Yesterday we heard Quantic Dream CEO and founder David Cage discussing his goals for Fahrenheit and the difficulty in convincing publishers to take an interest in his unusual idea. Continuing our chat today, Cage reflects on the importance of choice and how to include it, his inspirations on the big screen and in the world of gaming, and how he came to wind up as a character in his own game.
Eurogamer: How many playable characters are there in the game? Our preview build had three, but it seems like there could be more...
David Cage: In Fahrenheit, you can play with all the main characters of the story. Unlike many games where you can just control the main hero, you play with the two main characters, Lucas Kane and Carla Valenti, but also with other characters playing a significant role.
Controlling different characters allows the player to share their intimate lives and really discover who they are and where they live. It is also a very interesting gameplay device as it allows the player to switch from one to the other, whether they are in the same place or in different places, and make them collaborate.
Eurogamer: Choice is obviously a big factor in the gameplay in Fahrenheit - something that few games have really attempted before. Just how much does it affect the game? We noticed some subtle choice decisions and some very big ones; is it really like this all the way through?
David Cage: To write Fahrenheit, I used a writing technique I call "Bending Stories". I consider my story as a rubber bend with a start, middle and end. By his actions, the player can stretch the rubber band and make it longer or shorter, or deform it. Whatever the player does, the rubber band is always there and cannot be broken. It allows me to guarantee the quality and the pacing of the storytelling whatever happens.
The system becomes really interesting when you consider that each rubber band can also deform the following rubber bands, and in fact the whole story becomes a rubber band itself. It is impossible to say how many paths are available in a story, as each action can slightly deform the story and thus have consequences.
I want to be clear on the fact that there is not an infinite amount of possible stories and that stories are not auto-generated. So many people lied and created unreasonable expectations that I don't want to be misunderstood. But the rubber band technique creates for the player a great space for choice within an existing storyline. It allows the player to play physically with the story.
Regarding the way choices work, there are generally two levels of choices: some of them have direct consequences on the current scene, others have consequences on a longer term.
I can give you an example from the very first scene: you control Lucas Kane as he just killed someone in a state of trance in the restrooms of a diner. By your actions, you can leave the diner in different ways, you can be very discreet or be seen by all, leave different clues behind you, be seen by witnesses or not. Your actions will of course modify what will immediately happen to you, but they will also modify the following scene, where you will be in control of detective Carla Valenti making her investigation. Her cop work on the crime scene will entirely depend on your actions with Lucas.
The actions you have performed will affect Lucas after the murder, and the actions you have performed with Carla looking for clues in the following scene, will influence the rest of the game on a long-term basis.
All the game is structured this way, which gives a great versatility to the experience.
Eurogamer: Just how long is the game in terms of the time it would take to play through first time, and how many chapters are there? How much of it is split between the various characters?
David Cage: There are more than fifty scenes. The usual play-through without replay time is around 15 hours, which is I think the right length for this kind of experience. Hardcore gamers will probably want to replay some scenes to see all the possibilities, which should expand the playtime for them. We have also integrated some bonus material that the player can unlock. There is some very interesting stuff including a making of, real time movies and playable scenes.
Eurogamer: What proportion is split between time-sensitive tasks and ones where you can just amble around at your own pace? Is Lucas always under pressure?
David Cage: Time is a very important element in Fahrenheit. I tried to use it to put the pressure on the player as much as possible. I wanted the experience to always move on, to even push the player if necessary. I did not want him to slow down the pace of the storytelling. Special events happen in almost all scenes, sometimes in real time, sometimes in "movie time". Lucas, as a fugitive, is much more under pressure. Carla, as the detective, has a different relationship to time.
Eurogamer: Isn't the 'Game Over' screen considered to be a bit of a no-no in adventures?
David Cage: Probably, but Fahrenheit is not an adventure game. My approach has been to define how far I allow the player to stretch the rubber band.
I first have absolutely no dead end in the story, and make sure that the story continues whatever the player does. I quickly discovered that after a while, the player would not really pay attention to his actions anymore if there are never any negative consequences. What would be the interest in the story if the hero could never get arrested or die when he is in danger?
So we have some Game Over situations in Fahrenheit, but we made sure that they would not be frustrating for the player as he can go back to the last moment where he could still change what happened (which is never far).
Eurogamer: Who wrote the script, and what was the overall style you were aiming for? It comes across as quite Film Noir at times.
David Cage: Writing the script of Fahrenheit took me about a year with a final document of 2000 pages. It has been a lot of work...
There is definitely a very dark, desperate tone that could evoke Films Noirs. I also love movies like Brazil, Citizen Kane, Hitchcock movies, but also more recently Dark Water, Angel Heart, Jacob's Ladder, Seven. I could also name Tarantino, Fincher, Lynch or Kubrick.
