Interview: Square Enix Producer James Wright on Deus Ex: The Fall

by on July 11, 2013

After much backlash from fans, Deus Ex: The Fall is out on iOS devices, today. Initial impressions have been pretty positive for the game and now fans of the series will be able to see how Deus Ex translates to smartphones and tablets.

Recently, we had the opportunity to speak with Square Enix producer James Wright on Deus Ex: The Fall’s use of in-app purchases, control scheme and a few other things that might interest fans of the franchise.

Firstly, could you briefly summarise the story of Deus Ex: The Fall for any of our readers that haven’t been keeping up with the game?

It’s the next instalment in the Deus Ex franchise so for us its a full Deus Ex game and by that, I mean [that] it’s not a derivative [and] it’s not watered down in anyway. It’s not just one part of the experience. It’s got all of our four main gameplay pillars: so that’s the choice of action or stealth gameplay, the ability to have hacking and also social interaction within the game world with other characters, so you can [have] branching storylines.

Deus Ex The Fall screen 1

The game has been in development for twelve months and we’ve used an external development partner called N-Fusion who are based in New York. For us, we wanted to make an authentic Deus Ex experience from day one. So, from day one we’ve been working with the creative team in Eidos Montreal – who you’ll know also created Human Revolution. We’ve had access to the full team there who have been totally involved so that’s been – the executive game director, the executive producer, the art director, the writing team have been working on our script and also the composer who has created a new, custom soundtrack for Deus Ex: The Fall.

In terms of where Deus Ex: The Fall fits within the universe – it’s set in 2027 [which] is the same year as Human Revolution. To be precise, it actually takes place shortly after the attack in Sarif Industries. So, Adam Jensen doesn’t feature in our game. At the time of our story, he’s recuperating – eating his food through a straw. Our game features a guy called Ben Saxon, [who] is an existing Deus Ex character. He’s the hero in the book, Icarus Effect. [He’s] a really interesting character, he’s augmented, he’s an ex-British SAS soldier, he’s a mercenary – gun for hire [and] he used to belong to a group called The Tyrants who are the guys that Adam Jensen was up against in Human Revolution. Basically, our game starts with Ben in hiding in Costa Rica, so our game picks up directly as the book finishes. What’s happening in our story is that Ben and his partner Anna Kelso [are] both augmented, so unlike Adam Jensen, they need a drug called neuropozyne so [that] their bodies don’t reject their augmentations. There is a global shortage of the drug, which is dangerous for Ben and Anna because if they run out, they can potentially die. Also, that’s a global issue, so anyone that’s augmented is going to run into trouble real soon. Ben needs to come out of hiding so he travels to Panama in order to secure him and Anna a supply of the drug neuropozyne, but also [to] start uncovering the conspiracy of why there’s a shortage and who’s behind that.

As you said, N-Fusion are looking after development – as are Square Enix Mobile, but in terms of input, does Eidos Montreal have a considerable amount, or are N-Fusion effectively taking the reigns with regards this instalment in the series?

N-Fusion are the guys who will have an idea or create a level, or write a draft of the script – and its a collaboration, [after that]. That then comes back to us at Square and the creative team at Eidos Montreal and we’ll sit down and say, “that’s not quite how it fits in Deus Ex”, or “that doesn’t fit within the world or the universe” or, “this would work better”. For example, the script took about eight months and that wasn’t just N-Fusion producing something [of their own accord]. That was a case of [a] draft script being produced, then all of us having a workshop in Montreal, then having another workshop in New Jersey. It was much more of a collaboration [with] both ourselves and N-Fusion wanting to really make the best Deus Ex game that we could. The experts on the franchise are the guys who spent the last four or five years creating Human Revolution so we listened to those guys pretty much all the time to make sure the game was an authentic Deus Ex experience. I’d much more say, as opposed to “who had final sign-off”, it was a shared goal to make this an authentic experience and [Deus Ex: The Fall] felt much more [like] a collaboration.

Deus Ex The Fall screen 5

The game picks up where Deus Ex: Icarus Effect leaves off, but if a potential player hasn’t read the book, will they be missing out on any story beats by just jumping into The Fall?

Not at all. I think if you’ve played Human Revolution or any other Deus Ex game, or if you’ve read Icarus Effect, then you’ll recognise characters who will be familiar to you, but the approach to the story was always that it was a standalone game. So, all of the characters are introduced – we’ve even got a playable flashback scene so you get more background on Ben before the main mission starts. If you’ve never played a Deus Ex game before [or] if you’ve never read Icarus Effect, that’s ok. You’ll be able to pick up the game and it will make sense to you.

So, it could even be used as a jumping on point?

