After spending three years in pre-production, fifteen months writing and almost two hundred days motion capture shooting, Quantic Dream’s David Cage is ready to talk more about his studio’s upcoming PS3 title, Heavy Rain; a game that he hopes won’t just prove to be an outstanding dark thriller, but a title that will forever change the face of the industry.
”MY MOTIVATION FOR HEAVY RAIN WAS TO CREATE AN EMOTIONAL SIMULATOR"
D+PAD: Heavy Rain is a brand new IP for Quantic Dream, but just like your previous title, Fahrenheit, you’re looking to break boundaries with storytelling in video games. How do you go about starting a project like Heavy Rain? Do you look at what worked well in Fahrenheit and expand upon those elements, or is it a completely different process?
David Cage: After Fahrenheit, we spent a lot of time reading critics’ opinions and listening to gamers. We also had many things we were not happy with and that we wanted to rethink and change. At the same time, we did not start thinking of Heavy Rain as a sequel, but I had the feeling we found something with Fahrenheit that I wanted to explore further. These ideas of letting the player tell
the story through his actions using Bending Stories, of considering the experience as an emotional journey with moral choices, of having short and varied scenes, of moving the challenge from the controller to the mind of the player, all these were interesting concepts that could significantly be improved. But we also had many new ideas that we wanted to implement regarding gameplay and a new technology that allows us to improve the quality of the immersion.
If I had to summarise my motivation for Heavy Rain, it was to create an emotional simulator, use all means to make the player feel something, making an experience rather than just another video game. To achieve this goal, I thought that Fahrenheit opened the way, but that there was much more to do.
Heavy Rain is looking to blur the line between video games and movies. Were you inspired by the work of any particular film creator/director for Heavy Rain, or is the game entirely your own vision?
You are always inspired by other people’s work, not only movies, but also books, TV series, comics, paintings, art in general. Heavy Rain is a dark thriller and I am sure people will find connections with some films we all liked like Silence of the Lambs or Seven. I also really liked a Korean movie call Memories of a Murder and other Asian films. I like Asian cinema, but I also appreciate some Spanish or Spanish-speaking directors like Guillermo del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth), Alejandro Inarritu (21 Grams, Babel) or Alejandro Amenabar (The Others).
What’s really dierent for me on Heavy Rain is that it is the first script I’ve written for a game that refers to things I have personally experienced in my life. In most other art forms this is quite usual, but it was something weird to do for me in a video game. Most games talk about rookies going to the battlefield or heroes fighting against the forces of evil, situations that few people actually experienced in their own lives, so they can only try to figure out what it means for their characters.
Heavy Rain is of course not based on my private life, but it is based on emotions that I have experienced myself, which will - I hope – support the story I want to tell and make its emotions more believable. I think our media is now mature enough to tell more
personal stories, and I hope that more game designers will start talking about more personal things, because this is how other art forms reached maturity and more complex and interesting forms.
This is probably my main expectation from next gen games. Rather than displaying more polygons or having a physics engine, they should start to offer meaning.
“WE COULD NOT CREATE THE GAME WE WANTED USING THE SAME OLD RULES”
One of Heavy Rain’s most touted features is its unique interface. Can you tell us a bit more about how Heavy Rain’s control
system works and how it sets itself aside from other titles in the genre?
We had a very simple approach to interface: it should participate to immerse the player in the world by asking him to mimic what his
character is doing on screen. We experienced that on Fahrenheit with the new control system we proposed for actions (MPAR, using a move on a stick to unfold animations instead of just pressing a button). We continued experimenting with the same philosophy on Heavy Rain. We have also implemented an interface called MPRESS that could be seen in the Games Convention demo when the character needs to hide, for example.
Regarding navigation, we wanted to nd a solution to the dependency between controls and cameras. We were looking for a real sense of directing all the time, and not only in cut scenes, which meant having the possibility to place cameras in the set without having constraints based on controls. At the same time, all games that tried that had to face conicts with the control system, with characters suddenly going left while the player wanted to go right just because the camera changed. We solved this issue with two
things: moving forward is [like accelerating] in a racing game by pressing R2 (whatever the position of the camera is), while the left analogue stick controls the head of the character, defining his direction when he walks. We also added a specific system to help navigation in populated environment to offer realistic sets where the player cannot get stuck. These are just some of the new ideas we put in place for Heavy Rain regarding gameplay. Some of them are real changes of paradigms, but we could not make the game we wanted using the same old rules.
