DX3: “We Didn’t Want To Go Black & White”

By Quintin Smith on February 3rd, 2011 at 4:03 pm.

I spy with my little eye something so small you can't even see it I WIN, TROGLODYTE

Mary DeMarle is the Narrative Designer and Lead Writer for Deus Ex: Human Revolution, an IMPOSSIBLY EXCITING game which we’ve just offered our first hands-on impressions of here. In the following interview she answers my questions on how she was working to make her characters human, how the conversation battles would work and whether the game is, in fact, a love story. Yeah, a love story. You read that right.

RPS: I’ve heard a lot of talk about Human Revolution having themes of humanity, asking what makes us human and so forth, which I imagine would require a cast that seems quite human in the first place. What steps have you taken to make the cast believable?

Mary DeMarle: Well, we didn’t want to go black and white with anything, we wanted to have shades of grey in everybody and everything in the story. So when I approach character development I usually do it by starting with deciding what each character’s core personality traits are. I usually come up with 3 or 4, and try to pick traits which compliment each other, but also contradict each other, which I think makes for a more realistic character. Because we all have those inner conflicts, and sometimes certain traits take over.

So I start with that, and then I think about how those traits might manifest in real actions. So if you have a curious character, you might have a curious character who’s also quiet, so he sits in the background or the back seat of the bus and watches everybody. I think this way you create a character with a more realistic bent to them.

It’s also realising that even “evil” characters aren’t evil because of their intentions, but only their actions. You have to think about that person is motivated to do what he’s doing and build a backstory around that.

RPS: On the subject of evil, I was thinking that bad videogame writing often makes characters appear cardboard and inhuman. How can you capture inhumanity in a character without making them appear unbelievable?

MD: It is difficult, because you don’t want a cardboard villain. Sometimes what happens is the writer will create a character who isn’t like that, but do to the pressures of time and execution they end up losing the subtleties. And then they curse themselves.

But if you start by creating a rounded character whose message may be bad, but has a legitimate reason to feel that way, then that’s the starting point. I remember an interview with Ralph Fiennes on the subject of Schindler’s List, and he said that in order to play the villain in that film he needed to find something in that character that he really liked, because otherwise you’re just focusing on the evil. You have to find the good in the character and rely on it.

RPS: Moving on a bit, I was really surprised at the prominence of the “I love you” line in the game’s intro. It’s not something you hear in games, even games that are love stories. Is it true to say that Jensen’s motivated by love? And in that case, would that make the game a love story?

MD: Wow! You’re getting me to talk about the good stuff. My personal view of Adam Jensen is that he’s definitely driven by love, but it’s not necessarily a romantic love per se. One of his strongest traits is loyalty, and I think that he’s loyal to things and it often screws him up in the end. So he does feel responsible for the deaths of all those people at Sarif Industries [Ed- Jensen is the head of security at Sarif], and it’s the sense of loyalty and figuring out where everything went wrong that motivates him as a character. It’s not so much a sense of “I need to get revenge”, as “I need to make it up to these people and figure out who’s really behind this”. But does that make it a love story? That’s interesting. I don’t know.

RPS: I’m interested that Jensen’s motivated by loyalty in a game world which has always boasted a higher than average share of conspiracies. Can we expect Jensen to have some tough decisions to make when, and I’m guessing here, it turns out that Jensen’s company is not all that it appears to be?

MD: I don’t want to give away too much, so I don’t think I’m going to answer you on that one.

RPS: But loyalty’s a big theme in the game?

MD: I would say so. But of course, the player can choose not to play him that way.

RPS: So, Jensen’s augmentations are really quite severe, and the introductory sequence that shows him receiving them sees him suffering through terrible pain. Are they a physical manifestation of the weight of his mistake?

MD: I know that from my standpoint with Jensen (and this gets complicated what with the player experience, and the player deciding for themselves what’s right and wrong), we definitely did start with Jensen as somebody who wasn’t sure yet if he wanted to get augmented or not. He hadn’t made the decision, and the fact that it’s taken from him in the beginning is a defining part of his character. He lost control at one point and now he can’t ever go back, and the only decision that’s left for him is to decide how he feels about [his augmentations].

