The secret behind one of E3's better surprises, plus gameplay details, and just who is that actress with the gun anyway?
An impressive "surprise" demo at this year's E3, Heavy Rain grabbed the attention of a lot of curious show-goers thanks to its excellent visuals, believable actress, and the fact that it's an all-new adventure game from the same folks that brought us 2005's award-winning Indigo Prophecy.
Unfortunately for most of us, a lot of information about the new game wasn't readily available at the show. To help straighten things out, we spoke with the France-based development team, Quantic Dream. Founder and CEO David Cage, COO and Executive Producer Guillaume de Fondaumière, and Lead Character Designer Thierry Prodhomme all chimed in with answers (and allusions) to a number of our most immediate questions. Here's what they had to say:
IGN: The Heavy Rain demo was definitely one of the more impressive games in Sony's booth at E3, how long had the team been working on it prior to the show?
Guillaume de Fondaumière: In fact, we spent less than three months to put the demo together from scratch, which includes developing the PS3 engine, writing the script, making the auditions to find the actress, defining the Mo-Cap techniques and doing some basic R&D for the tongue and hair.
Initially, this demo was a purely internal technical prototype that was not supposed to be shown outside the company. Our original goal was just to define if it was possible to create a next-gen character able to express complex emotions and what it would take on a technical point of view. David Cage wrote a script where the actress would go through different emotions in just a couple of minutes, from the very shy and naïve actress of the beginning to the drama at the end with real-time tears. He also wanted to know if we could make the audience listen to her, care for her and react to her emotions in a similar way than with a real actress.
Sony saw our work-in-progress and asked us for the permission to show it in its booth at E3 to show what could be done in matter of virtual actors on a PlayStation 3. The challenge was that we were only a few weeks away from E3 when the request came in and had not planned to finalize "The Casting" before the end of June.
This video is thus just a technical demo showing only what we were able to create in a limited amount of time. We expect to significantly raise the quality of our characters for our next games. We usually do this type of internal prototype to learn something. The Casting showed us that having a real acting performance with a strong emotional component was now something achievable, although we still have a lot of work to reach the quality bar we are aiming for.
IGN: What resolution was the piece running in? 720p? 1080i? 1080p?
Fondaumière: The demo ran in real-time during E3 on the latest PlayStation 3 development kits on 720p resolution. We have not defined yet what the final resolution of Heavy Rain will be.
IGN: Who was the actress in the lead? She did a pretty good job
David Cage: Aurelie Brancilhon is a French-American actress we met during the audition for this prototype in Paris. I asked her to learn some lines of the final scene of Kill Bill 2, a scene where the actress goes from tears to anger, to see how she could play with emotions. Aurelie was really shy when she came into the room for the casting, and the second she started to play her part, she kind of transformed -- she literally became another person in a few seconds. I was so impressed by her performance that I decided to write a script based on this simple idea to recreate the impression she gave me during this audition and her ability to create a world through acting.
Aurelie is a very talented actress who trusted us enough to allow us to pretend to recreate not only her likeness but also her performance. I am extremely pleased today because the demo was seen by a lot of directors in the movie industry who were impressed by her work and want to collaborate with her.
IGN: Had she worked with your team previously and will she be in the final game? Or was she just onboard for "The Casting?"
Cage: We just met Aurelie through the audition we organized for this prototype. Given the great performance she delivered, I definitely want to give her a role in Heavy Rain (the stupid director in the demo has been fired ;-))
IGN: The animation in her face was fantastic but the lip-synching looked like it wasn't quite finished. What kind of technology is the team using to create this kind of character emotion?
Thierry Prodhomme: This demo is just our first test. We are in the middle of our R&D and artistic research on virtual actors, so we are still far from the final result (although the audio in the AVI is slightly desynchronized compared to the real-time 3D version running on PS3).
Creating emotion on a virtual actor requires the combination of many elements. Graphics or animations are just some of them. We tried to work on the lighting, the directing, the script, the animation of hair, her tongue, and her fingers. It is really the consistent combination of all these elements that create emotion. This is why it is so difficult to achieve.
From a technical standpoint, we used facial motion capture (Vicon Peak's new generation MX40 cameras and system), combined with a muscle system to emulate the complex and subtle moves in the face. We experimented with different things on the lips especially. We wanted to find a way to emulate the elasticity of the tissues and the insane amount of muscles we have in this small area. Having more rigid lips would have given a better short term result, but again, the purpose of this prototype was really to experiment new solutions. The visual result is of course not satisfying yet, but we learnt a lot in the process.
