Authorship | Case Study | Deus Ex: Human Revolution
[ Heritage ]
Lets take a step back. When discussing DXHR it is important to understand its heritage. What was the big deal with the original? Why was it risky and ambitious? And why was it consequently lauded when it released?
| System Shock
DXHR’s heritage begins in 1994 with a game called System Shock. System Shock was developed by Looking Glass Studios and published by Origin. It is a milestone in gaming because of several reasons. It innovated many things that we now take for granted: combining RPG and FPS, a 3D world in a first person game, the ability to jump, prone, lean, and mantle among them. Most importantly it innovated the idea of allowing the player to play any way he wanted.
Despite this most people had not heard about it, likely because the sequel to the popular and familiar Doom had released at about the same time. Nevertheless, it spawned a sequel, System Shock 2 as well as influenced games such as Deus Ex.
The core concept was developed by Doug Church and Warren Spector. Spector went on to pitch Deus Ex in 1994 . A film graduate, he had grown tired of straight fantasy and sci-fi and looked for something that was genre bending in terms of story . Combined with a belief in “immersive simulation” he found it hard to get the game approved at Origin and Looking Glass. This is where John Romero of Ion Storm made an offer he couldn’t refuse telling him to
“Make the game of your dreams. No limits.”
In the meantime System Shock 2 released in 1999, although a direct sequel, introduced a new game designer, Ken Levine, who has now become one of gaming’s great auteurs and creator of the Bioshock series.
| Deus Ex
A year later Deus Ex was released to huge critical acclaim. Ion Storm Austin took the basic tenants of this new genre busting game type and evolved it. Spector sums it best, “When we think about games, it makes perfect sense that what we think about is actions. What you do. Games are about verbs, right? It’s about what you do.” 
They did all of that and did it within a world and plot that was never before seen in gaming. Corporate Espionage, Conspiracies, Dystopia, and Cybernetics all woven together. Within that world the player could make different choices to advance the plot. If I wanted to crudely summarize DX it would be:
- COMPELLING AND IMMERSIVE NEW WORLD
A sequel was released in 2003 to mixed opinions. Part of the reason for this was the streamlining of some of the features that players loved in the first game, namely the variety of augmentations and player choices.
It would be 8 years before another Deus Ex game would come out. Its also disapointing to note that this new genre bending game category would be largely forgotten and take a back seat to actions games for the next 10 years.
[ Background ]
Eidos Montreal was created in 2007 and immediately given a mandate to re-imagine two old beloved franchises: Deus Ex and Thief. While the acquisition of these great gaming IPs was considered a coup it was a daunting task for a brand new studio. A core team for their first project, Deus Ex, was created consisting of:
Producer: David Anfossi
Game Director: Jean-Francois Dugas
Senior Game Designer: Francois Lapikas
Art Director: Jonathan Jacques-Belletete
Internal Narrative Designer: Mary Demarle
Within 4 years they would literally build the office and ship the game by August 2011 to critical acclaim. They sold over 2 million copies within 2 weeks. The game was considered both a financial success and worthy successor to the revered Deus Ex franchise.
| Release Climate
While it was a franchise IP it was lauded for being something fresh in a year where the sequelitis trend had brought about a barrage of part 3s and standard shooters on the consumer:
Gears of War 3
| Creative Philosophy
The aforementioned core team basically formed the vision of the project. They began with the “fish tank” which was basically the above core members moving their desks into the glass-enclosed meeting room, staying in there replaying the original games as well as reading books and watching movies. These brainstorming session results were presented to team members not part of the core creative unit. Ideas were then commented on, challenged by, or even given by the rest of the team before repeating the process. The goal was to get as much people on board as early as possible. This mantra of bringing in everyone early instead of traditionally later is something I feel contributing immensely to the gestalt of the final product.
Disciplines not traditionally brought on board this early in the process, such as the Writers and Level Artists, were brought in from the start along with the Game and Level Designers. They developed a new position “Internal Narrative Design Position.” That is significant in two ways:
- That they realize narrative in gaming is design.
