We recently had our precipitation-sodden paws all over Heavy Rain: The Origami Killer, and then chatted with David Cage, a man who wears plenty of hats at developer Quantic Dream. In addition to founding the studio, he's also the head game developer, writer, co-CEO, director, and chief bottle washer. So, who better to walk us through the trippy thriller that goes where Indigo Prophecy feared to tread?
Read on to find out some new tidbits about the game, how Fight Club inspired the interface system and why his favorite ending to the game is when all four characters die. Plus why, like Guillermo del Toro, he believes that the interactive entertainment industry is long overdue for a Citizen Kane (or in Cage's case, a Slumdog Millionaire) of games.
Let's jump right in and start hammering you with questions. We have seen a lot of this new character, Jayden. He has specific tie-ins with gadgetry, with the Augmented Reality interface and so on. Will the other characters have similar gadgets or will they each have their own focus?
Each one has their own focus. I mean it is not like everyone has a gadget. Again, what you see with Jayden is not the template. There will be four other characters like this. Each one is very different. People will be very surprised by who they are.
They will each have their own strength or what they are known for? Their gameplay will be intrinsically different from the previous or the next person?
There is no real archetype in like those sexy games were you have the sexy girl, the strong guy and the fast guy. It is not that way. Each one is just a different character with a different background, different personality. They can do what makes sense given who it is.
Although having said that, we see Madison in her underwear in the teaser. Her ability is not just to appear in her underwear?
No, you will be surprised.
So what was the inspiration behind the game? It sort of feels a bit like the X-Files. You have the CSI tie-in with the evidence that Jayden can detect.
There is no supernatural element to the game. It is really grounded in reality. There are no aliens, no zombies, nothing special. There is just real people in real life in real situations.
So the inspiration really comes pretty much from ... it is always difficult to say really where it comes from. But what I know is Heavy Rain is probably the most personal thing I have done so far, which is maybe not apparent from the scene you have seen this morning.
But the real topic of Heavy Rain is in the tagline, "How far are you prepared to go to save someone you love?" That is really the real subject and is something that is really personal. And I think that will talk to players as individuals and will push them to ask questions.
When you were loading the demo it was at like Act 38, is there going to be a really high number of acts in the game? You said that was about midway through, right?
And that still ties into the 8-10 hours it may take an average player?
The scenes are really short to be honest with you. They are really short. We are trying to stay away from a really slow and boring experience.
We were wondering about the moment we saw where Mad Jack and Jayden were fighting. Will that be the same each time if you play that level? Will they fight or scramble around the same way, the scripted moments like that where you are following the instructions? You know, dodge, jump left, etc?
The controllers are scripted because they relate to the move that is made. We really want to have a real connection between what you do on the controller and what is happening on the screen. But at the same time, the result depends on what you do and you have different branches that you can go into.
It's pretty bold to have a character with a drug addiction in the game. Is there going to be some sort of ultimate payoff with his drug struggle or will there be an anti-drug message, or do you battle it throughout the game?
Yes, you need to battle with it and it will give you some very strange scenes because there is some kind of very strange interaction between the ARI and the drug.
Is that a drug that you can take at any point in the game or is it just keyed in specific moments? Like where we saw he was confronting Mad Jack and he started having the symptoms. His nose was bleeding ...
No. It is triggered at certain moments.
Okay, so you can't just take the drug. How does he actually administer it? Is it an injection?
Actually, it is through the nose. It's in a tube.
Ah, hence the nose bleeds.
You mentioned that his drug use, there is an element of hiding it from people he knows or his co-workers or something like that. Is it possible to get caught using it and have a different ramification on the main story?
Your actions have consequences. I don't want to say too much, but ...
So, if a character dies, do you lose that character and the game continues on and you just don't get that one character's perspective or those two characters' perspectives? I am guessing that would affect the overall length of the game. Does it?
Yeah. In fact, you cannot die in the first one fourth or so of the game. It wouldn't make sense if in the first scene Jayden dies. I mean what would happen? But what we really do is we build empathy for these characters. We want to give you the feeling that you really care for them. This is really the feeling that we tried to create. So when you really care for his life, when he dies it is going to be a shock for you. So yeah, this is really what we tried to create.