RPS: How do you write a character who has all of his big decisions left up to the player? Is it just up to you to give him a starting point and let the player move onwards from there?

MD: Pretty much. We create a strong, defined personality and backstory, but the present and future are in flux. What we have to do from a writing standpoint is give the player his choice, and whatever he decides we make sure it’s executed in a “Jensen” way. So instead of being, I don’t know, this Duke Nukem asshole, he’s an Adam Jensen asshole.

RPS: Speaking of assholes, let’s talk about Frank Pritchard [Sarif’s resident computer expert and Jensen’s digital counterpart in keeping the company safe]. He’s pleasingly antagonistic- the character who held his role in the original Deus Ex, Alex Jacbonson, was perfectly lovely. What was the thinking in making your op com in Human Revolution dislikable?

MD: First of all, I’ll just confess that he’s my favourite character [laughs]. I love everything that he’s in. What we decided in terms of him specifically was that we wanted somebody who really emulated life. Because there are times in life when you have to work with somebody and you just don’t like them, but you still have to work with them, and we decided right from the start that that would be the case. Jensen and Pritchard do not get along, although at the end of the day they can still say “Look, I respect your professional integrity”. Although, I mean Pritchard would never say that. “I respect your professional capability, but you know what? You’re still a dick.”

RPS: I guess it immediately creates a nice back and forth, a sort of spark for you to write around. So, something unique about the original Deus Ex was how many characters it featured who lied to you, which is always difficult to do in a videogame as the player need to feel in control. Presumably you guys are doing that in places in Human Revolution. How hard is that to implement smoothly?

MD: It is hard. If a character’s going to lie about something important, you don’t want the player to fail at something else as a result, and all of these kinds of things. You have to at least put enough in there to hint to the player that the character might be lying to you. But at the same time, conspiracy and not knowing who to trust is integral to Deus Ex.

RPS: Moving on again, a nice feature you’ve been talking about in Human Revolution is the conversation duels the player will have with characters in the world, where the NPCs might choose to be ignoble, or reasonable, or something else selected at random from a small pool of responses. If random chance is involved in how a character responds to what you say to him, doesn’t that mean you have to abandon the concept of a solid character?

MD: No, it actually strengthens it. For each of the conversation battles you get into in the game the first thing we did was define the character and his personality traits, and each of his “attacks”, if you want to call them attacks, are all based on his personality. The random factor means he might act on his insecurity, or his bravado or something else, and the random factor only means that we don’t know which will come up at any given time.

RPS: Finally, with anti-augmentation groups featuring in Human Revolution, I was just wondering what your own opinions are on human augmentation and human bioengineering are.

MD: Oh, gosh. Well I have to tell you that the joke on the team is that for the duration of this story I’d be supporting the anti-technology view, because most people on the team wouldn’t be anti-technology, and it’d help me make the game more human, you know? And now that the project’s over I bought my first iPad, and I have to admit I’m suddenly like “You know, if I could get one of those InfoLinks in my head, it’d be really useful.”

But you know, all of this stuff is already out there. We already have people putting cameras in their eyes to improve their vision. The technology’s there, we’re just not aware of it. As far as our team’s technology expert is concerned, human augmentation’s been going on for decades. If you look at all the sports controversy regarding drugs, that is augmentation. It’s already happening.

RPS: But you have no qualms with our using technology to make ourselves more than we can be?

MD: From my perspective, I think mankind will always try to be more than he is. That’s part of being human. But I do admit we have to be careful about how we do it.

RPS: Thanks for your time.

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57 Comments »

  1. CMaster says:

    You know, she sounds like she knows where she is going with this, although it helps that the questions tend to come across as slightly gushing. It’d be great to do interviews like this more after games are out, challenge writers and designers on the strength and contradictions in what they’ve done and said.
    I do hope that despite all that, there was more than one writer on what promises to be a seriously dialogue (and email?) heavy game.

    Edit:
    @Article title – so instead we went with Black and Gold?

    • Lacero says:

      It says Lead Writer at the top so I’d guess there were a lot of monkeys and typewriters doing background chatter.

