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With the Square Enix-published Deus Ex: Human Revolution, due out early next year for PS3, Xbox 360 and PC, the Eidos Montreal team has done something extremely difficult -- create a new sequel to the legendary 2000 original to primarily positive notice. The team has also done that while forging a new aesthetic vision for the title: the "Cyber-Renaissance".
Gamasutra recently spoke to Eidos Montreal's general manager Stéphane D'Astous to find out more about how the team forged this new creative direction, how to develop an open-ended game in a world of production realities, and how the team collaborated with Square Enix Visual Works, the Tokyo-based team which concentrates exclusively on producing CG cutscenes for the publisher.
While the game does have a strong central vision, D'Astous says that in fact it is only the sum of its parts; he describes it as "labor of love" for the whole team.
In addition to addressing the game itself, D'Astous opines on how to offer developers creative autonomy, how to hire the right people, and how to work with outside contributors and retain creative consistency.
With Deus Ex: Human Revolution, you have the responsibility now to take it to an audience that has never experienced it before, a larger audience. You have to honor the original games, but you have the duty to be creative, both to your audience and your staff.
Stéphane D'Astous: That is maybe the single most greatest challenge of the dev team, to walk this very line by respecting the, as we said, the heritage of Deus Ex but to bring it to another level because it has been several, several years. I think it's been eight years since the last Deus Ex, Invisible War.
So, we need to bring it to another level and have it accessible to new fans. So, we want to keep and not disappoint the old fans even though their expectations are this high. [Gestures above his head] But to bring new people to really discover this incredible RPG/action game.
It's not the only game, but it stands out as one of the earliest games that said, "You can play this how you want," and that is why people still talk about and people still play the original.
SD: You can replay. It's the replay value, and it's a sophisticated game in the sense that there's not single way to play it, so I guess that was recognized by the fans. One of our mottos for Deus Ex: Human Revolution is "choice and consequences."
I mean, we hear that quite often, but it's truly important to the team to have, let's say, four different ways to enter the police station. You can go through the front door, dialogue, try to win [with] your dialogue, or you could come in with guns blazing. You can go hacking. You can go through the sewers. So, this is an example of a multi-path game.
Those kinds of choices, is that a design question, or is it also a tech and art even, in terms of how you structure things?
SD: I think it starts with the design. I think Eidos has always had a great history of character and design. The games, if I take two things, it's characters with the Lara Crofts, with the Hitmans, and all this, but also with the design. These two components were truly important. To answer your question, I think it starts with the design, and tech... There's always a way to make it work somehow. Tech shouldn't be leading the design, but it has to be compatible. I think design is king.
That is also a tough question if you're speaking from a production standpoint. How do tech and design interface? Do you have technical designers?
SD: First of all, our floor space is managed in a certain way where an animator could be sitting next to an AI programmer, and it's very organic. So, we do cluster people together for a common goal, so it's not a row of programmers, a row of designers, and a row of modelers. No, we often configure the work and the workspace itself by deliverables. So, this is a key point. Have better communication and better productivity within the game. So, yes, we have some technical designers.
If you talk to different people at different studios about formatting the seating arrangements, the production pods, cabals, whatever you want to call them... If you look at every studio in the world, every studio has a different way of doing things, right? How did you arrive at yours?
SD: Well, first of all, when I recruited the team, most of them had worked together. We did start from scratch, but we had experienced people that had managed to deliver several triple A games in the past, so it wasn't their first run at this. It was certainly a challenge because the whole studio started from scratch, and it's quite an important IP.
I think how we function, it's very collaborative. I think the producer, the game director, and the art director is certainly a triangle that takes a lot of decisions. There is not one prima donna. At our studio, you could be the most talented, respected, but if you have a large ego, unfortunately you won't fit in our culture.
We have refused some candidates because we think that the culture that we're trying to put in our studio is really important, and people with big egos won't function as well in our studio than other team members. Everybody has to put the shoulder to the wheel, pretty much.