- And that they empowered the writer with overall design decisions.
| The Blueprint Process
As concepts were finalized paper was stuck on the glass walls. Those essentially became what they called The Blueprint. The reason I talk about the Blueprint Process is because it is extremely relevant to authorship, the design process, and gestalt. It is almost a recipe for ideal team authorship and gestalt. The above “fishtank” or Blueprint Process can basically be outlined as follows:
Among other things the Game Essence was defined:
- Its about choices
- Its about how you decide to approach obstacles
- Its about self expression
- And finally…
- Its about making it spectacular and rewarding
[ Influence + Inspiration ]
“Nothing is created from nothing. We need to immerse ourselves in other things to fill our brains with juice to fuel our game,” -Francois Lapikas [senior game designer] 
The auteurs were well aware of the importance of DXHR’s heritage. They understood what people liked about those games, but didn’t stop there. They looked to other media for inspiration, just as Warren Spector did nearly a decade earlier. In that time the turn of the millenium came and went without much of a bang. What remained however, was this infatuation with that turn of the millenium paranoia and conspiracies such as the X-Files.
Related books, film, documentaries, and games were all considered, but then a set was clearly defined by the core team for everyone else to follow as key inspiration keeping the vision focused.
Some influences explicitly mentioned by Eidos Montreal have been:
- Robocop – A man’s life and body are destroyed only to be brought back to life and turned into a cyborg policeman without his permission. Humanity questioned.
- The 6 Million Dollar Man – An astronaut nearly dies after a test flight and his body is rebuilt with $6M. Title sequence big influence.
- Blade Runner
- Ghost in the Shell
- Bjork’s “All is Full of Love” video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AjI2J2SQ528
Other comparisons can also be made with:
- Battlestar Galactica
[ Themes ]
While there are many themes these are the major ones:
Augmentation in our daily lives
Augmentation is not a sci-fi concept. It is not something from the future. It is here now. It was here 200 years ago.
Glasses are augmentations to our physiology. Anything that serves to improve or extend a current state.
|Synonyms:||verb. increase – enlarge – enhance – grow – magnify – amplify
noun. increase – augmentation – increment
To improve upon or extend a current state.
In studying architecture theory glasses became a very important analogy for the work an architect does. Glasses, an augmentation, extend the human senses. They extend the human experience. The head of my architectural department back at uni, Dr. Haddad, used this analogy to explain how architecture is a human physiological augmentation. Architecture is the extension of the human experience. It controls, adds, manipulates, enhances, reduces, etc. the senses.
Physiological augmentation first started as a way to make up for imperfections and disabilities, but soon became a way to improve upon totally healthy individuals to gain an advantage. The evolution of the concept of glasses as an augmentation is…
This is where debate and conflict begins of course. IR glasses for example cross into the “advantage” territory. It might not be a source of debate in reality, but its virtual counterpart in multiplayer games such as Battlefield 3, it was a great point of contention. There was incredible community argument about whether it should be nerfed or even removed from the game entirely.
Back in real life we don’t need to look further than this summer’s 2012 Olympics to see this near future vision of augmentation AND the debate it brings.
Oscar Pistorius, is a South African athlete and a double amputee, ironically nicknamed “Blade Runner”. Hes also a 4 time Paralympics gold medalist and went through lengthy court battles to be allowed to compete in Beijing 2008. Although he won at court did not make the team that year. This year however, he did. Its been 6 years of debate and it doesn’t look like ending. I myself don’t know where to stand on this.
When does augmentation cross the line from being an aid to make someone whole again to a tool to give someone an unfair, unnatural advantage? What happens when we transition from Pistorius to this…?
This is a central theme of DXHR. Its a question posed by society within the game’s world as well as an internal struggle by the main character with respect to his humanity. On the one hand there are corporations such as Sarif Industries which are proponents of augmentation and on the other organizations such as Purity First, which are the flag bearers for anti-augmentation and who some may call terrorists.
The fiction doesn’t stray too far from the fact and this is something that the DXHR auteurs have recognized. It therefore serves as yet another ingredient in the gestalt recipe of DXHR.
**Other spiritual comparisons of this theme are:
- Gattaca – Science gives birth to a new class system and new form of discrimination.
