Today, Eidos Montreal art director Jonathan Jacques-Belletete takes to the stage in Eurogamer's huge auditorium to talk about Deus Ex: Human Revolution, the action role-playing game due out early next year. This is hugely exciting for us, and for (most) of the series' many fans.
Because we know not everyone can be at the Eurogamer Expo, we chatted with Jonathan on the phone to get the low-down on his developer session, dug up the inspiration behind the game's unique art style, and discovered why main man Adam Jensen's face is "angular".
Eurogamer: You're the art director on Deus Ex. How would describe its art style?
Jonathan Jacques-Belletete: Jonathan Jacques-Belletete: I would describe it as a graphic novel approach in terms of the visual texture. We wanted to have something extremely credible but not photorealistic. We see the game world as one complete entity. It's very opaque. It's very homogonous. Everything seems to fit within the same digital language. That was very important to us.
Some games do some very good photorealistic characters, but then you place them next to some of the objects and environments in the game and you have different degrees of realism. To me it breaks the suspension of disbelief and the credibility of the world. So we decided to dial down the photorealism, but have this even rendering of everything in the game.
The game is over designed. Every single prop has been concept-arted with the same style. Everything had to be made just like that in the game. The assets had to be created exactly like they are in concept art. It's definitely got flavour and soul.
It's cyberpunk, obviously. There was no way around that. It's something we're glad to work with. But we wanted to have our own flavour to the cyberpunk approach at the same time. That's when the whole Renaissance thing came in. Based on that, it's something, hopefully, original – a new twist to cyberpunk visual archetypes.
Eurogamer: The game's due out early next year. What are you working on now?
Jonathan Jacques-Belletete: My job is pretty much done. The art direction has been sealed since the beginning of the summer. Everybody knows exactly what they have to do. Now we're fine-tuning a whole bunch of little things here and there, making sure they're as pretty as they can be with the time we have left.
But in terms of creating new stuff or imagining new things, that's all done. It's just a matter of finishing up everything as good as we can. We're almost there.
Eurogamer: You've shown the game at various trade shows this year. What's the reaction been like?
Jonathan Jacques-Belletete: Really good. We're always expecting answers from two different types of people. Obviously there's the industry and the public as a whole, like people that might never have even heard about Deus Ex before. We want those people to be attracted to the game and think it's good-looking.
There are also the people who are well aware of what Deus Ex is and what it stands for. It's almost like a double standard thing, that we're trying to please both those people. It's been overwhelming how the team has succeeded at doing that. It's been well received from the people who are just looking at it from the standpoint of, is it a good game or not? And well received from the standpoint of the people who have a checklist of whether it's Deus Ex or not.
Eurogamer: What are you talking about during your developer session at the Expo?
Jonathan Jacques-Belletete: I talk about the process of creating the vision for Deus Ex. The Renaissance connection with cyberpunk - how we ended up mixing it with it and the reasons why we decided that, and how hard it is when it's a totally unthreaded path - what it means to be the first ones to be there.
I have extremely talented concept artists – some of the best in the industry. Even people that talented, when you tell them for the first time to mix such weird variables, like take some of the Renaissance stuff and mix it with cyberpunk – even for people that are that talented, it was something quite tricky to do. It's come out very good but it was hard to get there. I talk about those challenges and how we succeeded.
Eurogamer: How would you describe lead character Adam Jensen's personality?
Jonathan Jacques-Belletete: There's a phrase we coined for him straight from the get-go, even before we started drawing him. It was something the game director, producer and I knew from the beginning.
We didn't want to go for a big, tough space marine guy this cycle of consoles are saturated with. The phrase we would say was, he can kick your ass, and then he goes home and reads a good book.
That's what we've been saying for the past three and a half years. He needed to be someone of an average build, with nothing too crazy, but yet someone you'd still know you wouldn't want to mess around with.
And there really are some people like that. I remember someone mentioning this club he goes out to in Montreal, that one of the bouncers is like this really average-looking guy, but you look at his face and you know you don't want to mess with him. He probably doesn't weigh more than 150 pounds, but yet he looks like a total killer.
Adam has this duality. He's an ex-SWAT member, a security specialist, he's a bit of a bass ass. But he looks like someone who's fairly intellectual. That's who he is.
Eurogamer: We understand the game takes place across five metropolises. Is that correct?
Jonathan Jacques-Belletete: We haven't said exactly how many cities we go to in the game. There are definitely quite a few. I'm not going to say if it's five or less or more. It's an international conspiracy and Adam gets to travel to a lot of places.
Eurogamer: We know about Detroit, Shanghai and Montreal. Any chance of London?
Jonathan Jacques-Belletete: You'll have to wait and see!
Eurogamer: Square Enix, a Japanese company, bought Eidos during the game's development. How would you describe the relationship you have with it? Has it influenced the game at all?
Jonathan Jacques-Belletete: As corporate as it's going to sound, I swear to God it feels like the honest answer, it's been an awesome collaboration.
We all had that same reaction when it happened: a Japanese company taking over a Western company, how's that going to happen and how much are they going to tell us to do A or B? They left us total creative control of Deus Ex. Square Enix fully understand why they acquired a Western company. They're letting us do our Western stuff 100 per cent.
There are some Japanese aesthetics in the game in terms of visuals – not Japanese culture aesthetics, but the way the Japanese do their visuals in games. All those things were set down pre-Square Enix. Those are aesthetic flavours my team and I were already into. We had included those things in the game way before we knew that Square Enix had bought us. Those things come from us.
Eurogamer: Any examples?
Jonathan Jacques-Belletete: The way the mechanical design is done in the game, what the robots look like, Adam's chopper – all these things are really Ghost in the Shell or Akira. The way they do their robots and sci-fi stuff in animes, that's stuff my team were already into.
A lot of people have made comments: this or that looks like it's straight out of an anime. It's got to be Square Enix, blah blah blah. It really isn't. It's from us.
Even if you look at Adam, the way we paid attention to the way his face is constructed, his hair, is a way of looking at it that Japanese videogame companies are usually more into than Western companies.
Western companies pay attention to the global feeling of their character, which is absolutely important. If you look at Ubisoft, a company I know well, Sam Fisher, he looks different every game. I'm not talking about his clothing. His face is always morphing. It's like, who is he really, that guy? Yeah, okay, he's scruffy, whatever. It's inconsistent how they build his face.
The Japanese look at it in a totally different way, where even the way the structure of the face is, is very important. It's how we treated Adam. He's really angular. People relate to that as a highly Japanese-influenced design, but that was all pre-Square Enix. So when Square Enix bought us we were pretty stoked because of that.
Eurogamer: After Deus Ex, what's next for Eidos Montreal?
Jonathan Jacques-Belletete: I can't answer that precisely, but big stuff. We've already started talking about all that. They're going to shoot me if I say anything! We're busy, man!
Eurogamer: Is there a feeling within the studio that you'd like to do another Deus Ex game?
Jonathan Jacques-Belletete: Yeah, absolutely. I remember when we first started, I read an article where Warren Spector remembered the fact he knew the third one was started by other people, and he said, you know, I can't wait to see what they're going to do because this universe and those characters, I've lived with them for such a big part of my life.
I didn't really understand what he meant. Emotionally I didn't really know. Now I've just spent almost four years with that world we created and those characters we created that we've lived with every day of our lives, I know exactly what it means.
It would be cool to work with those variables again.
Eurogamer: You're not sick and tired of Deus Ex after working on it for four years?
Jonathan Jacques-Belletete: No, not yet! Not yet.
Jonathan Jacques-Belletete is art director at Eidos Montreal. Deus Ex: Human Revolution is due out early next year.