For those of us not in the room, it’s quite hard to imagine how David Cage pitched Heavy Rain to Sony.
He probably started by saying: “Heavy Rain is a story-driven psychological thriller.”
The Sony execs in the room would have been all ears at this point.
“It’s unlike any game on the market.”
A murmur of excitement.
“And it will features next to no shooting. No guns. And it’s for an audience we’re not entirely sure even exists.”
This conversation is hard to imagine because although Heavy Rain didn’t fit into any of the industry’s neat little boxes, Sony still green lit it. And then went on to lavish $40m on bringing it to market.
“I’ve always been incredibly lucky in my career to meet people who trusted me,” says Cage, who is both the creative mastermind and CEO at French developer Quantic Dream.
“Since Heavy Rain, Sony has been a fantastic partner. They have given me the time and resources I needed to make the games I wanted, while also giving me total creative freedom. I honestly don’t know what I did to be in this situation, I am someone sincerely passionate, I am a hardworking person and I always had clever and talented people working with me at Quantic Dream. I am also stubborn enough to stick to what I believe and not change my mind every five minutes, which allowed me to keep working on emotional experiences when everybody thought it was a stupid idea. I also try to listen to people around me when they show me that I am wrong.
“When you stick for so long to an idea, you have a chance that one day it pays off – if you don’t die before. I realise how lucky I am at the moment, but I am also clearly aware that this is a very fragile situation: I take so much risk on each project that I could lose everything in one game. My creative freedom and my independence entirely rely on the fact that each game is successful enough. You are free as long as your games sell enough or receive some sort of critical acclaim.”
"I take so much risk at each that I can lose everything in one game."
- David Cage, Quantic Dream
Heavy Rain was certainly successful. The Sony execs that green lit it probably let out a big sigh of relief when the game went on to gross $100m, and pick up numerous awards and critical acclaim.
And Heavy Rain’s influence on the wider is keenly felt. Its cinematic, story-driven structure can now be found in the likes of The Last of Us and The Walking Dead.
“Being influential has never been a part of my objectives. I follow my instinct and make games by passion,” says Cage.
“With Heavy Rain, I was just hoping that the game would be successful enough to let me continue exploring this path. Our industry is so crowded with games based on violence that proposing an experience where characters have no gun was already a challenge by itself.
"Actually, the reaction of the industry came as a surprise. Seeing many talented game creators sharing their enthusiasm for the game was a great honour. Still today Heavy Rain is often mentioned as an influence for future titles. I was certainly not expecting anything like that. The game has not changed the industry of course, but it showed that a different approach to games was possible, and that the market was ready for that.”
"I hope that my publisher won’t read this interview,
but I don’t think you can be creative if you have a marketing
plan in the back of your mind."
- David Cage, Quantic Dream
David Cage truly admires the movie industry. His games hold a certain cinematic quality. He’s the sort of man that uses the word ‘emotion’ over the word ‘fun’. And his latest product Beyond:?Two Souls (which launches on October 11th) was even shown at the Tribeca Film Festival.
“I am not particularly looking for links with cinema, but I don’t refuse them when they happen," he explains.
"There was this opportunity to present Beyond at the Tribeca Film Festival as a part of the official selection, which was a worldwide premiere for a video game. I saw this invitation as an honour from a parent industry with which we have a lot in common. We went there with a lot of humility and respect, being absolutely conscious of the distance that separates us from films, but also proud of working on such an amazing medium.
“The reception was fantastic. There should be more opportunities for our two worlds to communicate because we have a lot in common and definitely a lot to share. People who think that video games should grow in complete isolation for the rest of the world make a mistake: we have so much to learn from films, theatre, poetry, music, literature, art in general, we should keep our eyes and ears open and welcome all collaborations with people from the outside, because this is how we will grow and make better games in the future.”
Beyond: Two Souls is a game Cage came up with after suffering a loss in the family. It deals with life, death and what comes next. It’s a serious game, dealing with serious emotions. And it’s not been an easy project, either.
