Deus Ex: Mankind Divided takes place in a divided, fractured world. Society is split down the middle between “Normals” and “Auths”, a divide that forces segregation, oppression and tyranny. Our hero from 2011’s Deus Ex: Human Revolution, Adam Jensen, returns in Mankind Divided, which is set two years later in 2029 Prague.
We spoke with Deus Ex: Mankind Divided producer Olivier Proulx over email about the game’s themes, characters and aesthetic allure.
FENIXBazaar.com: In the five years since Deus Ex: Human Revolution, how would you say things have changed in how you have approach Mankind Divided and the expectations fans have for a modern Deus Ex?
Olivier Proulx: With the success of Human Revolution, we didn’t want to necessarily change our approach too much. Instead, we made many incremental improvements to important areas of the game. We wanted to double down on what worked well – a denser city hub, deeper side quests, more social interactions, more augmentations to play with, deeper choice and consequences. On the flip side, we also worked hard to fix some of the things we weren’t happy with – how we manage the endings, controls fluidity, combat-focused gameplay, the boss fights.
FENIXBazaar.com: Adam Jensen returns in Mankind Divided, the first protagonist in Deus Ex to appear in back-to- back games. What is it about Adam and the story more broadly that encouraged you to bring him back?
Olivier Proulx: Mary DeMarle, our Executive Narrative Director, wanted to kill Adam after Deus Ex: Human Revolution (DXHR)… but that idea didn’t last for too long! It’s extremely challenging to develop iconic characters in any work of fiction, and Adam resonated so well with fans, we definitely wanted to bring him back. We also wanted to continue growing him as a character. In DXHR, we had the “I never asked for this” Adam Jensen – he was forced to be augmented as a result of a violent attack. In Mankind Divided, Adam has fully embraced his enhanced abilities and feels more comfortable using them. The events at the end of DXHR had a major impact on him, and made him realise that the world is not as black and white as he used to think. As a result, we have a more focused Adam, who’s much more assertive and determined to find the people who he knows are responsible.
FENIXBazaar.com: Why Prague? Apart from its aesthetic allure, what is it that attracted you to this city?
Olivier Proulx: DXHR took place in many cities around the world, but they were concentrated in North America and Asia. This time around, we knew we wanted to go in Europe. Prague is a wonderful city with a very rich history. Its lore and contrasts all seemed to perfectly match the themes we wanted to explore in the game. Visually, it also works well with the juxtaposition of the old architecture and near-future design.
FENIXBazaar.com: Prague is a city against augmentation, with ghettos for augs. With what’s happening in Europe at the moment with mass migration, Mankind Divided seems like a timely reminder of the divide and plight of desperate people in the real world. Am I reading too much into it? Is that just a coincidence? I would love to hear more about the ways real life issues influence aesthetic and narrative in games, and why (if at all) you feel that it’s important.
Olivier Proulx: The themes we are exploring in the game are universal themes set in a dystopian near- future setting. We believe that video games are a fantastic media to approach mature themes, as the player is directly involved in how the story unfolds. When we wrote the story outline a few years ago, we couldn’t know that unfortunately, these themes would hit so close to home in 2016. In our universe, there are no easy answers to the catastrophic events of DXHR, but many in-game characters are certainly looking for some. If the game has anything to say, it’s that we have to look at these societal problems from many angles and that the black or white, zero-sum opinions, can be dangerous.
FENIXBazaar.com: What I am most intrigued about with Mankind Divided is how you have managed Human Revolution’s multiple endings. What are the challenges in telling a story and growing a character in that instance, where the predecessor had different outcomes, all of which are considered canon?
Olivier Proulx: We had to start from a place where all the endings could potentially have had happened. From there, we keep things ambiguous – the idea being that after such a catastrophic world event, the general public wouldn’t have learned the real truth behind it. There’s also some mystery as to what happened to Adam in between games, but players will be able to discover more, especially with a side quest early in the game.
FENIXBazaar.com: In what ways has Mankind Divided changed how it tells a story? How does the game organically build choice and consequence?
