We talked to David Cage at the Quantic Dream studio in Paris to chat about the influences behind the upcoming Heavy Rain: The Origami Killer.
Recently we traveled to Paris to visit Quantic Dream, the studio behind Omikron: The Nomad Soul and Indigo Prophecy. We spoke to Quantic Dream founder and CEO David Cage about the upcoming Heavy Rain: The Origami Killer, a game designed solely for the PlayStation 3. Cage is the director and screenwriter for Heavy Rain, meaning he was the one in charge of writing some 2,000 pages of script for it, which he expects to be released in late 2009. Besides showing us "The Taxidermist," a demo that has been seen before in other venues such as E3, Cage and the rest of the Quantic team were very protective of any details regarding the story and characters that will be seen in Heavy Rain. Still Cage, who worked as a musician, composer and writer for years before founding QD in 1997, was a fascinating person to talk to, if guarded about any of Heavy Rain's many secrets.
GameSpy: Does the French government pump funds into game development to give it the same sort of weight French film has?
David Cage: The French government supported the idea that games were culture so they could really support the industry in a similar way that they support the movie industry because it's a cultural identity of the country. So the government helps with tax cuts and certain things to protect the industry. That's really clever and we really praise the French government for understanding the situation of this industry because we're really between technology and culture. We have some fantastic schools and we were just seeing art students leaving France because they couldn't find a job here and ended up working in the UK or the US. So they started working on giving us the means to keep these people here in France, working here. Also, there were very few cultural products that when you're French you can sell all around the world. When you're a moviemaker or a book writer, sometimes you can export what you do in your culture. With videogames, basically, we're trying to sell our games worldwide. So, it's a good thing for French companies.
GameSpy: How much of Quantic Dream's research and development funding comes from Sony and private investment versus the French government? Is it more Sony, or does more come from France?
David Cage: It's much more Sony, of course. Nothing insane, I don't know what the actual figures are. There's what they call an R&D cut, and that's probably 20% of what you actually invest.
GameSpy: What were the most painful lessons learned from Indigo Prophecy/Fahrenheit that you didn't want to replicate with Heavy Rain?
David Cage: I don't know that there was any painful lesson. There were some very positive lessons, and the first one was that there is a market with what we're trying to achieve. The reviews were very high, the figure sales we were really happy with. And that was really not obvious at the time that we were doing it, because we created the game and it was based on interactive storytelling and emotion.
Even today, if you talk about that stuff, it's a bitch to make to any publisher. Talk to them about how many guns you have, how many enemies you're going to kill, that's cool. But then you say, "Oh, well you know what, I'm going to trigger subtle emotions." Oh, okay. Is this going to be interesting? What is the point? So, we just demonstrated that it was possible to do that, first on a technical, conceptual point of view to tell the story from a player's actions. And last but not least, people already had interest in this. So these are good lessons.
Now there are always things you wouldn't do the same way, we hesitated on the [interface's] action system until the last minute. There were different options that we tried and I don't think we chose the right one. So this is something we'd definitely do differently. One of the lessons was that it's extremely difficult to do a cross-platform title when you have such a high level of expectation of graphics and visuals and technology. When you work on several platforms, you fight to have your game working on all, but it's not optimized for any of the three platforms. Where here, working only on PlayStation 3, we created PlayStation 3-exclusive engines so we take the best out of the hardware.
GameSpy: Beyond other videogames, what elements of other mediums, such as film and literature, have you or the team drawn from to create this dynamic storyline?
David Cage: The most obvious inspiration probably came from certain movies, thrillers that we all love like "The Silence of the Lambs," or "Se7en" or "Fight Club," these type of things. Some less well-known movies like "Memories of Murder," which is a fantastic thriller set in South Korea, where it rains all the time. But the dominating thing, you're influenced by books, TV series, comics, paintings, art in general.
I would say what's special about Heavy Rain is it's probably the first time I wrote something that was a little bit more personal. You know, most of the time when you're a game designer, you try to write stories about something that you don't have a clue about. What is it like to be a rookie during the second World War? I don't know. I can guess, but I've never been there. What is it like to be a superhero, to have supernatural powers, to save the world? I don't know. Most of the time you write about things you don't have a clue about.
Whereas here on Heavy Rain, my starting point was really about situations, themes that I have experienced myself, and that was probably the most personal thing, the starting point was about fears that I had or thoughts I had or emotions I had. And when you think about it, it's quite unusual in games but quite standard in all other media, I mean in movies or literature it's obvious that the author or the director talks about something that was close to him or her in a similar way. I think it brings a certain level of sincerity and makes the script believable.
