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“We didn’t try to replicate Heavy Rain”: Cage on writing Beyond

Tuesday, 1 October 2013 08:10 GMT By Dave Cook

Beyond: Two Souls writer and director David Cage tells VG247′s Dave Cook how he approached the game’s script, and how diverse writing can change the way we perceive gaming at large.

Writing in games has improved drastically over the past few decades. From the chest-beating swagger of blockbuster action epics to the subtle, often mute indie darlings, there’s a broad spectrum of penmanship out there today. Consider the weight of Mass Effect 3′s narrative, then compare it to something like Amnesia: The Dark Descent. Both titles are capable of getting under your skin, but they do so in drastically different ways. Such is the power of diverse writing.

What is Beyond in this regard? Is it to be compared to the Hollywood money-spinner, or is it comparable to an avant-garde feature geared towards the enthusiast? Does its action sequences cut too deeply into moments of pathos, or does David Cage’s love of emotion reduce the anguish felt by Jodie Holmes to parody?

I stopped to consider these questions before interviewing Cage at Eurogamer Expo last week. These are issues he has likely encountered throughout Beyond’s creation as both script-writer and director. We’re in polarising times indeed, with the age of blockbusters churning out sequels and bombast every month. Yet – thanks to insane budgets – they’re a thinning breed, as the middle ground continues to swell with new, exciting indies and studios willing to take risks. Both sides make compelling arguments about the state of game writing today.

It’s tricky to see where Beyond lies in this equation and who, exactly, it speaks to. I asked Cage for his input on these issues after a hands-on with the game’s demo, which is out today on PSN.

VG247: I played the Beyond demo earlier and I started to wonder how you form a scene while writing your scripts. Does gameplay dictate your narrative, or does the narrative dictate gameplay?
David Cage: What I try to achieve in every single scene was to have the gameplay supporting the narrative, and the narrative supporting the gameplay. What is even more challenging is that Beyond doesn’t rely exactly on mechanics in that you won’t always be doing pretty much the same things in those scenes. Each scene is different, each scene is unique so each scene has its own problem you have to solve.

The way I work is thinking about gameplay and story at the same time, but even the basic concept of Beyond is based on this idea. I thought it would be cool to have this girl with an entity, and that part was very interesting from that point of view because you wanted to know what the nature is of this entity, and its relationship. At the same time it contains an interesting proposal for gameplay because you can switch between the girl and the entity. So the basic concept is, you have the story and the gameplay.

VG247: Are there always multiple ways to solve the game’s problems? The street stand-off reminded me of the shop scenes like Heavy Rain? Is the plot malleable depending on what you do in these scenes?
David Cage: We didn’t try to replicate Heavy Rain, because we would have just done Heavy Rain 2. We really wanted to create an experience that would be different. We wanted to build on what we learned from Heavy Rain: interactive story-telling, the bending story with actions, consequences, emotions, different feelings. All of this is there in Beyond, but Beyond is an emotional journey through the life of someone based over 15 years, where Heavy Rain took place over four days. So it’s a different experience.

”For a year I’m writing 12-15 hours a day non-stop. It’s really thinking about the story night and day, literally. It really makes you feel a little bit weird because you don’t socialise any more, you’re always in your mind asking questions and thinking about that, waking up in the middle of the night to go back and write.”

In Beyond there are many ways of playing the game and many parts that you will see or miss depending on how you play. Some actions have local consequences, some consequence are unseen, and others are long-term. But it’s a different balance compared to Heavy Rain, so I hope people who play Heavy Rain approach Beyond with a fresh mind, an open-mind, just go on the journey and see what happens.

VG247: You wrote the whole thing. Do you feel your writing has improved since Heavy Rain?
David Cage: It’s always a learning curve. It’s a learning curve since I started 16 years ago. There was a story in Omikron that no one could really say what the story was about, because it was probably too confusing and not done very well at all. Fahrenheit saw great performance. Heavy Rain was hopefully stronger as well, and I think that Beyond is … the way I see it, is maturity for me as a writer. It’s probably the most accomplished thing I’ve written to date, and it’s been a very interesting process.

