How did the combination of Deus Ex's brand of cyberpunk, the Greek myth of Icarus and baroque fashions almost turn Deus Ex: Human Revolution into a futuristic Renaissance fair? With very good intentions by the new Deus Ex team.
Eidos Montreal art director Jonathan Jacques-Belletete offered an in-depth, behind the scenes look at the art direction of Deus Ex: Human Revolution at this week's Game Developers Conference, a prequel that started, in his words, "literally from nothing." His talk on "Creating a Unique Visual Direction" explained how the Icarus myth and the Renaissance served as the two main analogies for the third Deus Ex game. One look at the game's newest trailer will show the influence of Icarus and Daedalus—the metaphor is one of succumbing to the lust of becoming something more than human—but the impact of Renaissance era clothing may not be as obvious.
Jacques-Belletete says the Eidos Montreal development team did plenty of work on the cyberpunk side of things, ensuring that design archetypes like nighttime scenes, fog and smoke, clutter, the not-so-distant future, and transhumanism (power suits, cybernetics, artificial limbs) were well represented. Those archetypes, Jacques-Belletete said, represented the art direction of the original Deus Ex.
Art direction for Deus Ex: Human Revolution needed to find its own "voice," Jacques-Belletete said, citing the unattributed quote "Don't expect anything original from an echo."
For Deus Ex 3, the art director chose to favor "illustration over simulation" and create desire for the game by giving it design distinction. He wanted to create a visually unique game a la BioShock or Team Fortress 2, avoiding the aesthetic of Killzone 2, Huxley, Gears of War, Dark Sector, GRAW and more.
How to do that? Start with future Renaissance wear that referenced hallmarks like balloon sleeves, ruff collars and unique fabric patterns. The initial ideas from concept artists Jim Murray and Theirry Doizon were a little too, well, puffy.
Jacques-Belletete realized "my guys have been drawing guys with guns and chainsaws" for years; they weren't fashion designers. "If I could have done it all over again, I would have hired a real fashion designer to create a foundation for my concept artists," he said, but didn't have the budget for it.
Initial designs, while concept art-cool, also looked borderline goofy. Jacques-Belletete says he flirted with having only the upper class wear puffed out pants and shirts, but decided to tone things down.
Ultimately, though, the concept art team refined its vision, demanding that Deus Ex 3's costumes "look credible and almost wearable today," fit within a cyberpunk aesthetic, look cool and have a style of its own. That soon clicked with the character design of one female, a sleek, dark futuristic concept that had subtle references to the high collars and balloon sleeves of Renaissance wear. That toned down, 16th century inspired future fashion extended beyond Human Revolution's fashion, with enemy soldiers sporting high collared armor, extra padding on the shoulders and thighs to allude to the fashion of the day.
Those soldiers even sport Conquistador-like helmets and raised, geometric fabric patterns on their uniforms.
The cyber-Renaissance visual design choices extended to the hero of Deus Ex 3, Adam Jensen. He has a Don Quixote-style goatee, for example, and wears a sleek, slightly puffed coat. But he also has augmented cybernetic arms, spindly mechanical limbs that the player will see in first-person view. Adam, Jacques-Belletet said, must "look like someone who can kick your ass, then go home to read a good book."
Another major priority? Making sure that Adam didn't look like a "douchebag," said Jacques-Belletete.
The baroque design sense also extended to the game architecture and props. At times, a bit too much, admitted Jacques-Belletete, as he originally envisioned buildings, light fixtures and even the game's crates all based on the elevation plans of churches and castles.
Some of those choices still exist in the game, as the world's window frames are based on those floor plans. But the majority of the game's architecture is based on the work the modern architects are doing, filtered through the anticipation of the not-so-distant future.
Conceptually, Deus Ex: Human Revolution looks to have pulled off its odd combination of futuristic cyberpunk and 16th century style, with just the right amount of pants puff. We'll know well the rest of Deus Ex: Human Revolution's development went when the game ships sometime in 2011.