      The questions are slightly gushing, but I guess that’s what happens when the journalist is really impressed with the game :) I like the interview, though it’s interesting to compare to the eurogamer one. It reads like RPS didn’t quite get as much time to talk to her.

    • subedii says:

      @CMaster:

      Haha, yeah, I was thinking that. Everything I’ve seen and read for the game has me interested so far, but if there’s one trend I think developers run a bit too far with these days it’s filter effects.

      I’m speaking generally here and not with regards to DE3 (since of course, nobody here’s played it), but they really need to be used much more sparingly, and as a means to create contrast and enhance the mood in different scenes, not as the de-facto colour palette. When you use it all the time the style may as well not even be there anymore, it stops having any actual effect after a while.

      So it’s technically not black and white. Making it Greeny-White, Browny-White and Goldy-White aren’t much better.

      Still, this is just a non-professional’s opinion. I suppose I should be glad it wasn’t Tealy-Orange.

  2. Cooper says:

    Excitement is high.

  3. stahlwerk says:

    Excellent interview! I assume you were not allowed to talk about inspiration from, collaboration with or connection to the DX 1 and 2 writers teams and their work?

  4. faelnor says:

    Every bit of info about Bioshock managed to make me wet my pants even more. So given how disappointed I was about it, the opposite happening here is a good sign that I should like the new Deus Ex.

  5. TehBuLL says:

    O man. Fired up the Deus Ex soundtrack to listen too while reading all of this goodness. I am in a good place right now, can’t wait any longer!

  6. Richard Beer says:

    This is really interesting, especially what she says about character creation and giving them depth. I just hope they’ve pulled it off and the story isn’t a big cliche revenge thing following the destruction of Sarif. Because some people say things look better sans-Sarif. Hahaha yes I went there! You can use that in a punny headline sometime, it’s a freebie.

  7. Ian says:

    Good interview, that.

  8. fela says:

    So how many bags of money did you guys receive after doing this information blowout ‘special’?

    • Alec Meer says:

      Really? Really? You’re going to go with that paranoid screeching? Really? Really?

    • fela says:

      Touchy subject?

    • Alec Meer says:

      You = bigsillypoopoohead.

    • Lewis Denby says:

      It’s in a games website’s interest to post as much new and interesting content as possible. I’ll tell you one thing: the minute publishers start paying me directly to write about their games, I will make myself a very rich man.

    • Pijama says:

      Pretentious troll is pretentious.

    • fela says:

      Jeez I post a simple question and folks get all indignant.

    • Jim Rossignol says:

      No, you suggest that we are corrupt jackasses, and we get all indignant. Funny that.

    • Richard Beer says:

      fela, don’t be a moron. RPS guys are journalists. They find information and they disseminate it to people who want to know it, people like you and me, and the reason I come to RPS for that information is because I know that if they thought DX3 was a bag of shit, they’d be telling us.

      They’re gamers too. They’re excited about a new DX3. Don’t be an Angry Internet Man about it.

    • Man Raised by Puffins says:

      Jeez I post a simple question bizarre accusation of corruption and folks get all indignant.

      Fixed.

      Edit: Oh dear, this pile-on is indeed a touch unsightly. Sorry about that.

    • Cooper says:

      I imagine the world fela lives in is quite an interesting one. Shame it doesn’t map onto any actual reality.

    • subedii says:

      Hey, let’s not dogpile the guy.

      Or did Jim pay the lot of you some of his massive cashbags in order to ridicule him?

      And if so, where can I sign up for some of that?

    • Alec Meer says:

      OK, let’s move on now. Far more interesting things to talk about than one person’s libelous, spurious nonsense.

    • moyogo says:

      No real basis for his claim, but I like ‘bags’ as a unit of money.

    • Kirrus says:

      Can we suggest that all further monetary values have to be in ‘bags’?

    • faelnor says:

      Pretty fitting as it is also the measurement unit of excrement

    • Mungrul says:

      Money? Pfah, everyone knows they won’t accept anything less than a plate of chocolate Hob Nobs and a cup of Earl Grey!
      And maybe a Chinchilla.

    • Gonefornow says:

      @fela
      Next time use /joking.

    • ezekiel2517 says:

      I thought it was clear their price is in bags of milky ways.

