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Games Radar: Heavy Rain: the David Cage interview

Auteur talks permanent death, emotional buildup and what went wrong with Indigo Prophecy

Of all the games on display at E3 this year, few sparked as much curiosity as Heavy Rain: The Origami Killer. The PS3-exclusive story of four characters in search of a serial killer, Heavy Rain was dark, moody and prettier than most of the other games on the show floor. But the two things that drew the most attention were its apparent reliance on quicktime-style action sequences, and the news that its main characters can die permanently, thereby altering the flow of the story. The man who revealed it all was David Cage, writer and director of Heavy Rain and Chief Executive Officer of its developer, Quantic Dream.

Cage is a proven auteur, having also helmed the critically acclaimed Indigo Prophecy (Fahrenheit in Europe) and Omikron: The Nomad Soul, and both he and Sony have been tight-lipped on a lot of the details surrounding Heavy Rain (which was recently confirmed for release early next year). In order to claw our way closer to the heart of the mystery, we caught up with Cage via email to glean a few new insights into the project.

GamesRadar: Now that it’s been more than a month since Heavy Rain was shown at E3, what kind of feedback have you received on the game since then? Do people seem to understand and appreciate what you’re trying to create, or do you feel that there are still some misconceptions?

David Cage: When you try to create something different, there is always a mix of enthusiasm and skepticism, and I think this is fair. Many designers claimed they have invented something revolutionary in the past, and if it was true for some of them, it was sometimes also a source of disappointment.

With Heavy Rain, we’re creating something that changes many traditional game paradigms. We try to invent something that is almost not a video game in the traditional sense (adrenaline, obstacles, levels, die-and-retry), but something that is closer to an emotional journey. When you pretend this, people may think that it won’t be interactive or exciting, because no one has tried this direction before, so there is no point of reference.

I spend a lot of time going against preconceived ideas, saying that a story could be told through gameplay and not through cut scenes, that more complex emotions can be triggered in an interactive experience, and that yes, video games can be more than just toys for teenagers. Believe me; it is not always easy, because preconceived ideas are difficult to change. Videogames are based on the same concepts for twenty years. I believe (and it seems I’m not the only one anymore) that time has come for a change.

I don’t pretend that Heavy Rain will be a revolution and I don’t know if people will love it or hate it. All I can say is that it is definitely going to be different.

GR: The news of the game’s delay until 2010 came as a shock to some, given that a lot of people seemed to be under the impression that Heavy Rain’s trailers had promised a 2009 release date. Can you talk a little about why the game was pushed back?

DC: Heavy Rain was never announced for 2009, however, recently at E3 we did talk about the game becoming available in early 2010.

GR: Part of the title’s meaning – The Origami Killer – has been made clear, but does Heavy Rain refer to anything specifically in the game? Is it foreshadowing something, like Fahrenheit and its ice-age doomsday scenario?

DC: Rain plays a very important role in the story. It constitutes the background of most scenes, but it is also an important part of the drama. We used rain like a character, trying to characterize it and give it moods supporting the ambiance and the narrative.

GR: Heavy Rain’s control scheme – in which you move your character’s head to direct him or her in a specific direction – is unusual. What inspired that decision?

DC: My obsession is to detach controls and the camera, make them as independent as possible. Most games use a chase cam, which is very convenient for controls but was not satisfying for an experience trying to use the camera to tell the story.

Changing the control scheme was the most obvious thing to do to free the camera. Moving forward like in a racing game and controlling the head of your character quickly became quite a logical decision.

I know it is always difficult to change conventions, but I got the feeling that with controls and other things, we have gone as far as possible with the current conventions. If you want to go further, you have to break something and start again from scratch with new ideas. I am excited by this possibility to try new options and investigate new ideas.

GR: While we’re on the subject of control, are all of the action sequences in Heavy Rain going to be Quick Time-style, with timed button presses? About what percentage of the game do you think will be spent exploring, versus participating in the more tense action bits?

DC: Heavy Rain is a game of exploration, interaction with the environment and decision-making. It also features some spectacular action sequences using a different control scheme that I would not exactly describe as Quick Time Events. I need to explain a little bit what I mean by that.

Many games fall into categories of “shooter” or “fighting game.” Some games feature both styles with some limitations. What does this mean, exactly? In short, it means player actions will be limited to a certain type of action scene, that he will play through different levels using repetitive mechanics and a limited set of animations. I think this genre is great for a certain audience, but it was definitely not the type of game we wanted to create. It is also very difficult to tell a story with repetitive action sequences. We believe the audience that will be drawn to Heavy Rain will want something different.

So we made the decision to have a more generic type of interface, inspired by the QTE system used by Yu Suzuki in Shenmue, but trying to make them evolve to make them a truly immersive control scheme.

We have done many things to make the sequences very enjoyable moments: we created very spectacular action scenes, each one being unique, and featuring unique movements instead of generic animation banks. We integrated controls in 3D and animated them with their target. We also entirely changed the pacing of these sequences: it is the player makes every single move of the character, he is really at the heart of the action, with very spectacular animations, a real sense of directing, and a strong sense of immersion. The player will immediately see the result of his action, failure or success, with a specific sequence. Last but not least, we fully use the controller, including sticks and Sixaxis, which provides a very intense experience.