Yeah, absolutely. If you’ve never played a Deus Ex game before, you can come into this as an entry point, but obviously, if you are familiar with the series – if you’ve played Human Revolution or if you’ve just played the first Deus Ex, we’ve got characters from Human Revolution who are voiced again by the same actors. We’ve even got a character from the original Deus Ex who is appearing in the game and is also voiced by the same actor.

Deus Ex The Fall screen 3

In terms of controls, with regard the mobile space, virtual buttons are a difficult thing to get right. Now, what’s being done to ensure that Deus Ex: The Fall’s control scheme will rival that of, for example, an Xbox 360 or PS3 controller?

I think that’s a really good point and you have to take the game as it is and build for the platform, so we never wanted to say “this is everything that makes a Deus Ex game and let’s make sure we get everything mapped to a virtual button”, because that wasn’t going to work. So, the game has been built from the ground up, including the control scheme. We’ve put virtual sticks in there. Obviously, some people don’t like virtual sticks, so we wanted to create a range of control options and [also], to tweak some of the gameplay elements. For example, in terms of control options, the player’s got the ability to put the joystick on the screen if they want something a bit more tactile. If they want to just tap to move, the player can tap the floor to move. The player can even tap pieces of cover and Ben will walk up and immediately go into cover – that’s really, really cool and useful. Players can also completely customise where the buttons are on the screen, so there are a lot of custom control options. As I said, we didn’t want to port everything over because it wasn’t going to make sense.

Some things have been streamlined to make sense for the touch screen. For example, there’s no longer a need to run – [when] players push up a small amount on the virtual stick he’ll walk, [if] they push up the full amount, Ben will start to run. Obviously, with Deus Ex: Human Revolution there was an element of first person platforming – running and jumping – that’s great when you’ve got a controller, but we don’t have that. So, we’ve removed the need for first person platforming, so the player doesn’t jump anymore, but [the player] can now vault over objects. By vaulting over objects, Ben can get access to different areas, [he can] use ladders to get to the vertical elements of levels. We don’t need to use first person platforming in order to do that. [It] would’ve been pretty hard to do with touch screen controls.

Deus Ex The Fall screen 7

In terms of another couple couple of changes that we’ve made, [we’ve altered] the targeting system. The player has a manual target if they want [to use that], where they can line up headshots and just push the fire button. Another thing they can do is tap enemies in their sights and then hold the fire button down – a little bit of auto aim when someone targets like that. There’s also auto targets, so wherever the reticule goes, if you hold down fire, you’ll automatically target them and automatically fire them – so that’s kind of like the automated option. But, all of this is completely customisable, so if you don’t want any kind of targetting assist, you don’t have to have it.

Another example is the need to remove bodies. We decided very early on, we didn’t want players to have to go up to a body and go into a drag mode, drag the body somewhere [and then] exit the drag mode because it would’ve been quite cumbersome to do that with pop-ups on-screen. So, what happens now is that bodies will dissolve on the play field after a small amount of time, [but] that doesn’t mean that stealth is any easier because if a body is on the play field and a camera sees the downed body or an enemy patrol sees the body, then an alarm will be raised, much in the same way as [it would in] Human Revolution. We’ve still retained that challenge of stealth without players having to worry about picking up and dragging bodies.

Another big change we’ve made is with the inventory. The player doesn’t need to worry about the inventory anymore. With mobile, play time can be shorter so we didn’t want the player to spend time managing the inventory or having to tap every single item that’s on the floor because that could potentially be cumbersome. The player can now purchase upgrades and weapons and ammo whenever they want in the in-game store, using credits. But they don’t need to worry about inventory space, which has the added advantage of being faster and also because the player doesn’t need to manage their inventory, they can automatically pick up items. So, they can walk over guns and they’re automatically picked up as opposed to having to tap them. Those are just a few examples of how we’ve streamlined controls – we’ve still got the Deus Ex feel, but [what we’ve done] makes the experience a lot more friendlier for the touch screen environment.

Deus Ex The Fall screen 2

It sounds like you’ve looked at the platform and tried to accentuate the positives and tried to hide the negatives in order to bring the series to mobile.

I think its interesting as well because some things translate really easily. Things like the door keypads and the hacking, we didn’t have to change a single thing because they work very well in a tactile environment.

Now, the merits of micro-transactions are constantly being brought into question and in previous interviews you have said that there are in-app purchases in Deus Ex: The Fall, but they are optional, is that correct?