Olivier Proulx: We put a lot of effort in choice and consequences – meaning we wrote a lot of dialog, multi- layered stories and did an incredible amount of scripting to manage it all. For the major story beats, we had to produce variations of cutscenes and dialogs to reflect the player’s actions. There are certainly major choice/consequences moments that the player will be exposed to – life or death situations – but a lot of it also comes through some smaller moments that have an impact on how the world reacts. For example, in Dubai alone, there are 4 choice/consequences moments that impact the game world (have you played through the sandstorm or not, saved Singh or not, completed the secondary objective or not, and grounded the helicopter or not). A few hours later in the game, you’ll have character dialogs and emails customized to your 4 results. That’s just a small example of what we do through the whole game.
FENIXBazaar.com: How have you approached stealth gameplay in Mankind Divided? How did you feel it needed to improve over the first game, and in what ways does the stealth option change how the game world reacts to Adam?
Olivier Proulx: Stealth was already very solid in DXHR, so we didn’t want to alter it too much. That said, we made some major improvements to the cover system which helps the player sneak past challenges much more fluidly. Some cool augmentations were also added – remote hack, Tesla – that can help make stealth an even more ‘active’ experience. Lastly, the AI is now more sophisticated in how it detects you, communicates with each other and propagates alarms.
FENIXBazaar.com: In what ways did you want to change combat and shooting, and how did you balance trying to keep it grounded in Deus Ex style without it feeling like a Call Of Duty game?
Olivier Proulx: Deus Ex is never going to be a run-and- gun game. It’s all about tactical combat, surveying your surroundings, and adapting to different situations. That said, we worked hard to make the controls and movement of Adam much more fluid, natural and responsive (the improved cover system being a big part of this). We also added some cool aggressive augmentations – the Nanoblade, the TITAN shield, the PEPS – and more depth in how you can customize your weapons and ammo types. Our goal here wasn’t to turn Mankind Divided into a combat-focused game, but to have combat at the same level as stealth. This reinforces player choice and freedom, which is the pillar of a Deus Ex title.
FENIXBazaar.com: How tough is it to balanced the Praxis points system so that players aren’t overpowered too early in the game?
Olivier Proulx: The game balancing aspect – Praxis, XP points, credits, loot, weapon power, augs energy cost – was owned by a Senior Game Designer who also worked on DXHR. He uses his own experience as a basis, but we then do tons of user testing, metrics tracking, and collect feedback from our QA department to iterate. Ultimately, our objective is to have the player feel empowered, but challenged, throughout the whole game.
FENIXBazaar.com: With Mankind Divided, you seem similarly hesitant (if that’s the right word) to go full open-world, instead keeping the game grounded and split into sections. Why isn’t the fully open-world game right for Mankind Divided, and what are the challenges in making a game that feels “open” yet also constrained enough to tell a coherent story?
Olivier Proulx: We never considered going open world with this game. We prefer to say this is an open- ended sandbox, with many narrative layers and multi-path level design. We want this approach to provide the dense, immersive world building with strong environmental storytelling that are necessary for a Deus Ex game. Developing an open-ended, multi-branching story definitely has been one of the most difficult challenges we had to face with this project. We had to spend a lot of time with the narrative and scripting aspects of the development, with a complex testing/debugging process, to get things right. We pushed this ‘choice and consequences’ feature as much as possible in this one, so your actions are being reflected in the game world and ultimately lead to a multi-ending that’s built in a much more organic fashion than in DXHR.
FENIXBazaar.com: Mankind Divided runs on the Dawn engine. In what ways has the engine allowed you to evolve and change the experience?
Olivier Proulx: With developing our own engine, we could prioritize the tools that help our content creators model very detailed environments, give scripters the tools needed to manage multi-layer choice and consequences. There are also specific tools and pipelines to create conversations with NPCs, our rendering pipeline allows us to create beautifully lit and atmospheric environments, etc. There have been growing pains developing the engine alongside with the game, and the team would tell you some of these tools aren’t perfect yet – but we have the freedom to invest where needed in the engine for the next projects produced at Eidos Montreal.
FENIXBazaar.com: We’re seeing a lot of hype around VR, and Mankind Divided will allow players to explore its locations. How do you feel about VR, and what are the challenges for developers in creating engaging experiences that move beyond mere exploration?
Olivier Proulx: VR seems like a great opportunity, but we’ll see where the content takes it. I don’t think you can simply take a AAA game like Mankind Divided, slap it on VR, and call it a day – the VR experiences will have to be developed with the specificity of the media in mind. I’m excited to see where developers will take it in the next few years!
Deus Ex: Mankind Divided launches August 23 on Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and PC