David Cage and Sony could be considered visionaries for what they are attempting with Heavy Rain. Rarely before has so much money been gambled on emotion and story without the safety net of a post-apocalyptic American city full of monsters to shoot in the face.
Heavy Rain, just months away from a Q1 2010 release, is already playable, massive and handsome. But is it all smoke and mirrors? Can we really convince people that videogames are as capable as films at producing meaty, intellectual content? Cage, founder of Quantic Dream, believes so. We sat down with him at the Eurogamer Expo 2009 to find out more.
Eurogamer: Heavy Rain is a very interesting game, for what it stands for and what it is trying to accomplish. You bill it as an interactive thriller - are you alone in what you're doing?
David Cage: Trying to tell stories with interactivity is something really difficult that some people tried in the past and many people failed, so there are less volunteers to try that again. So I think yeah, we're pretty much alone at the moment. But I hope it will give ideas to other people so they will try on their own, using their own way and their own sensibility to do it differently. There are many opportunities in this medium to tell interesting and compelling stories, to create very emotional experiences.
Eurogamer: Often frontrunners do all the hard work but reap little of the rewards - are you a martyr, David Cage?
David Cage: I want to be a pioneer but I don't want to die in the desert. When you try to invent something new you need to have some kind of commercial success, otherwise you just try to be innovative for the sake of being innovative. When you create something you want people to like it and to really enjoy it. If that's not the case, that means maybe what you've invented doesn't really have a value. And I'm talking commercial value, not creative value.
Eurogamer: The big theme of Heavy Rain is love. How do you evoke love in a game, and do you think that's a healthy relationship for a player to have with a videogame?
David Cage: I don't put it that way. What we try to do with Heavy Rain is to feel what the characters on screen feel, to put you in their shoes, in their situations, and to make choices for them, to feel their emotions. I don't think there are good emotions and bad emotions, videogames so far have just explored the adrenaline side and frustration and competition. But there are many other emotions that are triggered very successfully in movies, in television series, in novels, in theatre, in poetry, in painting. Why would videogames just be limited to anger and fear? I can't see any reason for that.
Eurogamer: Is it safe to tap into the emotions of gamers?
David Cage: It's not about being safe, it's a matter of trying to offer a different type of experience, bringing maybe more depth and more meaning than traditional videogames. That's what we try to achieve. And it's very difficult and very challenging, especially because you have a controller and the way to interact with what's going on goes through the controller, so you need to find a way of making the controller tell a story - putting the challenge in the mind of the character, rather than on his thumbs.
There are many, many different difficulties, one of them being that there is no grammar, at the moment, for interactive storytelling. It has to be invented. It's not like when you're making a shooter. There are so many shooters out there. You know, in other words, what doesn't work, what you can improve, what you to try differently. But when you try a new genre you need to invent the words of this new language. And you can borrow; we borrowed from movies, we borrowed from television series and novels. But at the same time you have many missing words that you have to create and invent.
Eurogamer: You're a borrower, but from what?
David Cage: That's an interesting point, because in the game community sometimes there is a feeling that we should not borrow anything from anyone and just invent from scratch. If you look at the other mediums you realise it has never happened in the past. I mean, TV series borrowed from cinemas, cinemas borrowed from photographs, photographs borrowed from paintings. Nothing is created from scratch: everything has to start from established grounds.
With Heavy Rain we borrowed from cinema a lot and we borrowed from TV series, because there are some codes about how to tell a story, how to structure a story, how to create an emotional arc for the characters that are already established and very well demonstrated not only in movies but also in books.
There's no need to reinvent this. There's a very famous book written by someone called Joseph Campbell, it's very old, it's called The Hero with a Thousand Faces. It really influenced all Hollywood, because it analysed all the tales, mythology, this kind of stuff, to understand the basic rules to tell stories and to create characters. And this is what Hollywood uses, what most writers use these days. It's the same starting point for us. It can be the same starting point; it cannot be the whole thing. We are not cinema, we need to invent our own rules on top of this.
Eurogamer: Where did your four main characters come from?
David Cage: You put a part of yourself into the characters when you're a writer, I guess. All of them have a part of me. I like to start working with archetypes. I like the fact that the entry point to the story and to the character is really easy, so when you see the character and hear him talk or see him move or how he looks, in five minutes you've got the feeling you know who he is. That's an archetype, and it can be done very simply and very quickly.
