Choice and consequence in Deus Ex: Human Revolution
We spent an awful lot of time looking at loading screens while playing Deus Ex: Human Revolution (see our review of the game) – but we really needn’t have. Our problem was playing as an obsessive, but often incompetent, covert agent, hitting reload every time we bumbled out of cover into a guard’s line of sight. Actually, the game gives you ample opportunity to adapt to this situation: flitting between stealth, aggression and flight at a moment’s notice. We talked to lead game designer Frank Lapikas about how the game’s design accounts for such versatility.
How do you prevent players from wanting to restart when they make an error, or get spotted when playing stealthily? Did you encourage players to live with their decisions?
Well, the whole game was designed so that you had multiple choices at any one time. Even if you decide to go combat, through your choice of weapons and augs, there’s always a way for you to get out of dodge. You are never truly cornered without any means to get through the obstacle in front of you. That’s true for hacking, that’s true for stealth and social too. I’m not aware that we designed any system per se that would prevent players getting blocked – it’s built into the basic mechanics. The only exception would be the social boss-fights – if you lose one of those, it’s essentially over for you; you won’t be able to get what the character was offering.
It’s quite an achievement that Jensen feels so versatile at every point of the game given that you have a skill-tree. How did you go about balancing the skill tree to prevent players from overspecialising?
I think the main point in balancing the augmentations was that we decided to give the player all the basic abilities. We don’t force the player to buy back his basic powers, we give you everything you normally have in an FPS, and then all you buy are upgrades – abilities that give you something more. At the basic level, there’s a way to go through the whole game without upgrading yourself. But by buying these powers you going to unlock new ways to go through combat or navigate the level. Without having that we would have had more instances where the player was blocked.
That’d be why all the augs feel like value for money – you nearly always feel like you are being rewarded rather than plugging a hole in your skills. Did you spend a lot of time tweaking them to ensure that each felt like a significant advancement?
Yup! That was actually a process of trimming. We had more augmentations at one point, but we found that they we too diluted. Having too many upgrades to one augmentation meant that players didn’t perceive it as useful as others. So we just pared it down and merged two upgrades together. The goal was always for you to feel like you were gaining something valuable – that changed the way you played every time you bought something. We didn’t want them to be simple stat upgrades.
Did that change the pace of the game, the pace with which you are rewarded with upgrades?
It didn’t change it, but we had to be careful. If we pared it down too much, you might only get one augmentation per hour, for instance. There was a fine balance that we needed to hit – we got there through multiple iterations of playtesting.
So what is the optimum time delay between getting those advancements?
Between 30 and 45 minutes, per upgrade. Maybe an hour at most, just to be sure.