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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Reader Mail #1: Little Big Planet, Growth, and Creativity

Ahoy, readers! I cannot believe it’s now officially been over a month since we last spoke. A lot has happened since my last post. I’ve submitted my MSc dissertation, and took a couple of weeks off from life; a break punctuated by the occasional job application. I’m now back to kick ass, rock and roll, and other things like that.

A few days ago, I tweeted a call for topics to blog about. Today’s post is inspired by the wonderful @doctorcdf, writer extraordinaire, who has recently been published. Christian also writes the wonderful Whirled Peas, and is more eco hardcore than I could ever dream of being.

Christian asked (although I can’t seem to dig up the exact tweet) what effect Media Molecule’s expansion of its Little Big Planet franchise, Little Big Planet 2, will have on the creative levels of its community. For those of you who don’t know, Little Big Planet is a game production warehouse in itself. It’s sold with a few pre-made levels, but with the real emphasis being on making your own levels and uploading them to Media Molecule’s servers, for all to see and share. It’s a great formula, which has really taken off, and has produced some absolutely outstanding stuff.

Little Big Planet 2, which is to be released next January, brings all sorts of improvements into the mix, such as the ability to create NPCs, and reconfigure your level’s control scheme. It also includes a number of ‘templates’, which mean you’re no longer restricted by a platform game framework, and can instead build racing games, puzzle games, and even RPGs. This last point is a novel addition to the series, but I fear it’s one that may be somewhat moot, considering what people have made using existing tools from Little Big Planet.

Check out the above video and you’ll see what I mean. Someone has successfully recreated Duck Hunt (the NES game that used the NES Zapper), with visually accurate ducks, dog, and everything. It’s a shooting game. You shoot ducks. In short, the level resembles nothing of a platform game, which just goes to show the level of creativity showcased by the LBP community. Indeed, LBP players have built everything from Zelda and Mario remakes, to Donkey Kong themed levels, and have also remade more classical games like noughts and crosses. One chap even used one of his levels to proposed to his girlfriend. In short, the possibilities are practically endless, especially when you bear in mind these levels were built using a set of relatively simplistic tools.

This is all fantastic, but there’s one thing that strikes me as odd. There seems to be a definite trend of creating levels that mimic other games. I’m not saying this is a bad thing by any means. These original games are all based on tried and tested formulae, and if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. It’s also fascinating how people have overcome the limitations of Little Big Planet’s level editor to come up with things so far removed from conventional platform gaming, and so different from anything you’d expect from a level editor for a platform game. I’m sure this is partly due to the absence of crushing rigidity found in other level editors, but also due to something of a human need to rebel, and conquer such a system. I’m sure some people saw the rules of Little Big Planet as a challenge. After all, it’s people like this, I’m sure, that are responsible for the creation of Counter Strike, and more recently, Garry’s Mod, which were all originally based upon the architecture of the Half-Life games.

What will Little Big Planet 2 do, then? Well, I’d firstly hope that it removes more boundaries from the level creation process. I hope this means people will be less preoccupied with beating the system, and more concerned with producing original levels, and original games, which is something Little Big Planet 2 cites as now possible. As I said before, there’s nothing wrong with the current slew of remakes on Little Big Planet, but hopefully with more tools, and less rules, people will be able to concentrate more on being creative, and making awesome happen. I’m sure there’ll still be those who try to conquer the rules that govern Little Big Planet 2’s creation system, but in lesser numbers, as the system is less restrictive, and makes it easier to allow you to make what you want to make. Although (in my opinion) this greater freedom will sacrifice some of the ingenuity that made Duck Hunt on Little Big Planet happen, but will also allow for more creative ideas to come to fruition. That’s my opinion, anyway. We’ll have to wait and see what happens when Little Big Planet 2 is released.

What do you think? Am I making sense, or does the above equate to complete codswallop? I’d love to hear about some of your favourite Little Big Planet levels, too.

I’ll be having some hands-on time with Little Big Planet 2 at the Eurogamer Expo this weekend, and will surely let you all know what happens.