What is interesting is when you start building on the top of this archetype, adding layers, complexity to the character. Maybe you start to surprise the player; you thought you knew this character but, in fact, you've discovered he is more complex than you initially thought. This is how I shape my characters.
Eurogamer: You mentioned during your Developer Session that you do not shy away from real-life issues, stories, dramatics. Is there anything too controversial to be recreated in a videogame?
David Cage: No. Why? Why is it okay to write a book about something but not to make a game. As long as you do it honestly; as long as you have something interesting to say about it as your vision. You have something you need to share with people, whether you share it as a writer, a movie maker or game creator - it's the same thing. It's just different forms of expression. But at the end of the day it can do the same thing.
This is something I hope to develop in the future: to go to different topics and things that maybe aren't used as much in videogames. Games are considered media for kids, for teenagers, so there are things we don't want to talk about. But there is no reason for that. We need to work hard to explain to society and to convince people and players first that interactivity is just another medium. Yes there are games for kids and for teenagers, but there should [also] be games for adults.
Eurogamer: What about rape and paedophilia? Are you saying they can be tackled in videogames?
David Cage: Definitely, yes. If treated the right way and with the right approach, you can definitely talk about anything.
But would you ask this question to a writer? Can you write a book about anything? Yeah, sure, I can. It's the same thing for a movie director. Is there any topic that you never ever mention in your movies? Probably most directors would answer, "No, of course not, there's nothing - I can talk about anything." But to a game developer it still makes sense to ask this question, and I think that says a lot about where we are in this industry.
Eurogamer: What about when you consider a game like Manhunt 2?
David Cage: I don't want to comment on Manhunt 2 because I've not played it. But my feeling about some games in our industry is that some people just went over the top, just for the sake of doing it. When violence or sex become gratuitous, it doesn't tell you anything, it has no interest; it's sex for the sake of sex, violence for the sake of violence. It's then that I feel a bit uncomfortable. And the same thing with a movie. When you see a movie where there's more blood than is really needed and the movie doesn't tell you anything, then you feel like what am I doing here?
Our industry, we have a responsibility in the current situation. If we are considered like kids or teenagers doing these silly things with games... I mean there are reasons for this: we gave politicians reasons to think that way, because we were unable to behave like adults at some points. This is something I hope is going to change.
Eurogamer: You said you're not afraid to show nipples. Does that mean you're confirming nipples in Heavy Rain? [Good grief. - Ed]
David Cage: Haha. Why are so many people obsessed with sex? The rule I give myself is everything is allowed as long as it makes sense in context. As long as it is not gratuitous, as long as it tells something about the story or the characters. Do you know in real life when two adults fall in love they may end up making love? That's the kind of thing that happens. Why not in a game? Why should it be treated differently? I'm doing a game that will be rated 18+. What should I hide when I'm rated that way?
Eurogamer: Certainly not nipples.
David Cage: Certainly not nipples! Haha. That's a good answer. But again, it's not showing nipples for the sake of sex, it's just to say, "OK, does it tell you something about the character? Does it add to the experience?" It's not about creating this teenage feeling of, "Oh look, she's naked! It's so funny!" And then laugh like an idiot about it. It's really about her as a character: real, vulnerable. It tells you something about her.
Eurogamer: All three platform holders are trying to expand to mainstream audiences. Party and social games are the typical route, but could what these companies are looking for be a game like Heavy Rain? Something the intellectual masses can sink their teeth into.
David Cage: The market is not one big block of people having the same profile and the same expectations. There are kids, there are teenagers, there is room for family entertainment. We try with Heavy Rain to create some room for adult entertainment. Sony is doing a fantastic job at addressing all audiences. I also believe it's one of the very few publishers taking risks and giving chances to developers having crazy ideas. Look at LittleBigPlanet for an example.
Eurogamer: Another of Sony's innovations is the PS3 wand. What opportunities does that present for you?
David Cage: Well we're really interested in this, of course, because we have this close relationship with Sony, but also because we've had a chance to play with some prototypes and it's really promising and interesting. We think about movement and how it can reinforce immersion even since Fahrenheit. We use the controller in a certain way in Heavy Rain: we use the sticks, the Sixaxis motion control, trying really to emulate what your character does on screen, trying to make you feel like you are doing the movement. So we are very close to this way of thinking.
