Beyond: Two Souls – death comes to us all

Thursday, 16 August 2012 12:48 GMT By Dave Cook

Beyond: Two Souls isn’t a game trying to be a movie or some attempt to bridge the divide between them. Quantic Dream view it as a convergence – a third new form of entertainment that puts its actors fully to the test. VG247’s Dave Cook goes behind the scenes to learn more.

David Cage is a to-the-point kind of guy. He’s entirely committed to the idea of games being spawned from a single vision and sticking to them throughout the project.

We’re not even five minutes into Cage’s Beyond presentation before he shares his vision by reminding the crowd that while they’re all very different people, they all share something in common:

One day we will all die.

That fear of the unknown, the stomach churning realisation that all of this will disappear once we die is enough to make blood run cold, and that is a very powerful emotion indeed.

Cage wants you to feel something while playing Beyond, and the only way to do that – he says – is to employ talented actors to deliver on his vision. Ellen Page was Cage’s first choice for lead Jodie Holmes.

Beyond’s script is at least 2,000 pages long – that’s longer than three or four movies, Cage tells us – and it was based entirely around Page playing the lead. Although the actor wasn’t officially on board or aware of the game, Page accepted immediately and was officially on board.

That was then, but some twelve months of constant, daily shooting later Cage firmly believes that his ensemble cast have grown as actors, and that the decision to use full motion capture techniques – rather than standard mo-cap – is a significant step for the industry a a whole.

Standing at the front of the conference room, Cage explained, “We gained another dimension in the performance because with full performance capture, we had body language. If you look at me as I say this, you can see how I’m saying it. You lose that in motion capture.”

In regular motion capture, faces, voices and body movement are recorded separately, and this often jars when all three components are melded together. This is how Heavy Rain was shot, but with Beyond Cage wanted to up his standard.

With Beyond, Cage’s cast of 160 people were acting out everything at once on almost non-existent sets. There are very few props, meaning each actor had to simply imagine they were running down a grassy hillside while being chased by cops, or fighting on the roof of a train.

It wasn’t easy, Cage explained, but this illusion and need for imagination is part of the creative process. As a voice over on the studio footage explained, “We take the real world and make it fake. Take the fake versions of the real things and make them real again.”

While it sounds like a silly, roundabout and costly way to do business, Cage revealed that Beyond’s budget is roughly the same as Heavy Rain’s, purely because of full performance capture. There is very little in the way of post-capture animation. Most of what you see in-game has been acted out by the actors.

Cage explained, “Beyond has been in development for three years, but the budget hasn’t been crazy as we’ve tried to be very smart. Everything must be planned precisely so that everything is where is should be, limiting the amount of post-animation.”

This straight-forward process was achieved by scanning in the actors’ bodies before filming began. Cage explains that – while a lengthy process – doing this gave Quantic Dream life-sized avatars of each actor, precise right up to a millimetre.

Every NPC has been played by an actor who wet through this same process – be it young toddler sitting on a park swing, a young girl playing with her dolls, or Jodie and her family sitting down to enjoy dinner. It’s a remarkable effort that pays off well.

We see Ellen Page and an actor playing a currently unknown character talking in the studio. As Jodie, Page talks about the spirit Aiden than has been hounding her since she was a child:

“He’s always decided for me. It’s time I make my own choices”, Page says with the same determination and grit we’ve seen from Jodie in Beyond’s previous trailers.

It sounds like Jodie is in for a rough time in Beyond. We were shown Page acting out more of her lines on set, shouting at her parents for keeping her indoors all the time while her friends go out and play, weeping over the body of a dying friend, and being hunted by police like a dog.

On that note, Cage opened up the floor to questions, but not before reiterating his mission statement for Beyond, “What I’m interested in my work is emotion. How do we trigger emotions in the player? ”

“Games try too hard to trigger adrenaline by letting you just shoot someone, but they overlook smaller emotions that are more complex to trigger, but at the same time are rewarding,” Cage added.

“I’m not a failed movie director who couldn’t make it in films and that’s why I’m a game director,” Cage continued, “I am just passionate about the way this medium is moving. I’m interested in how you can tell a story through interactivity, where you are the actor.”

Cage concluded by saying, “The most challenging part of my work is to redefine what interactivity means. Look, you can turn on the lights in a scene and it can mean something, you can choose to shoot someone and it means something, but you can choose to do nothing, and that too can mean something.”

Interactivity versus cinematics – It’s an issue many developers have struggled with over the years, perhaps most famously Hideo Kojima’s love for over-long cutscenes that wrench control from a player’s hands.

Pitfalls like this don’t fly with Cage, who firmly believes that Beyond will place you as an actor in the vivid digital world he has created. He also believes that going into the next generation of hardware, we will see more studios adopt this trend.

Whatever happens, Beyond: Two Souls is shaping up nicely, and the apparent quality of the end product does the painstaking work of its actors justice. But will it be enough to make the rest of the world sit up and pay attention?

Beyond: Two Souls is heading to PS3 exclusively at an unconfirmed date. Keep an eye out for our full David Cage interview soon.

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