Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Certain defenders of Human Revolution frustrate me with a specific thing they do

Deus Ex came out in the year 2000.  Some of the same team stayed on for the sequel, Invisible War, which came out in 2003.

Let's talk about Invisible War first because its supporters don't do the thing that frustrates me from Human Revolution supporters.

The first problem the team for Invisible War faced was that Deus Ex had three massively different mutually exclusive endings.  You see, in Deus Ex the main character is supported and directed by a hastily cobbled together coalition.  In the face of a common enemy that is on verge of world conquest, groups that would normally hate each other work together.  There's no illusion there, right in the middle one character points out that if not for the common enemy, her faction would be fighting just as hard against the ally she's helping recruit.

Throughout the whole game you have people with three competing ideologies supporting you, manipulating you, and pushing you forward.  Then, at the end, they do exactly what you'd expect: they fracture.

One group says that the system doesn't work so you should burn the whole thing down, throw the world into a dark age, and have faith that people will rebuild things better if you give them a fresh start.

One group says that the system doesn't work because it's being run by usurpers.  If you put the right people back in power then the system will work.

And finally you've got the option to try a brand new system, instead of resetting things for a fresh start you'd be catapulting forward into something new in hopes that that will be better.

The states of the world are completely different after each ending so a sequel (as opposed to, say, a side story) that followed one could not possibly fit in the world of either of the others.

It looked like Invisible War was going to have to canonize one ending and tell the supporters of the other two, "So sorry, you don't count."

Then one of the team came up with a way of weaving together elements of all three endings that, the team felt, supported and contradicted each more or less equally.

So the Invisible War development team announced, "We're doing an AU where things didn't follow any of the endings.  There will be connection without continuity."  And people were pretty much fine with that.

When Invisible War came out, people found things to hate, but no one had a huge problem with the fact that it was AU.  People also found things to love.

What people did not find was a powerful need to argue, "No, it's not an AU, it totally works as a straight up sequel that in no way contradicts the original."

Invisible War, though, turned out to be a disaster.  Now fifteen years old, Deus Ex still makes it on lists of the greatest games of all time, usually with a pretty decent ranking.  People naturally had high expectations for the sequel.  Invisible War was fucking crushed by the shadow of Deus Ex.

A game that had been being developed as a sequel to Invisible War had all reference to Deus Ex stripped out of it in hopes of avoiding the same fate, but the damage had been done.

The  team went their separate ways, all rumors of a third game were completely unfounded, the studio closed down, and for years on end nothing happened.  The franchise was dead.

Then Edios, the parent company, opened a new studio, Edios Montreal, and the people at that studio wanted their debut game to make a big fucking splash so they started lobbying itself Eidos to be given the keys to the Deus Ex franchise so they could simultaneously resurrect a beloved franchise and use the name recognition of Deus Ex to put their studio on the map.

A lot of things went wrong.  A lot of things went right.  This post isn't about either.

At first information was sparse.  Then it turned out to be a prequel, as we started getting more and more information there was a lot of, "That looks cool," but also some, "Wait, what?" and eventually, "That's fucking impossible."

Oh, also, we learned the name: Human Revolution.

So interviewers asked.  The art director was a condescending asshole about it, but I think he was the first to come out and say that they weren't even trying to make a game that could fit before Deus Ex so he merits a mention here.

Eventually people who weren't condescending assholes were asked (this is always a good thing; never judge an entire project on the grounds of one person being a condescending asshole.)

What came out when these nice people were asked (and it's worth remembering that the majority of the people working on Human Revolution were nice people) the response was more or less this (paraphrased and synthesized from multiple interviews):
Deus Ex is a decade old, and Invisible War not much more recent.  Things have changed and we have different aims and a different vision of the future.  We're treating this like building a new intellectual property from the ground up in hopes of bringing the Deus Ex experience to a modern audience, which has different aesthetics and expectations.  So Human Revolution will not be a prequel but instead a reboot, and while we'll make sure there are connections to Deus Ex it won't fit in the same continuity.
So, basically, when it comes to continuity it was the same thing that the Invisible War devs said just with a lot of time difference.  It would be an AU that had vaguely the same setting, some of the same characters, similar themes and whatnot, but it would not have continuity with Deus Ex.

