Deus Ex: Mankind Divided: An Interview About Jensen 2.0

“Deus Ex meets District 9” is how the company described Deus Ex: Mankind Divided [official site] during a demo I attended at E3. Set two years after Human Revolution, Mankind Divided showcases a society still deeply fearful after the Aug Incident where mechanically augmented people turned violent, stripped of self-control after a signal deliberately interfered with their in-built bio-chips. The scale of the incident means augmentations are now viewed with suspicion and augmented people treated as outcasts. Adam Jensen himself is working as a counter-terrorist agent fighting some of the resultant crime. Well. That’s his day job. He secretly believes the task force was set up by the Illuminti for a different purpose and is working to take them down.

“He’s a tool and a weapon,” is executive game director Jean-François Dugas’ analysis of this Adam Jensen.

“In the first game he was more a blue collar kind of guy who got caught in something way bigger than him. Like the famous meme ‘I never asked for this’. But it’s true. The guy was not necessarily going to get augmented, to jump on the band wagon, even though his former employer David Sarif wanted him to do so.

“A big important choice was removed from him. It’s not that he hates [being augmented] but he didn’t choose it. He had to go through a journey to take back what he lost and take responsibility and do something about it. This time around we go for an Adam Jensen that’s fully embracing what he is today. He has a lot of possibilities. He’s a tool and a weapon so what does he choose to do? You know you are a weapon so how are you going to use that.”

According to Dugas the shift towards ownership of his augmentations should be reflected in increased fluidity of gameplay using Jensen’s new abilities. None of what I saw during my trip was hands-on so I couldn’t get a sense of that but it’s an interesting idea and one which was picked up by gameplay director Patrick Fortier.

“He’s the Jensen 2.0 and we have all these cool augmentations,” says Fortier. “How do we make that a little more visceral? A little bit more reactive so you can use a lot of these things really fluidly into combat? There’s a lot of work put into that. Even the low-level stuff like how we frame the weapon and what’s the recoil and the muzzle flash and all those little things that make it feel right. But also moving through the environment, cover to cover, or doing takedowns from cover – all these things so you never have to start fighting with the controller to do what you want to do and to push a little further from Human Revolution.”

The demo showed off a Tesla gun arm, a dash ability, a nano blade (which is essentially a sword thing which fires from your wrist like you’re a stabby Spider-man) a Titan Shield which lets Jensen withstand heavy fire for brief periods of time by way of a cool polygon effect. I ask which augments Dugas and Fortier were most pleased with and why.

“I like the gun arms a lot but I have to be consistent so I’m going to talk about the Icarus Dash,” says Fortier. “It’s a really interesting one because it’s very versatile. Augmentations for me are basically tools of expression for players. That’s how we think about them. How can you use them in creative ways and combine them in different settings and for stealth or combat? The Icarus Dash is a good example of that because you can use it to smash people and clear the way but you can dash straight into cover as well and combine it with the cloaking system and suddenly you have a really powerful tool to go across the environment stealthily or you can use it for exploration and reach hard-to-reach places and be really thorough.”

Dugas, however, is all about those gun arms. “Whether you’re stealthy or combat-oriented you can easily use them on the fly. Those gun arms are not just lethal, they’re also non-lethal so we’re bringing more flexibility into the overall experience. You might want to play combat but it doesn’t mean you want to kill. In the last game you were kind of forced – if you were stealthy you have options to go non-lethally but if you were the combat kind of guy you couldn’t do that so it has more flexibility with that. You can go full combat and still save human lives or you can decide to kill as well or use them in sleath fashion.”

He adds that “the fact that they’re just like a one-two punch kind of thing is really really cool.”

I remember Graham sharing links to just a small fraction of the material the Deus Ex team had been inspired by as they created their game world so I asked about the tech research for Mankind Divided.

“A lot of what you’re talking about – that research – was done on Human Revolution because we looked at a lot of material all over the place and a lot we didn’t use in Human Revolution. The world of Mankind Divided is only 2 years after Human Revolution and in that sense we wanted to keep a continuity so there wouldn’t be a huge gap in terms of what’s new and totally crazy that wasn’t there two years before. It’s continuity and evolution of the things that were existing in Human Revolution. If eventually we do have another game in the series about 6 or 10 years in the future we would try to make that gap bigger to show that time has passed.”

This is where the developer’s approach to world-building comes in.

When an idea comes up there’s a process to go through, questioning how that technology would fit in the world. “How do we justify it?” asks Fortier. “Where are those parts coming from? How’s he recharging it? It needs to make sense in the world. There’s no infinite magical thing. It needs to be rooted in reality.”

