Interview: Mary DeMarle, Lead Writer for Deus Ex: Human Revolution

I recently had a chance to play through the first couple of hours of Deus Ex: Human Revolution at a closed-door press event hosted by publisher Square Enix. Parts one and two of the hands-on impressions focused on the opening section of the game (and its first proper mission), and I came away from the experience impressed by Eidos Montreal's seeming ability to harness much of what made the first game great, and hungry for more. After a day spent running around in the shoes of Human Revolution's brooding protagonist, Adam Jensen, I talked a bit with the game's Lead Writer and Narrative Designer, Mary DeMarle. Among other things, we discussed the game's themes of class warfare and technological Renaissance, the challenges of constructing a multi-layered conspiracy-fuelled narrative in a game driven by player choice, and creating content that helps make a world that feels real and alive. BOOM video 7409 Shacknews: First off, can you elaborate a bit more on the themes you focused on when writing Deus Ex: Human Revolution? Mary DeMarle: From a story perspective, we're dealing with a time, seventeen years from now, in which advances in biotechnology are making it possible for us to control our own evolution, through the use of these mechanical augmentations. So, through the use of everything from cybernetic arms and legs, to cybernetic brain chips and intelligence chips, we can actually become better than we are, from our biological roots. Shacknews: And how do people feel about the effects of this technological Renaissance? Mary DeMarle:Society, with that explosion of knowledge, is at a point where it might not quite be ready for that. There are groups that are saying, "Woah! Slow down! There are corporations that want to make money from this!" There are people who idealistically believe that this is what mankind is meant to do. And there are other people that are saying, "You're tampering with things that you don't understand. You're playing God, and you don't have the wisdom of God. You don't know the psychological effects." The game takes place at a time when mankind is wrestling with all of that, and you have forces on both sides that are pushing [things] in one direction or the other. We are really fundamentally asking you, on a deep level, to consider the issue for yourself, and consider it for that final judgement that Adam will have to make at the end. Shacknews: Though the game empowers the player to make meaningful and impactful choices, Adam Jensen seems like a pretty well-defined character. Was it difficult to reconcile player choice with a protagoinst who isn't simply a blank slate? Mary DeMarle: That's something we knew from the start we had to do, and there's a fine line you have to walk. But my philosophy is that we create a really strong character in Adam, and the very fact that we set you at a point where he's not yet sure what he feels, himself. We then hand that over to you [the player], so that you become the one that decides - through your experiences and how you play him - what you feel, and what he [Adam] feels. So, that's a crucial part of it. Shacknews: How did you go about constructing the story for Deus Ex: Human Revolution, and how did you approach creating the dizzying amount of the supplemental narrative content such as emails newspapers? Mary DeMarle: The way that I build the story is to start with your critical-path information: What is it that the player has to know, at the bare minimum, in order to understand it. And once you've got that down, you go and you start building the rest - all those additional layers of story. And you use those different means. So, we have television news. We also have newspaper stories - and these will also refelct your actions in the game. We have what we call the "e-books," and what we call the "xp-books" - which are also "e-books" but are specifically about augmentations. By finding these, in particular, you get XP-points that you can apply to your augmentations. And then we have pocket secretaries, which are like everyone's own personal cell phones, and then we have the emails on the computers as well. We use all those things to tell the story, create the world that you're living in, add more life to that universe, and show a world that exists outside of Adam Jensen. Shacknews: There was only one optional side-quest available in the demo. How big of a role will they play in the full game? Mary DeMarle: They become much more prevalent later on. Basically, when you get to some of the city-hub areas, then you'll encounter characters who will [provide side-quest options]. The way we wanted to design them... we didn't want to have sidequests that are like "Save the cat from the tree." We figured, you're playing a character that's on a very important mission. What's going to convince him to step off that path to help somebody? By doing the sidequests, you can find out more about Adam. You can find out more information about other characters in the game. You can find out more about the "augmentation issue." So [sidequests] all kind of expand the universe, while still keeping you focused on it.

You say you want a revolution? Well, you know...

Shacknews: Human Revolution is set twenty-five years before the original Deus Ex. That said, are there any tie-ins or nods to the original game that fans will appreciate? Mary DeMarle: There are tie-ins to the original game. [Fans] will recognize the references, and will potentially recognize some of the characters. You might see a little bit about their origins, or stuff like that. When you really think about it, it's hard to do too much, because this is twenty-five years before [the original game]. I mean, what were you doing twenty-five years ago? Shacknews: Would you mind describing how the in-game economy will work? Mary DeMarle: Eventually, when you get to the city-hubs, you can find these black market merchants that sell you things. You can also visit L.I.M.B (Liberty in Mind and Body) clinics that actually are the ones who equip people with augmentations. They sell you stuff like the nutrients and the Praxis kits, and things like that. Shacknews: The original Deus Ex is almost as lengthy as it is beloved. Optional side-quests aside, about how long will it take to play through the core story? Mary DeMarle: In our playtests, we generally had people work about six to eight hour days, playing it. And it took at least the full five days, maybe six days, for people to get through it. It's definitely at least twenty-five hours for a core-story playthrough. Shacknews: Thanks very much for your time, Mary!