Most techniques and technologies used in this process are proprietary and I cannot say too much about it at this point.
IGN: With that kind of detail on individual characters, how many people can we expect to see populating an environment at once?
Cage: We currently work on massive crowds with a high level of realism, so we plan to have a lot of populated environments in the game. All characters will have this level of quality but we will use techniques like LOD (level of details depending on the distance) to focus the resources on what the player can really see.
IGN: On to game particulars -- is this a direct sequel to Indigo Prophecy? How strong a tie does it have to the original game?
Cage: Heavy Rain is not a sequel to Indigo Prophecy. It is a completely new game with a new story and new characters. Of course, we will build on what we learnt from Indigo Prophecy, but we hope to break new grounds, explore new possibilities and create a very unique emotional experience.
IGN: Heavy Rain sounds like the type of moniker that could have a lot of meanings -- what is the significance behind its title and what exactly is the game about?
Cage: I can't unfortunately reveal too much at this stage on the game. Keeping the story secret is a part of the experience. All I can say is that Heavy Rain will be a very dark film noir thriller with mature themes.
IGN: How much of the story will be grounded in reality? Will it be heavy in the supernatural or science-fiction realms?
Cage:The concept of Heavy Rain is to offer real-life situations with real characters. There are no supernatural elements in the story.
IGN: What sort of improvements to the adventure-style gameplay system are using to take advantage of next-gen technology?
IGN: What kind of interface can we expect to see?
Cage: We want to continue to explore new possibilities regarding interface and interaction. We experiment different solutions to make interface an important component for immersion rather than just a remote control.
IGN: Will there still be a time-sensitive conversation system? Are you going even more complex with it ala Mass Effect?
Cage: Transforming dialogues into actual gameplay rather than boring cutscenes is definitely one of the missions we gave ourselves. That's all we can say for now.
IGN: How interactive do you plan on making the environments?
Cage:All environments will be fully interactive.
IGN: Will Heavy Rain use multiple playable characters like Indigo did? How many people can we expect to control?
Cage: Heavy Rain will offer a different system compared to Indigo. I do not want to divulge further at this stage as the character control mechanism is an essential part in playing Heavy Rain. But yes, the player will have the possibility to control different characters.
IGN: One of our few gripes with Prophecy was the it was on the short side -- how long of a game will Heavy Rain be?
Cage: I personally believe that more and more players think that 10 hours is the right kind of play time for a game. (We have had a lot of positive feedback on the possibility to replay Indigo Prophecy by trying different paths and actually changing the story through player's actions). In Heavy Rain we will of course keep this possibility of changing the story depending on your actions, but the game will be much more "replayable" than Indigo Prophecy is as we will offer a story that can be bended far more.
IGN: Episodic content is becoming more and more popular with games like SiN and Half-Life 2. Any plans to allow for such a thing in Heavy Rain or any downloadable content at all?
Cage: Quantic Dream is one of the teams that has spent most time thinking about episodic gaming (Indigo Prophecy was initially written as an episodic game) and we are regularly consulted on the matter. Heavy Rain however will not be episodic, but we actively work on an episodic concept.
IGN: There has been a lot of speculation since E3 that Heavy Rain will go "PS3 only" because of where it was showed. Any truth to that or can we expect to see it on multiple systems?
Fondaumière: We hear and read a lot of things lately on Heavy Rain. All I can say is: not everything is true and nothing is written in stone as we speak. For now, Quantic Dream is working on the PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 and PC platforms.
IGN: Is Heavy Rain the team's main focus right now? Omikron KARMA has already been announced for next-gen consoles as well -- are those still coming and they're just farther out?
Fondaumière: We are 100% focused on Heavy Rain right now which will be our first project on next-generation systems. We have, however, a number of other exciting projects for the future that are at concept stage and that we hope to be developing throughout the cycle.
IGN: Do you have a publishing deal in the works or are you searching for one?
Fondaumière: We are finalizing discussions with a number of publishers right now. There will be also other exiting news concerning the project. We expect to make official announcements in the coming weeks now.
IGN: Realistically, when can we expect the game to come out?
Fondaumière: Heavy Rain will be released in Fall 2008.
IGN: Any last comments for IGN readers before we go?
Cage: I would like to thank all the gamers who are passionate about what we are doing and who are following Quantic Dream since Omikron: The Nomad Soul. This support helped us a lot in the past years to overcome the "usual" skepticism that surrounds developers who try to do things differently and who create innovative concepts in our industry.
Autor: Jeremy Dunham
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