I ask whether that’s how Eidos Montreal keep an eye on feature creep. Is it the constant run of questions which stops Jensen becoming some fantastically over-complicated Swiss Army Knife of a man?

“The key is that sometimes you need to come from the fun side – “it would be cool if…” – and then we’ll go into researching in the real world if this would be credible. If it’s credible what would be the recipe to make that for Adam. Of course we’re taking some liberties – we’re a world of fiction – but we are always trying [keep in mind] what’s possible in the real world, whether that’s today or things we know [will happen] tomorrow.”

An element being included in several games I’ve seen at E3 or that I play already is a level editor. Watching the demo person zoom round the game environments, figuring out ways to reach objectives I wonder if giving players that toolset is something under consideration for Deus Ex.

“It’s something that can be really really interesting depending on the kind of game you’re making,” says Dugas. “This time around we changed the engine. We’re now with the Dawn engine and we had to really rework everything. We wanted to focus on the first reason why you play a Deus Ex game and it’s for the journey. [Not only the] story but the choice and the consequences. We really, really focused on that. I’m not saying it wouldn’t happen in the future – it’s something I would love to see – but we would have to think how we would make it happen and fit the Deus Ex universe.”

Fortier adds, “I think it’s the same mindset we have for multiplayer and things like that. It’s not that it’s not possible within the context of the franchise but if we’re going to tackle something important like that it has to be the main focus of the whole thing and we need the right idea, the right structure.”

Skipping back to the subject of transhumanism which is so central to Deus Ex and to Adam Jensen, I ask about the developer’s mindset when it comes to approaching those subjects in-game, particularly with the extreme societal tensions and segregation brought about by the Aug Incident.

For Dugas it’s about presenting the conflict but staying neutral as developers. “It’s a message about who we are and our angle with that is that we don’t want to be preachy and say this is right, this is wrong,” he says.

Later he adds, “We love to explore those [issues] – whether the promise of augmentations or the segregation and let the player make up their own mind about these subjects, let them explore one angle of the conflict, then the other angle and have them think about those things and come up with their own stuff. I think this is what is important to us – to stay neutral and make sure people have a great experience and if they want to go deeper than that that they have meat to chew on.”

For Fortier this goes back to the world-building. “It’s not gameplay mechanics over a backdrop, it’s world-building. If you think in terms of world-building you have to justify everything. There’s a new technology. How would it be used? Who would be trying to control it? What would this company be trying to do? We have these discussions all the time when we’re adding elements and tools. Who’s using it? Well, that’s a commercial use and that company isn’t doing that so they wouldn’t do it that way so it’s not going to look like that and they’d have a portable version which would look different… All those discussions happen all the time. I think that’s ultimately what comes across in the game, it’s not just an excuse to shoot or hide, it’s a real world that deals with real topics and you can see the offshoot of all the shades of grey and all the consequences of that throughout the whole world.”

We’ve been speaking vaguely about transhumanism as if it’s this universally understood concept but the reality is that it means different things to different people. Same with augmentations – I’ve been to a few art exhibitions and talks on the subject and the point at which enhancements or technological developments interfere with whether you are considered “pure” varies wildly depending on who you talk to. I ask whether Eidos Montreal has to come to an internal consensus on the point at which someone would be a non-natural human.

The answer I get is more about how in Mankind Divided the society prefers a binary approach – augmented or not.

Trying to inch closer to the studio (or the game’s) cut off point for being a natural human I was going to work through a number of potential augmentations to see what would put you in the augmented camp. I started with something I’d consider super low-key and low-risk assuming we might work along a gradient to find the tipping point. “If somebody had had laser eye surgery would that put them in the augmented camp?”

It turns out to be a short trip to that tipping point.

“They would be in the camp for augmented people because obviously they have something – even though it’s technically inoffensive,” explains Dugas. “The fear is not rational. When you fear something you’re not in the rational world anymore. You’re building this construct around you and you put everything into the same socket whether it belongs there or not. It’s one of the problems with seeing things in absolutes.”

“The impression is probably worse for people that have very visibly easy-to-identify augmentations. Anything that looks different,” adds Fortier. “What ultimately happened at the end of Human Revolution is there was the Aug Incident and everyone who was augmented was hacked into and went nuts. They killed people and killed themselves. They lost control of themselves and everybody in the world was a witness to that event or suffered in their own family or friends or were hurt in a close way. That’s where all the fear came from and the truth never really fully came out.

