Deus Ex: Mankind Divided Has A Real Nice Tree Sculpture

Sending me four new Deus Ex: Mankind Divided [official site] screenshots for Gamescom (I say ‘screenshots’ – one looks like an actual screenshot and even that might be staged), Square Enix are probably hoping I’ll gush over the graphics tech or pore over them for plot hints. Nope.

I am, however, really into a sculpture which appears in one screenshot of the Prague city hub. That screenshot up top there. The sculpture on the right – the withered tree holding aloft a concrete cube. That’s great that, isn’t it? Let’s have a closer look:

It’s an interesting piece. Let’s break it down into parts, from the bottom up: a base of many blocks of different sizes and shapes (buildings?); a dead tree; and a honking great concrete cube engulfing the upper branches. Pushed to play the misguided-but-kinda-fun-anyway game of “What does it mean?” I might say something about the growth of human civilization with the organic, and the relationship between the two. The tree meeting the cube might be the precise, technical growth of humanity abandoning the organic, or perhaps the organic is being destroyed by that same hard-edged technology – though branches continued to grow and curl around the cube. It’s a matter of perspective, and very Deus Ex-y either way.

I dig it. I would say “Ooh!” if I saw it in the street or a gallery, and circle it beaming.

I’m reminded a bit of Today We Reboot the Planet, an installation at the Serpentine Sackler gallery in 2013 by Adrián Villar Rojas. Its centrepiece was a vault with shelves containing several thousand unfired clay objects, feeling like an alien intelligence had visited long-dead human civilisation and couldn’t distinguish people from possessions or even live from dead. Giant cracking cubes sat next to casts of Frankensteined toys; smooth horns curled and rose around decaying oranges; a prone human figure, soil and growing potatoes wedged into cracks, gems pressed into its surface, and water bottles dripping into its chest held by rods. It was very good and I wish I’d visited it more.

Anyway, back to Deus Ex. I do think the sculpture is over-egged. The splintering of the roots and lower branch are tacky, too on the nose, though I suppose that could be damage rather than part of the original sculpture. The leaves growing round the base are scruffy and detract from the power of the image, though I suppose that might be telling that the sculpture is now neglected.

It’s fun seeing the sculpture as both an art asset in a game and as a sculpture in a world.

Also, check out that graffiti: “A WRENCH IS A TOOL, NOT A HUMAN BEING!” I don’t know what graffiti is like in Montreal, but most of the scrawl near my flat in Edinburgh says “CIGS” in curvy script, with “DEBT” around in a few places – there’s a stark statement for you. People don’t tend to write out, punctuation and all, bigoted quips they’ve heard Jeremy Vine say on the radio. Y’all get over-excited with your environmental storytelling.

Looks like the Prague hub might have some other cool sculptures too, though I’m not sold on its fashion. I like the asymmetry and layering, but the men’s looks especially feel a bit… 2013.

Also sure I guess these are new screenshots too whatever:

52 Comments

  1. Ultra Superior says:

    Oh my, those flags are UPSIDE DOWN

    • USER47 says:

      Upside down, and considering the way they are hanged, mirrored as well. That’s some lazy detail, even though not exactly the first one in videogames portraying Prague.:-D

    • beforan says:

      Czech it out!

    • Rikard Peterson says:

      Imagine the outrage if they’d been American flags…

      • Unclepauly says:

        Considering majority of americans aren’t patriotic at all I don’t know.

        • Distec says:

          We have the irrational flare-up occasionally, but it’s a crapshoot where the fire starts.

    • AriochRN says:

      Yup, they’ve got previous…

      link to youtube.com

      …just around the 6:11 mark. You could argue that it’s not upside-down because they didn’t even get the flag right, I suppose…

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    AugustSnow says:

    We actually have some great street art in Montreal! :-) link to mtlblog.com

  3. LarsBR says:

    First picture is taken with the new in-game selfie function, mandated by the UN to be in all games before end of 2016.

  4. NicholasTimothyJones says:

    Has Jensen’s face always been so gaunt? I remember it being oddly thin and disproportionate in Human Revolution but not as gaunt as the top picture.

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    Don Reba says:

    Should have included a screenshot from a women’s bathroom.

    • FilipMagnus says:

      Attention to detail in those was the real reason Human Revolution is a joy to play.

    • pocketlint60 says:

      That kind of thing reflects badly on the entire company, not just you.

  6. Tusque D'Ivoire says:

    I’d really like it if they would cut back on the fighting in this part, maybe focus on some more investigating, cyberpunk P.I. stuff.

  7. Amake says:

    Some great vandalism I’ve seen around my town:

    “It’s not vandalism, it’s a critique of society”
    “You are loved”
    “Build longer wal”
    “Free Truman”
    “Lesbian love is beautiful love”

    Not that there isn’t also an overwhelming amount of three letter words and such, but if you laboriously scrawled something upon that kind of hard to reach surface I could easily see it being something with a little thought behind it. Or a little hate, as the case may be.

    • jonahcutter says:

      Speaking from the LA experience, graffiti in hard-to-reach spots is generally somebody’s tag. There is political/social graffiti, but it’s not usually where you need to hang by one hand while 50′ above a concrete plaza.

