Interview: Quantic Dream's David Cage

At the Eurogamer Expo last year, we sat down with David Cage to talk about Heavy Rain, the demo at the expo fresh in our minds. As the release of the game next month draws closer, take a look at how Heavy Rain came to be.

The first impression we got from Heavy Rain was that it seems a lot like a spiritual successor to Fahrenheit, in that you’ve taken the ideas you’ve had for the design for that, and built it up. Is that how the design came about?

Well, yes and no. In fact, we see Fahrenheit as the prototype to Heavy Rain. With Fahrenheit we really experimented; we wanted to know if it was possible to tell a story through gameplay and not through cutscenes. We also wanted to see if there was a market for this and if people were interested in seeing what we were doing. We got positive answers to these two questions, so we started really working hard on Heavy Rain, trying to figure out what went well on Fahrenheit, and what didn’t work, and how we could improve it. So we spent some time reading reviews and on forums listening to gamers and what they had to say – what they liked, and what they didn’t like, and designed the game accordingly.

Having done that, how much demand do you think there is for this kind of game, and how successful do you think it will be against the other more traditional titles available? It’s fair to say that Fahrenheit was critically well-received but didn’t really find a place in the mainstream. Do you expect Heavy Rain to be able to break that barrier? A very cinematic and emotional story is one people want to see told in any medium – do you see it being able to break that trope of ‘these are videogames; we shoot people’?

We certainly hope so. It’s impossible to answer a question such as that until release – there’s nothing on offer like that. We don’t know. I believe that you shouldn’t try to give the market what it expects; you should surprise them. Someone once said that if you asked people what they wanted in the 18th century that they would have said that they wanted a faster horse – no-one expected the car. That’s a very interesting point, and it’s the same thing with games today – if you asked people what they want, they say first-person shooters with better graphics and multiplayer – more of the same. But if you can go to market with something original and really surprise them, that’s very interesting too. That’s really the approach with Heavy Rain. We think there is a market for experiences for people who are maybe tired with playing the same games over and over again, and are eager for something different with more depth, more meaning, and more emotion.

We realised with Fahrenheit that some people really enjoyed the experience, but could not play the action sequences because they were too difficult. We didn’t want people not to play Heavy Rain because of that, so we needed to find a way to make the game accessible to different types of audiences and not just hardcore gamers. Everybody who enjoys thrillers and owns a PlayStation 3 should be able to play the game. While the main differences [in difficulty level] are the difficulty and timing of each event, the thought system becomes much simpler and more instructive about what to do and how to progress in each scene. So in hardcore mode it only gives you tiny clues, whereas in non-gamer mode it actually tells you what to do next. it’s a different approach that makes the game much simpler – which is the goal – but it will enable a very different audience to enjoy the game too.

Is there the option for the hardcore thought processes with the simple controls, for gamers who might enjoy a challenge but not be familiar with the controller?

Not at the moment. These are two things that really have to go together. The choice is always difficult [as a designer], because at some point it becomes a manual with many options, which ends up not making sense from a development point of view.

The controller can be a large barrier to entry for any game, and especially a game like Heavy Rain. You’ve mentioned in the past that you didn’t want Heavy Rain to be a film, but it’s very cinematic and comparison to film would not be unfair. How do you make that decision? Is is simply that the interaction with the scene is so powerful?

Yes, definitely. There is a story, but it’s a story based on your actions. You define the story as you play, which always makes a difference with the relationship you have with the experience. It’s not just about you watching and listening to a story; it’s really about being yourself as the writer and the actor and the director of the experience.

How much freedom does the player have, in that regard?

There are different types of consequences to your actions. Some actions have absolutely no consequence; it’s just a part of the roleplaying and doing things in the environment that your character would do. Other actions have local consequences that will affect the way the scene will be played and what will happen currently in the scene. Other actions have long-term consequences that may be in the next scene or even several scenes later, and some actions have final consequences like, for example, that your character can die. And of course if he does, you will miss all his scenes in the story – but maybe you’ll get something else in exchange. Maybe you will see things because he died that you would have missed otherwise.