Will the story continue if all four of them are killed?
That will be the conclusion of the story. It won't be a game over like you are starting and you know what happens. It will be the conclusion of the story.
Like some level of closure? You will see something.
Yeah, definitely. And to be honest that is my favorite ending.
A lot of developers are shying away from Sixaxis controls, and are not including them in the game. You guys definitely seem like you are going to be including them. Was that a specific choice or is that something that is still fluid right now and might change when the final game is done?
Well, we are still in the process of polishing the game so this is something that might be slightly adjusted based on the kind of feedback we receive. Personally I like it. I mean I wouldn't use it every single second. You know, we wouldn't want you playing like this all the time.
But as we are trying to create a sense of identification between you and your character, we do that with the system when you are controlling interactions on-screen. You really unfold the move and you really control that with the right stick. When you need to kick or punch something, having to do this (shakes hands) with the controls makes a lot of sense.
I guess it really depends on the type of game you are doing and where it fits in the general gameplay. You don't want to agitate your controller all the time.
Did you guys receive feedback from the last demo of the interface that caused you to change it?
It was just something you guys did?
Yeah. I was really happy with the demo. All the people who saw the demo were really impressed. In Leipzig, we presented it to 300 journalists in two days, and we were loaded at every single session. We said, "Well this is the first time we had seen that. That people are liking it so much and responding to it."
So the feedback was fantastic. And what people saw on stage was a 40- or 45-minute demo playing. It was real-time 3D, second to second. I was always a little bit frustrated with the interface because I thought it was a little bit old fashioned. This idea of having a 3D environment with glass on the top with symbols, and when you want to know how to interact with it you need to look at the symbols, look at what you need to do. "OK. I need to do this in order to interact with that."
It was silly in a way. So I wanted to find a solution. It is funny because you were talking about inspiration, to be honest with you, it came from Fight Club. There is this scene in Fight Club with the IKEA furniture and stuff, and everyone was so amazed when they saw that movie and said, "Wow, that is so cool!"
We wanted to find a solution. I thought again about Fight Club and I thought that this could be the solution. We wanted to find something that would be clear but that would not interfere with the environment. So that was difficult. We made many tests, but we are quite happy with the results.
How final is the voiceover we were hearing from the characters in this scene? Is that going to be the final voices or was it temporary?
It is quite final except maybe some of the accents, because most of them are English, except Mad Jack, he's American. Most of them did a very good job.
Are Scott, Ethan, and Madison going to be ... Well, I guess we have sort of seen Madison. Are they going to be different ethnicities? Is everyone white? Is it a wide range? Do you guys even know yet?
Oh yeah. We know. It is going to be quite a white game actually ... we have done previously in Indigo, we had a black character, but no. They are very different, but everyone is from the same ethnicity I guess.
And everyone, I am guessing, is not in law enforcement like Jayden is?
We have seen with Jayden that it is very kind of action focused at this point, and his investigation is all done with ARi. Is there any mechanism or plan for the final game with him or any other characters for say taking notes? Will you ever do that, or taking an inventory, or selecting things?
No, not really. We didn't explore that.
So, it really fits that norm of adventure games.
Yeah. I didn't want to deal with that. I asked myself the question at some point during the design phase, like, "Do I want to take notes and connect clues and maybe find a way that this information relates to this object in the final interface?" It became very complicated and I got the feeling that it would take me away from what I was trying to achieve, which was really trying to create an emotional experience, something that would be really immersive and emotionally involving.
I didn't want the control aspect of the experience to be stronger than the emotional aspect of the game. To me, Heavy Rain is much more of a journey rather than an investigation where you need to connect clues and blah, blah, blah. I don't care ... there are so many games that do that really well. I really wanted to focus on the journey. That is unusual and it is probably difficult to see what I mean in saying that, but you will get it when you play the game, hopefully.