GameSpy: From what we can tell, Heavy Rain takes place in an American city. Some British and European developers cite a need to study American culture more closely than simply watching Hollywood movies and TV. How much has the team researched the United States before creating the universe of Heavy Rain?
David Cage: Quite a lot. I spent a lot of time in the US over the last probably 10 years, I'm in the country three to four times a year. You know, in Europe we hear a lot about the American culture through your music, through your books, through your movies, through your TV series. The United States is a very interesting country, with many interesting things happening. It was not a marketing decision to say "Oh, it's going to sell better in the US if it's set in an American city." I think it's the background which worked best with the story we're trying to tell. The team spent more than two or three weeks onsite, we chose a city and we spent three weeks there taking pictures, taking videos, talking to people, trying to get a feel and trying to imagine the story we wanted to tell in the different locations we were visiting. Then we tried to make locations a part of what we try to evoke in the story so it's really not just a background but a part of the atmosphere we tried to create.
GameSpy: Have you considered doing a live demo to build public interest or are you more interested in protecting the project as much as possible?
David Cage: Well you know, we worked on this "Taxidermist" demo just because each time we talk about interactive storytelling and emotions people have interest, they say, "Oh, that's great but how is it going to play? Is it going to be cut-scenes? A long movie we're going to watch? Is it going to be about pressing one button every ten minutes, what's the gameplay about?" So we wanted to solve this problem by coming to people not with good answers or a nice cut-scene, but a playable demo. So this is why we show this 45-minute demo that we've done at E3 and in Leipzig, "The Taxidermist" kind of solved the problem of not really revealing anything about the story or the scenes as we just wrote a different story, more like a short movie just to illustrate how the story could be played.
GameSpy: But how about the idea of putting it online?
David Cage: Yeah, well, it's a little bit early to put a playable demo online. The game won't be released until the second half of next year, so it wouldn't make sense a year before to release a playable demo now. But maybe, there will probably be a playable demo at some point.
GameSpy: On the technical side, how did the team attempt to replicate physical movement? Were university professors or scientists involved, did you bring them in to discuss anatomy and physiology?
David Cage: Not directly. In fact, we practice a lot with mo-cap, just shot every week for three years, just trying new ideas, trying new things. Of course, we studied all the white papers on biology to make sure the stunts we created made sense. But no, there were no scientists directly involved. I think all this work's been done by other people and we have access to their research and there's no need to do this work again.
GameSpy: What is the origami structure on the front cover of Heavy Rain?
David Cage: It's the most classical origami you can make, it's one of the easiest to create. It's a crane, I think.
GameSpy: You said the game is for adults and since many adults are less experienced with playing the more advanced videogames, were you worried about making it a little easier to pick up and play for an adult?
David Cage: With adults there are two types of adults. I've played games since I was 10, I know how to play games but I'm an adult. So hopefully, we'll reach this audience of people who were gamers but just quit playing because they couldn't find the appropriate content. Once you play 10 first-person shooters how much more can you play? Maybe you still buy one once a year, but there's no material for these former gamers.
On the other hand, one important thing for us in Heavy Rain was to make the interface as simple and accessible as possible. Not for marketing reasons, we just believe it should not be so much about the controller. This part should be easy and accessible so you really forget about it and just focus on the decisions you want to make in certain sequences in the story. But doing simple things should be simple, so we definitely go for a simplified interface. This doesn't mean there is no depth to the gameplay, just that the input isn't where the depth lies, it should be what decisions you make and how they impact the story.
GameSpy: How much does music come into play in Heavy Rain?
David Cage: It's a huge part of the experience and I was really lucky with music in my previous games. I had David Bowie on Omikron, I had Angelo Badalamenti who was a David Lynch composer on Indigo Prophecy, and both of them were fantastic collaborations and they bring so much to the final result with very emotional and sensitive music. And being myself a former musician, we understand the importance of music. So we're going to announce the composer of music for Heavy Rain very soon.
GameSpy: Have you always been a screenwriter?
David Cage: No, I was a musician.
GameSpy: What did you play?
David Cage: Piano. And I was a composer and arranger of music, I worked on commercials, for record companies, I worked on advertising, TV series, movies, and I started making music for videogames. I worked with Sega, with Virgin Interactive and for different companies.
GameSpy: Is that what brought you to writing for videogames?
David Cage: No, I always wrote. I was writing novels as a hobby, making music for a living, and playing games almost full-time, so I found a way to put everything together.
Autor: GameSpy Staff
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