    • Kadayi says:

      @fail

      What part of RPS it’s a gaming website, for games enthusiasts who like gaming news don’t you get exactly? Hell, quite a lot of us regulars have been crying out for developer interviews of late. Yet when a good one comes along (like this) about a game that many of us are keen to hear details on, you’re straight in with accusations of the hard working guys who run this site of being on the take? What gives exactly here? Unbelievable….

    • Flakfizer says:

      “you suggest that we are corrupt jackasses, and we get all indignant. Funny that.”

      You pre-emptively suggest that anyone who dislikes third person OMFG4W3SUM! console bullshit is “mad as a bag of hats” and a “big fussy oddo” then gush about a console version and are surprised when people wonder what exactly Eidos did to you? Funny that.

      RPS, PC gaming ’till 2011.

    • Pantsman says:

      @Flakfizer: I take it you’ll be leaving, then? Don’t let the door hit you on your way out!

    • reticulate says:

      @fela
      Erm, there was a big preview organised for gaming press a little while back, and the first embargo just lifted.

      If you look around the internets, you might see a lot of Deus Ex preview articles today.

      Dumbass.

    • JohnnyMaverik says:

      They paid me two bags for reading it… excrement that is, not money.

    • Thants says:

      @Flakfizer: You’re surprised that a PC site is excited about Deus Ex 3? What colour are the skies in your universe?

    • Saiko Kila says:

      I believe, that if they got paid for this interview, then I would be far more interested in the game after reading it.

    • The Pink Ninja says:

      Have to point out:

      RPS has made me not want to buy most of the PC games they’ve looked at since I started reading it.

      The reviews are what makes people to decide to pre-order and if you do pre-order it’s your own fault. I only do that when I know it’s going to be good i.e. Bioware.

  9. Xercies says:

    I love questions like the ending question about their personal views about the subjects shown in the games.

    Why can’t more interviewers do this instead of saying questions that every other interviewer is going to say.

    • subedii says:

      - “So what can you tell me about the overall storyline?”

      - “Roughly how many lines of dialogue would you say there are?”

      - “Is it difficult to write for multiple dialogue options?”

      And of course:

      - “Do you think it’s important for a game to have a good storyline?”

  10. Pijama says:

    Excellent interview chaps – good questions and good job all around. You did the interview, Quintin?

    • Quintin Smith says:

      I did do the interview.

      (Hanging upside-down with a bag over my head in Eidos’ secret warehouse of Deus Ex secrecy!)

    • Nogo says:

      Mad props Quintin. The way everything was brought full circle with her final reply got me all giddy.

      Thanks for making it very clear DeMarle was living and breathing this project for a time.

  11. airtekh says:

    The more I read, the more I can’t contain myself. This game is shaping up to be awesome-tastic.

  12. Jacques says:

    I thought the last point was particularly interesting.

    But you know, all of this stuff is already out there. We already have people putting cameras in their eyes to improve their vision. The technology’s there, we’re just not aware of it. As far as our team’s technology expert is concerned, human augmentation’s been going on for decades. If you look at all the sports controversy regarding drugs, that is augmentation. It’s already happening.

    I mean, she’s quite wrong in a way, certainly with the eye camera thing, though the subject of performance enhancing drugs is an interesting one.

    I’m definitely going to have to buy a new pc to be able to play this, it’s ticking all the right boxes for me (people with guns, good dialogue, interesting dilemmas and functional body modification).

    • Afro says:

      Quite wrong in what way? You certainly got experiments with giving machine vision to blind people.
      And I just got ICL corrective surgery where they implant a permanent collagen lens in your eye which gave me 130%(20/15?) vision. Its pretty cyberpunk if you ask me.

      Point being, from my perspective as doing a masters degree in cybernetics engineering “the future” is coming hard, it might not have gone mainstream yet(and certainly not to the point that you can directly interface with your mind/flesh), but lots of cool stuff happening. Just today I saw a demonstration from Rolls Royce Norway where they controlled a mechanical robot arm which was slaved to a human controlled joystick with “full” force-feedback! It was for ship cranes, and unfortunately he just stared at me when I asked him when we could expect to see mechs :/

    • Jacques says:

      Afro, I meant in that they’ve not managed to make good human eyesight better.