  8. Sam says:

    I can only imagine that the career path of an installation artist is rocky and terrifyingly random. A lot of art school graduates, not very many commissions.

    I wonder if game environment design can become (or already is?) an alternative route to getting paid for your art, and getting that art seen. I’m sure that back in the 90s people got excited about the possibilities of virtual art, but at the time an artist was very much beholden to technical constraints. Since then game environments have quietly become photorealistic, with a set of constraints quite different from physical art, and a powerful set of artist-orientated tools.

    You could imagine something very like this sculpture being commissioned for outside the Facebook offices. This virtual version is almost certainly cheaper to make and will likely be seen by more people. More importantly there’s demand for much greater variety of art for game environments than for corporate headquarters. Not many CEOs want to look out on a sculpture that decries the inhumanity of capitalism, but that would be right at home in many games.

    Commissioning an artist not to be a general environment designer, but to create a specific piece of art within that world would be a very interesting development. Who will be the Nolan North of dystopian public art?

    • Sam says:

      It occurs to me that I might be talking silliness.
      Environment artists already are artists, and adding some snobbish idea of a “real artist” to do specific parts of a scene wouldn’t make the result any more arty than it already is.
      A better argument would be for giving environmental artists recognition for their work. We managed it when it came to the art direction of Viktor Antonov on Half Life 2 and then Dishonored. That comes bundled up with critical attention, which in turn helps push artists forward, and makes studios more willing to listen to the artist.

  9. king0zymandias says:

    I am sure the zbrush artist behind that will appreciate your appreciation. Good sculpting often gets ignored in games, or the compliment is misplaced on these weird categories called “graphics” or “engine”. It’s never the artists who gets the credit, it’s always the engine that looks good, or the graphics that look good. So on behalf of all the hard working modelers, sculptors and animators of the world, thank you.

    • gealach says:

      Seconded. I feel like a lot of thought went into that piece.
      And yes, it’s less to do with the technical side of videogames.

      So… the game has great visuals, right?

      • king0zymandias says:

        I always say the art is good, or the art is bad. I mean whatever people may think of gaming as a medium some of the the visual artists that work here are true masters of their craft. I personally hate Assasin’s Creed series, but I still play it every year, because it’s just so beautiful, you can just tell how much thought and passion goes into every building, every street street corner. It’s simply great art by great artists.

        • Rikard Peterson says:

          Agreed. The technical progress has come far enough that the look of any game has less to do with the capabilities of the engine than the artists. (That’s not to say that the tech has become irrelevant – we’re not there yet – but it is possible for, say, a Unity game to look quite good. This particular sculpture would probably be as effective in any modern engine, even if there’s less overall “wow-factor” with the less technically advanced options.)

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    Frosty says:

    Whilst reading this post I came to a conclusion. Alice is a bloody good news writer.

    It’s a very underrated job in games writing the news writer I reckon. A lot of readers (not necessarily here) see it as ingloriously repeating press release statements and giving free pr to companies. But it’d be easy to be overly cynical and instead end up in the overcrowded and ugly territory of “The cynical gamer” who probably can make a good twenty minute video on YouTube telling you why everything is shit.

    But this post exemplifies how Alice really nails it. There’s some cynicism in the initial paragraph but it is not spiteful and her enthusiasm for other aspects of the screenshots show somebody with a understanding of the effort that has being put into the artwork. RPS always was good with news stories, often being funny when a lot of other places felt boring but I reckon Alice really nails it.

    I mean it’s easy to disregard game press release stuff but you know to fans it means something and even to the average player it’s iinteresting to see how a title shapes up. I really think Alice exemplifies what I see as the RPS altitude: Passion and compassion with a healthy dose of reality and awareness of the situation they are in and relationship to the reader.

    That tree is quite pretty, yeah.

  11. The_invalid says:

    Yeeeessss, “screenshots”…

  12. Penguin_Factory says:

    The extend to which they’re bullshoting this game is hilarious. Do you think anyone is going to believe those incredibly detailed flying papers are in the game?

    • ResonanceCascade says:

      I’m not sure why they’d leave them out of the game, since they clearly already went through the trouble of making them.

    • EhexT says:

      It’s a generic PhysX effect (though it can obviously also be done without an off the shelf solution like Physx). It’s been in several games, most notably the Batman: Arkham X series.

  13. Ross Angus says:

    The “Debt” tagger was everywhere about five years ago – they even tagged my stairwell door at one point. It seems they’ve returned recently – I spotted some the other day.

  14. Ejia says:

    I think I want a small scale replica of that tree cube thing for my desk.

  15. MrUnimport says:

    I still think the game tends toward the noisy. Very busy designs on those police grunts there that look lovely in stills and close-ups but may prove bewildering at range and in motion. They don’t really look like cops, either: I know that’s half the point but it waters down the impact somewhat to be fighting anonymized future spec ops dudes with half-hearted POLICE markings in 12pt font somewhere on their bodies.

    • ResonanceCascade says:

      Maybe in the future cops will all moonlight as professional motocross racers.

