With a universe that has a turn toward realism, how can you keep a player involved in that, when they have all of the tools available to them to completely undermine the narrative by running around in circles in the bathroom or something?
DC: That's a good question. I think it's the main challenge. We don't want the player to destroy the experience, so there are two things. First, you need to trust the player, because maybe he will turn around in circles once and then realize, "Okay, how does it support the experience? It doesn't. I've done it. Okay, fine," and then maybe play by the rules. Not by forcing them but by encouraging them to play according to what is the best way to enjoy the experience, simply.
That's one way, and I think there are things you can do in how you structure the game and how you deal with the interface. There are different things you can do to do it without limiting players' freedom. The goal is not to give you a cutscene and say, "Look, you've done exactly what I wanted." It's really to give freedom, but make the player understand it's in his interest to play by the rules.
Do you feel that sandbox-style gameplay supports that or undermines it?
DC: Sandbox gameplay... yeah, it's true that in this industry, we have a real position between people talking about sandbox, and people doing rollercoasters. A rollercoaster is an experience that is entirely defined by some to be optimal. From the time you're in the line, you go in the back of the rollercoaster and through the tunnel and everything is defined. We knew while you were waiting how to make the stress grow, how to make you feel something, get you scared, make you feel better, et cetera. This rollercoaster is being conceived by someone to optimize the experience.
Sandbox is not that. It's saying, "Look, there are tools. There are things. Maybe there will be friends. Maybe not. Do what you want." There's one possibility that these sandbox experiences are so fantastic because you've been extremely lucky. You know how to use the tool. You met people that were truly great, and you had something incredible to do. But you know what? It's also possible that it happens that you get bored and don't cope with the people in the sandbox. You don't like the tools, or you don't know what to do with them, and you end up with a very poor experience.
So in my mind, some of the very few kind of real sandboxes I know are with massively multiplayer games. When I say "kind of," I don't believe there are absolutely real sandboxes out there. It's only a list of scripted things, but there are so many of them and you can play them in any order, you get the feeling that you're in a sandbox. In fact, it's really rare that you're really in a sandbox. Most of the time, you're in a scripted experience but it's really heated.
I've played many MMOs these days, and most of the time, the experience is really poor, because you end up doing not very exciting things. I think the value of the experience is not on that. It's really about building yourself - the vision of yourself, like, "Oh, I want to be a hero, because I've spent so much time at level 16. I'm so strong. Look at my weapons and my helmet." These are the core mechanics these games are based on.
I think that's fine for people when they need to build self esteem, and it's a very important core complementing experience, but if you're not into that, what's the real narrative or emotional value? Sometimes it's really interesting when you're in the guild in a massively multiplayer game and you attack the fortress or whatever. Some great things can be told, but it's not guaranteed. The value is not always there.
Personally, I enjoy single-player experiences because they have thoughtful narrative qualities, or at least the potential for it. But it's obviously personal, because for some people, interaction is quite important. To me, obviously, interaction is important, but it's not important for making a great game.
DC: What is weird is that you can tell people, "Tell your own story," and most people would tell you, "Come on, I'm not a storyteller. Telling a good story is really a job that requires talent and vision. I just want to enjoy a story. I don't want to tell my own story out of the blue." It's part of the pleasure, too, when you go to the cinema, to discover the vision of someone else, and to have a story to be told.
I think what games can really bring to the table is the fact that there is a vision, there's someone to tell it, but you can participate in the story. You can change it, and you can make it yours, but at the same time, it remains a good story with a good story arc and a real journey. Someone plotted the journey for you, so you're guaranteed to live something unique.
In terms of the sandbox situation, if you give the player the ability to pick up a cup and put it down anywhere, if they can stack up a pyramid of cups or something like that, is that emergent, immersive gameplay, because they can do that in the real world, or is that a game-breaking thing? Where is the line?
DC: Working on Fahrenheit, my guideline was that I allowed the player to do anything that made sense in the context. Some people came to me and said, "I'm in the diner in the opening scene. I would like to kill the cop at the bar, and I can't." Well, you know, Lucas Kane is not a killer. He's not someone who's vicious. He's just a normal guy. So why would a normal guy kill a cop? It doesn't make sense. Some people say, "I want to jump on the tables in the diner. I can't." Why would Lucas Kane do that? It doesn't make sense.
Atari/Quantic Dream's Indigo Prophecy
I think that's basically true. As long as you're consistent with this rule, and as long as it's established early on in the experience and that you always maintain it all the way through, people are fine with that. Once they understand that they can't buy one hundred cups of coffee and make a pyramid with them, it's established at the beginning, "You know what? You can't do that, because it wouldn't make sense." If it was a movie, the character would never do that in the context, so you can't.
Maybe it's a frustration the first time, and then you forget about it, because you're carried by the journey. The journey takes you somewhere else. This is not the purpose of this thing. No, there's not a great physics engine in Fahrenheit. You can't take a chair and throw it away. Why would you? It doesn't make sense.