Jean-François Dugas, Executive Game Director on Deus Ex: Human Revolution, offers up his thoughts as he looks back at the development of what many gamers consider to be a modern PC gaming classic.
Please tell us a little bit about yourself and your role with the development of Deus Ex: Human Revolution.
I’ve been in the industry for over 15 years, working on various projects from racing games to first person shooters. More recently, I’ve been the Game Director on DXHR. My role has been to lead the creative team towards the goals we had set for the game in the first few months of development.
How did you get started in developing PC games?
I started in 1997 when Ubisoft established a studio in Montreal. I simply applied and I got the gig! I started as a QA guy and got my first game design job about 2 months in. Actually, my first game wasn’t for the PC. It was for the Nintendo 64.
Were you concerned Human Revolution would not live up to the expectations from fans of the first game?
You live with that fear from day one until you ship! I mean, it’s not about disappointing the fans, per se. It’s more about the fear of coming up short in making a worthy addition to the franchise. Original fans were putting pressure on us, but not as much as we were putting on ourselves.
Talk about your reaction to the fan reception from initial gameplay footage which displayed an overabundance of highlighted objects and quest markers.
Believe it or not, we were confident with what we had – we’d already conducted playtests at that point and we were receiving positive feedback. So, we knew there was no problem with the feature, not even remotely. But people look at a video (probably more than once) and start to analyse every bit and piece of it, until they start to see problems in what they see. Like many did with the highlighted objects.
It’s human nature – it’s the same when we work on a game for many years; it comes to a point where you see a feature in the game for 2-3 years every single day, and you start to think the feature is no good; it needs to be revisited or replaced. We’re all subject to this; it’s a trap. That’s what happened with the highlight on the objects, I think. People saw it on the video and thought it was too much. We knew it wasn’t, but we talked about it internally and we knew we’d have time to answer fans’ prayers, so we did, by giving players the option to turn it off.
In the end, a lot of the players who voiced their concerns about that feature admitted playing the game with the highlights on. It wasn’t breaking the immersion, for them; it was actually adding to the smoothness of the experience. Funny, isn’t it?
Did you look to the technical and gameplay criticism from Invisible War as what not to do in Human Revolution?
Yes, like we did with the original Deus Ex as well. It’s important to stay analytical and very objective. So, we did list all the great and not so great things about the 2 games and tried to keep them in mind as we were reimagining the DX universe.
Looking back, can you speak on a few of the successes and failures you learned from in developing the PC version of Deus Ex: Human Revolution?
You can learn a lot just by looking at what’s already on the market: a lot of games get ported to PC without much thought put into it. For me, it was clear from day one that DXHR wouldn’t just be a console port on the PC. Instead, it would be a version of the game that would be fully adapted for that platform (UI, visuals, other typical PC features, etc.). In retrospect, I think we did a good job on that end.
In its current form, how close is Deus Ex: Human Revolution to your initial vision on the PC?
Well, I had a vision for the game, not for a platform. So, in terms of the game experience, the vision is mostly fulfilled. If I had one area where I wish we could have gone farther, it’s in the visual department. I wish we’d had the time to put in more bells & whistles. That’s pretty much it.
Talk about setting the difficulty levels for Deus Ex: Human Revolution and if you believe the game offered proper balance.
In retrospect, I think our game is a tad too hard on normal difficulty. It was quite a challenging game to balance. Our first pass at game balancing was too permissive. Players were playing the game like a typical run & shoot action game. Players weren’t using tactics, let alone their augmentations. It was tricky to find that sweet spot where the game is hard enough that you want to think and use your tools a little bit more, while still allowing the FPS vets to have fun with combat itself. Unfortunately, the game ended up being too punitive for some. If I could go back, I’d tone it down a bit, all over the place (AI, more consumables all in all, redesigned bosses, etc.).
Were there any challenges you faced in ensuring Deus Ex: Human Revolution would run on the various PC system configurations?
Regardless of the game, on PC, you always have to ensure that you can accommodate the widest range of configurations as much as possible without demolishing the game!
There are some critics who say the PC market is so small that the effort needed to make a proper PC version is a determent to overall development. Why did you choose to create a PC version which took advantage of the platform?
Out of respect for the game we were making, and out of respect for the fans; it was as simple as that. Doing so was important to me.
Can you tell us why you chose not to release a PC demo for Deus Ex: Human Revolution?
When you release a demo, it needs to sell the game properly. How do you make the audience experience what a Deus Ex game is all about in 15 minutes or less? We felt that we wouldn’t be able to do justice to the game so we didn’t do it.
What are your thoughts on how the PC gaming industry as a whole is dealing with the problem of intrusive DRM and piracy?
I will be very honest with you. I don’t spend much time thinking about the subject. To me, it’s a publisher issue. I’d rather focus my energy making the best games I can.
The modding community is a huge aspect to many PC games. Was there ever talk about releasing mod tools or allowing for easy modding on Human Revolution?
It’s something I wanted, but it’s a more of a business decision than a creative one – and in the end, it was decided we wouldn’t release mod tools.
We would like to offer our thanks to Jean-François Dugas for taking a moment to reflect on his work with Human Revolution. You can pick up a copy on Steam or purchase a key through the digital distribution outlet of your choice.