Also, telling the life of someone was something new to me, and something pretty challenging, because it’s about telling compelling things about a little girl who matures to an adult, and when you mix all the scenes – because the game is not told in order – the challenge is to still make sense. These were very, very interesting challenges for me as a writer.

But I would even say that the writing of Beyond was a journey for me. Sometimes you start with an idea, and for me it’s always a very simple idea. Then I start writing, and the writing sometimes takes me somewhere else. Then after a year, I realised what I really wanted to talk about, so it’s like your little ‘inner voice’ in a way, took the pen at some point and said what you liked to say. It’s a journey for me as a writer.

VG247: Do you dabble in other writing projects as well? Short stories and the like?
David Cage: I would love to but it’s a full-time job, and a game like Beyond is insane, and I don’t really think gamers realise what it means to the people who made it. For me it’s a year in writing, so for a year I’m writing 12-15 hours a day non-stop. It’s really thinking about the story night and day, literally. It really makes you feel a little bit weird because you don’t socialise any more, you’re always in your mind asking questions and thinking about that, waking up in the middle of the night to go back and write. It’s challenging.

But then there’s a year in shooting, where you stress because it’s a year of shooting every day pretty much. It’s stressful because of the amount of actors involved in shooting Beyond, and then working every day with people like Ellen Page and Willem Dafoe is a tight pressure, but part of the job. Then you have a year where my job is mainly the filming, building, directing, talking with music composers to make sure everything flows in the right direction. So it’s a full time job [laughs].

VG247: Given all of that effort, how does it feel to be the last big first-party release on PS3?
David Cage: We had this discuss with Sony at some point about should we release this game on PlayStation 4, or should we release it on PlayStation 3, and our position has always been that we want to be on PlayStation 3, because we think it’s a very exciting moment for the console as it has the bigger install base.

”With the presence of Ellen Page and Willem Dafoe in the game, we managed to open some of these doors, where people who would never talk about video games before are now getting interested. With Beyond it’s about opening that door and to show people that all games are not the same, they are not all about shooting

It’ll be years before PlayStation 4 has that audience. In this type of experience, we want as wide a market as possible because you want to talk to the mass market, and not necessarily the early adopters of the new console. We also did the same thing with Fahrenheit on PlayStation 2, and we thought it was the right decision.

VG247: And now you’ve used PlayStation 4 tech on Kara and The Dark Sorcerer, which I thought was hilarious when you showed it at E3.
David Cage: It was very funny because I was in the audience at E3 and everybody was deadly serious during the first part, and it was really funny to see this moment where the sorcerer goes, “Shit!” [laughs]. Because suddenly everything changes. It almost hit the audience like, ‘Oh okay, it’s not serious.’

VG247: Is humour something you’d like to explore next? Is that the next big challenge for you?
David Cage: You know, when were thinking about that new technical prototype everybody expected another “Kara”, with a girl who makes you cry and I thought, ‘Why not do something people don’t expect? What are the other emotions that we have not tried yet?’ I realised, we’ve not done a lot of humour, and actually I had serious doubts about that Sony conference about whether I could write something that was actually funny.

The goal was not to make people laugh, it was to just make you smile and it seemed to have worked. I think it shows that games can create any type of emotion – dramatic or not dramatic – because they’ve matured and are capable of exploring the other emotions. This is what we wanted to show with The Dark Sorcerer demo.

VG247: It was neat because it pulled people in one direction and then shoved them another. What’s your take on game-writing in that regard?
David Cage: It’s a very interesting situation right now. I think with the games we make, we’re in a more interesting position. We get these preconceptions certainly from hardcore gamers who say, ‘Oh it’s not a videogame. It’s interactive cinema and we’re not interested in games where you don’t shoot.’ So they’re not interested in our games. But at the other end of the spectrum we see people who are like, ‘We see what you’re doing, delivering emotion, but videogames are still all about violence and shooting.’

So what I think we’re doing is trying to say to both ends, ‘Wait a second. Look at what we’re doing and then make your judgement.’ But we like to say to hardcore gamers, ‘Yes there are some great games out there whether it’s GTA, Call of Duty and all of those things, but look, this is something a little bit different.’ It’s not about shooting. It’s different but give it a try. For the sake of society have a look, because all games are not about violence. They are about very different things.