“Rumours, people trying to manipulate the truth, people hiding the truth, people choosing not to hear the truth – like in real life. That’s what led to this climate and then it obviously served the purpose of some people to dig that wedge between them and the people. But it’s very tangible what happened. It’s not just hearsay. They saw it and with the irrational fear it doesn’t matter how you were augmented, you were a victim of the Aug Incident.There was that backdoor that was exploited and you went nuts like everyone else.”

We have time for one more question so to round off I ask about Adam specifically. Dugas referred to him as a tool and a weapon so my question is about how Jensen sees himself at this point – is this a man with a balanced view or has he stopped seeing himself as human at all.

“From my point of view I think it just came – how do you say that – he came into an age?” says Dugas. “He came to maturity in the sense that he knows he has these powers and abilities, his body has obviously changed, and I think he came to peace with that. Now he decides to use it for the greater good but also for his personal quests like the score he couldn’t settle in the first place. He’s that kind of character. If you were talking with Mary Demarle – she’s one of the key [people] behind the creation of Adam Jensen – she might have a different spin on it but from my own perspective that’s how I see that character. I think that character is going to rest when he finds what he is looking for.”

50 Comments

  1. kwyjibo says:

    Taking down the illuminati?

    I’ve played all the Deus Ex games as the illuminati. How else am I to promote neo-liberal capitalism, and the unelected rule of a technocratic elite? The Euro can only do so much.

    • emptyskin says:

      @ kwyjibo

      Awesome comment! With luck Bob Page will kill Jensen at the end.

    • USER47 says:

      I don’t think that “rule of technocratic elite” or iluminati-like organizations are much in sync with neoliberal capitalism to be honest.

      • emptyskin says:

        @ USER47

        The historical illuminati was all about science. Then you’ve got : bilderbergmeetings.org/press-release.html

  2. Undermind_Mike says:

    Developer confirms: Adam Jensen is a tool

  3. TechnicalBen says:

    “How do we make that a little more visceral?”

    I turned off at that point. :/

    • Gibs says:

      making combat a bit more fluid and reactive isnt a bad thing though

  4. Sardonic says:

    “Adam Jensen himself is working as a counter-terrorist agent fighting some of the resultant crime. Well. That’s his day job. He secretly believes the task force was set up by the Illuminti for a different purpose and is working to take them down. ”

    I hope this means what I think it does, that we get to infiltrate the org we work for. The potential in an idea like this is crazy good. Almost like JC discovering the truth of UNATCO early and staying on while trying to get to the bottom of it.

    • carewolf says:

      Sounds stupidly clichéd and predictable. Can we get a game where the suspicious company we work for in the start, in a surprisingly twist DOES NOT turn out to be bad guy?

      Man that would be surprise twist!!

      • Sardonic says:

        You are literally describing Human Revolution, depending on how you view some of Sarif’s actions anyway.

  5. kwyjibo says:

    I’m going to talk about the Icarus Dash

    So they’ve copied Blink.

    • SominiTheCommenter says:

      Surely the Vanguard Charge from Mass Effect 2

    • TechnicalBen says:

      The Biggest letdown of DX:HR was the intros showing the character having wings and flying. Then giving us the “Icarus Landing System” as a silly little force field/static discharge.

      What? No wings after all. :(

  6. technoir says:

    I wish they’d got rid of Jensen, to be honest. The guy dresses like a twat, talks like Batman and has the personality of a doorknob. Still stoked for the game, though.

    • GunnerMcCaffrey says:

      But… he’s fictional. They don’t need to get rid of him, they just need to write him a bit better. I quite enjoyed his banter with Frank, and when he showed signs of a pulse in a couple of the conversation battles. I hope they bring that side of him out more.

    • Holderist says:

      My sentiments exactly.

      Writing him better would change who he is: an augmented woodblock.

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      Henke says:

      I like the way the dresses and talks. Agree about the personality tho. Then again his personality is dictated so much by player choice that it’d be hard to give him too much of his own personality. It was the same for JC, really.

    • Juan Carlo says:

      He looks like the lead singer of a late 1990s rap-rock band.

  7. GunnerMcCaffrey says:

    “For Dugas it’s about presenting the conflict but staying neutral as developers. “It’s a message about who we are and our angle with that is that we don’t want to be preachy and say this is right, this is wrong,” he says. ”

    Pity, that. I’ve no reason to expect an interesting story if its authors can’t even be arsed to have strong feelings about its central conceit. I hope he’s just hedging.