It’s been said that QTEs will be commonplace within Heavy Rain. Taking into consideration the amount of criticism that has been levelled at the use of QTEs in the past, how have you gone about making sure that they add something to the experience, rather than detract?
QTEs are a minor part of the gameplay of Heavy Rain. They are used in some action sequences for scenes that would have been mpossible to make with any other types of interfaces. If you have a fight for example, you either make a very video game type of sequence (punch/kick/combos, always the same moves, limited in an arena to avoid collision problems and inconsistencies with the environment), or you rethink the interface to support what’s really important in a ght: reflexes, quick decision making, pacing, having spectacular moves and directing, being injured, winning or losing). We entirely redesigned the interface to integrate and animate GUI within the 3D world instead of having it on top of the screen, which is denitely less distracting, and we worked hard on tuning them, timing them right, making sure they reinforce immersion and support the feeling we try to create in the scene. I think people
will be quite surprised by what we managed to do in the game. I know many hardcore gamers are by instinct resistant to the concept of QTEs, but we put some serious thought into making it evolve and I hope to convince them that our approach supports the experience.
In another interview you stated that you felt most video games were “structured like porn movies”, whereby part of the story is told, then there’s some action, and then a bit more story. With Heavy Rain you’re looking for a more consistent “interactive performance”. Can you give us some examples as to how that will work?
The reason why most video games are structured that way is very simple: they are based on repetitive patterns that make it impossible to tell any story, so they have to rely on cut scenes to move the story on until the next action scene. Interactivity is used to trigger adrenaline and stress, but it does not support narrative in any way. What I’m trying to change is to directly use interactivity to tell the story instead of cut scenes.
The player should tell the story directly through his actions instead of watching it. The first way of doing this is to rethink interface and this strange rule saying that a control scheme should be limited to a certain amount of repetitive actions. If you use
a contextual interface, you get access to an infinite number of actions, so your characters can at least do things to tell a story and not just jump or use their gun. The other dicult conceptual step to make is to redefine what gameplay is about: an experience may not be based on weapons or cars and still be fun. Interacting does not necessarily mean to destroy, kill, jump or drive. Interactivity can be about changing your environment, changing relationships or making decisions. It doesn’t have to be limited to military conflicts; any kind of situation can become interactive. Fahrenheit started to show that it was possible: the game was not using any gun or vehicle; it had no enemies to fight and no puzzle to solve. It was just about immersion and decision making. I think it is time for our industry to grow up and explore new possibilities instead of redoing the same games with the same old concepts over and over again.
“IT’S TIME FOR OUR INDUSTRY TO GROW UP”
Other games have tried to implement a similar decision-making system to what you’re doing with Heavy Rain, but the results and storystructure have always ultimately been pretty much pre-determined. How deep does Heavy Rain’s system go? Is there a specific number as to how many variances the story has to offer?
When you think of narrative in a game, you have two options: you create a sandbox (ideally an MMO) where you give as many quests as possible and hope that gamers will generate a narrative on the fly by their interactions, or you write a story. In the first option, you have no control over the narrative and most of the time, there is none or of very poor quality. If you write the story, you can
guarantee its quality and consistency for the player. No one can pretend today to generate complex storytelling procedurally just because this is not possible. Heavy Rain is based on a script, and I don’t think there is anything bad or wrong about that. I
created a backbone for my narrative, I wrote all the possible variations based on the player’s decisions I could think of, using techniques like Bending Stories to follow their consequences and give a feeling of freedom to the player within the context of the story, so his decisions can really impact the narrative. I think the result will emulate a freedom of choice while maintaining the quality and consistency of the narrative. It is impossible to say how many paths there will be, just because there won’t really be any. Actions have consequences, sometimes they are limited to the scene, sometimes they will severely impact the narrative.
