Madison tries to get Paco to notice her at the Blue Lagoon, a dance club. To do so, she turns on the sexy and dances provocatively.
Attempting to sell a game with no shooting or jumping is going to be a tall order for David Cage, co-CEO of Quantic Dream and writer/director of the forthcoming Heavy Rain. In an industry ruled by modified rifles, plastic instruments, and -- increasingly -- zombies, a dark investigation into a serial killer and interpersonal relationships doesn't make for good back-of-the-box marketing material. But that seems to be a secondary concern to Cage, who is far more interested in how we feel as human beings while playing his game, beyond the instant gratification of eliminating foes...morals, instead of morters. We asked him about Heavy Rain's marketability, sexuality, and the proper balance of interaction and cinematics. (Questions by Patrick Klepek and Sterling McGarvey)
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G4: What's the development team feeling as Heavy Rain quickly moves from an in-house baby to purchasable product?
David Cage: We don’t really have time to elaborate about how we feel at the moment. There is still a lot of work to be done and we try to deliver the best game we can. When you work on a game, you never see it as a purchasable product, you only see it as a mass of unperfect things full of bugs you need to fix.
Personally, I feel terrified. I only see the problems, nothing seems good enough to me to be released and I would love to spend the next ten years making every detail perfect. But there is a moment when you have to let your baby go, I guess. It is also the moment that will bring answers about what I believe in and my ability to deliver it. The kind of moments you expect with a mix of hope and fear.
G4: How do you market a game like Heavy Rain? As a video game? As a movie? As both?
DC: We are going to market Heavy Rain as a video game because this is what it is. It is definitely an experience that you play, not a nice cut-scene that you watch. Our goal is to convince players that it is possible to tell a story though game play and not through cut-scenes.
G4: Have you considered releasing a short demo via PSN of a scene such as the Norman Jayden junkyard fight, to convey what the game is to gamers who don’t follow enthusiast media?
DC: Definitely. We are currently working on a demo, which is a real challenge. Finding one scene that can convey what we are trying to achieve with Heavy Rain is something really difficult. If we show an action scene, some players will think that this is what Heavy Rain is all about, and it is the same thing if we show an exploration scene. The problem is that each scene of the game offers contextual game play, which is something very difficult to explain and convey in a single demo. Demos are often a double-edge thing: if you don’t release one, players may think that you have something to hide. We also know many good games that ended up not being massive hits because the demo could not convey the quality of the game behind it.
Because Heavy Rain is a new concept and since many gamers will want to check what it is before buying it, we will be releasing a demo. We just need to find the best scene for it.
G4: How do you decide what elements of the game are player-controlled or portrayed by a cut-scene?
DC: Each time we can find a way to make a sequence interactive, we do it. Whenever, no matter how hard we try, we don’t find a way to propose something interesting to play, we use a cut-scene if it fits.
Some scenes were designed as interactive from the start and ended up being cut-scenes, others were designed as cut scenes and ended up being interactive. The biggest internal debate we had was about dialogues. We try many different new ideas for dynamic dialogues to find ways of not sticking the player in a cut-scene just to listen to what is said. That was a very interesting part of the design work, and I think there is much more to do in this area. Heavy Rain is just the first step in discovering how to tell a story through interactivity. It is definitely full of impossible challenges, but I can’t imagine anything more exciting and fascinating to do as a gamer designer.
A father and son struggle to get over a family tragedy as they go through the motions of their daily lives.
G4: What regions of the world seem to be providing you with the strongest feedback? Are Americans responding more enthusiastically than Europeans?
DC: The biggest surprise for us was how universal is the story we have chosen. The theme of the game "how far are you prepared to go for love" is something that is immediatly understood and that raises interest, whether you are French, American or Japanese. I often heard in the past that the U.S. was a market for shooters, Japan was a market for RPGs and Europe for everything else. I don’t think this is still true. Indigo Prophecy got the best reviews in the U.S., and there is no big difference so far between the countries regarding Heavy Rain.
The biggest difficulty we face is to dissociate ourselves from other types of mature games based on gore and gratuitous violence. Pretending to be mature in this environment always raises questions about what you exactly mean. Having a game talking about the love of a father for his son also raises questions, especially because many people wonder how a story could be played. We work in an industry where interactivity is usually defined as fighting or jumping. We hope to convince with Heavy Rain that there are many other things that can be done with interactivity that can be just as exciting.
