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GDC Europe: Quantic Dream's Cage: 'If You Don't Create New Rules, You Don't Exist'

GDC Europe: Quantic Dream's Cage: 'If You Don't Create New Rules, You Don't Exist' Exclusive

August 16, 2010 | By Brandon Sheffield

Quantic Dream's David Cage wants games to change. "Look at most of the games you see -- they're defined by who you kill or what you destroy, which is a limitation in itself," he said. Cage laments what he considers a stagnation in most games over the last 25 years, which are based on violent interaction, and the same gameplay tropes.

"The technology has advanced, but the rules, they've remained the same," he says, adding by way of example that if you compare Wolfenstein to the latest FPS they're "pretty much they're the same game." It's all about stress, adrenaline, and competition.

These games also tend to target kids and teenagers, says Cage. "The type of characters, the kind of actions you do, it appeals more to a kid, to a teenager, than to a 40 year old," he says, adding that nobody only watches action movies, they switch it up with a drama or a comedy at times.

"We believe that games should be art, not toys," he says. "If you're not comfortable with the word art, you can replace it with entertainment," which he calls something that "resonates with you as a human being. It involves you emotionally."

Cage calls adult gamers a "huge untapped market," though he did not discuss the popularity of casual games with the adult population. Likely he was specifically discussing narrative-driven experiences. But he seems to agree with their general alignment, stating that "games don't have to be challenging to be entertaining."

The market is ready for new paradigms, he says, citing the fact that the studio's Heavy Rain sold four times as much as Sony and Quantic dream thought it would, with sales approaching the two million mark. "I think it's time for us now as an industry to think about new ideas," he said. "Our industry is very much about technological innovation, but very little about conceptual innovation."

From this launching point, Cage discussed the high level aspects of the difficulties in creating Heavy Rain, a game he feels addresses those concerns.

The first problem was one of interface. With traditional mapping of buttons, you have a set number of actions that can be performed, but with contextual games like Heavy Rain, the possibilities can be much larger, which leads to greater difficulties in implementation and the number of animations you must create.

Since he also wanted the player's actions to truly affect the story (within reason), and also to tell the story entirely within gameplay, he felt that the studio really bit off a lot at once. "It was a huge challenge in the writing," he said, adding that the characterization was particularly important. "If you don't care for the characters, if for you they're just pixels on the screen, you won't have any interest in what's going on."

And failing is okay, he says. In Heavy Rain, the player can fail various conditions and still press on. Failure, and death, shouldn't be a stopping block, he says.

The Role of Director

"The vision decides everything," he says. "I am the vision holder, and the vision determines everything." Cage has the final cut on everything, calling the company an "enlightened dictatorship." As the director, Cage says he is "the warrant that consistency will be maintained in a project that is four years long, with 220 people."

"I never thought that based on the types of games we wanted to make, we could be a democracy," he added. "But if you don't listen to anybody, you just become a dictator." As the vision holder, "you have the final cut, but you listen to everybody on the team."

Have there been instances where someone proved him wrong? Of course -- "It happened many times during development. But although everyone can talk on the team, I am responsible. I have to make the decisions."

But still, you need to convince your publisher it'll work, since a game like this comes together so late. At the early stage, it would've been easy for the publisher to kill the project, based on what they saw. Not only that, you have to convince the team, too. "You need to get them excited," he said, because otherwise they won't believe in the game.

Marketing and Censorship

For the game, the decision was made to market David Cage as a brand. "I didn't do it for ego reasons because I wanted to see my name and face all over the place," he says, but rather he figured that using his name as a brand would be a way to keep his creative vision. "Using my name as a brand means I can say, 'you know what, I don't have to make Heavy Rain 2,'" because he can just keep going with his next game, and people will follow that as they would a film director.

"Nobody buys a song by Sony Music. They buy a song by a certain band and certain singer. I think this is going to happen in games," he added, hoping that fans are going to get attached to a career rather than a franchise.

Regarding censorship, "I always had a difficult time understanding why there are different standards for video games versus movies and commercials," he said. As an example, a whole lot of the classic art in the Louvre would give a game an Adults Only rating, even though children are brought there every day for school.

"[That's] just a joke, the context is very different of course," he says, "but it is very strange that you can go to the Louvre, and students can go there, but when you try to have a love story between two characters, you really face major issues with ratings."

Cage's ultimate advice is to make something new. If there's no barrier to entry, don't do it, he says. "If there is not a technical or conceptual or business barrier to copy you, someone else will do it better, faster, or cheaper than you."

"Try to do something that's really unique, because this is the best business proposal." You should "have balls," too. "Publishers in general don't have balls. That's a fact," adds Cage, but says that you need to give publishers reasons to trust you.

"Being creative means inventing new rules. Inventing your own rules and imposing them to the world," he concluded. "If you don't create new rules, you don't exist, you're not a creator, you're just a software developer."

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