Are you concerned that some players simply won’t run with the concept of Heavy Rain’s flowing narrative, for example, choosing to
reload whenever a character dies instead of letting the game run through? Did you consider being more Draconian and forcing this on the player?
This is still a possibility. I still have some time before making a final decision. It is always difficult, because it should not frustrate the player but support and improve his experience.
An increasing amount of publishers and developers are moving into the mindset of preparing additional content to be made available as an extra download post-release. What do you think of that approach, and is there much scope for DLC in Heavy Rain?
Honestly, my focus is on putting as much content as possible on the Blu-ray. We have many plans for DLC, but I won’t work on them until the game is finished and fully satisfying. Games are expensive; my focus is to give as much as I can to gamers for
“WE HAVE THE RESPONSIBILITY TO DEMONSTRATE THAT IT IS POSSIBLE TO CREATE GAMES WITH MORE CREATIVE AMBITIONS”
Video games have gone from being predominantly fantasy-based to realistic ‘gritty’ experiences. Even games developed by your own studio have followed the same path to an extent, with Omikron’s futuristic setting replaced by more realistic scenarios in Fahrenheit, and an even darker realism set for Heavy Rain. Why do you think there’s been a sudden push for realism?
Omikron was aiming to be realistic with the technology of its time... I think that more and more creators want to tell stories that are closer to them, to situations or emotions they have personally experienced. It is easier to talk about something you know than imagining what it was to be a rookie during WWII... For me, it is much more about situations than about realism, more about my personal link to what I want to write than a will to tell stories set in a contemporary or realistic environment. I could work on a
non-realistic game in the future and still try to talk about subjects that matter to me and thus seem to me “real”.
Do you believe that a realistic setting helps with story-telling, to allow players to empathise with characters more so than they would in a make-believe scenario?
Realism is just a rendering type you choose, nothing more. You can create emotions with any type of rendering if you have something interesting to tell. You don’t need MoCap, virtual actors, facial animations and all the other technology we have on Heavy Rain. This was just the tone and atmosphere I chose for this game because I thought it supported the story I wanted to tell. It is not a requirement and you can tell fantastic stories full of emotions without realism. There are many examples of that in all other arts: think of Miyazaki’s work for example, or the fantastic animation film The Iron Giant, Alan Moore or Frank Miller for comics, ICO or REZ for video games.
David Reeves has said that Heavy Rain will be the most important game for PS3 this year. Does the knowledge that there’s a huge
amount of pressure on the team to deliver from both consumers and colleagues affect development?
Currently, I’m working on a title that is extremely anticipated worldwide, exclusively on a console we chose, with the full support of a console manufacturer, with the time and means to make the game we want, on something that is new, original and creative, aiming to redefine how players play games, making covers of magazines and raising an incredible amount of interest. I have worked all my life to be in this position now; this is what any creative person in this industry dreams of doing. Am I going to complain that Sony sees Heavy Rain as a major title for their console this year? Certainly not. This is an honour and we do everything we can not to disappoint people’s expectations. It may sound arrogant, but I believe that this game can be important not only for Sony or Quantic Dream, but beyond for our industry. We have the responsibility to demonstrate that it is possible to create games with more creative
ambitions, more complex stories to tell, and that it can be fully playable and more exciting than interactive battlefields. I hope to convince people outside our industry that games can be more than just toys for kids: that they can become art. I don’t pretend I will do all that with Heavy Rain and make it a milestone, but I hope that it will open the way.
You mentioned earlier that you think it’s time for the industry to grow up. With Heavy Rain you’re creating a much more mature, slower-paced title in an industry fuelled by juvenile ‘big guns and fast cars’ themes. Hardcore gamers have reacted to Heavy Rain in a very positive light so far, but what do you think will make the game stand out at retail?
Heavy Rain will be different. I hope it is going to break with many old game conventions and explore new ideas. Its story will – I hope – also surprise people, and I would like them to go from scene to scene eager to know what will happen next. The game will aim at creating moments that will leave an imprint in players’ mind. The game should also look stunning with its graphics, virtual actors and motion capture animations, but most of all, I hope that people will enjoy it because of its ambition to be what comes after video games.
Heavy Rain launches exclusively on PlayStation 3 later this year.
Autor: D+Pad staff
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