Changing The Game: The Quantic Dream Interview Part OneBy Billy Berghammer - Posted Aug 27, 2009
During GamesCom 2009, I had the unique opportunity to talk with Quantic Dream’s David Cage and Guillaume de Fondamiere at length about their upcoming PS3 game Heavy Rain. We’ve broken up the interview in two parts, but before you dig into this interview, I implore you to check out, the latest trailer for the game, my hands-on preview and my full report of the latest demonstration Cage showed of Heavy Rain – to give you more backstory of what Heavy Rain is all about.
For over 45 minutes, Cage and de Fondamiere discussed how they went about showing a demonstration that barely showed action, how to market such an unconventional game, and the casting process for their digital actors, and much more. Click here to read Part Two of our extensive interview!
G4: How do you decide, with this type of game, what you guys are going to show because the game is so intensely story driven?
David Cage: Well, that’s the problem. It’s always a big discussion about what we’re going to show and there’s no easy answer to that. Each time it’s a compromise and sacrifice – a difficult choice. Because the fear is that, in this industry, when you show a level it’s supposed to represent the game. So, if you take this level and you expand it by the amount of levels, you get an idea of what this game is about. But with Heavy Rain, each scene is different, which means that you can’t do that. So, when you show something, you try to put in context - explain that each scene is unique and different, but people don’t always get that. So, what we decide with Sony was, in fact, is to show four scenes, one for each character, showing very different aspects of the game. That was the decision - to try to demonstrate how different each scene can be.
G4: ….which kind of reminds me of what you showed yesterday. Where it was a very simple demonstration, in theory, on paper, it was a very simple demonstration. You’re not showing a lot, but you’re showing a lot at the same time. How difficult is that to put something like that kind of raw emotion into a scene, or into a game? That’s stuff that people can pull off in movies, but not as much in video games.
Cage: It’s true and it’s very difficult to be honest, but it was a part of the challenge, really, to create this feeling of attachment to the kid. That was so important and we didn’t want to do that in cut scenes because we rarely use cut scenes in the game. We really wanted to use game play to make you feel like you’re in charge of this kid and you’re responsible for him. And we want to build an attachment to him because when he disappears, you feel so attached and you love him and you’ll feel like his father in a certain way, and you’ll want to save him – whatever it takes. So, all this is built through gameplay, and through narrative, and through dialogs from the first second of the game and until the moment he disappears.
G4: Then, after that, you showed the Madison demonstration, which is – there was a lot of excitement, even though that scene, technically, as you said, will not be in the final version of the game. And then "Madjack", which is also very intense, and then you come here, to this show, where I’ve been through 15, 20 demos and everybody shows their best stuff. It’s always action-packed. It’s always you’re on the edge of your seat, and I was explaining to someone – they were like, “Oh, what was the behind-closed-doors thing like with Heavy Rain?” and I’m like, “Eh, they didn’t really show much.” And then I explained it. I mean, because you showed a very, kind of basic, day-to-day life situation with Ethan. How did you come across that – to say, “This is what we want to do,” and explain to Sony, “This is what we’re going to show?”
Cage: Well, actually, Sony who told us, “This is what you should show,” and I understand why [you ask this.] Heavy Rain is different. If I was showing you a scene with explosions and people dying, you’d say, “Well, this is not what I was expecting from Heavy Rain,” and I think it was interesting to take the opposite side. You know what? We’re going to show you something that is not spectacular, but a scene that is just a scene you could find in a movie.
And I think this scene is really inspired from movies like Unbreakable, of the relationship between a father and his son, and this is the type of atmosphere we try to convey in this scene. We don’t know – I think with Sony, maybe we thought this is what would make Heavy Rain really stand out of all the things you’ve seen on the show floor. This is so different, so unique, again, why not? It’s not to say that Heavy Rain is about taking care of a kid. It’s about this, plus what you’ve seen in "Madjack", plus what you’ve seen with Madison, and what you’ve seen in Shelby. It’s a combination of all that. So, you’ve got some action, you’ve got some explorations and adventures, some emotional stuff, but it’s really funny because this is the type of game that is really not adapted anymore to the way we show games.
