Indigo Prophecy Aims to Revolutionize Interactive Storytelling

“Indigo Prophecy is basically a movie in which the player controls the hero. His actions can modify the way the story is told.”

The best games are the games you don’t expect. Indigo Prophecy (known as Fahrenheit outside the United States) is set to be one of those games. You look at it and think, “This looks good.” You read the story synopsis and discover that it’s one of the most intriguing concepts to come out of the game industry. Then you hear what the director and writer, David Cage, has to say about it and become obsessed with the idea of being immersed in the game’s mind-bending world.
Indigo Prophecy is anything but typical. It’s anything but a clone or a knock-off or a game that was reportedly “inspired” by other hit games. What we have here is an original concept. An idea that’s both risky and brilliant. And it could forever change the way stories are told in video games. Who knows? It might even teach Hollywood a thing or two.
Based in our world, not some futuristic playground, Indigo Prophecy tells the story of a world gone mad. Murder fills the streets, and it quickly becomes apparent that these murders were not committed out of cold blood. People are killing each other for no reason, and no one seems to have the will to stop it.
That’s just a taste of the roller coaster ride that players will take when the game is released in September.
Want to know more? You should because David Cage has a lot to say. If you’re not intrigued now, mark my words: you will be by the end of this interview.

The concept of a man who unwillingly (or is it unknowingly?) commits murder and then teams up with the woman who is supposed to bring him to justice – that sounds like the concept for a movie. What was this idea derived from? Was the game in development before this idea was finalized?

David Cage: The initial idea of Indigo Prophecy was to create a way to physically play with a story. In most game, the story is just a kind of alibi to link levels together, there is often no real attention paid to the scenario as it is not perceived as a central element of the experience.
Indigo Prophecy tries to put the story at the center of the experience, make it the core engine, the reason why you want to play more. It is not an added layer to justify action, it is the experience itself. I also wanted to focus on emotions. I believe that most games offer a very limited range of emotions (excitation, fear, anger, competition) where movies offer a much wider range, which make the experience much more interesting by adding depth and meaning.
With these goals in mind, I tried to work on a solid story and I paid a lot of attention to characters. I wanted them to be real living characters with a private life, a past, tastes, relatives, all these things that would make that the player would actually see them as real characters rather than just like a bunch of pixels on screen.
Most of all, I did not want them to be all black or all white, but rather like real persons, having doubts, weaknesses, inner fears. Lucas Kane is accused of a murder is has not really committed. The game starts when he is already in a situation of rupture: he broke up with his ex-girlfriend, he has not seen his brother for years. These elements contribute to make him really human. He has nothing to do with the typical video game hero, he has no big muscles, no weapon, really nothing special and this is exactly what makes him so appealing. It could have happened to anyone.
Another important element for me in matter of storytelling was the fact that I wanted the story to progress through player's actions. In many games, the story progresses only through inter-levels cut scenes as action scenes; [they] do not allow [you] to tell anything. In IP, it is the player's actions that make the story progress, which creates a very fluid experience where narrative and interactivity are truly blended.
Back to your question, the story was fully written before the development started. The amount of data required was so huge that it would have been impossible to write the scenario on-the-fly. Everything had to be written in stone before the production started, like a real movie. I did not work thinking of a movie but only of creating this kind of new narrative experience. IP is basically a movie in which the player controls the hero. His actions can modify the way the story is told. It borrows a lot to the cinema narrative and visual language, but I hope it also brings some original contributions to create a new language for interactive narrative.
There could be a movie adapted from the game, but that was not the initial goal of IP.

Who are the other characters that are committing murder or being murdered? Do any of them have significance to the story?

DC: Lucas Kane killed a total stranger in a state of trance in the restrooms of a diner. He felt like a puppet on strings, he could see everything but could not stop himself. He committed this murder following a very precise ritual : he drew strange symbols on his forearms, and killed his victim with three stabs cutting the arteries leading to the heart.
As the player, you will be in control of Lucas, trying to escape the police in order to understand what happened to him, but also of Carla Valenti, a female cop in charge of the case. During her investigation, she will discover that other murders happened in the past in the same circumstances and with exactly the same ritual.
While she investigates, other similar murders will happen. Is it Lucas Kane again? Is it one of several other murders following all the same ritual? This is a part of the mystery the player will have to discover.

Are these occurrences visualized? Will we witness the lead character committing murder?

DC: The game opens by the scene where Lucas Kane kills someone in a state of trance in the restrooms of a Diner. After the murder, he becomes himself again and realizes what just happened. From now, his life has completely changed. He is now a murderer.
The decision to open the game with the lead character committing a murder was not an easy one. When the project started, many people had doubts about the fact that the player would sympathize with a murderer and would like to play with him. My bet was exactly the opposite : people would immediately feel empathy for him because no one would like to be accused of something we did not really do. Starting with a strong look like the murder scene also immediately sucks the player into the story.

Do you get a taste of what the characters' lives were like before these catastrophic events?

DC: One of the strong aspects of IP is that you share the character's intimate lives. You start to know them exactly like characters in tv series : you know who they are, how they think, how they react, where they live, what their tastes are, etc. This aspect is really strong in the game, after the first two hours of game play, you really feel like these characters really exist and that you know them.

The player's mission is to uncover the supernatural forces behind Lucas Kane's crime before he's incarcerated for life. Supernatural forces...does this mean he'll be able to acquire some kind of power to defend himself?