    • Bankie says:

      I sincerely hope they open this world up and grant me the ability to make meaningful decisions. Additionally, the boss fights need to go.

    • KenTWOu says:

      When Ubisoft devs make another completely linear game from narrative point of view and said something like this, I roll my eyes. But it’s a Deus Ex game with choices and consequences. They aren’t numerous, but they are still there. And there is the second half of the answer where they said they will let us explore different angles of the conflict. So I’m OK with that.

    • Smion says:

      Sometimes “There is no perfectly right answer” can be a pretty strong feeling, as well.

  8. melnificent says:

    Look at the original trailer for Mankind Divided ( link to youtube.com ) and see why people fear the augmented. In the first minute a single Augmented Human takes out a half a dozen people and two drones in a close quarters fight. That’s a single person, now imagine 10 augments, or 100. They could take over a city with no authority able to stop them or regain control.

    It’s more drawing the line between say an eye implant that improves vision beyond the human range and an arm that can be upgraded to the point of being a weapon that is technically part of a person. Where does the line fall really?

  9. udat says:

    Is the game going to pay any attention to your choices in Human Revolution? Like keeping Malik alive, which ending you chose, etc,etc. or are they just going to pick one canonical ending and run with it?

  10. WJonathan says:

    The Illuminti: A clandestine organization working to eradicate halitosis.

  11. Raoul Duke says:

    Pity they don’t explain how Jensen now appears to have augmentations vastly in advance of Deus Ex 1, despite the original being premised almost entirely on Paul Denton and JC Denton being the first ever nano-augmented humans.

    Almost like they have no respect for the original, despite it being the sole reason for the existence of their little follow ups. They are standing on the shoulders of giants and refusing to give the giants any credit.

    • Spacewalk says:

      Maybe something will happen during or at the end of the game that will deal a huge blow to the level of technology world wide to get it to fit in with DX numero uno. Wonder how they’ll pull that off convincingly.

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      Henke says:

      These are all mechanical augmentations tho, not nano augmentations.

      • The_Hunter says:

        Good point!

        HR/MD is to DX as analog is to digital, kind of.

      • Raoul Duke says:

        No, they aren’t. For example, Jensen now has a magican nano-shield which shoots out and protects him instantly from incoming bullets. And he shoots magical projectiles out of his arms which are nano-rebuilt in his arms.

    • LionsPhil says:

      It’s a reboot wearing a prequel’s skin. I thought the first game made that obvious enough, especially since it followed the most sacred law of reboots: be terrible.

  12. LuNatic says:

    So, what kind of unlikely event will break/disable all our augs from the last game and force us to unlock them again?

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      Harlander says:

      Has there ever been a series where you play as the same character, building up to high levels of power in one game and retaining it in the next? It sounds so obvious compared to the lamer reset button strategy, but I can’t think of any off the top of my head

      • MrPyro says:

        Dawn of War II and Chaos Rising: when you start the Chaos Rising campaign your characters have everything they earned from the first part.

        Baldur’s Gate and BG2 as well (you lose the equipment but keep the levels).

      • jaheira says:

        Mass Effect 3, more or less.

      • El Goose says:

        In the GBA JRPG Golden Sun 2 you would eventually meet the four characters you played in the first game, and if you had used a link cable to transfer data or laboriously typed in a very long password from a completed first game save file they would be at the same level and have the same items as you left them. Not quite what you asked for since it’s not a single player character who gets to retain their abilities, but I wanted to mention it here because I loved those games when I was younger, so there.

  13. lagiacrux says:

    i just wish they put away with those mini-cutscenes everytime an augmentation is used.

    jumping down a building -> cutscene
    melee takedown -> cutscene
    use your 360 bombing thingy -> cutscene

    its so annoying ….

    • The_Hunter says:

      Yes!

      All of these things would be so much cooler in first person.

      If their engines weren’t so static, I’m sure this could at least be modded in…

  14. Laurentius says:

    This is not good, I don’t like these “bigger then life stories”. They don’t fit Cyberpunk at all, Shadowrun Returns nailed it, you are small fish and even if you acomplish your mission it really looks small in a big scheme of things.
    Make Jensen a privete investigator, trying to get by, by sneaking and capturing infidelity or investigating businesses between small and shady companies and put that all “mankind divided” into the background.

    • Asurmen says:

      Then don’t seenitallbefore as cyberpunk, although I don’t see what it is about the genre that means it can’t do big stories.

    • Frank says:

      If you want shadowrun, play shadowrun. Deus Ex doesn’t need to be something it’s not, nor to fit into your little “cyberpunk is this” box.