In between launching the next revolution of the human race in Square's offices in London, we sat down to talk with Art Director Jonathan Jacques-Belletete, who from now on will only be referred to as "Belletete" because we don't want to keep having to type out his name:
Strategy Informer:So, Human Revolution is being touted as an open-world action/RPG. A lot of companies have used these as buzzwords in the past and not quite lived up to expectations - what steps have you guys taken to prevent that?
Belletete: It's not open world like Grand Theft Auto for Fallout, it's not open world in that way. What we like to say is that it's multi-path, multi-solutions, and stuff like that. If you see a city hub, it's massive, it's still a finite space, but there's tons of streets and alleyways and sewers and... I like to see the game as a 3D cube right, in which you involve an X,Y,Z. You can go into a building and go up to the roof, and then come back down again with the fire escape ladder and all sorts of things like that.
So it's very open in that way but, to get to the next city hub you don't just jump on your horse and ride to it, you know what I mean? You need to complete all your objectives in the area, and then hop in your chopper and load into the next area. It's the exact same structure to the first Deus Ex really. So what we're really delivering is that, you have something to do - there's quite a few ways to get there, and when you do, there's quite a few ways to resolve it too. There's some pretty big spaces as well. Pretty much every choice you make can have consequences as well - whether they're immediate, or medium and long term. You could kill a guy and realise you were supposed to meet him later, or you could not kill him and then meet his wife etc... it's very open in that way as well. But it's delivered, trust me.
Strategy Informer: You've mentioned before how you've listened to community feedback, and you've shown them things in the past and then taken their reaction and made changes based on that... how'd you balance what they wanted with what you wanted?
Belletete: I don't really know. It's a hard thing - I don't believe that... well, I probably shouldn't say this, but when you design a game it's just like a movie, you don't design it with the community. It's still your creation, your product. Now, with that being said, you still need to listen to some of what they're saying - but I think the kind of team that we are, whenever we made a decision it was never taken lightly. We'd turn every stone we could turn, analyse it, and come up with a solid rationale - you may not like it, but we could certainly tell you why we chose that. And you then might appreciate that, at least.
With that being said - you've always got to move forward, right? If you're always questioning yourself, wondering if it would be better this way or that way... the whole thing just becomes so chaotic. I've been on projects like that before, you just need some strong headed people to believe in what they want and you make it happen, right? Well, you're wrong, but anyway... The highlighting, the highlighting was really the main thing, there's been a lot of voicing up about the auto-regen, "no health packs" blah blah blah... but it actually works, those are things we're really confident about for today's market, and we don't think it affects the core Deus Ex experience at all.
Now the highlighting, it was something where we said "you know what?" we'll make it an option, let's put it in. But you know what's funny is that people have a tendency to... I mean it's just an 'on/off' thing, very easy to do, even a first year programmer could do it. We weren't saying it was hard to do, what we're saying is that we're at a point now where we want to take bugs out of the game, and not put them back in, right?
Videogames are very complex things, hundreds of modules all working together and if you get one thing wrong, or forget something... even something as simple as making highlighting an on/off thing, you could have created like 80 new bugs. So we just needed to make sure that wouldn't happen. But yeah the community was very voicey about that and we gave it to them, which was a great thing... now, we're not going to take away third person cover, that's for sure!
But I mean... the game's out on August 26th for you guys, right? I get the feeling that people think we're going to be working on it right up until August 25th. That's not how it works. We need to submit the game - MS, Sony, it needs to be printed, shipped... we're done! We're done.
Strategy Informer:Human Revolution obviously involves all of these pretty intellectual themes like transhumanism, and is a very deep sci-fi world. The problem with Sci-fi of course is that it's not as easy for people to connect with if it gets too technical - did you worry about this whilst creating this game?
Belletete: Yeah, I mean I wouldn't say we worried, but we definitely took it into consideration to make sure that - for example, let's take the inventory. If you select a weapon in your inventory, you get very basic information at first.. and then you can choose to get more information, and then you get the really nerdy techy stuff.
If you play just the main quest, you get everything you need to know in order to understand the game, but then you can go all read all the little emails, and get all the more complex things... but if that's not your thing then that's cool. It's like Oblivion, you don't have to read all the books lying around, right?