DC: Lucas will slowly discover that since the murder happened, he has some strange new possibilities, things that he was not able to do before. The first sign is that he can foresee events a couple of minutes before they happen for real. This is just the beginning. Soon, he will discover he is now able to do incredible things.
During the story, you will also be confronted with playable flashbacks in the past of some characters that may tell you important things about their present.

Talking about that, let's go over the key gameplay features. Indigo Prophecy is referred to as a paranormal thriller, which hopefully means an on-the-edge-of-your-seat experience. But what will we actually be doing? Is this an action game? Is there a lot of fighting?

DC: IP is difficult to put in a category. I decided it is an "interactive drama." Some journalists wrote it is the first real interactive movie, the first game where you play (you don't watch passively) in the context of a strong storyline, others wrote that IP is what comes after video games.
I guess it is also close to adventure games in a certain way, although it is fast paced, not based on inventories or 2D puzzles, and it has some very spectacular action sequences. In IP, you can do anything you would expect the hero of a movie to do. There is on real limit and the game is not based on patterns or mechanics.
So really, it is difficult to categorize this game. All I can say it that it is a very different kind of experience.

I keep hearing about Indigo Prophecy's interactive cinema feature. I've also heard that players can experience the game from multiple viewpoints through multiple characters. Please explain this in as much detail as possible.

DC: My goal was to create an experience where player's actions would modify the story. This concept presents many technical difficulties: too many tree branches may quickly become impossible to control while having just one story would basically create a very linear experience.
IP is based on a narrative technique I call Bending Stories. I consider my story like a rubber band. The player by his actions can stretch the rubber band or deform it. Whatever he does, the rubber band, the structure of the story, will always be there and will guarantee the quality and the pacing of the narrative. This concept becomes particularly interesting when you allow rubber bands to stretch each others: what the player did in the first scene can modify the tenth scene for example not only with one element, but with many events affecting the plot.
This simple concept is really powerful. It shows that it is possible to tell any kind of stories and to make them real interactive experiences.
This idea is reinforced by the fact that the player does not only control only one character, but all the main characters of the scenario. He plays Lucas Kane and Carla Valenti, the cop in charge of the case, but also other secondary characters. What he will do with one character in a scene may affect what he will have to do with another characters. Carla's investigation entirely depends on Lucas' actions after the diner, the clues he left, the witnesses who saw him, his behavior, etc.

Can you play as more than one character, or is the viewpoint changing feature strictly used to tell the story?

In IP, there is no different between "play" and "tell." You tell the story when you play, you play as you tell the story. In IP you can control all the main characters of the story.

What are the game worlds going to be like? Indigo Prophecy is set in New York City's near future...

For this experience, I wanted to use a world really close to ours. I wanted the entry point to the experience to be extremely accessible to all audience. No flying vehicles in the streets, no giant robots, no laser guns, just our world today. It is more difficult in many ways, because people have reality as a reference. If something is not consistent, they will be able to tell. But at the same time, I wanted players to be focused on the story and the characters, and not be distracted by the world. It is also a subtle way to take their hands in confidence because they think they know where they are, and take them slowly where I want. It was also a very exciting challenge for me to try to show our world in a different way, to suggest that maybe the world is not always what we think it is.

How does the game utilize cause and effect?

Each action can have consequences. Some are immediate, others are delayed, some are obvious, others are subtler. Some actions will affect the story, give access to a specific scene, give special information, or modify the character's Mental Health. Causes and effects are the core mechanic of IP.

Few games have had the power to immerse players in the story on an emotional level. What's different about Indigo Prophecy that makes you believe that we will become more attached to this game?

Very few games have been entirely based on emotions. The emotional involvement is usually a kind of side effect; it is rarely the core engine of an experience.
The story creates a strong emotional involvement. People seem really sucked into the story. They want to play more to know what will happen next.
I think IP also does a great job with characters. They have a private life, feelings, a personality, relationships. Gamers quickly feel very close to them because they are normal people living extraordinary events.
Last but not least, interactivity is not an added layer, it is a key component of the immersion thanks to an interface creating physical immersion. Interactivity and narrative work closely together, and this is what makes IP really unique to me.

Do you plan to apply interactive cinema techniques to future game projects?

Definitely. We learned a lot in writing and developing IP about storytelling, narrative, directing, virtual actors, interface, characterization and more. We want to use this unique expertise in our future projects, maybe in different forms. I strongly believe that what we have discovered bears lessons that go beyond this title and that could be used in different types of experiences.

Anything else you wish to share about the game?

A lot of gamers [distance themselves from] games because they feel they are all the same, always about Second World War, cars or zombies. IP is really different. No weapons, no mass destruction, no evil monsters, just a story and the ambition to generate more complex emotions for the player.
If players always buy the same types of games, publishers will give them more of the same and soon people won't have [a] choice anymore. Gamers should understand that they can support innovation and send the message to this industry that they want more ambition and less clones. IP is in this category and I hope that although it is different, not based on an existing IP or violence, gamers will give it a chance to seduce them and to prove that it is possible to make games in a different way.

Well said.
Thank you for your time.

Autor: Louis Bedigian

Indigo Prophecy Aims to Revolutionize Interactive Storytelling Tuesday, August 16, 2005

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