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GDC: Creating  Deus Ex Human Revolution 's Cybernetic Renaissance

GDC: Creating Deus Ex Human Revolution's Cybernetic Renaissance

March 11, 2010 | By Brandon Sheffield

March 11, 2010 | By Brandon Sheffield
More: Console/PC, GDC

We took some pretty different aesthetic choices on this game, and it wasnt easy to bring it to where we are today, said Jonathan Jacques-Belletete, art director of Eidos Montreal.

We started from nothing, literally, he said, referencing the fact that there were 5 people in the dev team initially.

The first thing they did was go back to original. That was very, very important. We all started playing it thoroughly, and then somebody voluntarily played the second one, just to make sure, he joked. Its amazing how it sucks you right back in, it doesnt matter if its 10 years old.

So going back to the original, what is the art direction of DX1?
It wasnt really cohesive, he said. It had cyberpunk, but didn't really have fully-realized aesthetics.

Youve got to find your own voice. Dont expect anything original from an echo, he said. If you really pour your soul into what youre creating, changes are if youre successful and your team is behind you it can really turn into a work of art.

So they went with two high-level visual values: illustration over simulation, and the idea that design distinctions create desire.

Were not trying to make it super photorealistic, said Jacques-Belletete. Its more about making it credible, not like making it a simulation. Games that have realistic characters, you talk to them and they might stand in front of some low-fi poly and the juxtaposition just doesnt work. Lets try to illustrate the world instead of trying to simulate it, he posed, and make it more even through the world.

He then showed a screenshot collage of 8 or so games, including Gears of War, Fuel of War, GRAW, Killzone 2, and Turok, saying could all be from the same game. In order to help us be different from that, we set two main analogies and metaphors for the game.

These analogies were the Icarus myth, and the idea of a cyber-Renaissance. The Icarus Myth is easily described by the cyberpunk idea of transhumanism people transcending humanity through physical (cybernetic) augmentation. Icarus was tripping over transhumanism, said Jacques-Belletete, hes having too much fun, he flies to close to the sun, and it burns and he falls to his death. So I thought thats my metaphor.

Then comes the idea of a cyber-Renaissance. Why would you try so hard to mix such eclectic variables together? he posed. Essentially, he just saw a lot of parallels between cybernetics and the learnings of the Renaissance, from the discovery of Geometry to the new breakthroughs in the study of anatomy. If you want to upgrade a system, you first have to understand how a system works, he said, and that happened during the renaissance.

It took two years of trying to combine archetypes of cyberpunk with archetypes from the Renaissance, finding that he was working against the native talents of his team. The key elements to explore were balloon sleeves and pants, ruffled collars, and renaissance patterns. We tried a lot of things and it just didnt work, he admitted.

Im not kidding, we really had friction on the team because of that, because of that vision. I thought about giving up many times, because these guys are some of the best in the industry, and who am I to tell them what to do? Then I started looking at fashion, real fashion, which is something I think we dont do enough.

My concept artists have drawn huge guys with guns for 20 years, and Im asking them to do fashion, he opined. If I had to start over again, I wouldve hired a real fashion designer, if we had enough money.

But fashion proved a breakthrough, allowing them to keep a consistent, different visual style. Why is it that in our industry we try to put everything into our realism and everything, and they still look like zombies? Then Disney puts mouths on a coffee cup and a pot and its like he has a life! Theyre telling me a story!

Heavy Rain is the most uncanny valley game, he said. I mean its gorgeous, but those people are scary!

When making a new game art style, its about finding a visual constant, and its about being as original as possible, he said. And if for some reason it doesnt work, at least I can say we went for something original, and not just a mere echo.

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