We would be interested to discover whether there is a way to use this device for more mature audience and for a more mature experience.
Eurogamer: Will your next game use the wand?
David Cage: It may. It may. I don't believe that every single game should be motion-controlled. It's great for certain types of game, but there are also games that you want to play just, you know, sitting on a couch.
But yeah, this is definitely something we are going to explore in the future.
Eurogamer: I have to touch on the games as art argument. I'm sorry. Which medium do you prefer to tell you a story?
David Cage: Interactivity. Games. This is why I'm here. Yes I'm interested in storytelling, but I'm not a frustrated writer or movie maker who couldn't make movies so he makes videogames. That's really not my case. I was born and raised on videogames and I am 40 years old today. I started playing on Oric-1, which is a very old computer, and then I played pretty much every single console, or computer, since then. It's a part of my culture, but it's exciting for me to try to be a pioneer, to try to be explore new ways of doing things. I'm not a frustrated movie maker, honestly: I'm here because I decided to be here.
Eurogamer: Would you ever make a movie?
David Cage: It's not one of my dreams, to be honest. It's not like I wake up in the morning and say, "Oh I should make a movie one day." No. No. Maybe it will happen one day, if it makes sense, if I believe I'm capable of doing it. But it's not one of my goals in life.
Eurogamer: Let's get back to Heavy Rain. There are loads of possibilities in each scene, not only how you can succeed, but also how you can fail. And failing, as you mentioned, is also progressing, and can unlock other paths in subsequent stories. How many times can one person replay the game?
David Cage: There is a huge replayability value to the game if you want to see every single scene, every single animation and sequence. There are so many different consequences that there's no real clear answer about how many ways there are. What I like about people who play it once is that you never know what would have happened if you did something different. It's like real-life. You never know what would have happened if you made a different choice - if you married another woman, if you had done something completely different. I like that people can enjoy the game that way. But I'm sure there will be hardcore gamers who will want to see all possible endings.
Eurogamer: The characters of Heavy Rain must have been in your head now for a very long time. Are you bored of them yet?
David Cage: Oh no, no - honestly, no. What is really amazing for me is to see the scenes taking shape and slowly getting where I want them to be. Slowly but surely you start to see the emotion. It's doing black magic: every scene is doing black magic. It's really amazing. It's a very interesting process for me.
Eurogamer: You said there are around 70 scenes. How long will I need to finish Heavy Rain, assuming I play through each scene once?
David Cage: Our current assessment is that the game is going to be around 10 hours.
Eurogamer: Have you thought about what you're going to do with Heavy Rain after release?
David Cage: Yeah, er, yeah.
Eurogamer: What are you going to do with Heavy Rain after release?
David Cage: Well we're talking about the possibility of DLC, probably telling prequels about the characters, where they come from, what happened to them before Heavy Rain. This is still in discussion, but is something we're thinking about.
Eurogamer: You talk highly of your relationship with Sony and you obviously have a working PS3 engine now. Is your foreseeable future with Sony?
David Cage: Yeah. You know, it really depends on what will happen with Heavy Rain. We're really happy with our relationship so far, and we're really glad Sony gave us a chance. Now we feel like we have to give them something back and make a commercial success of this game. We need to show them that we deserve their trust. We hope to do that, and we will see from there what happens.
It's a platform that we love and enjoy working on.
Eurogamer: There are demos of Heavy Rain on show here. Will we see one on PlayStation Network prior to the game's 2010 release?
David Cage: There will be a demo of Heavy Rain. It's a very difficult game to demo and it's always a double-edged thing with demos. My biggest fear is that if we show one scene, people will think, "Oh it's 70 times this scene, doing the same thing." It's not the case: every single scene is unique with different characters, different environments, different gameplay. It's impossible to convey that - we'd have to release 10 demos.
It's a frustrating situation, because if you don't release a demo, people may think you have something to hide, which is really not the case. But at the same time we want to make sure the demo we show really reflects and gives an idea of what the game is really about.
Eurogamer: My last question, and I record this for a reason, is can I have a cameo in your next game please?
David Cage: Hahaha. You can! We've done that before. All the characters in Heavy Rain are based on scans we took at the Parc de la Villette in Paris. There are some faces of real people in the game, which is really fun.
David Cage is the founder and co-CEO of Quantic Dream. Video highlights from this interview can be found on Eurogamer TV.