- Blade Runner – How human are replicants?
- BSG – Are Cylons people too?
This theme/influence is an example of how far we can go or should go outside of video game world for inspiration. It brings something new to the table giving the player something fresh.
Transhumanism is a movement that promotes and aims for the improvement of the human condition through technology. Transhumanists see humans and transhumanism as a step towards post-humanism. They hope by the use of responsible science we become beings with vastly greater capacity.
Friedrich Nietzsche was a 19th century philosopher who put forth ideas such as the will to power, perspectivism, the and the ubermensch, among others. I won’t pretend to have read any of his work but I am familiar with the concepts on a basic level.
It is debatable whether Nietzsche’s philosophy of the Ubermensch, or Overman, is a direct precursor to transhumanism, but some base similarities cannot be ignored. While both philosophies promote transcendance, transhumanism seeks to acquire it through technology specifically while Nietzsche’s seeks to achieve it through self-actualization. Nietzsche saw man as being nihilistic, unambitious, content, and without dreams. He felt that man should try to fill its potential, dream, be more ambitious.
There are definitely parallels in both lines of thought. In DXHR Transhumanism is a central theme personified by the various conflicting corporations and movements. It is also left to the player to decide how he feels about it throughout the game. This debate is reflected in real life with some intellectuals calling it dangerous and others calling it the epitome of human ideals, courage, and imagination. As mentioned earlier the player experiences this tension throughout the game in his environment. Such inspiration from a real life debate adds to the “authenticity” of the world and the immersion.
| The Reluctant Hero
The reluctant hero is a common storytelling archetype. First defined as one of many in Joseph Campbell’s study of the hero in “The Hero With a Thousand Faces.” Campbell had many influences including Freud, and Jung. Other famous reluctant heroes have been Bilbo Baggins, Han Solo, and David Dunn of Unbreakable.
Video: Deus Ex: HR Title Sequence
The reluctant hero archetype neatly brings us into Mythology as a theme in DXHR.
Some of the themes within DXHR are communicated visually through mythological references within the art. Icarus is first referenced in Adam Jensen’s dream which was seen in the very first trailer. The analogy is that of flying too close to the sun, or humanity’s hubris leading to its downfall. It is the foreshadowing of the general social climate within the game as well as ethical questions of augmentation.
It is later in the game, if the conversation minigame is taken a certain direction, where Hugh Darrow, the man revealed to be responsible for the existence of augmentation, compares himself to Daedalus with the “augmented world” as Icarus.
Theres also an interesting touch for anyone that notices. Darrow uses a cane…in a world where no one needs to be disadvantaged in the slightest, despite him being the father of augmentation.
You can see the influence of Blade Runner in this as well. Darrow seems to have been fashioned similarly to Tyrell, the creator of replicants. And just like Darrow, Tyrell is confronted by his own Icarus. When asked why he made them with short lives, he replies that “A candle that shines twice as bright, lasts half as long…And you are the brightest one of them all.” The comparison ends there however, as interestingly Darrow takes the archetype a step further by attempting a tragic redemption.
The final time they evoke the Icarus Mythology is with the Hydra. A Hydra is composed of 3 Hyrones or humans whose spines have been ripped out and central nervous systems integrated a supercomputer. It is metaphorical, in that the Hyrones are epitome of humanity’s attempt to merge man and machine, one that can think abstractly, store huge amounts of data and be self-aware. It is also literal, in that their position is like that of a fallen icarus with wing shaped electronics below them.
While not a new theme it was during the late 90’s and early 2000’s that conspiracy themed entertainment really flourished. Faced with the unknown people create theories about events outside of their understanding. It is in this environment that shows such as the X-Files, graphic novels such as The Nightly News, and Deus Ex are borne.
DXHR carried on that tradition with stunning revelation after stunning revelation and twists that challenge previous twists, before the truth in unravelled in all its simplicity. People are inherently curious and it’s their curiosity that DXHR plays to.
Its starts off with the contents of hacked emails and progresses to whispers from scared scientists. Augmentations seem to consistently require a drug, called Neuropozyne, in order for the body not to reject them. Although you learn that you are the unique exception to this rule, questions start circling in the player’s head. People need a constant supply of Neuropozyne or they can’t live. Seems like a scam. Then you learn that there are connections between the augmentation and neuroscience industries. It snowballs from there onwards.
