Heavy Dreams: Pushing Interactive Narrative
November 30, 2009 Page 3 of 4
Something that I've been really interested in recently is conditions of failure that don't feel negative -- like "failure" that yields an interesting result, so you don't feel like so much that you've failed, but just that you found something different.
GdF: In Heavy Rain, there are two things. First of all, you are in a story, and so your journey is prompted by your actions. There's no point system, so you cannot reach a certain status. To a certain degree, you just evolve in the journey, and depending on your actions you are going to experience a story that is going to be different.
So we have absolutely no mechanism to gauge the successfulness of a story. What's very important to us is, whatever the outcome, it must be interesting. I'm always using the example of the fact that in Heavy Rain, you have no game over. You have four playable characters, and you can lose the characters; now, if you lose all four characters, you're still going to have a game over.
It's the end of the story. There is a very, very subtle but important difference between a game over, something that implies that you have to do it again to succeed, and the end of a story. All story threads give you a satisfying ending -- satisfying in the sense that it can be sad; it can be happy; you may know or not a number of answers to the questions that you have while playing the game.
But it's a fitting ending to the story. You have a satisfying experience. If you lose all four characters, it is going to be the end of the story; it's a sad ending, but we hope it's going to be a satisfying experience because it ends not just on an end screen asking "why?" No, you perfectly understand why it's so, and that's very important to us.
What are your own personal goals for this project?
GdF: I think that the most important goal for us is to show that video games can be more than just shooting, driving -- that games can be meaningful. We really think games can be more than that; can be a true form of cultural expression, like movies or books. So I think we, as a developer, feel that what we did is successful if people, even just slightly, change their mind about video games and think, "Yeah. Actually, a game can be as meaningful as a movie."
I don't have my own personal opinion on this, but I've heard some people say that it's so much like an interactive movie -- why not just make a movie?
GdF: Those are two radically different things. In a movie, you are passively looking at the story. You see a perspective to certain events; you see one single possibility. What we're doing, we're really giving you a choice. We're setting a strong context; we're setting a number of possibilities. We're presenting to you different kinds of characters, but what really happens depends on your choices. If Heavy Rain was a movie, it would be ten, twenty, thirty movies, and that's what's interesting.
It seems like in this scenario there are a number of things that could potentially kick you out of the narrative. For example, HUD elements must be carefully crafted, or a saving system might be quite difficult to implement. How have you addressed these kinds of things?
GdF: The game is saving all the time, so your progress is stored. We hope that players are not going to play like this: We hope that they are going to bear the consequences of their actions and play at least the first time through the story; however, if at any point you want to go back and you want to see what would have happened if this and this, you have the possibility to do so. But yeah, the system works, and it's smoothly implemented, so I have no worries about this.
And what about things like the stick images that come up on the screen and stuff? Obviously, you have to show players how to do it, but do you find that it is at all jarring for people, or do they start to forget that the icons are there?
GdF: What you have to bear in mind is that we've shown, so far, four scenes. Two of them are relatively in the beginning of the game; two others are pretty much in the last third of the game. In Heavy Rain, when you start the game, the first scene is also a tutorial. It's not only a tutorial; you're really in the story. The story starts, but we are making a tutorial so people slowly get to understand how the control works.
We've seen that in user tests, once you've gone through this first scene, you totally forget about the interface. We need to show something on screen because otherwise people don't know what to do, and we're trying to integrate it as best as possible in the environment -- in the 3D -- so it has a minimal impact on your immersion.
But really, that was our experience on the play tests; people really forget about it. At one point, you're just doing the moves and interacting with the characters without even looking. You know at one point how it works, and then it's totally non-intrusive.
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