  16. Alamech says:

    I felt like playing the game of interpretation a bit more, so I throw a few thoughts and observations in the round:
    first off, I think it makes sense to (arbitrarily) seprate three perspectives for the sculpture: the sculpture as a thing of its own, the sculpture as part of its in game environment and the sculpture as part of a game, its relation to the player. But I don’t follow that myself, I’m just rambling.

    “A wrench is a tool, not a human being!” makes me think of a central phrase of Kant’s moral philosophy, which can be reduced to: “A human is not a tool.” (“you use humanity, whether in your own persona or in the person of any other, always at the same time as an end, never merely as a means.” (4:429) Groundwork of the Metaphysic of Morals, section two, the formula of humanity). Here, it’s turned on its head though. Dunno what to make of that atm; maybe it hints at AIs (tools) asking for human rights or dignity. On the same subject, Kant states that “a human being and generally every rational being exists as an end in itself.”, which would arguably include AIs.

    But there’s a uncertainty here: is the phrase part of the sculpture, or added by someone other than the (in game) artist? Intuitively, like Alice, I would tend to the latter, since it does not correspond with what I see as a likeable interpretation.

    On first thought, I would interpret the cube as a depiction of human hybris or even humanity itself and the tree as earth, or nature or just humanity’s environment. Otherwise, the cube could be seen as technology and how humanity has engineered it to be in relation to everything that is not technology. Well, be it this or that or something other or all of the above, the cube rests on the tree, is suspended by it. The tree seems to have no benefit from sustaining the cube, so the cube appears to be more parasitic than symbiotic. Still, if the tree breaks, the cube will fall and most likely shatter.

    On the connection of cube and tree: I’m not sure if the central branch (or any of the others) enter the cube, are engulfed by it, or if they are cut off where they touch the cube. Again, be it this or that, the tree and the cube are obviously already in contact for a while, since some the tree’s branches are trying to grow around it or to engulf the cube in turn (well, the tree – or nature – is not “trying to do something” it’s just living with its conditions, the rest is anthropocentrism). Which brings me to my next point: the cube is apparently not made of something truly durable, but of vertical slices of concrete, prone to weather (heat, cold, humidity etc.). Is the unmaintained state of the sculpture maybe intended by the in-game artist? To show the process of the withering of the cube, to depict humanitiy’s need for constant maintenance of its state?

    What material is the tree made of? It does not seem to have the same withering problems as the cube, no cracks or moss. At the bottom, where pedastal and tree meet, it appears a root has tried to grow out of the picture. But it doesn’t look like it has been sawed off, but rather shattered or sculpted, as a part of the sculpture, to make it seem more like the tree was / is alive, but it really isn’t? What about the bit of vegetation at the bottom?

    The cube is very edged and seems heavy, it is materialised abstractness. Unliving, uncompromising, but effective. Looming, its suspended state conveys a threat to human intuition: “This looks unstable, I should not be near when it falls.” When, not if.

    But the tree is not depicted as a romanticised opposite to the cube. The tree looks dead and hostile itself: no leafes, no colors, no sign of life. Branches like creeping fingers, almost undead or spiderlike. (What is hanging in its branches to the right?)
    Instead of a living green tree top, there’s the grey cube, instead of the roots, there’s the pedestal.

    Damn, I want to climb that! (only to see it more closely, y’know, for academic reasons, not for fun, no no)

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      Harlander says:

      *polite applause*

    • zarniwoop says:

      I’m pretty sure it was Granny Weatherwax, not Kant.

      • Alamech says:

        Ha, I might have to check that, they certainly both know what’s Right.

        • zarniwoop says:

          “…And that’s what your holy men discuss, is it?” [asked Granny Weatherwax.]
          “Not usually. There is a very interesting debate raging at the moment on the nature of sin. for example.” [answered Mightily Oats.]
          “And what do they think? Against it, are they?”
          “It’s not as simple as that. It’s not a black and white issue. There are so many shades of gray.”
          “Nope.”
          “Pardon?”
          “There’s no grays, only white that’s got grubby. I’m surprised you don’t know that. And sin, young man, is when you treat people like things. Including yourself. That’s what sin is.”
          “It’s a lot more complicated than that–”
          “No. It ain’t. When people say things are a lot more complicated than that, they means they’re getting worried that they won’t like the truth. People as things, that’s where it starts.”
          “Oh, I’m sure there are worse crimes–”
          “But they starts with thinking about people as things…”

          Carpe Jugulum

          • Alamech says:

            Hey, thank you for that! Maybe I should go back to reading Pratchett, there’s still so many of his books I havn’t read yet.

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    Hammer says:

    A certain swearword misspelt with a K seems to be doing the rounds in Edinburgh just now. As well as the traditional ACAB and occasional anti-student or pro-independence scrawls on building sites.

    The best ones I’ve seen here were a series of uplifting chalked messages along London Road and Easter Road. They lasted for years despite the weather. There was one about giving people hugs that always made me smile.

  18. cpt_freakout says:

    A being is a wrench, not a human tool!

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    Don Reba says:

    A link for Alice, if she has not seen it yet: link to streetartutopia.com

  20. Holysheep says:

    Most importantly, why is there daytime in deus ex