There are a few layers to the conspiracy: controlling people, corporate sabotage, government involvement, secret societies, and connections of all those to yourself. The corporate conspiracy is that of Tai Yong Medical, the giant Chinese equivalent of the American Sarif Industries. They are the inelegant augmentation corporation to Sarif’s Apple-like corporation. Tai Yong also have a history of aggressive takeovers of other companies within the Biotech field while in reality they do so through blackmail, sabotage, and hacking. There are political undertones and parallels perhaps to Apple Vs. Microsoft.
[ Gameplay ]
| Verbs! Verbs! Verbs!
“I think it’s a perfectly natural thing to say. When we think about games, it makes perfect sense that what we think about is actions. What you do. Games are about verbs, right? It’s about what you do.”
-Warren Spector 
| Styles, Pillars, and Systems
The Game Pillars as defined by the design team: Stealth, Combat, Social, and Hacking. These pillars are the basic game systems and can also be seen as a basic set of vocabulary given to the player. The player is explicitly informed of this vocabulary and understands that he can approach all situations in any of these 4 ways.
Multiple Paths Early Example: Sarif Industries Multipath Gameplay Walkthrough
Its the massive amount of verbs placed in the game, a vocabulary if you will, that creates fertile ground for emergent gameplay.
| Emergent Gameplay
What’s impressive about DXHR is not just that there are a variety of 4 play styles but that there are even more ways to approach situations. Players are not explicitly told of them but can stumble upon them if they explore or use their imagination. Its also impressive that a modern day game has such a simulation-like feel when the safe bet these days is to dumb things down.
“Computer gaming is supposedly all about interactivity, but typically we put players on rails and say, ‘Okay, wiseguy, figure out what I want you to do here!’ That hardly strikes me as particularly interactive, so in Deus Ex we’re trying to set it up so you never have to play Guess What The Designer Had In Mind.”
– Warren Spector on Deus Ex
The consequence of such design is that it provides players with the illusion that there are infinite [if not many] possibilities. The designers in both DXHR and the original Deus Ex designed a few more possibilities for every situation, betting on players to try and “break” the game. The surprise a player has when he discovers the success of an unexpected outcome is invaluable. The further surprise to find out that a friend found yet another outcome just blew people’s minds away.
“I know we’re on the right track when I hear the QA guys talking, and one says something like, ‘It was cool when I snuck up on the guard and knocked him out, then hacked the security panel to shut down the turret and walked right up and lock picked the door’, while another guy says, ‘You did what? I just blew the guard away with my sniper rifle, used a grenade to take out the turret and unlocked the door with the key I got from the bum on the back dock’, while another says ‘Heck, I just went around the back, climbed up to the second floor, came in through a window, and never even saw any of the stuff you guys are talking about!'”
“It’s just little stuff, in a way, but I hope enough little stuff adds up to something really big.”
– Warren Spector on Deus Ex
Such a novel approach to game design didn’t come without it’s problems. Balancing was a nightmare, simply because testers kept reporting what they thought were bugs instead of realizing that they had 3 or 4 other approaches. Not having lockpicks, for example,
“…doesn’t mean they can’t get through locked doors. You can always go find the keycodes for the keypad locks or go talk to the person who can tell you the code (in exchange for money or services, perhaps) or you can, in many cases, blow the door off its hinges.”
“It’s weird, people aren’t used to games that offer choices. Frankly, we’re not used to MAKING games like that, so tweaking and tuning has been, shall we say, an interesting and lengthy process!”
– Warren Spector on Deus Ex
When creating the original DX, they were pioneering this concept and by the time DXHR came out they understood it, knew what players were expecting, and built upon it by providing fertile ground for emergent gameplay.
| Narrative Checkpoints
For many the Holy Grail of gaming narrative has always been to allow for infinite narratives to be created by the player. The Grail analogy is apt also because it is something that is unachievable at least in the near future. Many games have fallen into the trap of trying to cater to the need for having as many narratives as possible and the results were convoluted schizophrenic experiences. The original Deus Ex was one of them.
