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Deus Ex: Unravelling the Conspiracy

So, we're going to have a Deus Ex 3 then. As our hefty thread suggests, it's something we're all going to be interested in. In fact, with Bioshock 2 at least a couple of years away, this is the next hope for a hefty immersive sim. And we don't know anything about it.

Except that's not true. There's clues out there and I thought a post which actually drags everything together in one place could be useful. From what I can see, there's three major areas, and we'll explore each beneath the cut. One, the absolute surface level. Second, the stuff which is buried a little. And thirdly, what we actually know about the developers - which is more than you may expect.

All beneath the cut, obviously. I suspect this may ramble. Oh - some spoilers for the first two games too.

Firstly, the surface. Which is the teaser trailer. If you weren't here last time, here it is:

This article contained embedded media which can no longer be displayed.

(Thanks again, Gamestrailers!)

To summarise: A close-up on a technologically enhanced foetus with a Hollywood-style voiceover:
"For centuries man has struggled to understand his true nature.
What is it which makes us who we are?
Soon, one answer will override all overs."

Followed by a text logo...
"Who we are is but a stepping stone to what we can become."

What can we take from that? Well, googling for the phrase without quotation marks brings us to a Girl Guide Ceremony, which I suspect we can reject as a direction unless Eidos Montreal really have a sharp-U turn in mind for Deus Ex. More generally, you can - in the context of the actual foetus - take it all as transhuman or posthuman rhetoric. The dual ideas that humanity's ability to sidestep the basic evolutionary forces that have driven the world, and actively craft our future selves.

These are key themes which both Deus Ex games touched on, which - as far as it goes - is a good sign. Never forget that the original sole ending for Deus Ex was the merging with the machine and becoming a posthuman God-Empreror AI/Human hybrid, before Spector had other ones suggested to him. Deus Ex derives from Deus Ex Machina - literally, the God from the Machine.

(Er... I know most of you will know this, but I need to follow the working through)

So, at least on the surface, there's a promise of some key Deus Ex elements.

It's hardly Rembrandt.
Second element worth taking apart is the subliminals in the trailer, flashed too rapidly for the human eye to follow. Shacknews, bless their cotton socks, grabbed them all and put them in a gallery, which you can view here.

In the wikipedia age, bright sparks have already identified most of them. Taken from Wikipedia, the current list is...

* Leonardo Da Vinci's application of the golden ratio to the human head
* A diagram of a logarithmic golden spiral whose growth factor is related to φ
* A drawing of a golden triangle and the golden function written inside it
* The title page of De human corporis fabrica liborum epitome by Vesalius, an image showing an Anatomical Theatre
* Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp by Rembrandt
* An unknown image
* Augmentation detail
* Lament For Icarus by Herbert James Draper
* An x-ray image of a human chest
* Two USG images of the biomodified fetus
* An x-ray image of a human skull
* An image of a couple, with the girl having a mechanical arm
* Prosthetic limbs in a box
* A ballot box for "Biopolitic Vote 2027",with a voting card with a red X being inserted in it
* A sign saying 'Augmented people enter from the back'
* A sign saying 'We do not welcome augmented people here'
* A blurred picture of a street with demonstrants
* Photo of riot police
* An unknown building with a demonstrafion in front of it. One of the demonstrants holds a sign saying 'No augs'
* Roman numbers III, IV, V and VI, possibly a reference to the decalogue
* A lowercase italic letter 'h' and a plus sign in brackets, a symbol used for Transhumanism.

When I decided to do this, I was excited as I suspected I'd hit on something other net commentators hadn't. I'd seen forums talking about an image of Guy Fawkes. Now, this had me thinking of the most recent populist Guy Fawkes incarnations - the adaptation of Moore and Lloyd's V For Vendetta. Lloyd's original idea, which kicked the whole project into the faux-Fawkes area, was that we should actually celebrate Guy Fawkes for attempting to blow up the houses of Parliment. As an anarchist figure, he should be cheered. Which ties in perfectly with the Tracer Tong-end of the Deus Ex political spectrum, trying to demolish modern society into his imagined Syndicalist federation of independent towns or whatever it was.

Except there's no Fawkes in there at all, and I presume Forum people are mistaking the figures in the Rembrandt (pictured above) for our cheery pro-papist terrorist. Pah.

In a list, the themes are fairly striking - we hit the primary icons of the human body and perfection in nature, with Da Vinci's work as the perpetual primary shorthand. The other trend is that of social upheval and prejudice - the signs are all deliberately retro, harking back to the more obvious prejudice and societal injustices. The key bit relevant to the plot is the Biopolitic vote of 2027, which places it twenty-five years before the start of the first Deus Ex game.

Which would imply prequel or (as an outside bet, which is a shame, as it's my preferred option) alternate time-line story.

So - a story which dwells on humans deciding to transform themselves in the near future. It has its possibilities, of course. I can't help but think they've kind of skewed it uninterestingly though - by making the prejudice against enhanced people be so directly linked to racism, they've made a game which will really have to go some to have anything looking like balance. I mean, are you going to believe an NPC who's anti-enhancements when the game is drawing a direct line between that position and the people who got Rosa Parks arrested? DX2 had a similar thing with the Templars, with them clearly being a bunch of nutters leading to a series of genocides. The future which JC offers may be soulless, but at least we're still alive.

