kill, have accidents, millions of people died. In Mankind Divided, two years after those events, and the dust is barely starting to settle; now you have a world that is reacting to that event in a very dramatic fashion. As we can see in real life when something bad happens, you always have the black or white kind of mentality, “this is totally bad,” or, “this is totally good.” There’s no gray zone, there’s no in between. Now it’s a world where it’s trying recollect itself and now you see augmented people as a danger for society, what tells us the events of the last game is not going to happen again? Places in the world are starting to have more repressive laws, racism is getting stronger; people are not trusting augmented people, wanting to put them in ghettos and make sure laws are passed so they are not a danger. On the other end, you have some augmented citizens that are being oppressed. Some of them might go into extreme measures, things like that. It can go on both sides of the conflict, in the end, it’s a world where people don’t understand each other anymore, and they’re demonizing a part of society therefore they’re trying to put them in ghettos and things like that. Basically, mechanical apartheid is just to express that idea in a very short fashion, not like the explanation I just gave you. *laughs*
A: Well I love the fact that you’re wrestling with a theme that is so human in a video game. This game is set in a universe set 15-30 years from now, but the themes you’re talking about they’re active around the globe. Maybe not with the technology behind it, these are things people are dealing with. How do you create sympathy?
J: It’s always been one of our goals, even with Human Revolution, we’re trying to build a world where the human complexity is being portrayed. Even though sometimes as a society we deal with things (especially in social media) in black and white. Like when someone says something that is offensive and everyone goes against that person, “oh my god it’s the end of the world.” When you look at individuals, like the human beings we are, most of us [are] very complex. We’re hard to follow. Sometimes we’re predictable, sometimes we’re not. We don’t always live by what we say. Sometimes we have our own personal agendas. It doesn’t mean we’re evil or we have bad intentions, but we all have different motivations in life. That’s something that in the characters and factions we’re building, we’re trying to portray that. People sometimes do bad things, sometimes people do good things. Sometimes, the people doing good things don’t necessarily have good motivations or selfish motivations. You have people who do things in a bad way, but what they’re trying to achieve within them might be even more good at heart. Sometimes, people don’t have the tools to do it the right way. We’re just trying to give life to that complexity and that compassion, therefore, what you see in the game is never black or white; it’s never evil against good, it’s about human beings trying to cope with a world that is not always welcoming.
A: And in this sea of ambiguity, of different motivations, of different thoughts and ideas, where are we as Adam Jensen? What are we in this world?
J: Adam Jensen now works for Task Force 29, it’s a subdivision of Interpol, an Anti-Terrorist group. His basic goal is to try and bring a little bit of peace to that world that is going more into a chaotic state. At the same time, Adam Jensen has this personal quest that in the last game he couldn’t finish. He never asked for this, of course now he went into the next level, but he’s still looking for the people behind the curtains that are trying to steer society in a different direction, and he’s trying to stop them. He believes that Task Force 29, the Interpol division, has some links or some connections to the Illuminati, to the people in the shadows. He tries to get at them while trying to repair some of the bad stuff that happened in the last game and try to make the world a little bit of a better place.
A: So a very lofty starting point I imagine that could be filled with a lot of disillusionment if he makes the wrong choice.
J: Of course. What we always try to do is to put Adam Jensen/the player in the middle of this. We’re trying to keep things as neutral as possible and let the players decide what they believe, what’s right and what’s not. In the end, what we like to do is bring some questions to the table, but I wouldn’t be arrogant to say I’m smart enough to offer you answers because that’s not my place. It’s the players to experience their own take on what we’re asking. We let them have this journey and hopefully they will have a good experience with the game. Hopefully it will make them think from various levels. If just that, I would be happy.
A: Kind of speaking to that, what do you think and hope players will learn?
J: I try to stay away from the message because I’m not trying to tell people something. But I like to explore themes that are a big value on the human level. I like to put questions on the table and have people make their own minds about it. I have my opinion, but I don’t think my opinion is what’s relevant. It’s more what players are going to get out of this.
A: I just wanted to jump into before I let you go the idea of the world that we’ll be exploring. This time around I know you are making some changes, we got to see some of it and my god does it look dense. The different layers, the different options, tell us a little bit about the world and locales we’ll be interacting with.
J: You’re impression is not just an impression, you are right! *laughs* I’m not going to talk about all the locations, but one of the things that we wanted to focus on speaking on locations and how we would explore them, we wanted to bring more verticality to level design.; verticality for exploration, adding more routes, more options but also the fact that when you’re stealth or even if you’re in combat adding enemies on various levels. It changes the experience. Some of the enemies [have] a lot of different augmentations you have or they might be able to jump on other levels, so it’s going to change the dynamic of gameplay. In terms of navigation in the world, verticality was a big part.
The other part is that we wanted to make sure that the experience within the levels would be as rich as possible. Especially when you’re in the city hub, you can meet a lot of people, you can have a lot of side missions. You have some of the optional stuff that you’ll have to connect the dots yourself and it tells different stories. Some characters maybe just appear if you connected those dots, if you collect “this,” if you figured out the hints leading you somewhere else, then when you get there, you’re able to talk on a messenger [or] computer and be able to meet with someone [that] otherwise you would [have] never met in the game. Or things like side missions, the way we built them this time around, they feel also in the themes that we explore in the critical paths. Some of the things you do in these missions can add influence on the critical path, but we build them by layers; meaning that depending [on] how you play those side missions, what you discover, or what you don’t discover, might make you go into this small story for 15 minutes, or you might discover there’s more than meets the eye and discover a bigger deeper story that may have a big impact. That’s how we tried to build the world of Mankind Divided. Making you experience a lot of things, more than in the last game. The game is much denser than what we did previously, more content at every corner than what we had before. Doesn’t mean that we have 300 side quests, everything is more fleshed out, more depth to it. I’m trying to stay as vague as possible without spoiling anything. *laughs*
A: Thank you so much for taking the time! Mankind Divided, when’s it coming out?
J: August 23rd
A: Alright, finally you’ve had so much time with this game. What do you think is your favourite addition to the game?
J: We have one big new feature that is not inside the game itself, it’s called Breach. It’s a new gameplay mode that will complement the single player campaign. It’s a challenge mode that also has narrative aspect that ties back to the world of Deus Ex and connects to the game as well. It adds a social component that allows you to challenge some friends. You have leaderboards so you can climb up or go down. Even though its single player, that social component will allow you to add modifiers here and there on the map, add challenge[s] to your friends. If you’re friend accepts and beats the challenge, he gets the points; if he fails, you get the points. There’s this really complimentary experience to the main game once you’re done with it or before getting to it. For us, it was a way to give a more arcade twist to the basic gameplay of combat, stealth, and how you play with augmentations. It’s really fun, bite sized experience. It’ll be our first live mode that we’re going to have content after the release of the game and also tweak the values if need be.
A: Sounds like a great way for me to play with these systems that I love so much. Jean Francois, thank you so much for taking the time!
J: My pleasure! Have a good day!