Heavy Rain director talks about film influences like Seven and Silent of the Lambs, the game's 2000 page script, total immersion within his game's universe, how all characters in the game look like their voice actors, and how the game will force the player to make choices as a human being.
GamePro heads to Paris to visit French game developer Quantic Dream (previously known for creating the genre-bending adventure game Indigo Prophecy) and gets the latest details on their forthcoming PS3 exclusive dark thriller, Heavy Rain. We interview the company's CEO and director of the game David Cage to find out everything we can about the game that's said to redefine how photo-realistic next-gen graphics can be.
GamePro: Heavy Rain, a game that's been described by your team as a psychological thriller, is exclusive to the PlayStation 3 console. Your last game, Indigo Prophecy, was developed for Xbox, PS2, and PC. Does developing for a single console allow you to focus on creating the best possible game?
David Cage: I think when you work only on one platform, it's a huge advantage, because first thing is, you can optimize your technology to really take the best out of the hardware. Also, the fact that you know what controller you're working with and how people will play makes a big difference.
When you're simultaneously developing for multiple consoles and the PC, you have the keyboard and mouse interface, someone playing on a PC screen, and at the same time, someone playing in his living room. There's a huge difference developing solely for one console. As a game designer, you prefer to know how people will play your game and what controller they will be using so you can optimize the experience.
GamePro: Do you think that what you've achieved so far graphically and otherwise with Heavy Rain could only be possible on the PS3?
David Cage: I think that the power of the PlayStation 3 is important when creating a realistic experience like Heavy Rain. We needed a lot of bandwidth and a lot of power to create this high quality engine, to create very detailed graphics, to have these characters and facial animations, and so on. So, yeah, the architecture of the PS3 organized around SPUs (Synergistic Processing Units) is something that was extremely useful to create Heavy Rain.
GamePro: Heavy Rain is heavily influenced by movies to the point where numerous filmmaking techniques were incorporated into making the game. How is your game different from a movie?
David Cage: I can see two differences between making a movie and making a game like Heavy Rain. When you work on a movie, you have a script that is around 100 or 120 pages long, and you tell only one story. When you work on Heavy Rain, the script is about 2000 pages because we don't tell only one story, we tell many interlacing stories depending on what the player does.
We need to manage the consequences of the player's actions, whatever they choose to do. So that's a lot of work, and the second main difference is the fact that with movies, the technology side is well known and understood. On the video game side, we have a lot of technical constraints, especially when you want to work with virtual actors.
At the same time, you want to get the best out of the performance. You need to think about all the technical constraints to recreate the performance in real time 3D. So, you're always split between creativity and technology. So that's contrasting, but it's definitely something still challenging.
GamePro: How long is Heavy Rain going to be exactly?
David Cage: We're shooting for an experience between eight and ten hours long. I'm not looking for the longest experience. We're definitely not going to be beyond this ten-hour limit. I prefer to focus on ten hours that people will remember for a long time and be really conscious about every single detail, rather that giving them 60 hours of empty sets and moving from one place to another.
The pacing of the experience is really important to me. We want the experience to be fast and we want the player to move from surprise to surprise, and the pacing to be right and tight. This is our approach to it.
GamePro: A female voice actor you've shown us looks exactly like the character in the game she provided the voice for. Do all the characters in Heavy Rain look like the voice actors who provided their voices?
David Cage: Yeah. With Heavy Rain we decided that we didn't want several actors for one character. Usually, in games, you have someone for the facial scan, like, "this is the way character will look," someone else for the voice, and someone else for their motion-captured movements.
We just believed that it was not right for what we were trying to achieve with Heavy Rain. We wanted to recreate one actor with his likeness, but also his performance, because we felt it would be much more consistent. It would be a part of the characterization. So, it totally changed the way we worked on this game because the casting became a very important component of what we were doing.
We had to find not only the right face and the right voice, but just the right actor for the character. So we spent about a year doing casting sessions, here in Paris and in London, to find the right people. That was a very interesting aspect of the game, definitely, for us.
GamePro: Is everything set in stone for Heavy Rain? Do you know exactly where the story's going to end up, or are there some changes yet to be made, things still lying around in Heavy Rain's story?
David Cage: There are two aspects in a production like Heavy Rain. First, it's very heavy production with really a lot of assets to be produced. That means you can't really change your mind about the story -- it has to be set in stone once you're happy with it because the full production is going to start, and it's a huge machine. So, you can't really go back and say, "Oh, this character is not 60 years old, he's now 20 years old because I've just changed my mind."
All the story aspects have to be set in stone so production can work. But at the same time, there are other areas of the game where you know you have more time to alter, and this is especially true regarding gameplay and regarding interface. The impact of production is not really significant there. So, we continue to reiterate, to try different things, to prototype, to see what people think of what we try -- to make the best decisions for the game.
That's an important part of the game. The first thing you implement is rarely the right one, so you need to try different things until you become comfortable with it.
