Eurogamer Expo: Deus Ex: Human Revolution Developer’s Conference

Last weekend, I had the pleasure of attending all three days of the Eurogamer Expo, the event which kick started this year’s London Games Festival. Because of prior engagements, my time at the expo on Friday was mainly consumed by a talk given by Deus Ex: Human Revolution art director, Jean Jacques-Belletete, from Eidos Montreal. Well, actually, I’d say my time was divided equally between said talk, and queueing up for said talk, but it was well worth it!

The talk was mainly a showing of the game’s E3 2010 demo, where protagonist Adam Jensen visits the island of Heng Sha, off the coast of Shanghai, looking for hacker Arie van Bruggen. To get to him, Jensen needs to find his way into a bar called ‘The Hive’, and find a man named Tong who knows the whereabouts of Mr van Bruggen. Anyone with any interest in Deus Ex will have devoured its E3 coverage, so I’ll try to skip over everything that’s common knowledge, and focus on what really set this game apart from others.

Before the demo began proper, Jean talked us through Eidos Montreal’s vision for the game, and reassured the room that his team had ‘played the hell’ out of the original Deus Ex, and Deus Ex 2. The prequel, Human Revolutions, a cyberpunk saga set in 2027, is promised to bring as much freedom, and be as open-ended as the original Deus Ex. Human Revolutions is to be based on four ‘pillars’, which are combat, stealth, hacking, and social. Apparently, whichever path you take, or whichever combination of tools you use to get through the game will leave you with a distinctly unique experience. Sounds thrilling so far.

The demo booted up (interesting to note is the fact that it was played on a PS3, whatever you want to infer from that), and we saw Heng Sha for the first time. Jean interjected that his team had gone on a fabulous scouting trip on Google Earth, in order to ensure that Heng Sha was the right place for this level. How right he was. The first thing that struck me was the cut-scene in which Jensen jumps out of a helicopter type device, and is told to call in if he needs any help. The first Deus Ex was a game that relied heavily on a story that was relayed not only through cut-scenes, but mostly through memos, hacked e-mails, and public access terminals. This cut-scene, lovely as it was, suggested not a departure from these origins, but a suggestion that the story might play out more through cut-scenes, this time around. I’m sure Square Enix would have it no other way.

This is kind of, exactly what I saw. Note: this is concept art!

As we leave the cut-scene, and the player gains control of Adam, he belts down a flight of stairs until he reaches a bustling street filled with dozens of NPCs. Jean assures us that Eidos Montreal approached the game’s cities with the intention of creating a ‘living, breathing world’. I’m reminded of Hong Kong from the original Deus Ex. The original doesn’t look like much now, but back when I first played the game, it just seemed so real. Comparatively, this definitely has the same feel. There are window shoppers plodding around, glaring into neon lit shop windows; there are clubbers grouped together, traipsing up and down the road; there are even homeless people begging. This feels so Deus Ex. Jean also assures us that we can talk to everyone, which is something that added insane amounts of realism to the original, which was released in 2000.

Jensen navigates his way to the doors of ‘The Hive’, and his path is blocked by a bouncer asking for a membership card. At this point, Jean reminds us that there are many ways to get Adam into the club, whether he kills the bouncers, sneaks in through the sewers, or finds an open window on the roof. Sadly, for me, the gentleman playing the demo took the considerably hassle-free way out, and bribed the bouncer to gain entry. One thing that particularly struck me, however, was the booming, muffled sound of bassy club music from outside. I was getting more and more excited as the demo went on.

Inside the club, where the music was gladly not as atrocious as it would have appeared, Adam hops up some stairs, approaches a bartender, and a dialogue ensues. There are a series of options which can be selected (insist, pinpoint, provoke) to influence the flow of conversation, as opposed to selecting set dialogue options. What really impressed me were the facial expressions of this bartender. Of particular note were the eyes that screamed, “I’m lying!”, when his mouth was busy telling Jensen he had no idea who Arie van Bruggen is. Eventually, Jensen angered the bartender to such a degree that he halted the conversation, prompting the player to find a way into the club’s VIP area, where he’d hopefully find Tong. A quick spot of eavesdropping (another fall-back to the original Deus Ex) next to some bouncers informs us that one of them lost his PDA somewhere. A quick visit to the men’s room, and we’ve secured a door code for the VIP area. Shiny.

This is Tong.

"So, I hear you know Arie van Bruggen?"

In the VIP area, Jensen sneaks into some vents (another fall-back) and spies a meeting between the bartender, who is revealed to actually be Tong himself, and another menacing looking guy who is hassling him about your questioning into the whereabouts of Arie van Bruggen.

