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

We talk with Deus Ex: Human Revolution's Lead Writer and Narrative Designer, Mary DeMarle, about themes of class warfare and technological Renaissance, the challenges of constructing a multi-layered conspiracy-fuelled narrative in a game driven by player

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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. 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!

From The Chatty

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    March 16, 2011 5:30 PM

    Comment on Interview: Mary DeMarle, Lead Writer for Deus Ex: Human Revolution, by Jeff Mattas.

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      March 16, 2011 5:34 PM

      mmmm tasty info.

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      March 16, 2011 9:06 PM

      Man.. ever since the panel for this game at PAX... I am so excited for this game it's just stupid. I almost wish I hadn't seen it, then the wait would be easier.

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      March 16, 2011 11:43 PM

      Deus Ex is set 25 years before Human Revolution? Is that a typo? Revolution is a prequel is it not?

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        March 16, 2011 11:50 PM

        It is a prequel mate

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        March 16, 2011 11:56 PM

        Yeah, question is worded wrong. Before should be after, or the titles should be reversed.

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        March 17, 2011 7:32 AM

        I've made an edit. The question was written in reverse.

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      March 16, 2011 11:59 PM

      good stuff, it really sounds like the folks at Eidos Montreal know what they're doing

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      March 17, 2011 12:58 AM

      I just finished the Deus Ex novel that came out. It's written about as well as (but not necessarily better than) your standard airport thriller, but the story does feel like something that could happen in the world of Deus Ex, and there are some interesting characters from the first game that pop up like various members of the illuminati, Juan Lebedev, and Gunther Hermann.

      While there is some crossover with the new game, the novel largely takes place before the game and Jensen isn't even in it (he's mentioned in passing). I think you can read it without spoiling the game.

      This is the book:

      http://www.amazon.com/Deus-Ex-Icarus-James-Swallow/dp/0345523598/

      I've also read the first two issues of the Deus Ex comic book DC is currently publishing. Funnily, I think it may actually be better written than the novel. It's been fun so far, but it stars Adam, so it may spoil the game - I'm not sure I'm going to continue reading it before I play.

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      March 17, 2011 5:17 AM

      This game looks to be amazing! :) Am soooo amp'd to play it!

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      March 17, 2011 5:28 AM

      Promising...

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      March 17, 2011 7:42 AM

      Welp. I'm in love with this game already. I'll be in my bunk.

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      March 17, 2011 8:04 AM

      This sounds better than the last interview with her, but there's still no mention of Pacotti. And the reboot-ish route they're taking is a bit worrying, but they do seem to approach the whole thing ambitiously.

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      March 17, 2011 10:03 AM

      read less than half of the interview, already day one purchase

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      March 17, 2011 10:19 AM

      I'm trying to not get excited about this game, but it's NOT WORKING. :(

      MUSIC PLEASE

      Micheal McCann - Icarus (DXHR Trailer theme)
      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8yPcrE9G7EQ&feature=related

      Other Micheal McCann
      Regenesis Opening Credits
      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WF-L7TaQR4A

      Watchtower
      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eL1jPWOEwB8

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      March 17, 2011 1:49 PM

      I absolutely loved the first, despised the second, and I'm anxiously awaiting the third.

      Based on everything I've read about this game, they got it all right. We'll see when it comes out (and I've already pre-ordered it), but my expectations are very high.

      Life would be blissful if other developers put this much effort into their games. 25 hours of game play? I might buy two versions just to support the developers. That's incredible these days...when the average game is 6-8 hours.

      THIS is the content that really pays off. Keep it up!

      and make more

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        March 17, 2011 3:13 PM

        There was no second Deus Ex.

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          March 17, 2011 3:15 PM

          yes there was and it was better than the first

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            March 17, 2011 3:22 PM

            Attack of the front pager! Everyone run for your lives!

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              March 17, 2011 3:25 PM

              Upon further review, you aren't a front pager... thank the Shack redesign for not letting me view a person's total number of comments. But your post is heretical trash.

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            March 17, 2011 3:37 PM

            It was better looking, and I guess the gameplay was more even. I don't despise it, nor do I deny it's existence, but I don't think it was better, many issues likely . Deadly Shadows wasn't better than The Metal Age either, though I think it felt closer to it's predecessors than Invisible War did to Deus Ex.

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              March 17, 2011 3:39 PM

              Wow I accidentally part of that. "...many issues likely stemmed from the limitations foisted upon the game(s) by the XBox, and I do feel some sorrow for that."

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      March 17, 2011 3:54 PM

      Someday I'm going to have to play Operation Snowblind. I got it for free with a video card or something and have never touched it.

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      March 18, 2011 4:50 PM

      UNFE

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      March 19, 2011 11:05 AM

      Wooo that's hot.. I feel like everyone will have a connection with this character by the end of the game...