Who was there: Eidos Montreal art director Jonathan Jacques-Belletete, who spoke about his work on the upcoming Deus Ex Human Revolution.
What they talked about: The Deus Ex series has always featured dark and moody visuals, which was a perfect fit for the dystopian future the games presented. Eidos Montreal art director Jonathan Jacques-Belletete--the man in charge of the look of the upcoming Deus Ex: Human Revolution--spoke about the challenges in creating a unique visual style for the prequel during his 2010 Game Developers Conference session, and it seems that while team members are big fans of the original, they doesn't necessarily want to mimic its visual signature.
Jacques-Belletete began by highlighting the fact that this was the first public showing of the game and firmly asked for no cameras during the session (the images in this article are from the new trailer). He said that while all of the team members at Montreal were big fans of the original, Deus Ex did not have the most fully realized game aesthetic. Jacques-Belletete wanted the new game to have its own individual voice that was still informed by cyberpunk visual archetypes, such as nighttime environments, fog and smoke, clutter, near-future technology, and transhumanism.
For Human Revolution's high-level visual goal, Jacques-Belletete said the team focused on two points: illustration as opposed to simulation and design distinction that creates desire. When it comes to illustration, Jacques-Belletete wanted to create a world that wasn't necessarily photo-realistic, but one whose individual pieces looked like they all belonged within the same reality. This aesthetic extended to a character's face. Jacques-Belletete said they wanted to avoid any uncanny valley problems and even singled out recent PlayStation 3-exclusive Heavy Rain for some critique. "It (Heavy Rain) is a beautiful game, but those people are so scary! And you look at the teapot in Beauty and the Beast, and that little dude looks alive and he looks like a human being," he said.
On the second goal--design distinction that creates desire--Jacques-Belletete explained that looking unique can be a strong selling point for a game. He cited the example of the Big Daddy and Little Sister designs in BioShock as great examples of a game pushing a distinct look. He then put up a slide showing stills from games like Killzone 2, Gears of War, Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter, Unreal Tournament 3, and Turok saying they were examples of games that all looked similar and therefore weren't doing anything distinctive.
In Eidos Montreal's quest to be different, Jacques-Belletete said he focused the team to have two design analogies in mind--the Icarus myth and the Renaissance. Jacques-Belletete said Icarus fit the theme of transhumanism perfectly. "Dude, this guy is augmented. That's transhumanism," he said. "He has too much fun with transhumanism, and then he burns and falls to his death--this is my metaphor; this is perfect." With the Renaissance, Jacques-Belletete said he found many links to transhumanism. "If you want to upgrade a system, first, you need to see how it works. And that's what the Renaissance was--they tried to understand how the human machine functions. It's the first step towards the transhumanist era," he said.
But when the design team members tried to directly inject Renaissance themes into the game's art--balloon sleeves and pants, ruff collars, and patterns--Jacques-Belletete said they failed. It wasn't until he started to look at the world of modern fashion and decided Renaissance-flavored clothing must still look like it would be wearable today that they locked on a design aesthetic. Jacques-Belletete then showed several characters from the game, including the main character Adam Jensen. Jensen sports a pointy, Don Quixote-like beard and wears a long black jacket with a high, almost Edwardian collar. Other characters--including enemy soldiers--looked futuristic, but they did feature some classical touches like geometric patterns and ruffles.
While Jacques-Belletete's session was heavy with still images and concept art, he did show one brief section of in-game activity. It was a dialogue scene with someone who looked like a police officer that was leaning casually on a desk inside an office. While the dialogue was hard to place out of context, it did highlight what appeared to be the dialogue wheel for the game, which looked like a circle with choices selectable around its hub.
Quote/Takeaway: "A lot of people were saying just do Deus Ex 1 with better graphics. And there's a lot of that in our industry--just do that, but bigger and shinier. We didn't want to make an echo of the first one." -- Eidos Montreal art director Jonathan Jacques-Belletete