Yes, that’s entirely correct. The way Deus Ex: The Fall works is [that] there is not one piece of content which is locked behind a pay-wall. You play through the game once, which will take five [or] six hours and obviously you won’t be able to see everything because there’s certain ways of doing things and [different] dialogue choices and different outcomes. So, when you finish the game once, you then unlock new game plus mode [which] is a harder, more challenging mode. [When playing new game plus mode] you get to keep all of your items, credits, augmentations, weapons, everything. So, doing it this way, you can play again and keep accruing credits and items and you can unlock every single piece of content within the game. So, we reckon its going to be about three play throughs in order to do that. After the initial purchase from the App Store, you don’t need to put another penny in to see all of the game’s content. There are in-app purchases, so if the player wanted to put real world money in, in order to accelerate their play experience, they could. But the game is designed so that people don’t have to put any additional money in.

Deus Ex The Fall screen 6

When you say “accelerate their experience”, would players get praxis points, or certain weaponry in Deus Ex: The Fall? What exactly are these in-app purchases for?

The game works with credits, like Deus Ex. So, you accrue credits from completing missions, or just picking them up [within the game world] and you can use those credits within the in-game store to buy praxis kits, weapons, ammo, whatever. So, when the player uses real world money, they increase the amount of credits they’ve got. The player can then spend those credits as they see fit.

Of course, it would be remiss of me not to address the controversy around the game’s announcement in early June. Obviously, a lot of Deus Ex fans took to various forums to express their displeasure in The Fall being revealed as a game for mobiles and tablets. Is the team feeling any particular pressure from diehard fans that have been there since the original Deus Ex, or even people that have been with the series since 2011’s Human Revolution?

Well, I think the reaction was understandable. You’ve got people that are PC gamers [and] console gamers and they wanted a continuation of the series on PC and console. Deus Ex: The Fall doesn’t really detract – and I can’t really talk too much about this – but it doesn’t really detract too much from any other thing that we might be doing. But, it is something that we’re exploring in terms of bringing Deus Ex to a wider audience. One of the reasons that we’ve taken such a lot of time and care in creating a Deus Ex experience is that we didn’t want to disappoint new players and we certainly didn’t want to disappoint fans by having something that wasn’t Deus Ex. We totally understand how people are feeling and for us, we’re really humbled and honoured that we’ve got such a passionate fan base for the franchise. That’s an amazing thing to have.

For us, the reaction that we’ve had from journalists and also from some hardcore fans that have played the game at hands-on sessions, like at E3 for example – the initial response has been pretty positive, actually. All we can say to these people is that it’s great they have this passion, it’s totally understandable. Sure, give The Fall a go, have a play, if they don’t like it, then fine. We totally respect their opinion, but as I say, it’s not necessarily at the detriment of any other future Deus Ex game being on any other platform.

Is the Deus Ex diehard who happens to have an iPhone, or iPad the target audience with The Fall, or is Square Enix looking to bring in the Angry Birds crowd to the Deus Ex franchise?

I wouldn’t necessarily look at it as types of player, like that. I think its more of a platform. We have not made this game to appeal to people who would only play Angry Birds. This game has been made so that we can reach the audience who play on smartphone and tablet devices and bring Deus Ex to them. It’s still very much a game where it requires a skill to play, it requires time to play. It’s not a casual game, it hasn’t been dumbed down, it hasn’t been simplified. It is a game that people who like playing games, and gamers, will want to play. We haven’t turned around and said, “let’s make Deus Ex for the Angry Birds crowd”. That’s absolutely not the intention.

Previously to The Fall being announced, you had the April Fools joke of Deus Ex: Human Defiance. Some people saw the humour in it and it did produce a very funny video, but it only incited fans’ rage, a little bit more. Now, they will get to play Deus Ex: The Fall and they can make up their own mind on the game, then. But, the April Fools joke – one question I did want to ask you was that Eidos Montreal were looking for 250,000 likes on Facebook to “make it happen”. Currently, it’s sitting at 170,000 likes. Could you shed some light on Deus Ex: Human Defiance. Is that a project that Eidos Montreal are currently working on? Is this the console and PC sequel to Deus Ex: Human Revolution?

Deus Ex Human Defiance

I can’t comment on any other console sequel or anything really, other than The Fall, right now. All I can say is that, in terms of Human Defiance, if it’s a game that people want to see, maybe in terms of that video, then sure, like the Facebook page, send Eidos Montreal some mail and maybe…let’s see. I think there’s a few [members] of the creative team that would love to make that game, but obviously the interest would have to be there.

I think there’s a few fans that would like to see it too, James.

But, in terms of actual, full-on console sequels or PC sequels, I can’t confirm anything on those fronts, today.

There is one final question that we do ask all interviewees. It’s also probably the most pressing and sweat inducing question. Do you keep your tomato ketchup in the fridge or the cupboard?

I think it’s a really good question, actually. I’ve always kept my ketchup in the fridge. I think there’s something that when the ketchup is in the cupboard, in my mind, its attracting hairs, so I definitely feel like the ketchup in the fridge is the more hygenic way of keeping ketchup.

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