Game development has come a long way since then and it would seem a more measured approach is to provide a wide variety of set narratives. This provides clear goals to focus on in terms of milestones within stories that the auteurs feel must be met in order for the player to experience the intended mood and emotions. It is a compromise but if done correctly can still provide the illusion of a wid[ER] variety of narrative choice. This is the approach taken by Deus Ex Human Revolution.
| Modern Sensibilities
Keeping immersion by not having the player need to leave combat, find medkits, go patch up health then return, rinse and repeat.
Dynamic Cover System
Giving players the option to use stealth, specifically cover, any way they like.
First Person vs Third Person
First person and third person views each provide different uses. First person, some argue, is more immersive by letting you see from the characters eyes. You inhabit the character. However, it also detaches you from the character. You never get to see this character. This problem is magnified in an RPG because you put care into customizing the character and you should see that character. DXHR recognizes this need and how it helps with immersion so they took the best of both worlds. You can now see Adam Jensen in all his badassery. Suddenly all these abilities he can do are a whole lot cooler. Takedowns look tough, and the Icarus landing is just impressive. However it also serves gameplay. When taking cover the camera system automatically switches to 3rd person giving the player (1) a much wider FOV and (2) the context of the player relative to enemies and their lines of sight.
| Game Modes
There are a variety of game modes in DXHR that provide an escape from the main gameplay.
[ Art Direction ]
The Cyber-Renaissance art direction came about as a combination of the intended cyber-punk theme and a desire to do something different by leaving an artistic signature. Taking the premise that the period of DXHR was a time of great progress, they looked to another point in history that too saw leaps in social, and scientific advancement: The Renaissance.
They looked to paintings, fashion, and iconography of the times.
Rembrandt, one of the great painters of the Renaissance Era, was another big influence to DXHR’s art. Much of his work can be seen to have an orange/yellowish tint to them which inspired the team to give a unique gold tinted look to the game. This color both evoked the old paintings as well as the “enlightenment” of the times. It also gave a fresh approach to the usual blue tinted futures of most sci-fi.
One Rembrandt painting in particular is referenced directly in Adam’s dream.
The interesting part is that this artistic direction would in turn influence the narrative and gameplay. Another sign of gestalt.
| Architecture + Fashion Designers
Besides the Renaissance and Baroque period, the art team looked to architecture in life as well as in film. Zaha Hadid’s work is clearly a big influence on not only the architecture in game but the fashion and augmentation designs. Blade Runner also was obviously a direct influence on Heng Sha levels.
Another primary source of inspiration have been fashion designers. The following fashion designers happened to have done “studies” on renaissance and baroque fashions. It proved to be a lucky find for the art team and a perfect fit. It went on to inspire even some of the interior design. The primary inspirations were Gareth Pugh, Irish Van Herpen, Alexander McQueen, and
| Visual Allegory Through Art
“Art in games should not just be about being pretty; it should be about communicating, as well. I don’t think we do enough of that.”
The art direction mantra could basically be summarized as follows:
-visuals communicate not decorate
-show players assets that tell a story, but don’t tell them to look at it
-brains constantly analyze on a subconscious level as well
The result, they believe, is that it is imperative to “infuse a video game world with higer meanings and motifs in its foundational art direction. If done right it creates a soul and a potent flavor for the game. When you combine a highly crafted world with a passionate attention to detail and mise en scène, the world suddenly starts living inside the player’s head, long after he turns off his console.”
An example of this is the Greek Mythology of Icarus and all its iconic representations within the game. Which in turn leads me to another point that argues DXHR as being a gestalt piece: it influenced the narrative.
“As far as their relationship to the narrative, I believe it’s a two way street. For example, in Deus Ex: Human Revolution, the concept of the Renaissance analogy, the Icarus myth, and all their related motifs and symbols first came from the production design side. But, they were fully embraced by the narrative designers who began juggling with all those variables as well. It ended up being a constant dialogue of ideas between the two departments, and they both highly influenced each other as to how they would treat those main ideas in their creations. Basically, it made the concepts even stronger!”
