Deus Ex: Mankind Divided is out this week, and at Gamescom, I got a chance to sit down with producer Olivier Proulx to talk through a few things in the run up! Our review is going to be up a little bit later on, but in the meantime here’s the transcript!
So, Mankind Divided is out next week, how excited are you guys for the launch, and can you tell us your ‘elevator pitch’ for the game?
Yeah, so Mankind Divided is a direct sequel to Human Revolution, it’s incredibly exciting to be talking to you so close to the release, almost five years to the day since Human Revolution came out! Adam Jensen is back as our hero, and it’s set 2 years after Human Revolution wrapped up. So we’re really picking things up after the end of Human Revolution, where everyone who had augmented limbs were hacked and they then lost control. Two years after this, there’s a lot of prejudice and segregation based around people with augmentations. Adam is trying to get to the bottom of this, trying to figure out who was pulling the strings, and is also working with Interpol to fight terrorism, as things have been chaotic since then.
Obviously there are some parallels to certain real-world events that are happening at the moment, and some of the imagery has touched a nerve with certain people. How conscious were you during development that this could potentially be a difficult topic to breach?
We didn’t really set out to comment specifically on the current events, but at the same time we realised that we touch themes of racism, segregation and prejudice. We’re not trying to create controversy. Within works of science fiction, be it in books, movies, TV shows or whatever, they can touch global issues and that’s what we’ve tried to do during the 4 years we’ve been building this game. Yes, there are some thing that ring really true that are happening out there, but we are definitely not trying to devalue anything within the game. I guess what’s happening has caught some people’s eye, but with works of fiction, it’s totally allowed.
It’s quite evident that things in world history tend to be quite cyclical, so it’s quite unnerving to see some of the themes in the game being brought up again in reality, even though you’re basing some of the game on historical events.
I agree, and in some of the early marketing material and even the E3 demo, you have the train terrorist attack in the game. This was shown, and then a few weeks afterwards we had the terrible events in Paris. Around the same time, we decided to push the game back by a few months. This was mainly for reasons of the game’s quality, but I was getting questions in interviews about whether we’d pushed it back because of the events. The answer is no, but speaking with the team afterwards, it was unfortunately a reflection of what happens in the world, and unfortunately this was the case here. But again, we’re not commenting specifically on what’s happening right now, we’re not trying to be a topical game, but these are things are resonant to us.
OK, moving away from that, how has Adam’s character evolved from the events in Human Revolution? Is there a canonical ending that you’ve taken through from it?
There were 4 endings to Human Revolution. We didn’t choose one specifically, as we wanted every player to find the beginning of Mankind Divided would make sense. We’ve kept things quite mysterious. Our philosophy was that if a big event like this would happen, every normal person would have a different picture of the events, so we’ve set it with this in mind. In terms of Adam Jensen, we wanted him to grow as a character. In Human Revolution, we all know the “I never asked for this” tagline, he was augmented against his will and he was following a lot of orders. In this one, he decides to do the investigation and the work he’s carrying out. He’s very assertive in a lot of conversations. Even the controller has a lot more fluidity in how it controls, so you feel you have an Adam that is much more confident. Early in the game, you spend a lot of time with Adam, reading his emails and getting to know him a lot more, so we really spent a lot of time with Adam as a character.
What about new abilities, new augmentations?
There’s definitely some cool new toys. We’ve invested a lot in more active augmentations this time round. In Human Revolution there were a lot of passive augmentations, and these are all back. They’re great for role playing purposes, but this time round we’ve got like an active shield for combat purposes, we’ve got a remote hack that allows you to disable security systems, nano blades, Tesla… It was really important to add these to ensure the augmentations felt really visceral, the feeling that you’re an augmented agent. It was a lot of work to make sure everything was integrated well into the controller, but we’re really satisfied with how well it integrates with the gameplay.
It sounds like it’s a bit of a nightmare to keep everything balanced?
It is, but those features are very systemic. It’s not like one can trigger in this specific situation, that’s not what we do. So there’s a lot of balancing in how powerful they are, how much energy they consume etc. There’s a lot of iteration on the actual mechanics as well, so our designers to a lot of tweaking, playtesting and feedback to the point where you feel powerful but still have a challenge to face as well.
You touched briefly on the segregation aspect, how has this affected Adam, and how has the implementation affected the world of Deus Ex?
As the main character, you see this being implemented directly, and you as a player experience it all first hand. But then, on the augmented side, Adam is viewed with some suspicion. He’s all shiny and grey, he doesn’t need the same things everyone else does to sustain his augmentations, so he’s really a stranger in a strange land. As a player, it’s interesting as you can see both sides of the problem and form your own opinions, to influence the choices you make throughout the game.
Is the focus of Mankind Divided primarily around stealth, as per Human Revolution, or is it more action-orientated this time round?
I think the focus this time is really on how we can bring out the creativity in the player. One thing that we worked a lot on is the combat aspect of the game. We didn’t want to make it a “combat game”, but we felt we needed to bring that side of it up to par with the stealth elements so you can mix and match styles without being constricted by the gameplay. Some things we like to see, is that if you want to play it again, you can play it in whatever style you want to. What’s great is that we’re in the era of Let’s Play videos and Twitch etc, which allows for people to discover multiple ways of doing things that they may not have thought of before. That’s kind of the beauty of the franchise, being able to find new ways to use augmentations, or finding different ways through the story that wouldn’t have otherwise occurred to them.
There will be a lot of people that played Human Revolution, how are you making the game approachable to newcomers as well as franchise veterans? And for those who are well versed in it, is there plenty of additional narrative etc to explore?
It’s always a challenge and a balancing act. Deus Ex rewards your creativity and we don’t want to dumb it down, but we do want to have new people come on board. Story wise, we’ve got a 12 or 13 minute recap at the start which goes over the main story beats of Human Revolution to act as a catch up. In terms of mechanics, the first level has some tutorialisation, but there are some areas where you can essentially pause the game and just practice the abilities for as long as you want in order to get to grips with the mechanics etc., There’s a huge amount of narrative content in the game, from Adam’s emails to newspapers in tablet format, which will dynamically update based on your actions. There’s a lot of conversations with NPCs, ebooks, and exploring the environment will provide a huge amount of information as well. We had people that said they completed Human Revolution 7 or 8 times, so we know there’s a lot to live up to. We also have a New Game Plus mode, as well as an “I never asked for this” difficulty, in which you get one life, and the difficulty is ramped up as well.
How about Breach mode? Is that part of the main game or a standalone product?
It’s included in the main game, it’s a separate game mode. When we talked about it we just wanted to have a bit of fun with the game mechanics and create a more arcade sort of setting, in this abstract environment. The goal was to put all of our mechanics into an environment that the player could be a lot more creative and just have fun in there. The leaderboard side of things will allow you to get some bragging rights over your friends as well. The visual aspect was quite important to get right too. Purple is a colour that’s banned from the Deus Ex colour palette, and the only person to use purple is actually an AI, so it was fun for our artists to get to use that a lot with Breach.
One last question to finish up, it’s a bit of a silly one, but if you had to have an augmentation, would you rather have a bionic arm, or a bionic leg?
You know, I have a fear of heights, so I’d go with a bionic leg so I could feel safe looking over the edge of buildings!
I’m with you on that one! Thank you very much for your time!