Strategy Informer:What you would say is this games main selling point - The story? The multi-path? The RPG elements? etc...?
Belletete: I would say, it's probably as a whole - like everything you just said - it's the Deus Ex experience. I think we've fully re-created the feeling of the first one. A lot of games have taken a lot of what Deus Ex 1 created a few years ago - you know, bits and parts, some of the action/rpg elements and so on... which is a great thing, but I think the recipe as a whole - the exact experience that Deus Ex had back then hasn't been reproduced since and I think that's what we just did. I think it's just this really good meshing with the story, the multipath and the consequence... nothing is black and right, everything is a grey zone. Why we do the things that we do is a big thing in the game, and Transhumanism is also core to the game.
Strategy Informer:You mentioned you're in the bug-hunting phase right now - something I've heard from a couple of other studios is that they feel they can't do technical Betas anymore because it's now become more of a promotional tool. What do you think about that? Would you ever consider doing an old-school technical beta for Human Revolution?
Belletete: Hmmm... yeah, I don't think so... I'm not really sure what the answer to that is. Those are not really things that I think about much myself, you know what I mean? Yeah... man, I usually have opinions about everything! *laughs* But not that... Sorry.
Strategy Informer:Will there be DLC for this game?
Belletete: I can't talk about that.
Strategy Informer:What about mod support on the PC? You've said that you want this game to be a proper PC title, not just a port...
Belletete: True Dat. At this point though there are no plans. We are not working on PC mod tools - now this being said, it doesn't mean that it's something we're just ticking off... we could work on something in the future or out-source it or whatever. I'm not saying that's what's going to happen, I'm just saying it's not something we had time to do, but it's something we're conscious about and you never know what we could do in the future.
Strategy Informer:As the Art Director, what did you want to do with this game in terms of the visuals? What was the key thing you wanted to focus on?
Belletete: Well the main thing is, I wanted to have a stylised game in terms of visuals... I didn't want a photo-realistic game. It's not really something I'm into. Re-creating every little variable of reality is just not something that interests me at all, because I don't think it gives flavour. So I wanted to do something very stylised, but also credible - credibility was important to me, but you don't just get credibility from Photorealism.
After that, because it was cyber-punk, and since that's been done a lot... I wanted to do something new, our own version of cyber punk and then that became cyber renaissance, which was really cool. Modern architecture, industrial design... going crazy with the details. It's a very detailed game, visually.
Strategy Informer:This seems to be a good year for technology - CryEngine 3, Frostbyte 2, Unreal 4 etc... does that get you excited at all as an Art Director? If you had one of those engines in your office for Human Revolution do you wonder what you could do with it?
Belletete: *laughs* Well the thing is that, visuals in games are about two things - making the game pretty, but also about communicating, you know what I mean? And that's something that I don't think this industry is grasping well enough, it's all about - "see that bazooka in that game! I want it in my game just shinier!" That's not art direction, that's just tech direction. So as an Art Director I consider my role is to add flavour, give a visual soul to the game, and making sure that even if you mute your TV or whatever, the visuals are still telling you a story - which is something that so many companies still don't understand. So that's my role, but I also surround myself with decent tech directors and whatever. I mean I could say I want occlusion or lots of smoke and stuff, but it's not up to me to get it done.
I mean we have an amazing artist and programmer called Fred - he's an absolute genius and he's lucky to have both sides of his brain working perfectly. Me? Left side of my brain is just dead, it's floating there... I can't even count. So to me my role is just to give flavour and... if we had those engines... great, I'd give it Fred. *laughs*
No but really, stuff I'm excited about - with Unreal the real stencil reflection on the floor and all that, it's fucking insane... already there's already stuff working in my brain. But to me if I don't already have a good flavour to being with... so what? It's just going to be another clone.
Are you excited yet? No? Oh, ok then. You should sit down and just try chatting to Mr. Belletete here - very well read man and if you're not convinced now, you certainly will be once you've finished talking to him. Old school fans may have to get used to some of the new ideas they are putting in this game, but I believe them when they day that this is true to the core Deus Ex experience.