[ Music ]
- 80’s synth music nostalgia
- Blade Runner
- Contemporary references
- Battlestar Galactica
- Michael McCann background info.
- McCann’s music influenced imagery
[ Negatives: Their Effect on Authorship and Gestalt ]
| Prerendered vs. In Game cut scenes
| Boss Battles
Story of sequence of boss battle design fallback plans that failed [gd mag]
Sending out boss fights to be done externally reflected on the authorship of the project and definitely tainted the “gestalt-ness” if you will, of the project.
[ Legacy ]
The Deus Ex series leaves behind an influential legacy in itself. A direct line can be drawn from and to the games in the diagram below. Warren Spector has gone on to do the Epic Mickey Series which is basically Deus Ex Mickey and Harvey Smith has gone on to do Dishonored which is basically Deus Ex Steampunk. Other contemporaries are the Bioshock series. Eidos Montreal are currently working on bringing back another franchise with Thief 4 and a DXHR sequel which should either bridge the gap to the setting of the original DX or actual re imagine that period.
[ Last Words ]
Theres two ways I’m going to conclude how all of the above elements influenced each other and came together: a) revisiting Mary DeMarle’s GDC 11 presentation, and b) the trailer.
Everything comes together and compliments each other. They influence each other. Narrative can influence system design. Art direction can influence narrative. Music can influence imagery. Game design obviously influences all. I hope that those who haven’t played it are now encouraged to. For those that have, I hope you perhaps look back and see some of the finer undertones that DXHR has woven in and how all the various elements feed each other and could not exist without each other. A truly gestalt piece.
The trailer best summarizes everything I have presented. you can see all the various elements and how they have come together:
Video: DXHR Icarus Trailer Extended
However, it would be best to conclude by not just summarize everything above, but with words on the subject of authorship itself from the man who created the original.
| Praise, Faithfulness, and Spirit
“It really captured the spirit of Deus Ex… It had a lot of the sort of gray of the original game where nothing is right and wrong – I really like that a lot. It made me feel like I was making decisions that revealed more about me than it did about my character, which I loved”
| On Authorship
“I screamed at the television as I played this game. I loved the game at the end of the day, but I screamed constantly because there were two, three, four things they did where I just said ‘Nooooo, why did you this? Noooo!’, and it wasn’t that it was right or wrong, it was different than what I expected.”
[ Bibliography ]
01- Dugas, Jean-Francois. [2012 01 ] Deus Ex Human Revolution Post Mortem. gd Magazine
02- Rose, Mike. [2011 09 07] Deus Ex: Human Revolution Ships 2M Units. Gamasutra
03- Gestalt. [2000 04 08] Warren Spector of Ion Storm. Eurogamer.net
04- Sefton, Jamie [2007 04 28 ] PC Zone Votes Deus Ex the Best PC Game Ever Computerandvideogames.com
05- Hamilton, Kirk [2012 09 04] Warren Spector Explains How Epic Mickey Is Like Deus Ex. Kotaku
06- Curtis, Tom [2012 03 07] GDC 2012: Finding the ‘soul’ of Deus Ex: Human Revolution . Gamasutra
07- Perkins, Will [2012 01 30] Deus Ex: Human Revolution. The Art of the Title
08- Schwarz, Eric [2011 09 11] Deus Ex: Human Revolution Design Analysis. Gamasutra
09- Deus Ex Wiki
10- Bostrom, Nick [ ] Transhumanist Values. NickBostrom.com, Oxford University, Faculty of Philosophy
11- Nutt, Christian [2011 08 22] A Cyber-Renaissance In Art Direction. Gamasutra
12- Carter, Rob [2012 05 04] Interview: Jonathan Jacques-Belletête on Deus Ex and How Art Direction Impacts Gameplay. TheCriticalBit.com
13- Perkins, Will [2012 01 30] Deus Ex: Human Revolution. The Art of the Title
14- Spector, Warren [2007 09 24] Warren Spector Master Class 3 – Harvey Smith. 2:08:00
15- DeMarle, Mary [2012 09 04] How Deus Ex: HR balanced authorial control and player choice. GDC 2011