Exclusive: Fahrenheit Q&A

TVG chats to the vision behind the long-awaited adventure...

It was way back in 1998 that yours truly first caught an insight into a striking game from Quantic Dream that was both innovative and fresh. Fahrenheit was trying to move in a new direction with dialogue and interaction that included emotions as well as having a plausible story and character cast and it certainly was a title to keep close tabs on. Not only was the technology behind the game trying to set new benchmarks but the passion of David Cage, the writer and inspiration behind the game, was infectious, once you understood his vision.

Now seven years on a number of publishers have shared David’s vision and a new one, Atari, takes on the role of seeing the years of effort come to fruition, hopefully soon. Derek dela Fuente spoke with David to see how the game may have changed and if time may have lessened his enthusiasm and goals.

TVG: Before we begin, perhaps you could outline the storyline that lurks beneath Fahrenheit, and perhaps the methods in which you present this to the player?

Some strange murders have occurred in New York. Normal people seem to become mad in public places, they kill people without any reason in a sort of state of trance. They take the first knife they can find and kill their victims with three stabs in the heart. Although there is no link between the victims and no link between the murderers, all crimes follow exactly the same unexplained ritual. This is exactly what will happen to Lucas Kane, when he kills someone in the restroom of a diner.

From then on, he becomes a murderer wanted by the police. While he starts to have strange visions, his only goal will be to stay free and not become mad, until he can discover the truth.

The player will also be in control of Carla Valenti, a young female cop who is in charge of the case. Like Lucas, her only goal is to discover the truth. Both characters will get different pieces of the puzzle from their two different perspectives.

For Fahrenheit, my main issue was to find a way to tell a story that would be really interactive, without creating tons of branches and while preserving the quality, the consistency and the pacing of my story.

So I wrote Fahrenheit with a special writing technique I call ‚Bending Stories’. I consider my story like a rubber band. By his actions, the player can stretch or deform the story. But whatever he does, the core story will always be there. This technique can be adapted to any kind of story. It works quite well in Fahrenheit and allows us to really tell a story while offering a large amount of ways for the player to play with it.

TVG: We’ve kept close tabs on the game since around 1998. Do you still have the same passion and belief in Fahrenheit as when the project first began?

Absolutely. It is always a strange experience to have an idea one morning that will fill your life for the next two years. My initial goal was to see how I could design an experience based on storytelling, characters and emotions rather than on guns and zombies.

I see Fahrenheit as a different kind of experience, an answer to a lot of questions I was asking myself about interactivity, storytelling, and about the possibility to make games differently. I still have the same belief, although I had doubts all the way just because this was really new and so different from other games, that you ask yourself everyday if you are sure you are doing the right thing…

At the end of the day, players will decide. For myself, I am proud of what we have done and I truly hope that people will like the game although it is really different from what they already know, and in many ways that may not instantly be apparent to the eye.

TVG: How much has the game possibly evolved and changed since the early concept?

My games don't change much from my initial idea to the final product. I am used to having an extremely detailed game design document before starting the development (Fahrenheit’s game design is about 2000 pages).

All the same, I like to leave space for discoveries during the production, see what works and what doesn’t. I like to know where the possible holes are in my concept and prepare other options if something does not work. Usually, some great ideas come in the late months of the dev. I think it is important to be prepared to change or add what the game needs when it is assembled. An important idea, like the mental health management, for example, came late in the process. I wanted to have significant moral choices in the game, but the game needed something to make them more concrete for the player. When the problem became obvious, we quickly found the solution and implemented it.

TVG: How many are currently working on the game for there was once a team of 40 focused on the title?

At the maximum, the production team was close to 75 people, which is quite a big team. Fahrenheit uses an incredible quantity of data, especially graphics and animations. The game is now at the Beta stage. We still have about 30 people working on the game to debug and balance the game play.

TVG: After the cancellation of the publishing agreement between Quantic Dream and Vivendi-Universal along with the lengthy development period, some gamers might be suspicious about Fahrenheit; what can you tell us anything about the long delay and change of publisher?

The process of Fahrenheit was quite long, from the initial idea, the writing, convincing a publisher, took us about two years. But the production of the game itself took us two years, which is quite standard in this industry. I am used to talking very early about my new concepts, so people hear about Fahrenheit for a while, but the game production started on March 2003.

About Vivendi, a lot of things happened since we signed. We strongly believed in our title, and given the internal difficulties within the group, we thought that VUG was unable to give the appropriate attention to this product. As a lot of people were interested in the title, we chose the most enthusiastic and the one able to make it a success on console in the U.S. This change was extremely positive both for the title and for my company. It allowed us to focus on the game and move forward without any other consideration than making the best game we can.

I don't think that gamers will be suspicious because we work for a while on the product. They are suspicious about games done in twelve months based on a poor movie licence, not about games done with that level of passion and involvement. They will read the previews, learn about the game and its unique features, give a look at the screenshots, play the demo and decide for themselves if they like the game or not. These are the only things that really matter.

TVG: Over 4 years is a long time in terms of a game specification – so how have you managed to keep the game in the forefront of current game specs/trends and have you adapted the game’s engine (ICE) so it still offers that important wow factor?