There are very interesting indie games right now exploring very different reactions that are clearly not about violence, that are trying to make this medium really strong. There is definitely something happening in the industry just now and we should look at this. It’s interesting because with the presence of Ellen Page and Willem Dafoe in the game, we managed to open some of these doors, where people who would never talk about video games before are now getting interested. With Beyond it’s about opening that door and to show people that all games are not the same, they are not all about shooting.

VG247: When I last interviewed you at gamescom in 2012, I asked if you could ever see a world where actors in digital games are awarded in the same way the Academy awards film performances. Shortly after that, Kara actor Valorie Curry actually won an award for her role. What does that say to you?
David Cage: It’s difficult to answer this question because I personally feel that the performance delivered by Valorie Curry in Kara deserved an award for acting. She’s a fantastic actor and she’s actually in a very successful TV series right now. She’s just a great actress. The same thing for Ellen Page in Beyond. I look at her performance and I think what she’s done is amazing. I’ve never seen a video game character doing what she does. I think she’s just amazing. Does she deserve an award? Yeah probably, I’d say so.

But at the same time when you think about development, not everybody is interested in acting, and others think it’s something that should play a role in the games industry. So there are different points of view. We’ll see how it goes. Since Heavy Rain some games have tried to deal with acting and emotion, and that’s very good. We’ll see if it’s a growing trend or just an erratic trend in the industry.

VG247: Where do you see those trends going in years to come?
David Cage: At Quantic Dream or in general?

VG247: In general.
David Cage: I really don’t know what to expect in the future of the games industry, but for me, from where it is today can go in very different directions. What I see today is big triple-a titles with crazy budgets, incredible teams working on one game, but maybe not that creative because there’s so much money involved they don’t want to take any creative risks. So we keep getting pretty much the same thing year after year just to keep their fan base.

On the other side I’d say the indie space is very interesting, with very small developers of about four or five guys, and they are trying to find new creative new ideas. That is very interesting. At Quantic Dream we share that view. We believe that we are really an independent developer because we have full creative freedom, we can do whatever we want. We don’t follow necessarily the rules of marketing, we don’t make sequels, we do things that present a lot of risk.

But at the same time we have the support of a major console manufacturer that give us all the resources. If you asked me where I would like the future to be, then I would say indie developers. I hope they will really make the future of this industry, but it’s up to the players to decide what they want.

I often try to explain, ‘Give support to indie developers and you will see more indie games. If you support these big franchises you will see less risk.’ The answer is not one or the other. It’s both. If you look at the industry it’s an interesting mix of blockbusters but also the more indie, new ideas.

Beyond: Two Souls launches on PS3 October 8.

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  • Kickstarter for Banjo-Kazooie spiritual successor Yooka-Laylee launches tomorrow

    Playtonic Games has announced the Kickstarter campaign for its spiritual successor to the Banjo Kazooie series, Yooka-Laylee, will launch tomorrow. The title of the game was announced today along with the Kickstarter date. Formerly known as Project Ukulele, the 3D platformer is said to be “between the size of Banjo-Kazooie and Banjo-Tooie,” and stars Yooka […]

  • Console version of Mistwalker’s Terra Battle is in development

    Now that Mistwalker’s Terra Battle has surpassed 2 million downloads on mobile, the developer is now working on a console version of the tactical RPG. As part of the original Download Starter campaign, the 2 million milestone means the company will begin development on Terra Battle’s console version with details to be announced at a […]

  • Prison break game The Escapists is heading to PlayStation 4 from May 29

    The Escapists, Mouldy Toof’s prison break game originally released as a timed console exclusive Xbox One, has a release date for PlayStation 4. For those unfamiliar with the title, which is also a PC release, it tasks players’ time management skills as they do a bit of digging and crafting, and other prison-type stuff as […]

  • Dead Island 2 delayed into 2016 to ensure series is “taken to the next level”

    Dead Island 2 has been delayed into 2016 by Yager in order to ensure the sequel “takes Dead Island to the next level.” According to a tweet from the developer, it set “big goal” for the game, and in order to deliver what fans expect, the team needs more time to reach development goals. “We […]