GamePro: If there were three reasons for gamers to care about Heavy Rain, what are they?
David Cage: I see Heavy Rain as an emotional journey. We don't see the experience as a series of obstacles just to stop the player. There won't be any puzzle you have to solve; there won't be hordes of enemies you need to fight. Everything will be about decision-making. We really see it as a journey, and it's also an emotional simulator.
We would like to create something where the player will be in different situations and feel really involved in what's going on. We want him to care for the characters, care for the story, and really want to know what's coming next, what will happen to these characters.
The final reason to care is we want to put the player in the shoes of the hero and give him difficult choices to make. It's not, "Do you want to be good or bad?" It's going to be much more ambiguous than that. We would like to ask questions to the player as a human being and say, "What would you do if it was happening to you?"
We would like the answer not to be obvious. We would like people to think, "Yeah, what would I do if it was happening to me?" You'll have to make the decision in the game of course. We try to create a couple of moments that players will remember, that will leave an imprint in their minds, like the best movies you've seen or the best books you've read.
They change something in you, and that's our ultimate goal. It's really ambitious, of course, and challenging and difficult to make, but this is what we are meant for.
GamePro: Being a game that's developed similarly to a film, what movies have influenced Heavy Rain?
David Cage: You know, it's always difficult to know where your inspiration comes from because it comes pretty much from everything -- from movies you like, from the books you read, from TV series, from comics, from paintings. Sometimes it comes from things that are really unrelated to what you're doing.
On the movie side, I really love all these dark films like "Silence of the Lambs," "Seven," or even "Fight Club." These types of movies were a huge influence.
I really enjoyed some lesser-known movies like "Memories of Murders", which is a South Korean movie, that was really interesting. There are many, many things that can influence your work. I think what is a little bit special for me on Heavy Rain is that it's maybe the first game I write in which I put some parts of my personal life or my personal experiences.
Very often when you write games, you write about things you never experienced. I've never been at war, I've never been a superhero saving the world, and most people write about these things they never experienced. On Heavy Rain, I tried to write about things that I felt, that I thought, that I experienced in my personal life. Hopefully, it's going to make the game more sincere, and hopefully people will feel it in the end.
GamePro: You've classified Heavy Rain as not being a survival-horror game and yet in the demo shown to journalists there is a woman attempting to escape a taxidermist serial killer who turns women into stuffed trophies. How is this so?
David Cage: Heavy Rain has absolutely nothing to do with the survival horror genre. The theme of the game is very, very different and quite unusual in games. It's entirely based on emotions. It's absolutely not relying on the current mechanics of survival horror titles. It's not about weapons, it's not about zombies, and it's not about surviving. It's just about making decisions in difficult situations.
GamePro: Was there anything you learned in the development process of your previous game Indigo Prophecy that you wanted to and did include in Heavy Rain?
David Cage: When you finish a game, there are always many things that you regret, that you would do differently, or that you didn't have time to try. At the end of Indigo Prophecy, we were split between the fact that we felt we tried something new and that there was a lot of interest amongst players, press, and the world, for what we had done.
We really got the feeling that we discovered something interesting by telling the story through players' actions instead of telling it through cutscenes. At the same time, there were many things we were not happy with, so we took some time after Indigo Prophecy just to read the press, read what players had to say on the forums -- really getting as much feedback as we could. Also, we had a big post-mortem in the team to talk about what we liked and we didn't like.
Basically, what we tried to do is reinforce what worked well in Indigo Prophecy into Heavy Rain, and just try new ideas, to push the envelope pretty much in all departments of the game. The most obvious department is the graphics -- we invested a lot of time and energy into developing a new graphics pipeline, and we think the result is much more effective than it was on Indigo Prophecy.
We rethought the interface of the game, the gameplay, and about how it works. We developed the idea of banding stories together to make consequences of players' actions even more tangible, even more significant. We also worked on getting rid of "Game Over" situations, which was some kind of frustration for me in Indigo Prophecy.
In a certain way, it's a failure for the designer when all you can propose is a "Game Over." It's like saying, "You know what? You died, so go back, play it again, and try to do a better job." This is the message sent to the player, and with Heavy Rain, we just try to handle the situation just as another bit of information in the script. The script has to carry on, taking this information on board.
GamePro: We know you can't reveal too much about the story, but can you tell us the general premise of Heavy Rain?
David Cage: Heavy Rain is will probably evoke themes rarely used in a game before. All the ideas behind the gameplay is based on the fact that the player will tell the story through his actions directly. They will be at the same time the actor, but also the director, even the writer of the experience.
We hope that many gamers playing Heavy Rain will see different stories, or different versions of the story. This is in a nutshell what we're working on. We don't to reveal at the moment anything about the storyline of Heavy Rain, because we feel like it's the key component of the experience. We just don't want to spoil anything about it at the moment. But the story's written and it's in production. We really feel it will spoil the pleasure of the players if we tell you too much.
Autor: Patrick Shaw
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