Was it meant to be a possible franchise? Could there be another game in the vein of Heavy Rain with different characters that are still under the title of Heavy Rain?
You know, we are not this type of company and I am not this type of designer that thinks about marketing while I design. I just tell the story that I need to tell at some point and I make the game that I absolutely wanted to make.
Now will there be downloadable content or a Heavy Rain 2? Maybe yes, maybe not. I am not really into sequels to be honest with you. For Indigo I got the feeling that I said what I had to say with the characters in the story, and it corresponded with one phase in my personal evolution. And at some point you say, "OK. That is the past. I am glad I have done it, but now I need to move on."
I hope that Heavy Rain will reach the same stage and at some point I will want to tell a different story with different characters.
Have you had time to play any games on your own?
What do you like to play?
I play a lot of game toys. You know games that you just play to spend some time and forget as soon as you turn off the console. This is what is on the market right now. There are very few games that leave an imprint and leave something with you to think about.
My biggest frustration is I went to the theater to watch Gran Torino and I left the theater extremely frustrated. And I thought, "Oh my God. When will we be able to create experiences like that in video games?" We are just telling stories about little boys shooting and jumping. When will we be able to tell real stories with real characters and real emotions? Yeah, it was some kind of frustration.
It is not that I want to be a movie director. I don't care about movies so much. But it is about the depth of what you can do in a movie compared to the depth of what you can do in a video game right now.
Do you feel like the games haven't reached that level of emotional storytelling yet?
Certainly not. We are really, really far away. We are light years away to be honest. And this is because we don't dare stop doing what we have been doing for 15 years. I mean, let's stop making games for kids and teenagers. Let's ask ourselves the real questions. Let's change the way we see interface. Let's change some of the traditional game conventions that we have had for 15 years that we take for granted, like, you cannot make a game if there is no ramping, if there is no game over, if you don't progress in difficulty, etc.
Who cares? You want to play a game that is interesting and that is an emotional journey. It is the story. It is what you feel playing. It is not that it gets more and more difficult until to the point where you just leave the controller and say I don't want to play that anymore. I spent $70 to buy this thing and I don't want to play it because it gets too difficult at some point. I don't want to play it anymore.
Who said the game has to be more and more difficult as your progress? Who said that? I mean, there is no reason for that. I mean, you just want to create a real journey, something that you experience and you are happy to be playing. That is it. I hope that more and more games will aim to leave an imprint and not just be toys, but be a real creative experience.
You say we are probably light years away from that. Certainly you must have developed Heavy Rain with that goal in mind. Are you pretty happy with the story and what you guys have accomplished?
At this stage I am really happy with the story. It kept me excited for the past three years, which is obviously a lot. At no point did I wake up one morning and say, "Oh my God. I can't do this anymore. This story is silly." It talks to me as an individual and I think it is going to talk to players at a different level than other games. I don't think we are anyway near Gran Torino or Slumdog Millionaire or any good movies that you have seen recently, because there are still some problems and there are still more conventions to break, more courage to have, but we are definitely closer than we were.
Talking about creating an emotional experience, I wanted to ask you about the about the technology behind the characters and the surreal realism of them. Did the technology to create these very life-like looking people, did that come out of your goal for the game? Or did you go, "Oh wow. We can make these really great looking people. Let's make a really emotional game."
No. Every single technology throughout the game comes from game design. We designed the goal and then we identified the technology necessary to reach the goal. It has never been the technology driving what we were doing. It is like if you were a writer and you would say, "I have got a fantastic pen! Let's write something with it because it is so cool to write something with this pen." Who gives a shit? I don't care! That is not the way to do it!
You need to have a real story that you need to tell and then you find any pen. Maybe you will find the best pen that works for you. And that is fine. But that is not the way to work. I guess it must look weird from the outside, for you guys, to see how we came from Indigo, to The Casting, to The Taxidermist, to this scene today for Heavy Rain. But when you look at it there is a real logical progression to this.
I mean we really learned. With Indigo we learned and we prototyped technology for The Casting because we thought emotion was very important in story telling. And the vehicles for emotion are actors. So you need to provide the technology to create virtual actors, to deliver emotion.