I cannot list all the movies that could be referenced in Fahrenheit. I guess "Snake Eyes" from Brian De Palma was one of them, for the idea of seeing the same scene from different angles. TV series "24" inspired me the specific use of the multiple windows. The way to play with the inner voices came from David Fincher's "Fight Club". There are so many great ideas in movies that could inspire strong interactive mechanics.
At the same time, I also think that there is also something very unique in the tone of Fahrenheit. As I said, I define it as a paranormal thriller, where serial killers are just the starting point to a larger story full of twists and turns.
Eurogamer: On the technical side, did you build the engine from scratch for the game, or use some middleware? What is the game doing that's technically pushing things?
David Cage: All the technology used in Fahrenheit is proprietary and has been developed for the game. We had some very special needs to create this experience in fields that are not always considered by other games.
We have developed some unique tools to manage all the possible actions and their consequences on the story.
We also worked on tools to create real time directing, but also facial animations or post-rendering to have a specific colorimetric and grainy picture.
The team has also done a great job on managing a huge amount of actions within a scene. Usually, games offer few new actions in large rooms. In Fahrenheit, we had a lot of possible actions in very small spaces, making almost everything interactive. This kind of possibilities brings issues regarding loadings and memory that we solved efficiently.
Last but not least, displaying up to four windows in real time 3D ala "24" requires an optimised 3D engine, especially on consoles.
Eurogamer: We understand you're also working on another game, a follow up to The Nomad Soul. How's this going, and when are we likely to get more information on that?
David Cage: We are currently at the first stages of our next projects. It is really important for us to continue to explore new possibilities and find another challenge. I have now two games initially considered as "impossible" behind me. I need to feel some kind of danger and adrenaline in order for me to move forward, so I work on new big challenges.
The company is going to level up and have two to three games in development all the time, which will allow us to have one game released per year. I hope to make some official announcements about that before the end of the year.
Eurogamer: Down the years, what games have really inspired you?
David Cage: Recently, ICO is probably the game that interested me the most. I started working on Fahrenheit when it was released, and I saw it as the concrete demonstration of what I was thinking: it is possible to create complex emotions like empathy through an interactive experience. The most important was that the game became a thousand times more intense and fascinating because of this emotion.
ICO really opened the way for me. I developed this idea with Fahrenheit and tried to see if other complex emotions could be created through a story and a strong identification to characters.
Eurogamer: Does the next generation of consoles excite or daunt you? When will you shift development onto next-gen machines? What will you be able to do that you couldn't this time around?
David Cage: The technical features of the next-gen consoles sound really exciting. But at the same time, I am still frustrated by what I have seen so far. I have the feeling that we are going to make exactly the same games, just with more polys and a physics engine.
I see technology as a tool, the pen to write the book. You can have the greatest pen on earth; it won't be enough to write a good book if you don't have talent and creativity.
I hope that publishers will want to have more ambition for next-gen games and start to see them as more than toys for kids. Let's use this great technology to do something more sophisticated than just giving the player a gun in the middle of a battlefield.
I always thought that the highest barrier was in creator's minds, not in the limitation of the hardware.
Now that we will have a better pen, we should try to write better books…
Eurogamer: Overall, what would you have loved to include in Fahrenheit that you had to drop this time around?
David Cage: Honestly, nothing. I don't mean that Fahrenheit is perfect and that nothing could have been improved. This is just the game I had in mind and it reflects the current state of my thinking.
Eurogamer: What were the biggest challenges during development?
David Cage: Working on a game that is so different is nothing easy. You always miss references and when you need to communicate your ideas to the team you need to have a great confidence. No one can prove you wrong, but you cannot say you are necessarily right.
I often wondered if I wouldn't do better making another shooter rather than trying to explore new directions. It would have definitely made my life easier these last two years...
At the same time, doubts make you move on and force you to reconsider your vision every day, which was a positive thing for the project.
Eurogamer: Why did you choose to put yourself in the tutorial?
David Cage: Initially, I wrote the role for Tyler Miles, one of the game's characters. The idea came from a producer at Vivendi who thought it would be logical for the experience to be introduced by the writer/director. I am still unsure whether it was a good idea, but it appeared to be convenient on a production point of view and it seemed to work okay, in spite of my French accent...
It already changed my life, as the people who played the game recognise me.
Becoming a character in a video game is something interesting. Now I know how my characters feel...
Eurogamer: Are you already thinking about a sequel? Has Atari expressed an interest in signing one?
David Cage: There is a lot of interest for the format of Fahrenheit since we got a lot of very positive press in Europe and the US. It is still early to talk about a sequel to Fahrenheit but we have discussions about this possibility with Atari and other publishers.
Fahrenheit is due out later this year on PS2, Xbox and PC.