In his keynote at GDC Europe in Cologne, Quantic Dream's David Cage discussed "the thoughts behind" PlayStation 3-exclusive Heavy Rain
, detailing his ideas on storytelling and the future of the medium.
Introducing his talk, Cage revealed that there are around 200 people working on completing Heavy Rain
, with 100 staff in-house at Quantic Dream's headquarters in Paris.
He initially cited comments by both the BioWare co-founders and Thatgamecompany's Jenova Chen commenting -- in essence -- that emotional reactions are often missing from games, and wholeheartedly agreed with them.
Cage said that, in the past: "Video games were about shooting, driving, and solving puzzles - and nothing else." But now "we are not working for [solely] kids any more", rather people with an average age of 35, and 75 percent over the age of 18.
He also suggested that "fundamentally the games we [play] are pretty much the same." But game creators are older and their tastes are different, and they need a different method of output - "it's time for something new."
The Heavy Rain
creator then talked about primal emotions that are ultimately related to survival, such as fear, excitement, frustration, or aggressiveness. These are essentially related to fight-or-flight tactics.
But there are more complex social emotions such as empathy, happiness, sadness, jealousy, anger, and shame, which "appeared at a later stage in evolution and played a different role."
Art, Cage said, "is about feeling," and art forms trigger a range of emotions and offer depth and meaning. He cited Picasso, Terry Gilliam's Brazil, and Stanley Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange, and then turned to games.
He asked a difficult question: "There are very few video games able to trigger more subtle and social emotions... why?" Firstly, it's easy to spawn aggressiveness, fear, frustration, and completion via normal, interactive gameplay mechanics. And it fits kids' and teenagers' emotional wants in a good way.
Cage said, baldly: "Most games have no meaning", and games don't generally have anything to say -- "you just spend some time getting excited shooting and jumping", most of the time.
The Quantic Dream head added that he believed that games' narrative structure is broken. As opposed to simultaneous narration and action in movies and books, cut-scenes split up the action in games. So, Cage concluded: "No-one cares about the story because nobody is there for the story."
He added that most game characters must be close to caricature -- to look like what they are. They also tend to need a simple goal, and need to look good for a teenager. In contrast, many movie characters have a background, a motivation, have relationships, and are created to generate empathy.
In further controversy, Cage suggested that, most of the time, game art is mediocre compared to other art forms. But some games can compare because they have "developed the emotional side", he said, citing Ico, Shadow Of The Colossus, Rez, Katamari Damacy
, and Flower
So, said Cage, we have some decisions to make. Shouldn't we start thinking about social emotions, if we want to evolve? "Do we want to be toys, or art?", he asked provocatively. "Maybe there are books that you've read that have changed who you are." Shouldn't games do similarly?
How about the sandbox versus the rollercoaster? Contrasting with CCP's EVE Online
talk earlier in the day, Cage feels that, since "nobody conceived this experience for you," it may fall flat. Whereas, in the rollercoaster, you can't go wherever you want, but "someone designed the experience for you to be optimal."
These are two different approaches, and Cage believes that the rollercoaster is the one he tends towards. Why? Because people want to play for just 20 minutes at a time, not necessarily for many hours or to find there's nobody in the sandbox to play with.
How about journey vs. achievement? Cage said he believes many adults care more about the journey, with emotional highs and lows carefully mapped out, and cited Flower
as a great example of that.
After tackling censorship and 'Hot Coffee'
, David Cage re-iterated his points strongly, particularly saying on games versus toys, with reference to Nintendo's success with the Wii: "I don't want to make toys... I have a lot of respect for Nintendo and what they've done with the Wii, but this is just not what I want to do. I want to create something that's strong and interesting and emotionally involving."
He believes that the game industry will change, in a similar way that the movie industry did in its early days, to emphasize individual authorship, and that there's currently a lack of "interactive writers" to help accomplish these goals.
Cage doesn't believe that you should follow trends, and that you should "never let a marketing guy have a creative idea" -- leave it to the designers. Finally, you need to offer experiences with meaning and "dare to evoke new themes" in your games.