So we used that in The Casting with some success. It worked in certain aspects, with some failures. It did not fully work. And then we came with The Taxidermist where everything became interactive and you can actually really play, and it was telling a story that was a little bit more complex and different than The Casting. And then to Heavy Rain. So there is a progression, but it is always driven by design.
Was there ever a point that you told the artists, "Well the characters maybe look a little too real or they look unusual now that they are a little too real. We need to make them look a little more like stylized?" I mean, they still look like people, but...
No, actually, because the idea behind Heavy Rain was really to recreate virtual actors. So it made our life very difficult at the beginning of the development because we spent about a year to find the right guys, the right actors, for the roles. It was not like picking one face, and one voice, and one actor for the body motion capture. We needed to have one consistent person. That is exactly like an actor for a real movie.
So that was really difficult. It was a nightmare. So this is really something that we discovered doing it. We spent a year doing casting sessions in the UK, the US, and France. We ended up with four actors where we said, "Here they are. These are really the characters." It was really funny, because when I look at the scene, I was of course in the studio with the actors and I really recognize them. I recognized the way they move, the way they talk, and the way they move their face. It is really them.
So I would say with The Casting we maybe had 50% of the performance of the actors. I would say here we are probably closer to 70 percent, maybe 80 percent. There's still room for progression, but we're getting really close.
Are these known actors or just people that you guys found?
They are professional actors but they are not known so far. But I hope they will get to be known now with the game. You know the problem with Hollywood ... we considered at some point working with famous actors, but the idea was to have someone famous for a week, give them a million dollars, and get what you could get. But that was not the way that we wanted to go with this.
Collaboration with the actors was a year of work, with the four main characters. A year working on a very regular basis to shoot motion capture, to shoot facial, to do the voices, and to do all these things. So they were really immersed in the story and they really had a real understanding about what we were trying to achieve and what the story is about. This is something you wouldn't get from anyone in Hollywood. So I guess we needed a different kind of partnership with the actors, a different type of cooperation.
I know you have talked about Gran Torino and Slumdog. You have talked about Heavy Rain and how games haven't quite gotten there yet. What if tomorrow someone comes from a studio, even Sony, and says we want to option this and make it into a movie? Do you think that is a possibility that might happen because the story is so strong?
Yeah. Of course it is a possibility. Honestly I have never reasoned Heavy Rain, thinking of a movie, and saying, "Oh it has to be a movie. That is my dream." It is not my dream. I am happy if there is a movie, but really the experience I wanted to create was a game. I don't know. It may be an interesting movie. I think it would be a different kind of movie because of the four characters and the way their stories are interlaced. It is going to be something different, but it has to be done right. There is no way we are just going to sell the license to someone and say do whatever you want. Do a shooter movie, do an action movie. Do whatever you want. It would have to be something that would really be faithful to the original idea.
Speaking about a game that takes 8-10 hours, what sort of game play mechanic is there to save your game? Do you have to interact with something or can you drop out at any moment and save the game?
That is something you don't need to care about. We really tried to work with the interface and the game mechanics behind to be totally invisible to the player. You don't need to care. At some point I want you to forget that this is a game. Just follow the story and get immersed in the emotional experience.
At any point did you look at this and say, "Oh this works really well as a serialized story that might be downloadable?"
Yes. We won't do it with Heavy Rain. But what we have developed with Heavy Rain is an interface that will allow you to tell any kind of story. So we could tell a dark thriller like Heavy Rain, but we could tell a drama. We could tell a comedy. We could do anything because all the interface is very simple, and accessible, and contextual. So you could do pretty much anything. That is something that is interesting.
The actor game engine.
Or Shakespeare's game engine.
I am dreaming of the day where game creators will have to think about the story they want to tell and the emotion they want to trigger instead of what technology they are going to use and how it is going to fit into the interface. That will be an interesting moment.
Cool. Well, thank you for your time!
Thank you very much.
Autor: Kevin Kelly
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