Going to trade shows, like E3 or like Cologne, here, you go to booths and take the controller and just play for a few minutes and you like it or you don’t like it and you go to the next booth. Imagine it’s a movie. Can you imagine a movie where you have a 30-second sample of a movie on a booth and you say “Oh, I like it!” or “Oh, I don’t like it!” and move to the next – it doesn’t mean anything. So, it’s very, very difficult to explain this game that way. So, we try to invent new ways of explaining what we’re doing, but also in trade shows like this, people enjoy big explosions. Anything that is spectacular, you’re sure you’re going to be very successful and we’ve seen that at E3. The more explosions you’ve got, the more success you will receive, and that’s fine – fair enough. But, okay, this is also why we started with an action scene with "Madjack." We thought that it would be very accessible and more easy to get into. But, at the same time, Heavy Rain is not so much about that, it’s really much more about emotional and subtle things.
The way we show in this Ethan scene. So we slowly, but surely, try to get people into it, “Look. Heavy Rain is all this.” It’s action. With Madison you felt very uncomfortable. We got this feedback, “I felt very uncomfortable.” Yes, that’s great. That’s exactly what we wanted to achieve: you felt something you rarely felt in a game, and then we show Scott Shelby because we wanted to show that you can play these scenes in many different ways to illustrate the banding stories aspect. Now we show Ethan to show this emotional side.
G4: How do you show people that go to the show a game that is so different contextually, but also control-scheme-wise, to make it bite-sized for them so they can try to understand?
Cage: I think it takes time. You cannot just make the game and put it on the shelf and think, “Okay, everybody will get it.” It’s such a step, not only for journalists, but I think, in a certain way, for the industry and for gamers. It’s a different way – it’s a different approach, it’s so different from the other games out there. So, it’s the type of game that requires some time to explain, so you can evangelize people, and tell them what you’re trying to achieve. So, when they can actually play the game, they know where you come from, and they have the history, and they know why you’ve reached that point, and why you’ve made things this way – what you’re trying to achieve with this game. I think that’s useful.
G4: I played Indigo Prophecy, so I understand the control-scheme, but are you, within the context of the game, planning on having some sort of a training level or tutorial? Or is that all going to be built within the game?
Cage: Sure. You learn the control-schemes and you learn all these things. We try to make it as simple as possible. We don’t want to have too many battles, doing ten things. It’s as simple as possible, and we try to make sure that by the end of the first scene, you’re really familiar with the controls and you can forget about them, which is the ultimate goal -- to forget the controls. You just do things very naturally and that’s it.
G4: Why not have this game as – because it kind fits in the TV series kind of thing – why not make it an episodic game? Especially with the PS3, it’s got a hard drive. It’s perfect for that sort of thing.
Cage: That’s a very good question. It won’t be the case for Heavy Rain, but, of course, as you can imagine, it is definitely something to have in mind.
G4: It seems like that’s the future – that’s where we’re going.
Cage: That’s what we think.
G4: So, how are you planning on working with Sony to get the message out? My biggest concern, is how do you market a game like this that is fundamentally so completely different than what’s out there right now?
Cage: Well, you know, you can see it both ways. You can say, “Oh, being different is a problem,” but maybe not being different is another problem. You see what I mean? If I was doing another FPS, like you will see a zillion here, it would be a problem to find a way to market it. So, here, at least, we have something that really stands out from the competition and I think the real challenge of this marketing campaign will be really to not only convince hardcore gamers, but also to try to expand this market and reach casual gamers or even non-gamers. People who maybe bought a PlayStation because of the Blu-ray, but they don’t buy games because they’re not interested in games. You can’t imagine how many people who used to play games when they 15, 16, and just stopped when they became adults and moved to films because games, they are for kids. So, the real challenge is to convince these people and to tell them, “Look, now we have interactive content for you. Please, come back. Try it. Enjoy it. You will see. If you like thrillers, you will love Heavy Rain because this is the same type of experience.” But on top of just watching it, it’s interactive. You make the movie. You are the actor. You are the director. You can really customize the experience based on your actions.
G4: With a game that’s so cinematic are you planning on having one minute, two minute trailers in movie theaters? How do you cram something like that into a 30-second, 60-second TV commercial?
