During a recent event held at France's Cité des Sciences et de lIndustrie, the largest science museum in Europe, two noted game designers spoke on the future of gaming with respect to emotion and immersion.
Quantic Dream's David Cage, known for the 2005 adventure game Fahrenheit (Indigo Prophecy in North America) and the earlier The Nomad Soul (Omikron: The Nomad Soul), addressed the assembled crowd with a call for more exhaustive use of the full range of human emotions in games.
Meanwhile, Lexis Numerique's Eric Viennot, designer of ambitious adventure game In Memoriam (Missing: Since January in North America) and its sequel, pointed out that "immersion" need not simply refer to drawing a player into a game world.
Though the museum, which runs many interactive shows, is traditionally a must-visit for schools and families, the audience to watch the discussion of video game creation and research skewed older, around the 20-50 range - though some of the oldest members of the crowd belonged to the museum itself.
After a morning of speeches from officials and professors, including Nintendo France boss Stephan Bole, developers took the stage.
David Cage: Spanning The Emotional Range
Cage centered his own talk on emotion in games. He opened his address by screening Quantic Dream's tech demo The Casting, first shown during E3 2006 to tease the company's upcoming PS3 game Heavy Rain.
The motion-captured actress' performance shown on the big screen was still impressive, though starting to show its age - Cage was quick to assure the crowd that the real-time 3D animation had been updated since the demo's creation.
Cage argued that motion capture with substantial animator input, closer to the art of puppeteering, remains much more convincing in envoking emotion and empathy than the more clinical, procedural technology increasingly used in motion capture.
The designer described the range of emotions, beginning with the base, primitive human feelings of fear, excitement, frustration, and aggressiveness - these, he claims, and not the more "sophisticated" emotions, all too frequently serve as the emotional backbone for video games.
The more subtle, social emotions such as love, empathy, joy, sadness, jealousy, anger, and shame are frequently addressed in literature and cinema, Cage pointed out, but are rarely successfully tackled by games. He pointed to Ico, Shadow of the Colossus, Rez, Katamari Damacy, and The Legend of Zelda as a few titles that draw from both ends of the emotional spectrum.
Of course, the gamers and video games journalists attending the event expected to get some exclusive info on the so-far mysterious Heavy Rain, and entreated Cage to offer new details. The designer noted he couldn't speak in detail on the game, but he did indicate that the game follows in the footsteps of Fahrenheit/Indigo Prophecy.
Though Cage is intrigued by the possibility of real-time player-to-NPC conversation, the current impracticality of such technology means the game will, like its predecessor, use traditional dialogue trees.
It will be a heavily author-controlled story, eschewing the open world trend in favor of delivering a fuller, more directed, emotional experience.
Eric Viennot: Nontraditional Immersion
Viennots keynote focused on immersion in games. He argued that, contrary to the view that games must take the player into a world to immerse him, there were other ways to put the player in the center or the experience.
For example, in his own 2003 title, In Memoriam/Missing: Since January, the game seems to exist largely in the real world of the player.
Similar to EA's Majestic, the game's investigation started on the game disc had to be pursued on the Internet through both real and fake web sites and online newspapers, and the player received emails and phone calls from game characters.
Speaking further to the concept for non-traditional forms of game immersion, Viennot noted his Nintendo DS project Mr. Slime Jr. (Mr. Slime in North America), which he is just completing.
He suggested that to grab the full attention of the player, developers must employ stimulation with sound, music, contact and, alternatively, proper accessories.
Interestingly, on the DS, this includes the stylus and microphone, but on other systems might possibly include peripherals such as the EyeToy camera, Wii Wheel, or Wii Balance Board. In this way, Viennot hopes developers will make players more immersed in game titles.