At this point in time, you may know Quantum Break as a game with enormous scope involving time travel, branching narratives, time travel and its own TV show.
But it was not always this way.
In fact, the game was the result of Remedy – fresh off the release of 2010's Alan Wake – wanting to develop its narrative capabilities.
We had the idea of pushing our storytelling in ways such that the player can affect the story,” creative director Sam Lake says.
We started out with just that. I wanted to find a story genre that worked with the idea of players making choices and there being consequences, which led me to the idea of time travel. That was the beginning really.
Quantum Break is an entertainment experience. It's a Remedy game so it's a cinematic, story-driven action spectacle and this time centered around the main theme of time. It's a time travel story with the idea that time is breaking down, as well as a superhero origin story.”
On the surface, Quantum Break may look like just another third-person cover-based shooter - albeit with some cool-looking time-based super powers – but there's more to it.
One of the most interesting aspects of Quantum Break is that it is partially a TV show. The game itself follows Jack Joyce and company (aka, the good guys), while a live-action TV show follows what the bad guys are up to. All of the game's main characters are modelled on – and played by – Hollywood stars, including X-Men: First Class' Shawn Ashmore, Aidan Gillen of Game of Thrones fame, and Lost and Lord of the Rings actor Dominic Monaghan.
Players will see different bits of the live action show depending on their decisions within the game. But why was a TV show such a core element to Quantum Break? Couldn't Remedy have just produced everything within the game itself using the – pretty impressive – facial and motion capture technology?
We have invested a lot of money in the character tech, in the digital doubles of the actors and pushed that forwards,” Lake says.
In a funny way the fact we have the show and the actors in live action inside the game also was a motivation to push the character technology forward. If you are going to see this same actor both in the flesh and as a character model, the tech needs to be good.
It was a logical and interesting experiment. We have done some live action in the past with Alan Wake – we had in-game TV shows and prequel videos – I just felt like we should do something more. I felt that it was a good idea to explore this more. The fact is that different mediums have their own strengths.
Our games are very story-driven but at the same time they are action games. To create a nicely-paced action spectacle, you couldn't do the amount of character drama and storytelling that we can do when we have the show. We wouldn't ever really consider it no matter what the quality level of the technology, it just feels that pacing wise it doesn't really find its role, it needs to flow in a nice way.
Having the show on the side as a separate, but connected, thing with its own role, gave us our own opportunity which lets us now expand the ensemble cast. We can give gamers a different perspective into it and once there were ideas that all of these different pieces served their own roles, it started to make sense.”
When the Xbox One was first announced, part of the console's future was film and TV content produced by the now-closed Xbox Entertainment Studios. Microsoft's pursuit of this avenue was fortuitous for Remedy as it pitched Quantum Break.
The strategic drive that Microsoft had at that point in time certainly is very much the reason why we got to have a TV show, because it was part of our pitch, we wanted to do it,” Lake explains. I'm not sure Microsoft would have necessarily said yes. But because it had Xbox Entertainment going on they came back to us: ‘Why don't you be even more ambitious with this?'. The firm gave us the opportunity to do something even bigger and we were happy to say yes. But from the get go the idea with Quantum Break was that we have a separate outsource production company, Lifeboat Productions in LA. We were not really part of the internal project. So Xbox Entertainment Studios closing didn't affect us along the way.”
"Quantum Break was delayed to 2016 because Microsoft wanted to stagger out its line-up of big games."
Sam Lake, Remedy
Quantum Break was first announced as an Xbox One-exclusive. But in February of this year, Microsoft revealed that the title would be heading to PC as part of the tech giant's push to unite its PC and Xbox ecosystems.
We were pushing for the PC version,” Lake says.
Remedy has a strong heritage on PC and have a lot of fans on the PC side. From a developer's perspective, it's always good news to make our creations available for a potentially wider audience. That to me was what it was. I'm really happy that there's a PC version and everyone at Remedy is really happy.”
But when the PC edition was announced, the reaction from some Xbox gamers was negative – Xbox owners were enraged that one of their exclusives would be coming to another platform.
It baffled me,” Lake says. But I do kind of understand the reaction, stepping back and thinking about it. People are very passionate have a feeling of ownership on their chosen platform. That passion is very important to us because when people are passionate they are willing to fight and spread the word. I understand and appreciate that.
But sometimes it can turn into negativity.”
The title is finally coming out after being pushed out of the 2015 release slate. Game delays aren't an uncommon event, and are normally down to developers and publishers concerned about the quality of the end product. But, according to Lake, this wasn't the case with Quantum Break.
Funnily enough the delay came from Microsoft's end,” he says.
It was looking at its portfolio of upcoming games and were feeling that it would be foolish to have all of these bigger games come out at the same time, essentially fighting among themselves for the audience. So it wanted to stagger them out.
Certainly we were happy to take the extra time and really happy to have that extra time as these are really challenging, complicated projects always. In a big game like this, the polish phase is absolutely essential. We were more than happy to take the extra time. That mainly resulted in much a higher level of polish and iteration and fine-tuning of the experience.”
And now that Quantum Break is finally on its way to stores, coming out for Xbox One and PC on April 5th. What are Lake's expectations for the title?
I'm a creative guy, so my first concern is never the business side,” he says.
Of course, this a business and you hope that commercially it does so well that it was worth it for all the parties involved. As a creative, I just want people to like it and enjoy it – hopefully a lot of people. I'm also hoping we've made our contribution to pop culture, and that this will resonate with and inspire people to create their own things in the future.”