So much is said about films as a narrative medium coming together in the editing room. If you watch making-of documentaries -- I'm particularly thinking of The Shining, and seeing Kubrick at a table typing up pages during filming. Those are two examples of where films are not set so far in advance. Have you given that any thought in terms of flexibility? I understand pipelines and production processes make these things difficult.
DC: I mean, the pipeline is so heavy that you cannot leave too much for improvisation as you go on, because you need to be focused one thing at a time. That's the way I like to work. When I'm on stage with the actors, I want to focus on their performance, not on my script, because otherwise you lose focus and you don't know what you're doing.
The games, at least the way we do them, they allow that, because you need a script, then you shoot, but you don't care about the cameras, just performance.
Then you can really focus on the cameras and change them as much as you want because it's real-time. And about editing and the rhythm. And then about gameplay. And you can all do this in sequence, rather than having to think about everything at the same time like they have to do sometimes in films.
But once they shoot, they shoot. They cannot change the camera afterwards. We can. So, I'd like to take this liberty and use it as much as I can.
When you work with the actors on stage, do you let them ad-lib? Do you have a back and forth with them?
DC: Oh yeah, yeah, yeah. It's really a collaboration work. The more it goes, the more we work with very talented actors. And they come with their views on the script. They read the script. They have their take on the story. They want to propose things about their characters, how he moves, how he shoots it, how he says that. That's the most exciting part in what we're doing. The thing I would hate the most is just doing actors who are machines, and just do whatever we tell them to do. That would be really boring.
Games usually can't have as much of that. It's more like little tweaks here and there. Obviously in film, you can let people go wild, if you so choose. We can think of examples of great filmmaking where people have entire ad-libbed scenes. The famous example is Orson Welles in The Third Man; he just improvised a whole scene. Games, usually, it's not like that at all.
DC: No, you want your lines to be short, to be effective. You want things to move quite fast. The difficulty we have is that I would love to have long dialogues, but actually people, when they have a controller in their hands, they don't want to listen to long and boring dialogue. They want things to go fast and they want to interact.
So, a part of our challenge is to have interactivity in the heart of the story. You play the story all the time. You don't watch it. When you have dialogue, you play the dialogues. There are stakes in these dialogues. You want to make sure that you're going to say what you want to say. You won't miss anything. All of this has to be a part of interactivity. It's not just about telling a story. It's about telling an interactive story. That makes a big difference.
I interviewed Ninja Theory's creative director, Tameem Antoniades. He was talking about for Enslaved, he and Alex Garland realized that the ending of the game they had shot didn't work in the story. As you say, you can't do reshoots. They did new voice recording just for that bit. They rewrote the script, and then cobbled together new performances out of pieces that they had. Have you faced a situation like that? Do you think that's a feasible sort of way to do things?
DC: Well, yeah. It's definitely feasible. I try to spend more time on the writing to avoid being in this situation. It's not a guarantee. You can still believe in what you're doing, spend a lot of time, read to other people, and still have something bad in the end -- but I don't like to change my plans because everything is really tied up.
And it's not just one story in our case. It's several stories with different variations, and different endings, and different stuff. So, if you really want to change something at the heart of the story, it suddenly becomes a huge change, because it changes all the options potentially. So we try to avoid this situation as much as possible.
Speaking of tying things up and having multiple endings, Heavy Rain was an incredibly complicated narrative with four main characters, a lot of contingent things that happened, complicated relationships. Why choose something so complex? Did it work?
DC: Well, when I did it, I didn't think it would be that complex, and I realized it [while] writing it. I think it worked for many people, from what I heard. Is it required? No. You can do much simpler stories and move people just the same way.
But I think my goal in Heavy Rain was to kill death, in a way -- was to kill Game Over. So, I started thinking, "How can I get rid of Game Over situations?" Because in the context of storytelling, having a part where you die and you need to play again -- the same bit of story, the scene -- doesn't make any sense. It becomes really boring.
So, I really had to find solutions to say, "How can I get rid of Game Over situations?" and the first answer was to say, "Hey, why not have four different characters, so if you lose one, two, three, or four, it just alters the story one way or another, but the story carries on." This is just what I tried to achieve with Heavy Rain. And yeah, the complexity came out of this, but I think people enjoyed it.
It's interesting to hear you say that, because that does imply that it was a design-led decision, initially -- a game design-led decision, rather than a narrative decision.
DC: But I don't make differences between those. Sometimes people ask me, "Do you design the story first or the game design first?" The right answer is you need to decide both at the same time. Otherwise it doesn't work. Otherwise you have this great story, and you try to mock some game design concepts on top of it, and it doesn't exactly match. Or the opposite way, you have these great mechanics and you try to put a story on top.
You need to think about everything at the same time so there is a kind of consistency, where the story supports the gameplay, and the gameplay supports the story. Both need to work together. So, yeah, it's a story-game design decision.
And the same thing for whatever you're working on now, I'm assuming?
DC: Yeah. Yeah. That's a way of thinking, with game design.