Since it started working on the Deus Ex franchise, developer Eidos Montreal has been under a great deal of pressure.
For 2011’s Human Revolution, it was under scrutiny to prove its game could live up to the quality and depth of the original Deus Ex. And now, having proven itself once, it has to do it all over again.
This time, we know what goes into making [a Deus Ex game], so we needed the courage to take it on and do it again,” gameplay director Patrick Fortier (pictured, far right) says.
The team was really motivated by that. People appreciate being able to work on a franchise like this that has so much depth. There are our gameplay pillars, the combat, the hacking, the social interactions… these deep worlds where things are justified, where nothing is black and white, where we take the time to do character studies and go into the details. People revel in the opportunity to do that.
With Human Revolution, we didn’t know there was an audience for our interpretation of the Deus Ex universe. We know now that there is. There is pressure to live up to Human Revolution, create something that’s going to be strong and memorable, and that is going to touch people in the same way.”
If the Mankind Divided reviews that were published as this article was being written are anything to go by [85 on Metacritic], it would appear that Eidos Montreal has done it again. But press surrounding the game hasn’t been entirely positive.
As is the norm for Deus Ex games, Mankind Divided deals with some fairly heavy subject matter. This time around, as the game’s title suggests, Deus Ex is examining a fragmented world where ‘normal’ humans and their enhanced counterparts [people with technological augmentations dubbed ‘augs’] are segregated.
This is due to an event at the end of Human Revolution that saw augs become dangerous after their enhancements were hacked by a malevolent force.
The team at Eidos Montreal has described this segregation as ‘mechanical apartheid’, a term that was criticised for being insensitive. And recently, concept art for the game showed the slogan ‘Augs Lives Matter’, which was believed to be a hijacking of the anti-racism campaign, Black Lives Matter.
That’s more of an unfortunate thing and a coincidence,” Fortier says. I understand that people may not like that answer. The thing is, the game has been in development for five years. When I saw that come up, I thought: ‘Oh God, it never dawned on me’ because there are lots of different slogans and stuff in the game. It’s unfortunate if it hurts or insults anybody. Our team is not like that, there is no benefit or satisfaction in getting a headline [about Augs Lives Matter].
"There is pressure to live up to Human Revolution and create something that’s going to be strong and memorable."
Patrick Fortier, Eidos Montreal
But I understand that perception becomes reality and it’s not the right time for that perception because things are happening daily. I sympathise with that.”
Yet Fortier believes that it is important for video games to talk about real world issues.
This is the medium that I grew up with,” he says. As a kid, it was great playing Mario or Sonic. But I’m older now, not just as a player but as a developer. I’m in my 40s and I’m interested in different things. It was interesting because the core creative team is all in its 40s and wants to explore certain things that are interesting, that are meaty, that are meaningful for us.
It’s not about making a particular statement and pointing the finger and saying: ‘You should think this’ but it is an affirmation of the fact that life is complicated and we do live in a world where there is a lot of nuance. Things are heavy. As a kid in the ‘80s, I’d watch films and it’d be about the good guys and the bad guys and everything was simple.
Now, it’s not like that. You watch those things and they make no sense logistically. That’s where we are now. Games are our medium of expression and we just want that complexity and richness and interesting themes to be reflected in the games that we make.”
Publisher Square Enix has made a considerable investment in Deus Ex. Not only did Mankind Divided launch earlier this week, Square released mobile title Deus Ex Go the week before. All of this is under the Deus Ex Universe name, an umbrella that includes additional content like comic book tie-ins
Obviously there’s so much effort and energy that goes into it,” Fortier says.
Last time, I’m not sure if the success was a surprise but the team really believed in it. There aren’t many examples of this kind of game out in the market. It creates a situation where sometimes people lack imagination a little bit and just look at last week’s top selling games. The game found an audience and got a lot of word of mouth.
When we announced Mankind Divided, we got a tremendous response. When you ship a game then that’s it – you don’t really hear about it anymore. It’s when you have the opportunity to do another one, you get that feedback and see that there is that community and it did touch people’s lives. Some people really, really like it and are really happy there’s a new one. It’s really gratifying for your work because you feel like you’re doing something that matters.”
With this level of investment, the calibre of the development staff and the positive reviews, Deus Ex Mankind Divided seems set to be a hit. But this isn’t Fortier’s ambition for the game.
I hope people are going to be able to get into it and draw a lot of satisfaction from the different possibilities and consequences of the game,” he says. I hope that it’s an experience that resonates after players are finished with it. Maybe they’ll finish the game and think about transhumanism.
That’s what I am hoping – it will resonate in some way and inspire some critical thoughts.”
On April 2015, Square announced it was going to be doing a livestream to announced a new game. The stream was called ‘Can’t Kill Progress’, and depicted a man trapped in a room. Viewers could make decisions that would affect this person. It was certainly unusual.
“The objective was to announce to our fans that Deus Ex was back,” senior brand manager Rodney Lelu (pictured, top left) says.
“We wanted to get the support from Square Enix so it was doing some kind of promotion on Twitch about the fact that a new game was being announced. We couldn’t say that it was Eidos Montreal otherwise everyone would have known that it was Deus Ex.
“Deus Ex is all about choice and consequences in a universe that is ours a few years from now. So we wanted to reflect that. At the end of each day, we had a major choice for viewers that had major consequences. The audience was able to choose the fate and the path through the story. On the last day, the guy revealed he had an augmentation. People in the chat understood that it was definitely Deus Ex. Then you had the announcement trailer.”
This stunt – like a lot of Eidos Montreal’s promotion – is a simultaneous effort between the design and marketing teams. The result is a campaign that accurately embodies the game being sold.
“Our marketing guys communicate and talk to us, there’s that back and forth,” Fortier says. “That was a great way to launch it. It was very original. It’s about talking the same language. We’re not trying to sell an augmented James Bond, we’re doing something with mature themes. The marketing team gets that and it hits the right notes.”