In other words, at the moment, it's presenting itself as a pro-transhumanist story. Which doesn't mean it is... just means that, at some level, the creators want us to think it's pro-transhumanism.

(In passing, it's worth noting that prejudice is a relative safe theme for a game which is always going to be a bit political. It's an issue which everyone can mostly agree on. For a game which always was a little bit political, I can't help but feel a little disappointed. But still - early days yet.)

Thirdly, there's the stuff that's hiding in plain sight. That is, what we know about the developers. Eidos Montreal are a new studio. While they're planning to hire 350 people over the new few years - mostly in Development and Quality Assurance, they're planning to keep teams about the 80 person mark. So in other words, there will be at least four development teams at the studio, eventually. There's also a list of testimonials from developers working there. Which means we have names, who we can go searching for history on.

(And, as a disclaimer, it's also worth mentioning that it's possible that anyone on the site may be in a team working on an unannounced game. And especially worth mentioning, I'm going digging here primarily off Mobygames, which is far from the most reliable source for what games people have worked on.)

Okay - head guy managing studio is Stéphane D’Astous, who's got a history of management over at Ubisoft. But if we actually look at the teams, the more senior people listed include...

François Lapikas, Senior Game Designer, who's primarily a Splinter Cell veteran. He says the following about working on DX3...

Deus Ex is a game I played when it came out. As soon as I heard this was happening in Montreal, I had to be part of it! This is the type of game I like to play, it’s a really good challenge. What’s nice is that we’re not starting from scratch. We have a foundation to build on. We already know what worked and what didn’t, and that’s worth gold. The design stage was really great. In the first months of the project, we decided what we wanted to do, and what direction we wanted to take. Things go really smoothly with Jean-François Dugas [the lead designer]. Often, in a video game, people get lost right from the start because they haven’t clearly defined what they want to do, and that can drag on for years: you see projects where people still don’t know where they’re going after a year and half, two years.

Which is a good point, actually. While 18-24 month development cycles (or more), which they claim they're aiming for at Eidos: Montreal, are fairly long, it's not as long as - say - DX:IW was in development. No matter what you make of Invisible War, they really were trying to reinvent the wheel and - as a project - was clearly experimental. Reading between the lines, they're actually trying to make another Deus Ex game.

Two other things - from what all my IS/Looking Glass people have told me over the years, the Splinter Cell team were big fans of their work on Thief and DX, Which may add support to the gushing. Secondly, he gives us the name of the lead designer.

Jean-François Dugas's main credits are also over at Ubi - unsurprisingly, due to Ubisoft's Canadian teams - on the console versions of Far Cry. Here's an interview with him talking about one. Which, to be honest, is bland as hell and a long way from the high-faluting gubbins we've come to expect from Deus Ex designers. Bless them.

Stephan Carmignani is a Senior Level designer, whose main credit is Dead to Rights 2 in the PS2. He says on Deus Ex...

We’re working on an existing franchise, but that doesn’t mean we’re going to come out with a certified copy: gamers would see right through that! We’re going to take what’s good about it – after all, the first game came out several years ago, and games and gamers have changed a lot since – and develop it so that people find it even more interesting.

Finally - and there are more people, but I'm being biased towards the Design-specific ones - Mary Demarle who's the Senior Narrative Game Designer. She's got an actually properly written Mobygames page lifted from a profile over on an Ubi site, where she talks about her background in animation and writing on things like Myst III: Exile, Homeworld II and some more Myst games. Actually, a google reveals she too had a hand in a Splinter Cell game. She says the following about Deus Ex:

When I played the first game, I realized that so much of it is centered on the story that it automatically calls for a deep and interesting story line, and that was a big reason for me to want to be here and to work on it. Also the fact that [Eidos] games were very well recognized when they came out and built a lot of loyal fans. The development team saw opportunities to expand those games beyond their initial focus, and that's always a very interesting challenge: to create another version of something that is much loved, [a version] that will grow beyond it without upsetting the people who love it, and yet will be interesting to people who may not have liked it or may never have heard of it.

So - interesting bunch of people, and if any of them are reading it and fancy a chat about their beliefs about games, drop us a line (Clearly, we know there's no bloody way the PR would let you talk about the game yet).

Obvious things to note: none of them have worked on a game in any real way like Deus Ex before. Two takes on this.
1) This is an incredibly bad thing. Immersive Sims are one of the hardest things you can do in a videogame. There's so many options in any situation, getting it all working is just plain monstrous and a lack of experience can be critical.
2) A mixture of professionalism and enthusiasm goes a long way. It's worth remembering when Blue Sky/Looking Glass were inventing the subgenre, the vast majority of their team were fresh from MIT.

And that's about all I can dig out for now. My impressions?

I suspect it'll be a far less ambitious game than Deus Ex was at its time of release. This isn't a problem - in fact, with the time they appear to be working under and a team who've never done this before, I'd hope they aimed a little lower for something which they could hit directly. It'll be a shorter game than DX1, due to cost of assets, etc. On the brighter side, the ideas which Deus Ex brought to the table are more mainstream now than they were then. While people - understandably - fear a compromised version of the game for the consoles, the Elder Scroll games alone have educated a lot of people of what a more intricate game world can be like. Bioshock, KOTOR, Mass Effect...

So there's no reason it won't be good. But, really, I'll be amazed if it's Great.

So prove me wrong, Eidos: Montreal. We're all hoping you do.

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Kieron Gillen


Kieron Gillen is robo-crazy.