Heavy Rain: David Cage Interview
Quantic Dream founder spills beans on QTEs, Project Natal versus PS3 motion control, "primitive" emotions in gaming and a private tête-a-tête with Hideo Kojima.
Despite three years of steady press coverage, we know surprisingly little about Quantic Dream's PS3 exclusive Heavy Rain. We know that the game's multi-threaded plot purports to offer terrifying levels of player choice and consequence, even making space for the demise of central characters. We know that its gaunt, harrowed cast of serial killers, strippers and drug-addled detectives own penthouse apartments in the Uncanny Valley, thanks to some stunning proprietary tech.
But as to how the thing will play, moment to moment, we're still largely at sea. Aspects of Heavy Rain incline towards the classic point and click adventures of LucasArts, while other elements owe something to Sega's sadly defunct Shenmue series, and still others recall games as thematically disparate as God of War, Resident Evil 4 and Mass Effect.
This elusiveness has to do less with fickle publicity than Quantic Dream's desire to transcend calcified forms of play, founder David Cage told Kikizo when we stopped by for an interview. In a very tightly crammed nutshell, Cage wishes to make interaction much more relevant to its dramatic context, tailor-making gameplay concepts to each part of a game's story rather than relying, as most developers do, on certain default mechanics and an associated control scheme.
It's a bold aim, and one that will probably play merry hell with Kikizo's category system when Heavy Rain hits PS3s next year. Elsewhere in our chat, Cage discussed QTEs, his scepticism for Project Natal, Quantic Dream's in-house tech-wizardry and "primitive" emotions in gaming. Tantalisingly enough, he also touched on a private tÍte-a-tÍte with Hideo Kojima.
Kikizo: How would you sell your "branching storyline" approach to people brought up on more traditional game plotting?
Cage: I don't think I want people to understand how it works, I just want them to play and enjoy it! That would be the best proof that it works, actually. You know about interactive storytelling, many people said that this is not possible, because narrative is linear, in essence, where interactivity is non-linear. Many people think it's not possible to combine both. Also there are some technical issues in the writing of interactive storytelling, because when you think up tree branches, you start to add branches to your tree, and branches lead to more branches that give you more branches, and you end up with a huge tree and no control over it.
So I developed this technique I call "banding stories", that is about considering my story like a rubber band that the player can stretch and deform based on his actions. So the story's always there, the rubber band is still the same, but you can change its shape and length based on what you do. So this is my solution. I tried to experiment on Fahrenheit, and it worked in many aspects, and I think Heavy Rain will go much further in the same direction.
Kikizo: What's changed between last year's E3/Leipzig presentation and what you showed at this year's E3?
Cage: The difficulty with Heavy Rain is that everything is contextual and everything is different. So it's not like in a shooter game where you show one level and then you pretty much understand everything about the game. In Heavy Rain every scene is unique - there are many different characters, many different challenges, many different things to play. So we decided with Sony to start to unveil each character at each significant trade show through the year, and each time demonstrate a different aspect of the game. So the first scene we revealed was Norman Jayden, this guy from an FBI investigation, and we wanted to show how we could have in a scene dialogue, exploration and an action sequence.
We revealed the second scene at E3, and this is Madison Paige the second character, a female character, she's a photographer and she suffers from insomnia. And she gets in a way involved with an investigation about the Origami killer, and she wants to help another character, and she goes to this night club run by a guy called Paco, and she comes here to investigate because she knows the killer. So we showed this scene which is in a night club with, I don't know how many people dancing, but it's really crowded, and the character avoiding other characters dancing. And she will end up being forced to do a striptease for the guy depending on how you play, and there are many different endings.