“Pretty much every aspect of this game has been a massive challenge,” says Cage. “Beyond is by far the most ambitious game created by Quantic Dream, and I feared many times during development that this time we put the bar a little too high. We had technical challenges to address, with a completely new engine and the desire to push the PS3 as far as we could.
“The complexity of the project has been an incredible challenge too, requiring a year in shooting with 160 actors, about 50,000 unique animations, 20,000 unique camera shots. In Beyond, each second of each scene is unique, which means that polishing and tuning the game required an insane amount of work.”
"All people who are familiar with my work know
that I am incapable of making a stereotypical war game"
- David Cage, Quantic Dream
The good news, at least from the point-of-view of Sony’s marketing team, is that Beyond should prove to be an easier sell than Heavy Rain. Not only can the firm leverage the popularity of Heavy Rain, but Beyond has a few more marketable traits. The demo shown during E3 this year even looked more like a stereotypical war game rather than a David Cage production.
“All people who are familiar with my work know that I am incapable of making a stereotypical war game. The scene we presented in a conflict zone but it is not about war or shooting. It has more to do with Heavy Rain than with Call of Duty, as you can imagine,” says Cage.
“Showing this scene was a very interesting experience for me: it proved how gamers are used to mechanics. When you show them a character with action mechanics, they immediately think that this is the game and that they will just get twenty levels doing the same things.
“Beyond is not built that way. Each scene is completely different not just in matter of setting but also in what you have to do. This action scene is the only one of this type in the entire game.”
The main marketable asset Beyond has is its acting talent, with Hollywood actress Ellen Page in the lead role, with support from Oscar nominee Willem Defoe.
Yet despite the clear draw these two have, Cage insists their casting was a pure creative decision.
“I hope that my publisher won’t read this interview, but I don’t think you can be creative if you have a marketing plan in the back of your mind. To create something, you need to trust your instinct, discover something that will make you work incredibly hard with a smile. It has to be something you absolutely believe in up to a point you could bet your life on it.
“If you can find an idea like that, if you are sincere all the way creating it, there is a good chance that other people will feel the same about it.
“It may sound like a naïve business approach, but it’s kept me alive in the industry for the past 16 years.”
"I don’t listen to businessmen, I just trust my instinct."
Beyond looks fantastic. But it’s still a risky proposition. Even with the success of The Last of Us, publisher bosses still insist the best time to release a new IP is at the start of a new console cycle, not the end.
And Beyond is an original PS3 title that launches just weeks before PS4.
“In 16 years running Quantic Dream, the one thing I’ve learnt is to never listen to businessmen,” says Cage.
“I remember a discussion with the president of a major publisher in the ‘90s telling me that PSOne would just be a trend that would die in six months. He thought PC was the future. So I don’t listen to businessmen, I just trust my instinct.”
He adds:?“It will take years for the next-gen consoles to reach an installed base of 70m as is the case now on PS3. I don’t think releasing a title now is such a bad idea.
“If the game is solid and original, it will sell and find its audience. If not, releasing it on any other platform would not change anything."
Not everyone is a fan of Cage, one man's genius is another's art bore. But regardless of your views, it’s a good thing that he is with us, building games.
The console market has found itself obsessed with building titles for the same audiences. The movie industry that Cage is so enamoured with creates films for all genders, age groups, even individual cultures.
Cage wants the games industry to do the same. Build big, ambitious games for audiences outside of the traditional demographic. And he’s leading by example.
“We try to create games for people who want to interact but are looking for an experience,” he says.
“We believe that this audience is larger than what this industry thinks. There is a market for games with deeper, more mature content, games for people who are more interested in what they feel than by adrenaline. If we can create original, interesting experiences, we believe we can significantly expand the video game market way beyond the traditional 18 to 34-year-old male audience. I guess Beyond will be seen as a test to validate this idea.”