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Title: Deus Ex: HR - Review Augmentation
Posted: October 10, 2011 (11:07 AM)
I have now completed the Deus Ex: HR review, and I have done it without talking at length about oblique comparisons with the original. *bows*

In any case. Deus Ex: Human Revolution is made by a very new studio. It's a somewhat daring project. And you expect some sort of fault somewhere when it comes to polish, plot, or some of the technical solutions.

That thankfully didn't happen with DE:HR. In terms of presentation, the game is very polished, and the only thing you really notice with the game is that the cutscenes between the missions are pre-rendered sequences in different detail than the in-game scenes (it's a low-res upscale or very compressed video of some sort).

I am guessing that what happened here was that development of these cutscene sequences is based on an early completed build of the artwork sent to an external studio. And that for the most part, these cutscenes were intended to include detail, object interference and lighting effects that it was assumed would not run in the game-engine on all the platforms. This could be things like complex shadows, facial expressions that would have to be individually animated, or having objects, say, smashed into a wall with 30cs long pieces of security-glass stuck through their stomach. And putting this into the game-engine might have looked worse without much more work.

Unfortunately, the cutscenes often take place in areas that the game-engine parts also takes place in later. And you see that by the end of the game, some of the in-game sequences actually look better than the cutscenes in every way.

I'm obviously just guessing here. But it could be that as the team grew more confident with their tools, they discovered that some of these sequences could be created with more interaction in game-time than expected, and then went for it. That obviously paid off, because these moving sequences in the game are among the most pleasant to look at in the game. In spite of the somewhat artificial models and faces.

The camera movement should also be mentioned along with this. During gameplay, when switching between first person and third person, as well as when the camera is moving around during the debate sequences, is something that is used for very good effect cinematically. Bobbing up and down tends to be something your eye struggles with, because you are not the one actually bobbing up and down, after all. In DE:HR it is done in such a way that you start to accept it as natural.

I think it's done by simply projecting the bobbing in the way you would perceive it, rather than the way it appears to a camera if you bob it up and down while walking. And you can see an amount of subtle touches like this throughout the game.

The cover-mechanic was perhaps one part where that "illusion" approach didn't truly work that well, even if it still was successful. If we compare with for example Uncharted, the cover-animation in DE:HR is very simplistic. You have two states, one crouching and one standing. And you transition between objects by moving to the end of the cover, and then hitting the action button.

The game then has two "roll out" animations depending on how you end up at the other end. And while Uncharted chose an approach to make several different types of randomly chosen animation while moving into and around cover of different height and distance between, and so on, DE: HR simply has one limited set of animation.

That it is successful anyway is because you don't actually see the animation itself when you make the transitions around corners when you go out of cover, and whenever you would do a snap to cover. In fact, it's in first person while you walk there, and then you transition to third person after the "animation" is complete. Doors are opened in third person by an invisible hand, etc.

So there you go. About a thousand animation work hours saved :p

You do see it eventually, though, and sometimes when leaning out of cover, there is a mismatch between what you do and where you end up outside the cover. And that is a bit grating. Overall, however, it does work, and in many ways it is more immersive to see your character, and then scoop into first person mode automatically when moving ahead.

It's also a good solution for getting the overview, in a way that Deus Ex never let you have. I honestly don't know how many times I got spotted while accidentally moving 1mm too far outside of a wall in Deus Ex. And that system is thankfully gone in DE:HR. In fact, all the mechanics to move around in DE:HR are massively better in HR than in the original.

When it comes to the graphics, I need to mention another thing as well. The game's engine is a type of deferred rendering engine, meaning that it programmatically reduces the scene complexity partially before sending it to the rendering context. This is used very effectively to increase the amount of tiny little objects, and for streaming resources to avoid loading screens, etc. Even on the disc-only version on the xbox, this works really well, and give you a fairly clear image even when a lot of things happen on the screen at the same time. Typical tells such as slower frequency animation in the background, and so on is also something this game avoided.

It also dynamically change the palette when you go from area to area, as well as allow lighting and shadows to travel between objects in the scene seamlessly.

Small drawbacks exist, though. Such as the black halo around the objects when close to the viewport, while they are close to other surfaces. This is probably part of the software based anti-aliasing model used on all the platforms (FXAA - Fast Approximate Anti-aliasing to Morphological anti-aliasing depending on settings), where the palette threshold is used to determine which surfaces to process and what to skip.

The thing here is that while the halo sometimes is visible (specially if you turn off the object highlight, a setting for your ocular implants), it doesn't actually draw your attention. So if the choice was between this and less angles and objects around the levels, there is no problem preferring this.

Sound was slightly less impressive in the end, though. The sound production has the usual environment filters, and some very neat extra setups with some objects (such as the patrolling police-bots, or events during the cutscenes). But otherwise, the approach is as minimal as the mentioned cover-mechanic: it's always sounds generated by objects in the world, and aside from passersby talking, sometimes it's completely silent. It is effective, though -like the graphics - and sound does sometimes help you orient yourself very easily.

Yes.. there are these moments in the game where music, sound and the gun - or your fist - comes together very well during normal gameplay.

-------

A few sentences on plot and characters towards the end. Transhumanism is not an ideology, but more of an idea or an independent philosophy. Approaching it in fiction can be as simple as describing everyday activity set in the future. What would have changed, how would your behavior have changed in the new setting.

Future Detroit in HR is such a setting. And a lot of the questions the writers ask are of this kind: how will future technology help, if at all, in solving Future Detroit's problems? Are they dependent on the people, rather than the technology in any form it would take?

And then - is there a limit to that thought as well? Is there a point where technology will truly take center stage and dominate the future development of humankind - to an extent that it cannot be stopped? If so, will that change be instigated by too weak humans, or in what way will it take place? Are there costs involved? Do they matter, when events are out of our control? What if we are simply doing damage control every step of the way towards a cataclysmic end, even though we believe it is in our power to control the future?

DE: HR visit a lot of these questions, but only indirectly. Instead of boring you to tears with sermons about theories, it explains all of this to you in examples. Instead of debating the merits of "pure humans" and why it would be required to understand how humanity can develop - against the merit of enhancing humans for everyone to achieve happiness that would otherwise have been out of reach. Instead of this, they simply present you with scenarios that explain each side with very few words.

While this won't score too high with professors and philosophy students, it's actually very impressive how well Eidos Montreal pulled this off. By including a lot of interesting thoughts, but without requiring you to understand all the concepts on beforehand.
[reply]

fleinnUser: fleinn
Title: Re: Deus Ex: HR - Review Augmentation
Posted: October 10, 2011 (11:11 AM)
...
[reply]

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