WP: Who has the honor to speak with us? State your name, rank and occupation!
I'm Jonathan Jacques-Belletete, and I'm the art director on Deus Ex: Human Revolution.
WP: When coming in and designing the look of Human Revolution, what was paramount in defining it? Was it the original game? Was it other sources, like Final Fantasy? Did you look to role-playing games? What did you draw from?
JJB: It was three factors. To identify what the first one was, visually speaking, and we realized that it was mostly about the separate canons, the separate motifs, everything. Once we had that, we had to understand what the motifs are all about. The third thing was incorporating our own vision into that at the same time, so it has its own signature, its own statement, an aesthetic statement because if you don't do that, you're just part of a big blur. You need to draw a line in the sand. If you draw a line in the sand, you'll have people on both sides, but at least they'll talk about it. You may have someone on one side who doesn't like it as much, but you're still affecting them emotionally somehow, and that's what is important. If you just do a dish that they've tasted a million times before, you're not affecting them emotionally as much. That's what is really important. Get the cyberpunk right, and get a singular, visual style.
WP: What defined that visual style for you? Obviously, you tried to integrate the augmentations, the robotics, to look as natural as possible. The guys, you've built out to look pumped up and muscular, whereas the female characters with augmentations, you've tried to make them look visually appealing. How would you define that?
JJB: One of the important things is that we wanted to try to understand where cybernetics and prosthetics are going in our real world and expand a bit upon that while at the same time make it look cool and sci-fi-ish. We didn't want to just plainly repeat reality, but to be highly faithful to concepts and trends. We've read a lot about where prosthetics are going, where transhumanism is going, we talked with some specialists who are actually spearheading all this technology and knowledge and whatnot.
There's a wide range of cyber augs in the game. There are some that are a lot more overt and kind of weirdly put together, almost as if they were scavenged, all the way up to some very, very slick augmentations that may still look like artificial limbs — like Adam's arms, for example — and all the way to people who want to conceal it, having an arm that's flesh color and things like that. There's a wide range.
We did some stuff for the women that's a little bit kind of sexy, and then there's also women who don't have those, and they look kind of clunky or whatnot. That was very important and also to show what people would do with them because they think, just like anything else, if you look at the way they treat our cars or some people get tattoos —the way we treat the objects that we have and customize them. We also had this whole thing that people would probably pimp out their augs and how would that appear in the critical eyes of the [game] world?
WP: From a visual perspective, how important is it to make something that looks cool versus making something that looks like it could actually work? Was it along the lines of, "Adam Jensen's arm looks badass," or "If this arm were going to work, what might it look like?"
JJB: Yeah, it's really both, I think. I think design is all about functionality and aesthetics. That's when you have a good design. I'm not saying that we have a good design; that's up to the players to determine. That's at least what we tried to do: Design things that are cool, but credible and thought-out and had purpose. We can pretty much give an explanation to everything.
WP: As a designer, how does it feel to see the creations that you've made for the game as models? For the augmented edition, there's an Adam Jensen figure, and an additional figurine is available separately. Did you have any input into that? How does it feel to see this rendered image in front of you in 3-D?
JJB: Yes, it's extremely gratifying. It's an amazing feeling, but I think mostly it's gratifying because it's like you see the work of so many talented people who worked on the digital version of a character, object, robot or gun, and you see those people's vision and yours basically coming to life in 3-D, it's a big arena. It also tells you that your designs and your game are worth doing that because if Marketing didn't think it was worth it, they wouldn't spend all that money. It's very — yeah, I think the word is gratifying.
WP: As an artist, how does it feel when you've got this awesome design, hand it over to programmers, and they say, "It's too much." On a higher level, how do you deal with that as a designer? On a practical level, how do you push back to make sure that what shows up on the screen actually looks like your design and not a scaled-down version of it?
JJB: Totally. I think how you do that is actually not try to fix the problem, but to prevent the problem. I think the way that we design is to conceptually always have in mind how the game is going to function and what the constraints were. I've been on the production floor myself for a long time as a lead artist, a picture artist, and I know how things work. So I always try to plan so those designs are going to work. You don't want to just hack them in half at one point.
Now, that being said, I'm still always someone who wants to try to push things, and I know it might be hard to say, "Hey guys, I still want it." There are a lot of very high collars in the character designs, and often because depending on the amount of bones included in the neck of characters and how it's going to move, there might be some crash-throughs. I know that right away, the character would cause problems, and the technical artist would come back and say, "No, we can't do this." And I'd say, "You know what, there's a lot of that in the game, so you need to find a way to support those."
WP: If you had to sum it up in two to three sentences, what really makes Deus Ex: Human Revolution a game that's worth playing?
JJB: Well, I think the game is a world. I think the game is an experience. It has an emotion; it has a feeling attached to it. When you play it, it's going to suck you in. You're really going to feel something. It's a special game, it's extremely detailed, it's extremely critical, and it's like reading a good novel. It's a really great, great solo experience.
WP: Is there anything that we haven't talked about that you wanted to add?
JJB: This is a true work of passion, a true work of dedication. I mean, we worked four-and-a-half years on it. It's not perfect, obviously, but I think it's a good game, and I hope you guys will enjoy it.
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