Before embarking on Heavy Rain, David Cage - adventure-game auteur and chief of the Quantic Dream studio - made Fahrenheit. A similarly daring exercise in interactive narrative, known as Indigo Prophecy in the US, Fahrenheit is remembered with equal amounts of fondness and embarrassment by gamers, sometimes at the same time.
Turns out Cage himself is no different. Discussing Heavy Rain with him for today's hands-on preview, your correspondent asked a simple question: "What are you able to do this time with Heavy Rain that you weren't with Fahrenheit?" His answer was so detailed and so disarmingly frank, we thought we'd repeat it in full.
"Oh my God, pretty much everything to be honest with you. Fahrenheit was really a first try. I mean, we didn't know what we were doing... well yeah, there were a couple of things we wanted to do. We wanted to allow the player to play physically with the story. This was one of the goals of Fahrenheit. We wanted also to create a couple of emotional situations where you would have moral choices. And most of all, we wanted to break with old game paradigms: game mechanics, no weapons, no cars, no puzzles, just choices. This is what we managed to do with Fahrenheit.
"But apart from that... it was very technical to write, to be honest with you. And at some points I would get a little bit lost between the technique of writing it, and... the scope and the inspiration. [With Heavy Rain], I got the feeling I had a better understanding of what I was writing. I assigned the right amount of time to do it, much more time, I spent a year just writing; I worked with Hollywood script doctors, showed them my script, and they really criticised it, told me to change many things. It was really valuable, I really learned a lot doing this.
"And the technology, oh my God. We are one platform only. It's still proprietary technology, same as Fahrenheit was, but Fahrenheit was our first console game. It was on three platforms at the same time, the platform changed in the middle of the development and suddenly it was a PlayStation 2 lead so we had to rethink everything. Here, it's PlayStation 3 from day one, one platform, so you can really work on the technology knowing what the final platform will be, so you can optimise everything and think about the technology for that platform.
"You can also think about the interface for the controls, because you know what the controller's going to be. When you work on three platforms you have to make it work with a mouse and with a PlayStation 2 controller, I mean what's in common between these two controllers? Nothing.
"So we had more time to write, I think the story's much better. The graphics are really, really much better because we spent so much time working on the tools and the pipelines and the technology behind it. It's the same graphics team, but they were so frustrated with Fahrenheit because they were really talented, and maybe the final game, because of all the constraints, didn't do them full justice. And here with Heavy Rain, they just do what they are capable of doing. And this [scene] is not the nicest environment and characters, we've done much better than that.
"The interface. I think with Fahrenheit, there are many very interesting ideas, all the things with controlling the moves with the stick, it worked quite well... but all the simon-says parts with the big bar didn't work that well. So here, on Heavy Rain, we changed the interface. Instead of asking the player to look at the top of the screen to know, OK I want to interact with this, I'm supposed to do that... Here, we implemented everything in the same place. You know, I want to interact with this, and you just look, and OK, you know how. Everything is in the same glance.
"So it's much more fluid, and what is really surprising... we've of course done some playthroughs with focus test groups, and when they play, after a couple of minutes they forget about the navigation system, that it's really different. It becomes so natural that they just follow the story and they forget about the controls. So I think that the interface works much, much better than on Fahrenheit.
"And yeah, one last thing, I talked about the quality of the story... I think it works much better. It's more detailed, there's no supernatural element, it's just down-to-earth and there's real people and real situations, and I think that's great. Much better. And I think also it's probably the first thing I write for a game that relates to my personal life, and I hope that people feel that. That there's someone trying to tell a real story that relates to him.
"And what's really interesting about the story is that Sony took it worldwide in all territories, including Japan, before they could see anything, mainly based just on the story. What got many people within the group interested is the fact that the story was so unusual. So it's a good sign I think; there are some universal values in the story, some interest that I hope is going to reflect in the interest players have for it."