And with that in mind, is the game set up so that any death is permanent – so you can’t go back and change it if you don’t like how a scene turned out?

Well, the goal is not to frustrate the player. It’s rather to encourage him to play it in a certain way. So the saving system is not something that’s going to prevent you from doing what you want to do, but at the same time, we would like people to play the game by the rule that your actions have consequences and that you have to live with them.

Playing the demo on the floor through a few times brought something to our attention. One of the things we noticed was that in the combat sequence, a series of successes puts your character into a position of dominance over the other. If you fail during the fight, then your enemy is in that position, but you can easily reverse that. It seemed a little against the idea that has been presented that you can forcibly change the outcome. That outcome appears to be set.

That’s specific to the displayable demo. There were things we wanted you to see there, the full game is different. Of course, don’t expect every single scene in Heavy Rain to have multiple branches, with two thousand things having a tremendous effect on the story – that’s not what the game is about. There are some scenes that are more or less linear, where your actions have more or less consequences, but that’s the way the game is structured; we’re still telling a story.

That seems difficult to portray in a game such as this, especially in a public demo.

We discussed which scene we’re going to take for that. The difficulty is to pick one scene. With every single scene being so different, I’m a little nervous that people may just pick one scene and say that Heavy Rain is seventy times that scene with a different environment, and that everything has the same mechanics and same gameplay, which is not the case. In Heavy Rain every single scene is unique and different. This is something that’s going to be difficult to convey with a single-scene demo, but we’ll try to find something.

In the public demo you gave, you earned a trophy for talking the gunman out of his actions in the scene you showed. Do you feel that the idea of trophies is an odd one given the style of this game? Looking at it as an outsider, it seems that rewarding the player for very specific actions, which are what trophies and achievements are designed to do, seems antithetical to the idea of Heavy Rain, where you can go through and experience your own story and may not even see some of these scenes for which you could get a reward.

It’s true, Heavy Rain is seen much more like a journey rather than a series of obstacles, so it may look a little weird to get rewards for things you’ve done or not done. But at the same time Trophies are a very popular system and it’s something a lot of gamers expect. You won’t get Trophies during the scenes, they just appear on the loading screens so it doesn’t interfere with the experience as you play.

And are the nature of the Trophies that you can’t get them all in one playthrough?

You can’t, no.

How do you feel about people replaying the game in that instance? Does that dilute the experience you’re trying to convey?

If people really care about Trophies then they will want to play the game as many times as possible to get all of them. Personally, I don’t think they should replay the game. they can, of course, as many times as they want! But, again, it’s the kind of game that I think will have some emotional charge to it, and it’s interesting to play the game once, to make these decisions and to never know what would have happened if you played differently. That’s just the way I see things. People will play it several times, I’m sure.

Are there any plans for downloadable content for Heavy Rain at all? Are there any parts of the story that you might want to tell later?

On this format, that is really story-based, there is a lot of potential for episodes around it that don’t fit in with the main story. That’s something we’re interested in. The story in the game is self-contained – there’s no missing part that will be delivered via DLC, that’s absolutely not the case. The DLC will be separate.

(Between the time of the interview and the time of publication, Quantic Dream have confirmed that two episodes of DLC will be available for Heavy Rain; one at launch included with the special edition and on PSN, and one sometime after on PSN.)

Are there any other projects that Quantic Dream are working on that we might be able to look to after release?

Of course, but all the company is focused on Heavy Rain right now. We’ve developed a great technology for Heavy Rain with the support of Sony, and have experienced how to tell a story like Heavy Rain, but there are other stories we can tell with this format. We see it as a format for storytelling, rather than Heavy Rain on its own. This is something we want to explore in the future. We’re also very interested in all the ways you can use online technology, but it’s only a thought right now. We want to finish with Heavy Rain first.

Heavy Rain is out in the UK on February 26th for the PlayStation 3.
Heavy Rain – £37.73 delivered
Heavy Rain [Special Edition] – £39.99 delivered

1 Comment Leave yours

  1. hydra9 #

    Waaaaa… Where’s my Omikron 2? Hope it’s one of their secret projects. Nice interview – Thanks!

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