Post Script

EDGE - - PLAY - In­ter­view: Mary DeMarle, nar­ra­tive di­rec­tor

And they say writ­ers come on board too late in a game’s de­vel­op­ment. Mary DeMarle, Deus Ex: Mankind Di­vided’s nar­ra­tive di­rec­tor, was on the project from its in­cep­tion, and her work on the game has long since com­pleted: when we speak, she’s been on hol­i­day for a month. Here, we dis­cuss the chal­lenges in weav­ing story around a vast, com­plex world that puts player choice at its cen­tre – and the per­ils of deal­ing with real-world themes in a game whose plan­ning be­gan over four years be­fore its com­ple­tion. Why did you choose Prague for the pri­mary set­ting? Deus Ex is all about trav­el­ling the world, but in Hu­man Revo­lu­tion we never got to Europe, so we re­ally wanted to for this game. The more we looked at Prague, the more we started feel­ing it was a re­ally good fit. It’s such a city of con­trast – the old and new. Then one of the writ­ers dis­cov­ered the myth of The Golem Of Prague, and although there are many ver­sions of that myth, the one that re­ally res­onated with us was the one where the Jewish com­mu­nity cre­ated the golem to pro­tect them. When we saw that we were like, ‘Every­thing in our uni­verse res­onates with those themes’. The hubs, es­pe­cially Prague, are more be­liev­able places than the equiv­a­lents in Hu­man Revo­lu­tion. How hard a task is that for a nar­ra­tive team? Yeah, it was kind of... [laughs] quite chal­leng­ing in that re­spect. And this time the nar­ra­tive team is big­ger. We had a team that was de­voted to sid­e­quests, and we had the crit­i­cal-path team work­ing on the main story. Then we had some peo­ple who are de­voted to the liv­ing world, and fill­ing that in. And some­one de­voted to en­vi­ron­men­tal sto­ry­telling. Some­times some­one would steal some­body else’s apart­ment for their story, and we had to move things around. The de­bates are con­sid­er­ably im­proved this time around. How did you make that hap­pen? In Hu­man Revo­lu­tion we had a ran­dom com­po­nent: we didn’t know what ‘at­tack’ the NPC was go­ing to throw out. He had three things he could say, and we didn’t know which one would be com­ing. We took a lit­tle bit of that out to try and make it so we could con­trol the flow a bit. We tested it with the team – we had this in­ter­nal doc­u­ment so you could ac­tu­ally play it in text form – and then we would get feed­back and tweak. Out of every­thing in the game, they’re some of the things that get the most rewrit­ing. The act­ing feels a lit­tle un­even. Would you agree that Elias Toufexis is ex­cel­lent as Adam Jensen, while oth­ers ex­ist in his shadow a bit? I think you’re prob­a­bly right. Elias has been do­ing this char­ac­ter for a long time now. We were mak­ing Hu­man Revo­lu­tion for four years – it wasn’t just a three-month ses­sion for him – and he tells a joke about how if he’d known when he au­di­tioned it was go­ing to be a fouryear job he would have been a lot more ner­vous. So he’s re­ally got­ten into that char­ac­ter. He knows it; we can get him into a ses­sion, and he just de­liv­ers it ev­ery time. With the other ac­tors, some­times it’s just that we’re do­ing pick­ups of scenes. You have the whole scene [and need to change some­thing], but you don’t do the whole scene again, you just get the pickup, and that throws some of the qual­ity off. I do agree – I think we got the best we could get, and ev­ery­body did a great job, but it’s hard to get that same level of qual­ity across the board. Moral am­bi­gu­ity is a cen­tral theme, but very of­ten you’re deal­ing with top­ics where there only re­ally seems to be one ‘right’ de­ci­sion. How do you make the player ques­tion their nat­u­ral in­stinct to be good? We get asked that a lot, be­cause we’re deal­ing with top­ics that, in peo­ple’s minds, are very black-and-white. How do we ap­proach that? We don’t ever want to make a state­ment for you; we want to let you see all sides, and let you de­cide for your­self. That’s hard, be­cause you have to ap­proach an is­sue that you might feel very strongly about, and try to find the other side of it. It’s a very tough job – it makes you aware of your own bi­ases as you’re writ­ing. Mankind Di­vided deals with themes that have in­spired par­tic­u­larly fierce re­ac­tions in parts of the game com­mu­nity. What’s your re­ac­tion to that? We’ve been work­ing on Deus Ex [games] for ten years, deal­ing with the top­ics of op­pres­sion and seg­re­ga­tion. With Mankind Di­vided, we took it fur­ther. We started work on this game right af­ter Hu­man Revo­lu­tion – be­fore a lot of these things came to a head [in the real world]. We’re writ­ing about sen­si­tive top­ics, but we’re do­ing it be­cause they’re a part of our uni­verse – and our uni­verse is about hold­ing up a mir­ror to the [real] world. I think it’s very im­por­tant that we face up to these is­sues. The videogames I want to work on are games that have depth, and have mean­ing. We don’t want to of­fend peo­ple, but we live in a so­ci­ety where ev­ery­body will re­act differently. I can only por­tray, to the best of my abil­ity, what I am see­ing out there.

That said, when the Paris at­tacks hap­pened, I was at home think­ing, ‘Oh, God, are we do­ing this cor­rectly?’ I went back into work on the Mon­day and said to the team, ‘Look, we’ve got to take a sec­ond look at how we’re ap­proach­ing some of this, and make sure it’s on­line with re­al­ity’.

“We’ve been deal­ing with the top­ics of op­pres­sion and seg­re­ga­tion for ten years. Here, we took it fur­ther”

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