      The experiments in restoring partial sight to blind people is absolutely fucking awesome, and well worth pursuing, but there is no current research that I can think of in augmenting 20/20 vision.

      Kevin Warwicks experiments, where his team implanted a chip into his arm, and the signal from that was used to control a robotic arm is also awesome.

      RFID implants are old hat, but I’m still thinking of getting one within a month or two, in fact, the chap I was speaking to about it mentioned implanting an Oyster card (public transport card in London that you use instead of a ticket) in my hand.

      Basically, we’re nowhere near there yet, even though, as you say, the future is “coming hard”.

    • Jim Rossignol says:

      “there is no current research that I can think of in augmenting 20/20 vision”

      A pair of binoculars?

    • CMaster says:

      @Afro
      There’s a lot of difference between cameras to enhance vision and a replacement lens however.
      That said, we’re making progress in understanding the optic nerve-brain interface, suggesting that it might be possible to eventually pipe visual data from electronics to the brain. See this awesome paper

    • Jacques says:

      @ Jim
      That’s no fun! Plus, I always carry way more junk than I need anyway, I don’t need to add one more item to the list.

      Incidentally, combined IR/UV binoculars with zoom functions would be more than awesome, as would being able to see radio waves.

      @CMaster

      Though it was not directed at me, thanks for the link.

    • Afro says:

      @Jacques

      Yeah, I guess its a definition question on what augmenting counts for. Bionic eyes will surely come at some point tho. And as I mentioned, before surgery I had 20/20 with glasses/contact lenses, after the ICL I´ve got 20/15, so in a sense its augmented.
      And you are getting an RFID implant, passive I´m guessing? And any other uses than for a bus card that motivates you?

      @CMaster, I agree and did not mean to claim otherwise. I certainly shall peruse the paper at some point. Even tho I actually chose the subject Robot modeling and control over Machine vision this semester(see before-mentioned question on when we will see mechs :)

      Anyhow, Im guessing in 10 years time people will see all the world records being set in the Paraolympics, while the meatbags in the regular Olympics will moan about being “pure”..
      Interesting times.

    • bob_d says:

      She’s completely accurate in that people are augmenting their vision with implants; that their vision after the implant isn’t as good as most people’s is another issue, and one that changes every year. Moore’s law actually does apply there.
      Although see:
      http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg20927943.800-smart-contact-lenses-for-health-and-headup-displays.html

      See also: Oscar Pistorius and the IAAF.
      See also: “gene doping” in professional athletics.

    • Jacques says:

      bob_d, Oscar Pistorius is a bit of a non-issue, because he wasn’t able to qualify for the Olympics anyway. The IAAF were remarkably stupid in their insistence that he not compete, but despite that, he wasn’t running fast enough to qualify.

  13. Jacques says:

    Afro, I agree, it’s more a question of definition, which is why I don’t really agree with Mary DeMarle’s point, because she states it as if it’s already happening, and, in most cases, we’ve barely scratched the surface of what we can do.

    Yup, it’ll be a passive chip, no plans to use it for anything in the immediate future, but it’s cheap for something I find interesting.
    The Oyster card implant isn’t something I’d want to do, because it requires making a custom silicone mould for the antenna, and I’m not convinced by the longevity of silicone subdermal implants, particularly in the hand. In terms of usefulness, it also doesn’t really offer any advantage to carrying the card in my wallet.

    edit/ reply fail.

  14. skalpadda says:

    This is the first thing that’s made me really interested in the game.

    Thanks Quinns! :)

  15. Kadayi says:

    I like the sound of the conversation battles, and the fact that there is a certain amount of whimsy thrown into the equation as to their mood in terms of response. Definitely looking forward to this more than ever now. GJ guys on the interview. Keep it up.

  16. Kadayi says:

    Double post

  17. MindFukr says:

    Of todays bagful of DX3 articles this was the first I read and I really enjoyed it. Thanksies.

  18. outoffeelinsobad says:

    Finally pre-ordered the Augmented Edition. Now I just have to avoid walking under any falling pianos until March 8th.

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