This is ... hardly something new.  There are some long running game series where every single installment takes place in a different universe and the connections are broad strokes only.

The thing is, people accepted the Invisible War developers at their word when they said they were making an AU game that didn't fit in the same timeline.

With Human Revolution something else has happened.  I worry, more or less every time I tell people about Deus Ex and how the series fits together that I'm going to run into that kind of Human Revolution fan.

What kind?  The people who are all, "No, the ones who actually made the game don't know what the fuck they're talking about, Human Revolution totally fits as prequel in the same universe in the same timeline.  Now that you've implied otherwise I demand that you justify yourself to me and PROVE that it doesn't fit.  ... What's that?  You have evidence?  Well fuck your evidence because X, Y, and Z that don't actually address the point at hand. ... I don't care what was fucking canon in Deus Ex because the possible explanations for how that could come to pass don't satisfy me"

Pause, for a moment to note that sometimes the possible explanations (fanwanks basically) are really truly not at all satisfying.  The thing is, that doesn't change the fact that the things that don't have good satisfying explanations are canon.

It's like Star Trek.  The Heisenberg compensator is bullshit.  We all know the Heisenberg compensator is bullshit.  There are laws of physics that say the Heisenberg compensator must be bullshit.  That doesn't matter.  It's cannon that Star Trek has Heisnberg compensators which is what allows their brand of teleportation to work.

No matter how well you argue that a Heisenberg compenstor is bullshit, it doesn't change the fact that it's canon that Star Trek has them and thus can (and does) have Star Trek style transporters.


"therefore what is canonical did not happen and since it did not happen Human Revolution cannot possibly contradict it so you're wrong and the developers are wrong and everyone other than me and mine are wrong and Human Revolution is a perfectly valid same continuity prequel that doesn't contradict Deus Ex even a little."

And that really fucking frustrates me.

Even if there weren't a scrap of evidence that Human Revolution is alternate timeline to Deus Ex, the people who made Human Revolution fucking said it was before they released the game and thus before these assholes ever played it.

They did more than that, they offered up their various reasons for choosing to make a game that didn't fit in the Deus Ex timeline.  They did it knowingly and they had ways to justify it to themselves and others.

So why the fuck does it suddenly fall upon me to justify saying it's not in the same timeline when the people who made the damn thing announced that, along with the reasons why they thought it was a legitimate artistic decision, before anyone other than them ever even played the game?

I don't like the fact that I can't say how the games fit together (broad strokes only, details need not apply) without being shouted down by lengthy screeds from people who claim they know better than the makers.

I'm a detail person and I want to be able to tell other people, who may also be detail people, that the second and third games didn't even try to keep the details straight because they were set in alternate, but very similar, timelines/universes.

Also because for story people like myself Deus Ex was very much a detail hunting game.  To understand thing A you might have to combine a line from email γ and book x in spite of them being located in different levels on different continents.  There was seriously a nuclear war you could fail to learn about if you didn't stop to read the book on a coffee table during a hostage situation.  (Well, the book didn't evaporate so you could deal with the hostage situation first, but that's not the point)  Trying to do the same between games results in contradictions and divide by cheese errors.

It's not a point against the games.  It would be if they were marketed as all being perfectly consistent but they weren't.  The developers of both Invisible War and Human Revolution were kind enough to tell people before the games could be preordered much less played, that they weren't going to be consistent and weren't even trying for it because they had other priorities.

1 comment:

  1. That sounds incredibly frustrating. I wish I had something helpful to say. The closest thing I've felt to what you describe is arguing with my dad about Lola's gender in the song "Lola" by the Kinks (she uses feminine pronouns throughout the song!), and I've never played any of the Deus Ex games.