  • Project Cars: here’s a list of all available cars at launch

    Project Cars will contain many, many cars and if we are counting correctly, there will be 74 total at launch. The standard edition contains 65 total, and when factoring the free car as well as the Modified and Limited Edition cars packs, you can add an additional nine cars to the mix. Comb through the […]

  • Competitive matchmaking support is coming to Team Fortress 2

    Team Fortress 2 will soon feature support for competitive matchmaking, which Valve says is a “high priority” project for it at the moment. According to a report from TeamFortress.tv, which visited Valve headquarters recently, Valve is looking into the possibility of 6v6 or 9v9 matches 9v9, a possible quick play option and it is also […]

  • GTA 5 PC patch fixes garage, Job crashes – full notes here

    Rockstar has pushed out a 353 MB patch for GTA 5 on PC The patch fixes a number of annoying bugs related to vehicles and garages, some deathmatch issues and purchase errors. It should also fix various freezing and crashing bugs, as well as a little issue with Steam. Time will tell if the patch […]

  • Fire Emblem If will come in White Kingdom and Black Kingdom versions with amiibo support

    We’ve finally got some juicy details on the next Fire Emblem game, but the most interesting aspect is that there will be two versions of the game. According to Siliconera, who translated an interview between Intelligent Systems and 4Gamer, there will a White Kingdom and a Black Kingdom version that offer different aspects of the […]

  • Deception 4: The Nightmare Princess heads west with “Golden Toilet” pre-order bonus

    Deception 4: The Nightmare Princess will debut on western PlayStation 4 systems this summer, Koei Tecmo has announced. It is also coming to PS3 and Vita. The game was produced by Keisuke Kikuchi of Fatal Frame fame and takes up where Deception 4: Blood Ties left off allowing players to relive Laegrinna’s pursuit to free […]

  • Nintendo US eShop update: Puzzle & Dragons Super Mario demo, Paper Mario, more

    Nintendo has updated the North American end of the eShop with a demo of Puzzle & Dragons Super Mario Bros. Edition, Paper Mario on Virtual Console, and amiibo Tap. The full update is below. eShop update amiibo Tap – free – Wii U Star Wars Pinball DLC – Wii U Paper Mario – Wii U […]

  • Deus Ex: Mankind Divided PC port handed off to Nixxes

    The PC port of the new Deus Ex has been handed over to Netherlands based studio, Nixxes software. After the initial reveal trailer at the beginning of April, we’ve only had a few morsels in the way of additional news. The most intriguing tidbit to date has got to be the fact that you’ll be […]

  • First-ever PC Gaming Show to take place at E3 2015 in June

    PC gaming will finally have its very own E3 press conference this year, thanks to PC Gamer and AMD. The PC Gaming Show will take place on June 16 at the Belasco Theater in Los Angeles and it will be livestreamed on Twitch. PC Gamer said speakers at the presentation will include representatives from Blizzard, […]

  • Majora’s Mask light available now on Club Nintendo for 6000 stars

    Club Nintendo shuts up shop on September 30 and members are being encouraged to spend accumulated stars before then. And what better to spend them on, than this adorable Majora’s Mask light? If you’re a member based in Europe you can nab it for 6000 stars. If you’re in Australia or New Zealand, it’ll only […]

  • Unity support announced for HoloLens, will work with Windows universal apps

    Microsoft is partnering with game engine developers Unity in order to make HoloLens compatible with apps and games which use the cross-platform engine. The partnership was announced yesterday during its Build Developer Conference. Universal apps for Windows 10 systems will also be available on Xbox One later this year, suggesting possible HoloLens functionality with the […]

  • Splatoon Nintendo Direct airs Thursday, May 7

    A Nintendo Direct focused on Splatoon, the Wii U multiplayer title, on May 7. It will kick off at 7am PDT/10am EDT/3pm UK and it can be watched via the Nintendo Direct website. You can also have a look at the game through Nintendo’s Twitch channel. The last game-specific presentation took place last week and […]

  • GTA 5 PC: clean up the streets as a member of the San Andreas PD with this new mod

    Remember the awesome mods for GTA 4 and San Andreas that let you run amok online as a member of the po-po? Well, dust off your taser and load up your gun, because it’s coming to GTA 5. The new mod for GTA 5 is currently in alpha and can be downloaded at palmbeachgames.com. You […]

  • Indie shoot ‘em up Project Root comes to Xbox One, PS4 and PSVita

    Project Root is a self-proclaimed rejig of the shoot ‘em up genre that was released on PC last year, and it’s finally coming to consoles. Combining free-roaming elements with the usual business of shooting things, Project Root was released this week for Xbox One, PS4 and the PSVita.

