Heavy Rain was a bigger success than David Cage anticipated. Where next? At GDC this year, the developer showed off a tech demo that may or may not represent the studio's next game. Entitled Kara, it tells the story of a sentient android caught in the process of manufacture -- and demanufacture -- as the operator of the plant realizes she's self-aware. It's gripping and emotional, and it's also very impressive from a technical standpoint.
Heavy Rain may have had plot holes and it certainly was hated as intensely by some as it was loved by others, but it also marked a meaningful step forward for interactive drama -- and was a surprising commercial and critical success.
In this interview, Cage reflects on what it is, precisely, that he wants to do with games. He looks back on what Heavy Rain meant -- both to him, the team at Quantic Dream, and its players -- and looks forward. He discusses both the technology the team is developing and also the creative mission which drives them.
You go right for the emotional punch right away, very strongly. Is that the goal of your studio?
David Cage: Oh, yeah. I want to create many cool experiences for a mature audience. That's my entire thing: I want to make games for a mature audience, and I think you need to go for stories, characters, and emotion. That's what talks to everyone. There are so many games out there where you shoot, or you run, or you jump. The industry doesn't need one more. So, yeah, try to create something emotional.
We saw that with Heavy Rain, no doubt. I remember, with Fahrenheit (Indigo Prophecy), you had put in some supernatural elements, and you said that was something you thought you had to do because of it being a video game; to cater to the audience expectations. You shied away from that with Heavy Rain. How confident are you now to step away from any of the conventions or the expectations of the game audience, now that you've found success with Heavy Rain?
DC: Heavy Rain gave me a lot of confidence in that field, because I realized the audience is comfortable with that. In Heavy Rain, the heroes didn't have a gun. They didn't need to shoot anyone. There was no monster, no supernatural power. And that was fine. It was not an issue for anyone.
I think what really matters is to create characters that the audience can resonate with. As long as you have characters that you like, and when you feel they are part of yourself in there, you get interested in what is happening to them, and then it resonates with you. That's the most important thing. And you don't need to shoot or kill anyone. There are other ways of interacting that are just as interesting.
It's my understanding that Heavy Rain performed better than Sony's expectations, commercially.
DC: I think it performed better than anyone's expectations, including ours, to be honest.
What does that tell you?
DC: [Sigh] Again, it gave me really a lot of confidence in exploring this new direction in showing there's enough room in the industry for different types of experiences. Not everybody has to do the same thing. The audience is more open than we think, in general. And, yes, they want first person shooters. And, yes, they want action/adventure, and they want all the genres, and that's fine.
But I think if you come with something that is really sincere, that you truly believe in, there's a place for you. It was the case on Heavy Rain. That is the case for anyone who is interested in trying something different. I think we are an industry in desperate need of innovation, so we need more new ideas and more silly concepts. Trying new things is very important.
What have you learned as a studio from the success of Heavy Rain and from the way people reacted to it -- good, bad, and indifferent?
DC: We suddenly learned a lot. One thing we discovered that was a bit of a surprise... We were surprised by the success. We were also surprised sometimes by some of the reactions that were sometimes very negative.
There were people becoming very defensive about what Heavy Rain was. Because it was not a game about challenge, it was not a game about shooting, then for some people was not a game at all. As if destroying zombies or killing monsters was the ultimate definition of what video games should be. And I think no, that's just a part of what games can be, but it's certainly not games in general.
Games is a really wide genre where you can do very different things. You can do puzzle things, or you can do Call of Duty, or you can do Heavy Rain. You can do many different things. There should be a place for all. The market wants that to happen, and people want that to happen. But it was surprising to see how aggressive some people can become because they felt that were touching their holy grail. I don't see any reason in that.
What about the positive reactions, though? Were they more than you expected?
DC: Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. I was really amazed. Recently, there was a survey in the industry about people's favorite game on the PlayStation 3 cycle. And they asked this question to major game designers in the game industry. And Heavy Rain was mentioned very often. That's an honor, just to see talented people really enjoyed this game and thought it would have an impact on their work. So, yeah, it's really an honor.