Jean-François Dugas – Eidos Montreal
It’s no easy feat to reboot a classic core franchise like Deus Ex. What makes the original two games so distinctive is difficult to replicate – multi-path level design, a huge variety of options for every challenge, and a vision of the near future that reflects our hopes and fears about what scientific progress may bring. In 2011 Eidos Montreal released Deus Ex: Human Revolution to wide acclaim. It was a game with modern conventions which still managed to incorporate what made the first two titles unique. Jean-François Dugas was the game director on this successful re-imagining of the franchise. Now, after the release of The Missing Link DLC and The Directors Cut, Mr. Dugas is focused on the mysterious transmedia project Deus Ex: Universe. Mr. Dugas was prohibited from talking about specific aspects of Deus Ex: Universe or the financial performance of previous games, but he was able to answer plenty of my other questions about working on the Deus Ex IP.
It seems like Square Enix is working hard to diversify. Core brands like Deus Ex and Hitman are getting a mobile presence, novels, comic books, and films. Is this strategy unique to Square Enix, or do you think this is an industry-wide trend? Will we start seeing lots of core game IPs aggressively expand into other media?
I don’t think it is unique to us. Look at what Ubisoft does with its Assassin’s Creed brand, or look at the Hawken IP, for example.
There are a lot of rich universes in the videogame industry and we all want to exploit the full potential of what we’re creating, right? Games remain our core business, but if we want to tap into larger audiences, transmedia opportunities can be used as very good entry points for people new to what we do. Thus, if we capture their imagination on non-related gaming experiences, it might encourage them to try our core games, and that is great. For those who are already fans of our universes, it helps keep them engaged in our worlds on a more regular basis than is possible with core games.
So, in the end, I think it is going to be a trend that will continue in the upcoming years. I honestly think that we’re barely scratching the surface of the full potential of what that diversity can bring to our core business.
How did you feel about the reception to Deus Ex: Human Revolution? Do you feel like the finished game conveyed everything you were hoping it would?
I was confident that we had a good game but it’s hard to predict how the players will react until it’s released, right? In the end, the reception has been fantastic. It feels really good.
Did I feel it conveyed everything we had in mind? Absolutely not – but we got very close to it. The game has obvious flaws and some shortcomings, but I’m very proud of the overall result.
But that is in the past. I don’t think about it anymore, I’m thinking about our next endeavor.
Deus Ex: Human Revolution’s narrative addressed the ethical issues surrounding human augmentation. Every day this becomes less science fiction and more real science. How has working on Deus Ex changed your perception of these issues?
Well, digging into the subject allowed me to realize that reality was far more advanced than I what I had thought.
On a personal level, it didn’t change much of my perception since I’ve always believed that technology is here to be embraced, to help us in various ways. That being said, it was very inspiring to think about transhumanism from different angles, exploring the potential benefits and dangers.
What feedback from Deus Ex: Human Revolution and Deus Ex: The Fall has been most influential on the development of new Deus Ex games?
Without going into details, I’d say that we managed to create a flavor, a taste in the mouth that is very unique.
I think it is important that we all understand the subtle variables responsible for this and that we don’t lose sight of them.
While working on Deus Ex: HR and the Far Cry series you interacted with the press a lot. Was there a learning curve associated with this? How did it feel to represent Deus Ex: HR in interviews and at conferences?
Well, I’ve not been trained to be a public figure or a salesman. I’m a videogame maker. For me, it has been a trial by fire; the more you do it, the more comfortable you get. I think it has to do with practice. You develop some reflexes.
On top of it, passion is probably the best tool you can have in your arsenal. When it’s there, it’s contagious. When it’s not, people feel it. To me, it all comes down to this.
And it’s much easier when you present a product that you’re proud of.
Deus Ex: Universe involves multiple titles on different platforms. How do you coordinate the efforts of different teams to ensure that every part of Deus Ex Universe fits together?
You cut sleeping from the equation!
Seriously, though, you make sure to build the right infrastructure, with the right tools and the right people. And more importantly, you work hard. Really, really hard.
To create Deus Ex: HR, the team at Eidos Montreal had to re-imagine Deus Ex. Now that you’re working on new titles in Deus Ex Universe, is it a bit easier to know where you’re going since you can use Deus Ex: HR as a starting point? How do you think development on these new titles is progressing compared to the development of Deus Ex: HR?
I can’t go into the details but the difference today compared to 2007 is that now we fully understand what we’re doing. Back in the day, we had to cut our teeth on how to make a Deus Ex game.
Deus Ex: HR had a lot of content cut during development. What were some of the hardest cuts for you?
We had many more locations planned than what we delivered, and one of them was Upper Hengsha, which would have served as a contrast to the lower part. It was a really cool map conceptually but not as much from a level design and content perspective. Therefore, the smartest decision was to cut it. But it was hard since the map was resonating on an emotional level.
What were the biggest lessons you learned about while working as a creative director on the Far Cry series?
I learned to delegate and accept that I can’t have an answer to everything. Also, I had the chance to work with smarter people than me. Therefore, I learned to use their skills to the fullest.