All of a sudden, the scene changes to some docks, where Jean informs us we’re going in gung-ho, macho style. This is the first time we see Adam’s augmentations being used, where his strength augmentation is used to lob away a crate obstructing a convenient hole in the perimeter fence. He switches to a crossbow, by way of a quick inventory (far removed from the RPG-style inventory of the first game) and pins some guards to walls, and other objects. There’s also quite a bit of third-person cover action, which flips from first to third-person with considerable smoothness. The third-person viewpoint also lets you get the most out of Adam’s takedown attacks, which include puncturing the heads of guards with some arm-mounted blades, and punching through walls to annihilate guards standing on the other side. They add a cinematic feel to the game, which is admittedly very cool, despite initially behaving like a purist who was against the idea of third-person segments to the game. However, Jean did inform us all that it’s possible to get through the entire game without killing a single person. I was unsure of whether this means you can simply avoid all combat altogether, or find some way to non-lethally pacify your assailants. The way Jean was talking about non-lethal takedowns, however, led me to believe it’s the latter.

The demo ends as Jensen drops into a warehouse, and takes out a rather menacing looking boss with a rocket launcher. We’re shown another cut-scene where a heavily augmented fellow with guns for arms enters, and looks ready to shoot Jensen’s head off. The lights go up, and the room bursts into applause, even though we’ve already seen this all before. It’s only testament to how heavily anticipated this game is. People are yearning for it, and more than that, they’re yearning that Eidos Montreal don’t screw things up.

Robots love rockets.

Eat my boomstick!

You know what? Having seen it first-hand, I’m sure they won’t screw it up. It’s going to be a very different game than the original Deus Ex, but it’s going to be very familiar game at the same time. Whatever it turns out to be, I’m sure we’ll all enjoy it. I honestly can’t wait.

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Spoilers

Hello, readers. I hope you are all well. Apologies for the gap in recent posts, but I’ve been a little under the weather recently. I was going to write up a lovely account of social media in-game crossovers (never a good thing) but I’ve become so infuriated and consumed with rage since coming home from work, that I feel it’s best I leave that topic for another day. Now, on to business.

Har har. Spoilers. You all know what they are. I’m not talking car spoilers, contrary to what the above image might imply. I’m talking specifically about spoilers for games, although the message can be translated to other media as well.

Now, I’m assuming you, dear reader, are not someone who spoils things for their contemporaries. If this is true, good job. I shall personally visit you and give you a high-five if you leave contact details in the comments. If you do have a tendency to spoil things for other people, please do the same, and I’ll think of a suitable punishment for you in due course.

A while back, I bought Red Dead Redemption for the Xbox 360, which, if you’re in the know, you’ll know is a stonker of a game. It’s a progression from Rockstar’s GTA series, in which the story plays an even bigger role than thought possible. This game came out a month ago, but I have yet to complete the single-player story. Sadly, thanks to certain irresponsible and despicable individuals from across the interwebs, I already know exactly how the game ends, which has dampened my enjoyment somewhat. Sure, the game is still a delight to play, but it all feels as if the majority of the excitement has been sucked from it.

Social media is a marvellous, fabulous thing, which has encouraged gamers from around the globe to unite, share their experiences, and even coordinate themselves and their online gaming activities in a way that previously wasn’t possible. For instance, players of Red Dead Redemption closely rally around the #reddeadredemption hashtag on Twitter, which is a great way to find fellow cowboys and cowgirls to play with online, or even find quick help with a tricky mission if the need arises. It’s also a place where, admittedly, people do tend to share their experiences of the game. These vary from interesting, amusing, to downright irritating and even soul-destroying.

For instance, it would be an acceptable use of social media, such as Twitter, to tweet,

Anyone looking to go raid some gang hideouts this evening?

That’s fine. That’s using your initiative to seek out friends to play with. I think that pretty much sums up social media in a nutshell, in terms of bringing people together.

Alternatively, it would be acceptable to post something such as,

Wow, that final mission really moved me. I was greatly satisfied by such an ending! Bravo, game creators!

That’s also fine. You’re not spoiling anything at all. You’re expressing your satisfaction on a good 10 or 20 hours work, or whatever, and delighting at a satisfactory ending to a brilliant game, which you acknowledge by praising the game’s creators. Bless you.

This last example is taken too far in many cases, however, and more often than not leads to SPOILERS, such at the one we see below. Remember kids, this is exactly what you don’t want to do, or say, online.

OHHHH MY GOOOOOSH THAT WAS SO INCREDIBLE AT THE END OF THE GAME WHERE JOHN MARSTON SAVED THE CRITTERS BY EATING A TEDDY BEAR WHOLE AND THEN POOPING YARN WHICH HE THEN USED AS A LASSO TO KIDNAP HIS MOTHER AND STRANGLE EARTHWORM JIM!

This is unacceptable, and I cannot abide it.

Please, everyone. Use social media responsibly. Part of that is realising who you’re broadcasting what you’re saying to. If you have a private Twitter account, and you are only friends with fellow ‘hardcore’ gamers who insist on finishing games quickly, then fine. Spoil all you want. If you’re using a hashtag which you know is monitored by all sorts of people, however, please keep your spoilers to yourself. This applies to YouTube comments, Facebook statuses, and anywhere else people can publicly see your words.

Even forewarning of such a spoiler is unacceptable. On the internet, as I’m sure you’re aware, people scroll upwards, downwards, side-to-side, diagonally. If you write it down, it will be seen by people, and will spoil things for a great many of them.

