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The major difficulty in Indigo Prophecy was being able convince before, during and after the development, publishers, the team, the marketing, the journalists and finally the gamers.
Convincing a Publisher
The difficulties inherent in an original project begin even before it goes into development with the incredibly difficult task of convincing a publisher.
Indigo Prophecy was no exception to this rule.
I often say that a truly original project cannot be signed by a publisher except if based on a misunderstanding, because if the publisher really understood what he was signing, he would never sign it.
The initial presentation of Indigo Prophecy was capable of terrifying even the most foolhardy of publishers (and these are few on the ground…). The challenge of the project was to create an experience in which the player would control the main protagonists of a story in which his choices would modify the course of events. No gun, no car, no action, no puzzle…
The first publishers I spoke with took me at best for a harmless dreamer, at worst for a madman. The publisher's first reaction when evaluating a new project is to look at the sales figures for games in the same category. In my case, he either considered that the game was a new genre, therefore having no comparable reference, or else that it belonged in the category of adventure games, an economically minor genre. Clearly not a good omen for Indigo Prophecy…
The other difficulty I ran up against was trying to explain the experience that Indigo Prophecy was going to be. Even today I still find it difficult if not impossible to explain what the game is like to someone who hasn't played it. The dialog inevitably ends with the person looking at me with a puzzled expression accompanied by a polite smile.
Because it really is impossible to explain Indigo Prophecy (you can make the test yourself…).
In an action game you can explain how to shoot, what weapons are used, who the enemies are, and everyone immediately understands the type of experience it is going to be.
With Indigo Prophecy, no one can see right away how the player can enjoy playing with only a story and choices.
Explaining the concept of an original game with no real prior references is a major difficulty that must not be underestimated. I had to deploy considerable efforts before I finally managed to generate enough excitement to sign for the project, after spending more than a year discussing it with the publisher.
Convincing During Production
Developing an original project also constitutes a mass of difficulties at all levels of production. Apart from the initial difficulty of convincing the publisher to take the risk of trying something new, you then have to convince them that the project is making progress.
Lots of publishers need to be reassured by the game play early on in the development and demand vertical slices (a full playable game level complete with all the features). This method is perfectly suited to shooters or car games where we can in fact produce a complete level and have a good idea of the final game play because all that remains is to duplicate the game play by changing sets.
The immense difficulty of the Indigo Prophecy concept was that a large part of the fun came from involvement in the story and emotion, which were both difficult to illustrate from a single isolated scene.
Because Indigo Prophecy didn't really use repetitive mechanics, playing an isolated scene demonstrated nothing except how that scene worked, without any indication of the context nor of the feeling the game would finally produce.
Moreover, it was difficult to perceive the typology of a game based on emotion as long as everything had not been set up, animation, dialogs, facial, lighting, rendering and most of all music. It was a bit like watching film rushes and trying to imagine the final result.
To optimize production, I had chosen to structure the development horizontally rather than vertically and produce all the animation, all the sets, all the characters, while simultaneously beginning to assemble. The result took time before it became visible but when it did, the whole game appeared "as if by magic" from one day to the next.
Production models should be adapted to the specific nature of the project, rather than just copying the established recipes. All games should not be produced like action games. Some creativity also has to be put in new methodologies to develop these games, more in line with their true nature and in respect with the publisher's constraints.
Convincing the Team
Managing the development team constitutes the other difficulty involved in producing an original project. When working on a FPS, the team has a very clear idea of what it is doing from the very first day of development. It has outside references that enable it to judge the quality of the game.
With an original project, this does not apply. The team had to have enormous faith in order to be able to produce Indigo Prophecy. Some of the team members even admitted to me that they had not really understood what Indigo Prophecy was all about until after the game was released and they heard their friends talking about it.
Anyone who has already directed a project knows how essential it is to have the complete confidence of the development team. If the team has reservations or no longer believes in the project, that project will fail.
For Indigo Prophecy, I made a point of never showing my doubts (which were nevertheless numerous and sometimes difficult to overcome all through the development) and made special efforts to share my vision of the project with the team.
Here again, the special nature of Indigo Prophecy and the fact that it was difficult to understand the experience of the game before everything was fitted together, did not make life any easier for me, but the team stuck with me all the way and I was genuinely touched by their confidence. I would like to take advantage of this occasion to express my gratitude to them.
Indigo Prophecy was really an extraordinary experience both professionally and in human terms. I learned an enormous amount from it and it profoundly changed my vision of interactivity. I won't make video games the same way before and after Indigo Prophecy, and I think it also deeply changed the vision of most of the people in the team.
And although the game may not be perfect, I hope that the passion and enthusiasm that the team and I invested in it will nonetheless make it a game that is both different and sincere.
In my personal development it constitutes an important stage toward making video games not just simple toys but a veritable form of expression. I hope it has given other more talented people the desire to explore interactive narration and the formidable capacity of this new medium to create emotion.
Developer: Quantic Dream
Platforms: PlayStation 2, PC, Xbox
Number of full time developers: Around 80
Length of Development: Two Years
Release Date: September, 2005