  • You can now bet on eSports online, starting with League of Legends

    If you’re getting bored with sticking a pony on the races, you can expand your gambling horizons at Unikrn where you can watch esports streams and get a little action on the side. The new platform was set up by Rahul Sood – previously the general manager of Microsoft Ventures. At the moment, customers are […]

  • Has Watch Dogs 2 been leaked?

    Ubisoft employee, Julien Risse, may have inadvertently confirmed Watch Dogs 2, thanks to his online CV over at LinkedIn. Videogamer.com spotted the slip up, in which Risse lists Watch Dogs, the DLC Bad Blood, and Watch Dogs 2 on his profile. Creative Director Jonathan Morin has already talked about his ideas for improvements for the […]

  • GTA 5′s Trevor makes his Jackass debut, complete with leopard-print knickers

    YouTuber Abstract Mode has shared his vision of what Trevor Philips’ life might have been like, had he not been completely batshit crazy. Watch Trevor get mauled, run over, and hit by a train, before taking a majestic swan-dive into someone else’s pool at the climax. Thanks, Kotaku.

  • Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 season pass will cost you £35

    Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 isn’t released until November 6, but you can already hand over your cash for the Season Pass. The Season Pass is available for pre-purchase on Steam for £34.99, and will cover four DLC packs – although the details we have on the content are limited to ‘exciting’ at this […]

  • GTA Online’s cheating assholes are no match for this player’s vengeance

    Think you’re smart for using invisibility and infinite ammo glitches? You need to be taught a lesson, sucker. You can have all the hacks you want but if your GTA Online game is weak, you’ll still get your ass handed to you. As this fool discovered when attempting to hassle another player. There’s a fair […]

  • PS4 sales help Sony’s games division swing to profit

    Sony’s PlayStation business has made an operating profit of 48.1 billion yen ($404m / £261.5m) in the past 12 months. That’s thanks to stellar sales of the PlayStation 4 and PS Plus, even as sales of the PS3 have stalled and the company wrote off costs for the PSTV and PS Vita. The profit puts […]

  • New patch for Dirt Rally gives co-driver’s attitude a tune-up

    Dirt Rally gets a new patch three days after release on Steam. On Monday, we reported that the newest Dirt game has popped up on Steam’s Early Access and is available to pick up for £24.99, as well as giving you an eyeful of tasty screenshots. The patch – released yesterday – fixes some issues […]

  • New The Witcher 3 screenshots show combat, exploration and general carousing

    New screenshots released on the official facebook page for The Witcher 3 show Geralt annihilating a winged beast, out and about in the world exploring, and living the life of Reily amidst a bustling feast. We were already treated to some glorious screenshots a few days ago, but these new ones are in-game and give […]

  • Destiny: 14 things you might have missed during House of Wolves intel drops

    Destiny: House of Wolves does a great deal more than just slap some new content on the existing game structure. House of Wolves changes Destiny in a lot of interesting and very welcome ways. Bungie showed off many of these changes in its livestream, and let both me and Arekkz come and have a look […]

  • Scratch that cyberpunk itch with Technobabylon on May 21 – new trailer

    Technobabylon more like Wrecked-yo-babbling with my smooth flow about how good Wadjet Eye games are. I don’t know y’all, it’s clock off time and everything feels like a reach. Wadjet Eye makes pretty good adventure games – award winning, in fact. The latest project to spring forth from the benevolent, sheltering hand of the label […]

  • Skullgirls 2nd Encore brings exclusive new features to PS4, Vita in northern summer