The game’s technical specifications were done two years ago. From all the journalists who played the game so far, the feedback is excellent, including on the graphic side. The wow factor seems to be there, not only from graphics, but also from the animations (all the game is animated in optical motion capture), the quality of directing and the originality of the game play. We paid a lot of attention to the quality of the graphics and the way they reinforce the atmosphere. On Fahrenheit, we have put a lot of effort in finding the right photography and colorimetric, the same way directors do for a movie.

TVG: You once spoke about an episodic series based around a central idea and also using the visual and narrative richness of a movie without losing the interactivity of a game. Does Fahrenheit still offer you the vehicle to achieve many of your ideals and are you still working to the premise of creating a game like they would a TV series. Could you explain your vision to our new readers!?

Fahrenheit allowed me to try a lot of different ideas about how to merge cinema and interactivity without sacrificing one to the other. I wanted to create a game that would be story-driven, accessible to all audiences, and show that interactivity can become a wonderful expression media and not only a toy for kids. My vision is that immersion, identification and emotions are the key to create a great experience.

Most games believe that interacting is exclusively about using weapons, driving cars and killing or destruction. Games are about interacting, but you can interact in so many different ways, we have not explored many yet.

I am still very interested in the episodic format, and we are exploring some very interesting possibilities. I believe in the episodic format both as an exciting format on a creative point of view, but also as an interesting business model to distribute content online on a regular basis both on PC and next gen consoles.

TVG: For those that haven’t been following the development of Fahrenheit, perhaps you could tell the readers some of the unique qualities the game will offer and do you feel in general most developers are now working to a basic formula and the creative spirit is now low on their priority list?

The biggest quality Fahrenheit has to offer is to be different. I don't know if people will like it or not, but it will really be a new kind of experience. Some players may even be disturbed, as it does not refer to the traditional game conventions, but I hope they will give the game a chance and appreciate its depth and diversity.

Regarding developers, the major issue is that it is more and more difficult to create original games in this industry. Most publishers want to do ‚me-too’ products and think they will secure sales this way. They tend to see new concepts as highly risky. The result is that we are producing the same games over and over again for the last ten years. Very few new concepts have appeared, all we do is make one more first person shooter or RTS with one feature the competitors won't have. Gamers are getting tired of playing always the same games.

As publishers don't dare to take risks and finance new concepts, developers tend to be shyer and only propose traditional game concepts because they think they will have more chances to sell it.

Publishers should now understand that they need new ideas if they want to keep their business. We need to have a vision for the next five years of our industry. If people think that they will increase their market by making two hundred first person shooter games per year, they may well be deceived. Creating new concepts and new franchises is a challenge for developers and publishers, but this is what is really appealing and exciting in this industry.

TVG: Do you still create your own tools and work with Motion Capture? Can you tell us why you use MC?

When I started working on Fahrenheit, I wanted to push the boundaries of animation. I wanted actors that move like actors and incredible Hollywood style action scenes. I knew that working with a Motion Capture company, I would be extremely limited in what I would try and get. I felt that I needed to experiment and integrate MoCap from the recording set. There also had to be a correlation with the 3D engine along with understanding how MoCap works.

We then we decided to buy our own optical MoCap studio.

Fahrenheit uses more than 12 hours of Motion Capture animations recorded with about 50 actors, sportsmen and stuntmen. We recorded ice skating, basketball play, cabled fights ala Matrix and much more.

As the style of the game was realistic, and given the amount of animations the game required, MoCap was definitely the only option.

We have gained a great experience working on the game, and our studio now works for movies, commercials and of course, other games.

TVG: Tell us about the structure of the game, is it basically an adventure game with lots of interaction and puzzles or does it offer much much more and what would you say are its innovative gameplay ideas?

Fahrenheit aims to renew the adventure genre, a genre that has not evolved much over the last ten years. I wanted to cut totally with the traditional conventions of the category, with slow-paced stories, long dialogues, successions of 2D puzzles or unbelievable inventories.

Fahrenheit is exactly the opposite: it is a fast paced game, entirely in real time 3D. There is no inventory and no 2D puzzle. The game is really story-driven. It creates strong context and lets the player decide what he wants to do, affecting the way the story will then evolve.

There is a lot of ambition and innovation in this game. Among the many key features, I can mention the multi-paths story, multiple characters, MultiView (several real time 3D windows opened at the same time, like TV series ‚24’), an original interface based on physical immersion.

TVG: What are some of the goals and objectives for the player?

The main goal of the player is to stay alive to understand why he killed someone in the restroom of this diner.

The core engine of the experience is the story. Players will want to play the game till the end because they will want to know what will happen. The game is really structured like a movie, with suspense and unexpected turns.

TVG: What of 2005 – 2006 for yourself and the team? Are you already working on other ideas and getting excited with other machines?

We are currently working on two new titles for next gen consoles, one of them being ‚Omikron 2’. We were one of the first teams in the world to create a large, fully interactive, real time 3D city. We want to go back to this concept and bring it to the next stage. We are working on very interesting concepts based on procedural storytelling, and a new kind of merger of action and adventure.

Gamers looking for something significantly different to blowing up everything that moves and those who share the belief in the convergence of movies and videogames – particularly in terms of direction and style – would be advised to keep an eye on TVG as you can be sure we’ll have more from Quantic Dream on the intriguing prospect that is shaping up to be Fahrenheit...

Autor: Derek dela Fuente
Source: Total Video Games
Language: English

Exclusive: Fahrenheit Q&A Friday, March 25, 2005

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