David Cage has reached a creative juncture, he says, which allows him to do exactly what he wants -- and what he wants to do is expand the palette of the game industry, bringing in more emotion, and luring in the gamers who weren't hooked by Heavy Rain with his latest project, Beyond: Two Souls.
Starring actress Ellen Page (Juno, Inception), the game follows lead character Jodie Holmes from ages eight to 23. Not much has been revealed of the plot, but Cage's comments below suggest that its themes and action sequences may be something of a Trojan Horse.
In this extensive interview, Cage also talks about how he got his start in the game industry, how he's completely changed his writing style since he began working on games, and how he views other creators -- and they view him.
He also calls for the game industry to grow up, saying, "I often think that the industry suffers of the Peter Pan syndrome. It's the fact that we don't want to grow up, so we stay kids. But there is a moment where you need to grow up as an industry."
Why Ellen Page -- both as an individual, and why work with an established Hollywood actress?
DC: Well, I was not looking for a name to put on back. I was looking for a talent, someone who would fill the role perfectly. Actually when I started writing the script, what I used to do as a writer is grab pictures of actors on the internet, and have them in front of me, so I can look at them as I'm writing -- and look at them in the eyes and think, "What would they say in this situation?"
The first image I found was Ellen in an independent movie she made called Mouth to Mouth, where she had a shaved head and a very strange look. What really interested me in her features was she looked very strong and angry and upset, and at the same time she looked very vulnerable, and I thought that was an interesting starting point for my character.
So I started writing this thing, and each time I needed a picture, I was looking on the internet about Ellen, and I was finding an image that was working perfectly for me in the scene I wanted to write, because she shot movies between the ages of 10 and 23 -- I think she's 25 today -- and my game is taking place between the ages of eight and 23, for [Beyond character] Jodie Holmes. So, I could find images of Ellen she was 15, 16, when she was 18, and that was very interesting.
I realized that I wrote for Ellen Page, with really her in mind all the time, and I thought the character -- she would be fantastic in this thing. So we sent her the script, and a package with a copy of Heavy Rain, and a couple of reviews, and a nice letter saying, "Please, would you consider being a part of this?"
And she answered very kindly. Her agent came back to us and said, "Yeah, Ellen loved the script. She would like to be a part of it." So we met in LA, discussed the project, and that's how everything started. So, I was really not looking for the fame of Ellen, that was really not a marketing thing, it was not about selling more copies because I have Ellen Page on board. It was really because she was the right fit for the role.
I wanted to talk to you about when you're creating a virtual character that resembles Ellen Page inside the game -- how close should her appearance be to real-life? Is there any balance of realism that they wanted from [Page's] side?
DC: Well, it's more than a balance; we copy her one-to-one. It's a scan. It's a 3D scan of a face -- a 3D scan of the body. And it's a perfect clone, and it's precise to the millimeter. So, it's her. It's exactly her. So, what we do is, we play with her haircut and we change the clothes and that's it. But the body, it's exactly Ellen. So, yeah, the likeness is pretty precise.
You didn't use performance capture for Heavy Rain in the same way.
DC: No. On Heavy Rain [laughs] it was a very different technical solution. Because of the technical constraints -- and this is still the way most games are done today -- you shoot face and voice on one side, and then you have sometimes even another actor coming and doing the gestures in sync with the audio that was recorded.
So it was very comfortable on a technical point of view; it makes your life as a developer. And also there were so many constraints about performance capture at the time that it was difficult to do everything. But the issue with that is you split the performance in two. You got face and audio on one side and body on the other, which means you lose the body, and most of the body language. So, you split the performance, you lose quality, and this is how Heavy Rain was made.
It was good enough, and we were reasonably happy with what we got, but then we saw James Cameron shooting Avatar and working in performance capture, and we thought, "Wow, this is a huge step forward, because suddenly you can have the full performance as one thing."
So we worked on this technical prototype called Kara, which was the very first thing we shot in performance capture. And when we saw it, we realized how much we lost in the past not shooting like this, and so we got organized around this new idea, and all Beyond is now shot in performance capture.
All the roles?
So everyone we're seeing in this game is a real actor.
And you think it's essential for everything, from the smallest to the biggest roles?
DC: Well, it's a matter of consistency. You don't want to have Ellen Page looking absolutely fantastic and having all the other actors around looking like video game characters, so yeah, you want consistency, you want the same quality.
Visual quality, but also quality of acting. Because Ellen is not just on her own, which is also a big difference with Heavy Rain, because on Heavy Rain, when you record voice in a sound booth, you can only do one actor at a time, so not only you lose all the body language, but you also lose the interaction between the actors, having the right looks -- and having the right interactions with the environment and moving around, because you don't move the same way if there's someone in the room in front of you or if you're alone.
So, with performance capture on Beyond we can shoot up six characters -- face, body, voice -- at the same time. So we have very complex scenes where they're all together and they can really touch each other, and interact, and just act pretty much without any constraints.
They have even less constraints than in a film, because in a film you have the point of view, you have the camera. "Oh, you should look here, and you should do that, and don't move too much, because you're not in that light anymore." Where, what we do, there's no lights, there's no camera. You're onstage. It's like having a play, being in a play. It's pretty much the same thing. No point of view, just deliver a performance, and be in the scene.