    Skullgirls, the little indie fighter that could, is getting another crack at it. Skullgirls 2nd Encore is the second re-release of the one-time troubled 2D versus fighter from lab Zero Games. Having survived the shut down of its developer and collapse of its publishing contrast, Skullgirls re-emerged as Skullgirls: Encore, adding in a ton of […]

  • Danganronpa series generates “impressive” sales for Vita exclusive

    Danganronpa is selling quite nicely, thank you, says NIS America. Danganronpa is a series of murder mystery visual novel puzzlers in a similar vein to games like 999. Two of these have been released for Vita in the west – Trigger Happy Havoc and Goodbye Despair. Speaking to MCV, NIS America CEO and president Takuro […]

  • I have no idea what is going on in J-Stars Victory VS+ but I kind of like it

    In this J-Stars Victory VS+ trailer, we see – uhh. Well. We certainly see some things. Look y’all, I was a massive weaboo in high school, but that was back in the dark ages when we had to take out Manga Entertainment VHS tapes from dingy little specialist rental joints that were literally underground, and […]

  • Please just watch this terrific trailer for Toren

    Toren is the kind of game I dream about when I drift off to sleep at night. This indie puzzle adventure strikes a spark in my little soul in the same way as Ico and Tequila Works’ Rime do. Mysterious, almost ethereal fantasy setting – check. Chance to actually walk around in that setting – […]

  • Play classic MS-DOS games on your own tweets

    In today’s episode of “what will they think of next”, someone’s figured out how to post playable versions of classic games in tweets. For some time now, Twitter has allowed you to embed various forms of media in tweets, most noticeably YouTube videos, simply by pasting a URL into the compose field. Turns out this […]

  • VR: Unreal Engine to add HTC Vive support

    The biggest digital PC game distributor and the most popular game development engine have both backed VR. It’s going to happen. An upcoming Unreal Engine 4 update will expand the development suite’s support to the HTC Vive, Valve’s VR headset. In this glorious new future where work on one of the most important engines in […]

  • WWE 2K15 PC supports modding

    WWE 2K15 may be the series’ PC debut, but it’s already getting into the spirit of the platform. WWE 2K15 does indeed support mods on PC, 2K’s Marcus Stephenson has confirmed. @ElementGamesTV you can. Now buy. — Marcus Stephenson (@stephensonmc) April 28, 2015 As Destructoid points out, this opens the door to all sorts of […]

  • Overkill’s The Walking Dead coming to PC, PS4 and Xbox One in 2016

    Overkill’s The Walking Dead is one step closer to your grasping little paws. Overkill’s The Walking Dead will be published by 505 Games, Overkill parent Starbreeze has announced. 505 also published Payday 2, Overkill’s previous title, so the two companies have established a working relationship. In a press release, the publisher said the co-op title […]

  • Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 pre-orders net Advanced Warfare DLC

    Buy Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 for later, enjoy bonus Advanced Warfare content now. Blacks Ops 3 is being supported by a rather cunning pre-order incentive even more likely to get you to lay your cash down sooner than you might otherwise. Gamespot reports a Black Ops 3 pre-order will receive a couple of […]

  • Steam Game Ban system lets developers determine who to block

    Steam users can now be blocked from individual games by their developers. Steam has always supported multiplayer bans for disruptive users, but a newly-implemented system allows developers to ban users from individual games using their own anti-cheat systems. Game Bans are enforced by Valve, but are enacted at the developer’s request and discretion. This change […]

  • Far Cry 4 devs matching Red Cross donations up to $100K to aid Nepal earthquake victims

    Far Cry 4 developer Ubisoft Montreal will match any pledges made to The Red Cross up to $100,000 to aid Nepal after the 7.8 earthquake struck the area in and around Kathmandu in Nepal. According to Ubisoft: “Having spent the last few years working on Far Cry 4, a game heavily inspired by Nepal and […]

  • Tales of Zestiria retail listing notes September release date, PS4 version

    Tales of Zestiria is coming west in northern autumn, and while it’s confirmed as a PlayStation 3 release, a Dutch retailer has it listed as coming to PS4 as well. Of course, listing it for PS4 could also be a typo, not that I would personally know about that sort of thing, really. However, according […]