G4: How much research went into crafting an American setting when a Parisian team is behind the project? What difficulties did you face in generating a sense of authenticity?
DC: The difficulty when you want to set your story in another country and within another culture is to avoid making a postcard of this country as you imagine it seen from where you leave. We also wanted to avoid all the clichés that are usually used about the US. So before the project started, as I was writing it, we went to Philadelphia for two weeks with some people of the team and our cameras. I chose Philadelphia pretty much per chance. I liked M. Night Shyamalan’ s movies and when I checked where he was shooting, I realized he was from Philadelphia. So we booked a plane, took our bags and traveled to the East Coast of the U.S., not having a clue of what we would discover.
We spent a tough two weeks exploring the city with a movie scout taking us to the worst places, the poorest areas, and the abandoned factories, discovering another side of America that you don’t often see in Hollywood movies. We visited the houses of people, we saw kids living in the streets, streets with garbage that no one collects anymore, houses about to collapse where people were still living, schools built across the street of a petroleum installation, etc. We saw barbed wire all over the place, railways leading to nowhere, rusted bridges, and many other things.
The places we visited and the people we met within these two weeks were the real founding moment of Heavy Rain. If I could only transcribe 1% of what I saw and what I felt when I was there in the game, it would make me very happy.
G4: You’ve cited your game as a mature, adult experience. What other games have you experienced in the past few years that you feel convey mature storytelling, even if they don’t deal with themes as dark as yours?
DC: I like the work of Fumito Ueda [ed. Ico, Shadow of the Colossus, The Last Guardian]. I often mention him as one of the key authors in our industry. He has a world of his own. He has his themes and his way of telling stories, as well as an interesting visual universe. He has a very poetic approach that I really enjoy.
G4: You don't seem to be shying away from sex in Heavy Rain. How do you decide what's too far? Is there a line?
DC: My rule is very simple: as long as it tells something about the story or the characters, everything is allowed. The problem is when it is gratuitous, when you add more blood than is needed, or when your camera goes lower for a little bit too long without telling you anything. Then you know you crossed the red line. There are some sexy scenes in Heavy Rain, one in particular I really like because it is about being a part of the intimacy of a character. It is one of the sexiest things I have seen in a video game without being vulgar at any moment. I am curious to see how players will react to that.
G4: What do you think of other attempts to incorporate sex and sexuality into video games? Have any been successful?
DC: To be honest, I don’t think sex has been cleverly used in games very often so far. Most of the time, it is used as "teenager bonus" to laugh stupidly in front of the TV. Sex is a part of our lives (well most of us…). It is what two adults in love usually end up doing, it is a way to express feelings. I don’t think there is anything wrong if you deal with it in a non-gratuitous way and in a tasteful manner. This is what we try to achieve in Heavy Rain. If video games aim at becoming really a mature platform telling more subtle and complex things at some points, it will have to deal with feelings, sex, politics, in short, with human beings and not only with super heroes.
G4: Gaming culture seems to have devalued the power of the word “rape.” Do you feel that the sequence with Madison is designed to be jarring, because she’s on the cusp of sexual violence in that scenario? Is that deliberate, or circumstantial?
DC: This scene has been widely commented on, and I was a little bit surprised of how some people reacted to it. What I wanted to experiment with this scene was to see if it was possible to put the player in Madison’s shoes, and experiment how it feels to be a woman who is seen like a sexual object.
In this scene, the player plays with Madison’s charms to seduce someone and get information, but nothing turns out the way she planned. I wanted to know how players would react and see how far they would go if they placed themselves in Madison’s shoes. The results were really surprising. Most people playing the scene actually did their best to save Madison. They carried through with their actions because they actually felt like they were Madison and understood she was in danger.
We absolutely don’t deal with any sexual violence in this scene, and nothing shocking is shown or even suggested beyond this uncomfortable situation. However, some people really felt uneasy and humiliated with Madison in the context of the scene. This is something very interesting. It means that players really felt they "were" Madison, telling us that we can make people feel what the characters feel at this very moment.
In Heavy Rain, we try to make the player go through different emotions and to make them feel different things. What it feels like to be a woman in this situation is certainly not pleasant, but it is a part of feeling the emotions of the characters.
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Heavy Rain will be available for the PlayStation 3 in early 2010.