David Cage interview: interaction lost in a cinematic age

Wednesday, 22 August 2012 14:43 GMT By Dave Cook

Beyond: Two Souls and Heavy Rain creator David Cage speaks to VG247’s Dave Cook about emotion, the importance of talented actors and what to expect from Beyond.

To what extent do emotions have a place in the games we play? When the working day is over and you just want to chill out, shut off and mow down hundreds of enemies with an assault rifle, should the game make you feel bad for taking those lives?

Quantic Dream founder David Cage is big on emotion, but even he feels that emotion without context is meaningless. No one asks you feel bad when stomping on Goombas in Mario games after all.

Cage believes that as performance capture technology gives rise to a new standard of acting in games, that emotion, morality and just being more aware of your actions could give rise to new trends in gaming, and send a strong warning shot to Hollywood.

“In Hollywood, many people still think that games are about shooting, so most actors have no interest in them. They don’t want to just be a face on an avatar who is shooting people.”

VG247: How vital is full performance capture to gaming, and do you hope to inspire other developers with your work on Beyond: Two Souls?

David Cage: Definitely. Of course we would love to inspire other studios, and we were really fortunate to release Heavy Rain, then have so many people talk about it and how they thought it was inspiring, including game creators and gamers.

With Beyond, we feel we have some pressure because the aim with Heavy Rain was to show that it was not just a coincidence, and that it could appeal to gamers who enjoy a variety of experiences. We hope to show that those people are still there.

The game is going to send a strong signal to the game industry, but also to Hollywood because of Ellen [Page’s] involvement and the fact that she was so great during shooting. If the game is successful, and if her performance is seen as something that proved the quality of the experience, it’s going to be a signal to the industry that says ‘look, it’s possible to do games this way.’

But it will also be a signal for Hollywood to say, ‘this is now a respectable medium. If you are a talented actor, there are games that give you the opportunity to show what you can do, and to treat your emotions in the same way that films do.

In Hollywood, many people still think that games are about shooting, so most actors have no interest in them. They don’t want to just be a face on an avatar who is shooting people. So there is still some interest in Hollywood for games, but they are still really cautious. Beyond will send them interesting signals.

It’s interesting that Hollywood is still sceptical seeing that many developers are trying to make their games more cinematic – like films – but they are interactive. That’s a big difference, and when people saw Heavy Rain for the first time, many of them thought it wasn’t all that interactive.

The games industry is very conservative. Each time you try something different you need to explain, evangelise and give a lot of effort just to get people to go past their current expectations.

There will still be people who haven’t played Heavy Rain who think it’s a long movie with a couple of prompts, like Dragon’s Lair. I did promotion of Heavy Rain for two years and I tried to explain Heavy Rain, I showed it and I made demos.

I said, ‘Look, you are in control all the time. It’s not Dragon’s Lair, you’re in control.’ But people didn’t get it, or they thought, ‘Oh, my character doesn’t have a gun so I don’t know how I can interact.’

But that’s because our industry defines interactivity by shooting. If you don’t shoot you’re not interactive. What we tried to say with Heavy Rain is, You can be interactive without a gun.’ There are many other ways of interacting that are not through committing violent actions.

The same thing could – in all likelihood – happen with Beyond as well couldn’t it?

With Beyond we are going to change many things. You have direct control over Aiden, and this entity is something that will sound familiar to more people, and will attract them to the game and make them realise it’s not Dragon’s Lair-esque in any way.

It’s fully interactive, we have less cutscenes than many first-person shooters that I can see, and it’s just about interacting in a different way. It’s a different experience and I hope that people will be open-minded and open to trying something different.

There is a lot of debate now about the industry playing catch up with film, or films catching up with games. Would you say that neither are true, and that this is a convergence – a third form of media?

Beyond: Two Souls E3 debut trailer

It’s very strange what’s happening right now, because I think games have been inspired by movies for a very long time. Now we start to see films that seem to inspired by games too, and I think that’s a very natural thing.

Because if you take photography for example, they didn’t start from scratch. They were inspired by paintings first. When you think of cinema, they were inspired by photography and painting.

Why would games be the only medium that was born on its own, and not be inspired y anything else? I’m taking inspiration from wherever I can – films, TV series, comics, books – whatever. Just art in general, and that is a very natural thing to do.

Absolutely, and it’s still a young medium in relative terms. Where is this all heading do you think?

Regarding the future of the medium, what is interesting to see is how it becomes a polarised industry. On the one hand you have very ultra-casual games like Angry Birds – which is totally great, I love it, but they are extremely causal.

On the other end of the spectrum you see ultra hardcore games where you play FPS games online against other people, you compete and kill each other.

All of this is great, it’s fine with me, but I’m looking for something in-between that would have mainstream appeal that anyone could play and enjoy, but at the same time would have the sophistication of films and the technology of hardcore games.

This would deliver mainstream appeal in a new category of games, and hopefully this is what we are trying to now initiate with Beyond.

It’s interesting to see Ellen in your studio, performing her scenes without a real set. That must have been very difficult on her and the rest of the cast. Given the effort put in by the cast, would you like to see – down the line – game actors being awarded in the same way the Academy awards movie actors?

Of course, why not? If there are more games using actors to show what they can do, which means acting – and not using their face or their name – then of course, yeah that effort should be rewarded.