What do you think you’re gaining by posting such things? You think it makes you look impressive? You think it’s big to spoil things for other people? Well, how about I come over to where you live, waste a day of your life, or thereabouts, playing through the computer game of our generation (or one of them) alongside you, only to point out as you progress through the game what happens to each of the principal characters. I then hand you a flat glass of lemonade, fart in your face, and leave you, weeping, to pick up the pieces

When you spoil games, that’s what you’re delivering to any number of unsuspecting people. Flat games, and a fart in the face. Think before you type.


Why I love Super Mario.

Super Mario Bros. 3 was the first game I ever owned. I was four, and failing to know what else to buy a hyperactive four year old, my parents bought me a NES for my birthday which had the game bundled with it. This seemingly random event spawned a life-long love affair with the cheeky Italian plumber, and the eclectic world of the Mushroom Kingdom in which he resides. Since then, times have changed, and computer games have progressed in leaps and bounds, but Mario seems to be a mainstay that never tires, or becomes boring.

I can happily say that I’ve never played a bad Mario game to date (that being said, I never did play the ’92/’93 ‘edutainment’ title, Mario is Missing). Mario games are generally awesome, and reek of the high quality Nintendo magic that we’ve come to expect from the developer. Indeed, where others have tried, and failed in the past, Super Mario has stayed strong, innovated, to keep with the times, and has throughout the years won over our hearts, and developed into a much cherished part of the gaming canon.

Courtesy of Gamestop.

Super Mario, circa 1985.

I’ve very recently turned 22, and briefly before this event , when asked by a friend what my favourite games were, I started reeling off the names of titles I enjoy. When I hit ‘Super Mario’, I was met with surprise. Why? I assume it has something to do with the fact that I’m no longer a child (which I most often do regret), have long hair, and maybe, to some, look like I should be riding the icy Nordic seas aboard the longship of true metal. I don’t think I give off the impression of someone who’d get a kick out of again, what to some, might seem like a childish series of games. I love it, though, and love them. I’m sure that many others, of similar ages and dispositions, agree with me.

Why do I love Super Mario, then? Simple. Because Super Mario games are great, and consistently deliver an enjoyable and expected experience. I feel this is a very important part of the Mario proposition. Where other major titles and series’ have been destroyed by over-complication, and what I think is a bastardisation of the original formula that made these games such a success (I am, of course, referring to Sonic the Hedgehog here), Mario has stayed true to his roots. While Sonic games have ‘evolved’ (for lack of a better word) to the point where the origins of the series can hardly be glimpsed, Mario is still doing the same old song and dance. Sega’s most recent addition to the Sonic catalogue, Sonic Unleashed, has the speedy rascal transforming into a were-hog, at times. There have also been numerous other additions to the series’ character roster, and I honestly couldn’t tell you what is, and has recently been taking place on planet Sonic. On the other hand, I can tell you exactly what Mario is up to at this point in time. Saving the Princess.

Courtesy of 1UP.

Were-Sonic? No thank you.

I think Mario’s success lies in the fact that all Super Mario games are vastly similar, yet all very different at the same time. They all follow the same format. Bowser, king of the Koopas, steals Princess Peach. Mario then needs to recover her from his clutches by jumping on things, to a great degree. Since Super Mario 64, the element of ‘power stars’ has been introduced, where to progress, Mario has to collect said stars by completing ‘missions’, as it were, but his focus is still the same. Mario games never overburden you with a complex plot, which makes the games ideal for jumping in and out of the action, even months apart. As a result, our expectations are controlled, which is really quite vital in producing and maintaining a winning series of games. We know exactly what to expect (perhaps, however, not how to expect it), and for this reason, I’d wager the majority of people are supremely satisfied with each iteration of the Super Mario saga. Each Super Mario title involves, amongst other things, a great deal of jumping. You pick up different caps, which each endow you with a different ability. You stomp on a generally well-established cast of enemies. You also know exactly where you are, all the time. I mean this in more senses than one. All of the enemies, and indeed, most of the characters in the games are instantly recognisable. This also applies to the power-ups (you know what a 1UP mushroom looks like and does, or even what a 1UP mushroom is), and to a large extent, the music. True, the signature title theme has been pushed off the title screen, into other areas of the most recent games, but generally it’s a delight to hear new, revamped versions of the tunes that accompanied our goomba stomping right from the start.

Courtesy of 1UP.

Luigi returns, along with Yoshi, in Super Mario Galaxy 2. How awesome does this look?

That’s not to say that the series has gone stale, which is nonsense. Every successive Super Mario game seems to develop the wonderful Mario formula in some way, most recently sending him into space. The thing I’m actually most excited about in the impending Super Mario Galaxy 2 is the return of Yoshi, who we haven’t properly seen in years, not counting the strange, juice-vomiting yoshis of Super Mario Sunshine. Even with rampant innovation, the core elements that made the series a success still remain, however, and this is something that Nintendo realised very early on. It’s also something that all developers could learn from. If you’ve got something good going for you, stick with it, please.

That’s why I love Super Mario.

If you haven’t seen Nintendo’s awesome YouTube channel already, which is updated regularly with mini-trailers for Super Mario Galaxy 2, in anticipation of its release, then take a look!