Comic-Con 2011: Eidos Montreal reveals the real science and thought process behind the augmentations in its Deus Ex prequel.
Who was there: Eidos Montreal's community manager moderated a panel that featured Mary DeMarle, lead writer on Deus Ex: Human Revolution and Will Rosellini, the CEO of MicroTransponder and technological consultant on the game.
What they talked about: The crux of the panel was highlighting how the development team behind Deus Ex: Human Revolution (with the help of Will Rosellini) wanted to create a believable world that was not only grounded in present day events, but also a world that made sense in relation to being a prequel to the original Deus Ex. DeMarle started by talking about how the original Deus Ex involved nano augmentations and how it hinted that mechanical augmentations were something that preceded it. So they took the mechanical augmentation idea and ran with it as a basis for the prequel, but DeMarle also said that focusing on the mechanical augmentations gave more opportunities to create more visually diverse characters. She then said that they wanted to look at how these mechanical augmentations would be perceived via issues that society deals with and what prejudices spring forth as a result.
But to make it all feel relevant, DeMarle stressed that the team needed to make the science real and that's where Will Rosellini came in. His company, MicroTransponder, is working on an actual implant that uses RF energy to combat various neurological diseases, but Rosellini is also a big fan of games. While he was disappointed in Deus Ex: Invisible War, he contacted the development team because he felt that a new Deus Ex game could make some interesting predictions about the future of implants and the technology surrounding them.
DeMarle continued by saying that the development built out an entire timeline that traced the history of augmentation and then predicted where it would go. She used Oscar Pistorius--a double amputee sprinter who uses special carbon-fiber prosthetics to run--as an example of a predicted turning point where those with implants integrate with those who do not have them.
She then went into an explanation of how the augmentations were developed for Human Revolution. The development team started with augmentations that naturally fit within the gameplay pillars of stealth, hacking, combat, and social abilities. For stealth, as an example, the team wanted to make sure that there was a cloaking augment. But for other abilities, DeMarle said that the team started off with ridiculous ideas, like a bungie augment that let Adam Jensen (the game's lead character) jump from any height and safely land to the ground, but by tempering the idea and making it work within the universe, it eventually became the Icarus Landing System.
Rosellini then explained how augmentations are already a very real part of society. Surprisingly, he cited his own experience as a pitcher for the Arizona Diamondbacks as an example of people already using augments as a means for getting an edge over others. In this instance, he said, the edge was a drug (or steroids) as opposed to something more physical, but the intent was the same. He then referred to the iPhone and used it as evidence of not only how quickly technology advances when funding is behind it, but also as an augment in itself. More people are carrying around smartphones than ever before, and oftentimes people wouldn't even think of leaving the house without it.
There was also a discussion about what happens in the world of Deus Ex as a result of mechanical augmentations being introduced. DeMarle explained that a whole new middle class springs up as a result of new opportunities being offered to those who are able to work more difficult jobs because of their augmentations. Problems arise when the mechanical becomes better than the real, according to DeMarle, and that creates the friction in Human Revolution's world. And that's just skimming the surface of the debate. There is also the question of drugs used to keep bodies from rejecting the implants and how people get addicted to the drug itself. Rosellini addressed how this is based in reality because the body does whatever it can to reject foreign objects (for example, the inflammation that occurs due to a splinter) and that people generally don't like wearing things that exist on top of the body, but rather are a part of it.
The takeaway: Sometimes, people take sci-fi for granted. Audiences may not really appreciate the amount of work and research that goes into creating a world that is not only fantastic, but also realistic and relatable. By incorporating real science and sociology into its universe, the development team of Deus Ex: Human Revolution hope that people will be able to instantly understand its message and what the implications are of Adam Jensen's actions in the game.