Ellen has been absolutely amazing on this thing, I mean she really blew me away, and every day on stage with her was a great moment of pleasure. Even as a spectator and just watching her was just fantastic.

But what’s interesting is – maybe you’re familiar with Kara?

Yes.

It’s been nominated in the Los Angeles short film festival, which is absolutely great. It means that, you know, worlds are blending and we had a fantastic actor on Kara whose name is Valorie Curry.

She’s done an amazing job too, and now she’s in this festival and I’m glad for her, glad for what we are doing, and glad for the game industry. Our worlds are coming together and it makes sense.

Seeing Ellen progress throughout shooting on Beyond, was there a clear learning curve for her and the rest of the cast? Did the challenge of acting with no props or sets help them grow as actors?

It’s really funny as we saw exactly the same curve with all actors. Before the first day of filming we really told them a lot. We sent them pictures and videos so by the time they arrived on stage they’d pretty much know what to expect.

Beyond – Ellen Page- Motion Capture Video

But with all the actors on the first day, they were all completely lost. They arrived on stage, realised it was empty – even though we showed them pictures so it wouldn’t be a surprise – and said, ‘fuck, it’s really empty.’

They looked at each other in their strange suits with shiny balls all over the place and they realised there were no props. Each time there was a chair or a table, it was an empty crate or a grill or something. On the first day they all thought, ‘f**k, what am I doing here?’ basically.

Oh dear. How hard was it to convince them to stick around and really get invested in your methods?

It was very strange because me as the director, I had to help them and say, ‘look, now you’re in this living room, there is a window here’, and of course there was nothing on stage, but I was trying to give them some references.

They were totally puzzled. But on the second day, all of them realised the level of freedom they had, and suddenly we saw a fantastic change in attitude. They went from wondering what they were doing to thinking, ‘I can do whatever I want.’

There is no camera they need to look at, no light they need to be under, and no problems with shadow. They can just be free to act with the other actors, and play their part.

They really enjoyed that level of freedom, and I think Ellen kept talking about the experience as an acting boot camp. That is crazy, but it made sense because she went from crying to laughing, then crying again, to running, then being chased by a helicopter.

She said it felt like shooting four movies in four weeks, so it was really intense, very surprising and probably quite refreshing. I was really glad because at the end of the session she said she would really recommend to any other actors to try this once, because it’s really incredible.

The end result is impressive but full performance capture also seems like a time-intensive procedure. As the tech behind it improves – like anything technical – the procedure will become quicker. Do you foresee more studios rushing to use this method if it becomes the norm?

It will be interesting to see, because the way we approach it is that we realise it’s a lot of work, not even for one game, but that it’s a lot of work for 15 years. It’s an investment in the tools and the technology, the tools to create the cameras, and a sense of direction.

It’s a pipeline, an organisation, and it’s really a lot of work. At the end of the day, I have no doubt that everybody will have the technology because technology is just about time and money. But then it’s all about scripts and what you want to do with that technology. Convincing people like Ellen took a lot of work, but we had a script in place.

“I would be interested to see a game approaching war like Platoon or Apocalypse Now – not just about shooting and glorifying violence [but] to show the other angle, and how difficult it is to be at war.”

One example you gave earlier was the notion of shooting a gun as interaction. If technology does allow for all games to be more realistic and emotive if developers choose,
could that not create a backlash where things like murder, gunplay and violence are involved?

Yeah I see what you mean. You are going to see games like Call of Duty having a similar or higher quality to this in a few years, no doubt. But at the end of the day, it’s still the same game. It’s you having a gun shooting guys, and the more you shoot, the more they come.

I would be interested to see a game approaching war like Platoon or Apocalypse Now, and then it would be very interesting – to not make a game just about shooting and glorifying violence by saying, ‘look how great it is to have a gun and shoot at people.’

It would be interesting to show the other angle, and how difficult it is to be at war.

The trauma.

Trauma, of course. This is what I’m interested in, and this is where the technology we use will really become interesting, to use it in a way that says something meaningful. But if you use it to do another shooter – that’s cool – but it’s not a big step.

Is that your aim when using this tech then – to say something meaningful?

Really I’m not trying to deliver a message, I just try to create emotional experiences. Yes this technology helps you because all of a sudden you have actors who look like real people, that can really deliver this level of emotion.

Then you feel empathy for them, and then you share in what they feel. So technology is a part of it, but at the end of the day it’s about the talent of the actor on stage, and the quality of the script that makes it work or not work.

Technology is just a tool and it shouldn’t be more than that. It’s great to have a good tool, but what matters is what you do with it.

With all of the effort, resources and acting talent put into Beyond, what do you hope people will come away with once they have completed the game?

That’s the most interesting part of my job, and for me the best moment on Heavy Rain was just listening to people talking about it. People who had kids felt shocked by what happened and really struggled to save the life of Sean.

What they did, what they missed, what they wanted to do well did they cut the finger or not? That’s the best part of my job because you realise how emotional this experience was for these people, and how they took that very seriously.

On Beyond I tried something different – it’s really a story about the life of someone. You will meet her as a kid and be with her during all her life, through the happy and difficult times. You will see the moments who make her who she is.

What I would love is for people to feel, by the end of Beyond, that Jodie Holmes is a friend, someone they know by heart. They will know how she would react in a situation, how she would thing, and how she feels.

If I can achieve that, I’ll be really glad.

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