Cage: Well, you can. Movies do that very well. There are some fantastic teasers and they can really give you the will to go and watch them just based on 30 seconds. So, now the details of marketing campaigns, this is really Sony’s side, but I think also this is what was missing maybe on my previous game, on Indigo Prophecy, I think the game would have been much more - even more successful with a publisher like Sony being able to promote it and market it and explain it the right way. Unfortunately, this was not the case, but the game did well anyway. I’m sure that Heavy Rain will do better because the game is better, but also because we have now a partner able to explain it and not just put it on the shelves.
G4: Are you planning on having a demo?
Cage: That’s currently in discussion. There are pros and cons because you could say, well the problem with this game, if you give a demo, you will fall again into the fact that people will think “Oh, this is the game.” And you will never be able to convey the fact that each scene is unique and there’s a different gameplay, different situation, different context for each scene. People are surely not used to that, and even when you explain it, most people don’t get it. I mean, I’ve seen many people who could not figure out how these four scenes that we have shown so far were a part of the same game. “Is this really part of the same game? This is completely different.” That’s what Heavy Rain is about. Seventy scenes, each scene is different. So, if you put a demo out, you need to find exactly the right playable demo that will give a sense to people what Heavy Rain is really about. But there is a con also, which is: Okay you show that, but how do you talk about the narrative? How do you do justice to the emotion you are trying to trigger with a playable demo? How do you create the context for this demo? But if you don’t do it, people always say, “Oh, they don’t put a demo out because they are not happy with the game and they want us to buy it without trying it.” So, I don’t know. This is in discussion. I think there will probably be a playable demo because this is something that you can hardly avoid, but it’s like if we’re watching a movie and we tell you “We’ll give you a portion of the DVD and you’ll have one minute of the movie on DVD and if you like it, you can buy the DVD.”
G4: So, the big surprise yesterday during our behind closed doors was that you brought the real-life actor, which I will say was kind of creepy, because seeing him right after seeing what he looks like on-screen in the game -- it’s uncanny. How did you guys go about choosing the people that play the characters in your game?
Cage: Well, that was a real challenge and it took me years, as explained before, because what most games do, these days, is to find a face, sometimes they scan it or they entirely design it from scratch and find someone else to do the body motion capture and someone else doing the voice, and someone else doing the facial animation. This is what we’ve done with Indigo Prophecy and you end up with characters that were, in fact, built based on five or six different people. And that’s okay, to a certain extent, but on Heavy Rain we wanted to see what we would gain by creating characters based on one person. Not a composite of several ones. Would we gain performance consistency or credibility in creating these characters? And I felt, in fact, that yes, it has been extremely useful to really recommend to people working on this type of experience, if one day there is someone else trying this, to work the same way because you’re really gaining consistency. Sometimes people think “Okay, I’m not going to take an actor to open a drawer.” You know what? Yes, you should because the way he opens the drawer, the way he moves, the way he’s going to open it based on what he knows happens in the scene, etc. We were talking, I don’t know if it was in your session yesterday with Pascal Langdale about how he opened the fridge. I mean, there are many different ways of opening the fridge depending on the level of stress or whether you are at home or at someone else’s fridge or whatever and when you just work with someone, he doesn’t care. “You want me to open a fridge? I’ll open a fridge. Here you go.” When you work with an actor and the actor has the role, he knows who he is, where he comes from, and where he goes. Well, he can act the fact of opening the fridge door. It’s a little bit extreme, but that’s the way I see things.
G4: So why not go with a big-budget, Hollywood cast instead of a bunch of actors that for the most part a lot of people aren’t going to know who they are?
Cage: You know, with Hollywood actors, most of them are talented because you rarely get really famous and known if you don’t have some kind of talents somewhere, but they see videogames like a cash machine, and, very often, I don’t feel the respect for the medium talking to some of them. It’s like, “Okay, I don’t really give a shit what we’re going to do. Tell me how much time it’s going to take and how much money you’re going to give me.” And you know what? This is not the kind of discussion, when you’re a director, you want because you are going to be very demanding with the actor and I knew I would be. And the last thing I wanted is someone looking at his watch and telling me “*tap* *tap* Still got 10 minutes before I go.” Well, wait a minute! We’re doing something here. It’s four years of my life. I needed actors ready to get involved, wanting to understand what we were trying to achieve and not just trying to trying to get a check. And, most of all, in Hollywood, very often, they think “Okay, I have some space between two movies. I can make money, by doing something quick and dirty. Let’s do a videogame.”