We are very pleased with the feedback these scenes received so far. Even hardcore gamers told us they really felt they were really immersed in the action. I think players will be surprised by some action sequences in the game, how diverse, immersive and, of course, interactive they are.

GR: Heavy Rain’s been described as a “film noir thriller.” What do you see as the key elements of film noir, and how do you plan to replicate them in the game? Are there any specific films that influenced the production?

DC: I am sure players will find many references to movies, TV series or novels in Heavy Rain, but there was no conscious influence. This script is the first thing I write for a game, [and it] comes from my personal experience, things I have lived or felt. It made for me a huge difference in the creative process as I was writing about things I knew instead of trying to imagine what it is like to be a hero saving the world.

I hope more and more interactive writers will see themselves as “authors” instead of “level builders,” and try to tell about their own lives, their emotions, their visions. I am convinced that it would generate much more interesting games. I work on emotion using narrative, but there are of course many different ways of creating interactive emotional experiences. The future of this industry may very well be in writing about emotional experiences.

GR: So far we’ve seen two of the four main characters, FBI profiler Norman Jayden and journalist Madison Paige. Without revealing too much, is there anything you can tell us about the two characters we haven’t seen yet?

DC: The last character we are going to reveal is the first one to appear in the game. It is his story that really drove me in the writing of Heavy Rain. He is not your typical main character; rather, he is a more complex individual with doubts and weaknesses, and a strong emotional arc through the story. If the tag line of the game, “how far are you prepared to go to save someone you love?” applies to all four characters, he is the one having the strongest take on this. The other character is not the typical video game hero, either… but this one may well be a player favorite.

GR: How will the game be structured, in regard to the four characters? Does each character one simply get their own undivided “chapter” of the game, or will players revisit characters (assuming they’re still alive) after a different character’s story has begun?

DC: The game is structured like a movie, telling the interlaced stories of four characters. The player will play with these characters scene after scene. What I like about this system, that I started to experiment with [in] Indigo [Prophecy], is the fact that the experience is quite varied: you leave a scene and you discover a new set with a new character and something else to do taking advantage of who you are. It makes the game richer and more surprising by allowing you to tell the stories of several characters at the same time. You are sad to leave them, but glad to play with the next one.

GR: The idea of ending a character’s story after they die is a bold one; what made you decide to structure the game that way?

DC: Game Over is a very frustrating game convention. In short, it means “if you were not good enough or did not play the game the way the designer intended you to play, you should play again until you do it right.” What kind of story could a writer tell where the characters could play the same scene ten times until the outcome is right?

I wanted to solve both issues, the gameplay frustration and the narrative dead end, by seeing if I could get rid of these sequences and treating death like an event in the story that would not prevent it from continuing. Some movies and novels have done that in the past, I thought it was worth a try. ;-)

GR: Some gamers are guaranteed to cry foul if they can’t go back to “rescue” dead characters and conclude the story the “right” way; with that in mind, what do you see as the benefit to the player from taking the “die and that’s it” approach? Is there one?

DC: Interacting means making a decision. Making a decision means opening a door and never knowing what was behind the other one. There is no “right way” of playing the story, as there is no “wrong” story. There are just different stories, telling different things in different ways. There will be a benefit for the player to play with the consequences of his actions: he will create a story that is really unique to him. Even if he dies, he will see things that someone who has kept the four characters alive will miss.

GR: If a character dies, will that make the investigation more difficult or differently structured for the other characters? Or will it just close off that part of the story to the player?

DC: I try to propose a good and interesting story whatever happens, including if some characters died. The story changes depending on what is going on, as each character has a specific way to discover the Origami Killer and some specific information about him. It will also very differently structure the game for other characters. I cannot really say much more…

GR: You talked about this a bit during E3, but I’d like to revisit it for the benefit of our readers: When it was released in 2005, a lot of criticism was leveled at the final act of Fahrenheit/Indigo Prophecy and what many saw as a sharp departure from the tone that the game set early on. Looking back, what, if anything, do you think went wrong? Are you doing anything to avoid similar criticism with Heavy Rain?

DC: Indigo did some things well, I think, some others not that well. I am a little bit frustrated that some people only remember what did not work. The end was rushed, because the rest of the game required so much effort and attention that we spent less time on the last scenes. The story I wanted to tell required more scenes to be developed and explained in a satisfying way, and time was just missing to do that.

I also felt, towards the end of the writing, that I was not doing a videogame: there were no super powers, no evil guy, no world to save, so I added all in the last scenes. I realized later that we don’t need that anymore. So when I started writing Heavy Rain, I took all the time I needed to write the script, I got rid of any supernatural elements and decided to write only about real people in real life having real problems. I accepted the fact that I was not doing videogames anymore, and I feel much better about it.

Autor: Mikel Reparaz
Source: Games Radar US
Language: English

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Games Radar: Heavy Rain: the David Cage interview Wednesday, August 12, 2009
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