Guillaume de Fondamiere: Come to Paris.
Cage: Yea. Come to Paris. Enjoy the city, and be paid in first-class to travel there.
de Fondamiere: We talked to some agents and really, that’s what came out. “They’ll come to Paris for a week because that’s always good, you know?” The purpose is not really visiting a city. And then we realized that that was not the right option because we wanted to work with actors and we realized that would be spread through a long period of time, and that not anybody could do it. So, then we moved to, “Okay, let’s find people who are maybe not famous, but who are talented, who are available, and who are willing to do something with us from a creative point of view, not just to get money, but really to get involved in something. And, we found them, and I’m so incredibly happy with what we got. It’s really exactly what we needed, and I hope that we’ll stop this silly thing of going to Hollywood to get these actors into videogames, and I hope the opposite will start, that Hollywood will start to discover actors – maybe in Heavy Rain they will say, “Oh, this guy is fantastic! Why didn’t we make him work before?” Well, because you didn’t look, and maybe they’ll start to draw from our talents.
G4: How did you get the actors that you chose into character and - you said that you needed to get them more involved than say, a regular Hollywood actor got involved. What kind of paces did you put them through?
Cage: Well, we cast them – I saw them probably twice in the casting sessions. Then, they came to Paris, and we rehearsed together with different scenes. So usually we ask them to learn the scenes so we can really play it on stage and then we spend a day together, and then we agreed that they had the role. And then the hard work started, and we gave them the full script. We gave them a linear script, like the movies, so they could have an understanding of the experience and their arc in the story. We gave them the full game designs, so they know exactly what type of things we were going to ask of them. And then we started with motion capture. We rehearsed a lot and then we shot. That’s about 12 months - so it’s been really a lot of work.
It’s quite physical as well; it’s really exhausting. What was really important for me, and for them, was to – not just to open drawers and fridge and do what I was telling them to do - but I wanted them to understand, exactly, who they were. I thought it was very important especially when you work with motion capture, where there is no set, no furniture, and no partner. You really need to have everything in your mind when you have an actor so you can get it with the performance because if you don’t have a clue about what you’re doing here, you’re going to do something that has no meaning and no interest. Even the background I told them a lot of things that are not even in the script about who their parents were and where they were raised and what kind of studies they’d done and how they lived before the story started, etc. to give them a maximum of information about their character. People like Pascal, for example, they love this kind of thing; they need this kind of stuff so they can really get involved. So, body motion capture took awhile. Then, we recorded all the facial animations and voice, which was really a nightmare for actors because they needed to learn their lines by heart. And they had about 130 pages of script to learn by heart, and the reason for that is that we didn’t want their eyes to follow the paper. We would have seen that they were reading based on the capture. So, we really wanted them to be free of the text and just talk to someone for the dialogs – not read the text. So, that was a lot of work and then we’ve done the motion capture on the body for the dialogs. So, basically it was adding the body to the voices they had recorded and the face, which was a strange exercise because you listen to your voice a couple of times and then you’re going to act as if you were talking. So, I thought that was an interesting exercise.
G4: How long do you think it’s going to be until videogames are recognized in the same regard as film?
Cage: I think for Hollywood, it’s all a matter of money because they started to be interested in videogames the second they heard that we were making more money than them. They said, “Oh, then we should have a look!” So, it’s just a matter of money, and the more money we make, the more copies we’ll sell. The more of a threat we will be for them – people playing games instead of watching films – the more attention they’ll pay, but that’s not something I’m dreaming of or expecting impatiently. I don’t really care. I mean, I’m happy with where I am and what I’m doing here, and the movie industry is a different industry. But, here, we are pioneering. We’re trying new things, and I think it’s a very interesting opportunity to try new ideas.
Click here to check out Part Two of our extensive interview!