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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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    Observer Mode will be released for Evolve as a free update for all platforms, 2K and Turtle Rock have announced. The community feature was designed to give Evolve players the ability to observe and add commentary as well as livestream, allowing a sixth user to “passively enter a custom game” with the ability to switch […]

  • Dragon Quest Heroes and PS4 top Media Create charts in Japan

    The PlayStation 3 and PS4 skus for Dragon Quest Heroes were the top sellers on the Media Create charts in Japan, moving a combined 594,749 units. Elsewhere on the chart, The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask 3D was in third place with 39,751 units moved, and last week’s top seller, God Eater 2: Rage Burst, […]

  • Watch Hideo Kojima answer lots of your burning Phantom Pain questions

    What’s better than learning the official release date of MGS5: The Phantom pain? Hideo Kojima talking more about it, of course! Hideo Kojima has decided to answer a few fan questions about Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain, to help boost everyone’s hype to insane levels. He talks about the game’s story, his relief […]

  • MGS5: The Phantom Pain Day 1 and Collector’s Edition revealed

    Konami has officially revealed the release date of Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain alongside the game’s Day 1 and Collector’s Edition. Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain will release September 1, worldwide, as previously leaked. It will be available on PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, and Xbox One. The PC Steam […]

  • EU Club Nintendo: Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds soundtrack back in stock

    Club Nintendo members in Europe can once again pick up The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds soundtrack. For 3000 Stars, members of the program will receive the double-CD soundtrack which features 89 tracks with liner notes from Ryo Nagamatsu and 12 sheet music excerpts. It also comes with 16 Milk Bar Musician pieces. […]

  • HTC apologises over “confusing” Half-Life VR comments

    HTC has misspoke when it talked about Half-Life coming to VR headset Vive. HTC chairwoman Cher Wang has apologised over the comments she made yesterday about the possibility of Half-Life coming to Vive, the VR headset it’s manufacturing with the help of Valve. Sources close to Valve, have indicated to the BBC that the developer […]

  • What do Heists and Daily Objectives tell us about the future of GTA Online?

    Daily Objectives could be more important to GTA Online than Heists. These theories and more, from a giddy Matt Martin. Yesterday Rockstar dropped a bombshell. Not only is it releasing Heists next week – the mythical 4-player missions for GTA Online – but it’s also going to be introducing daily challenges and more modes to […]

  • Breaking down Hardline Premium, is it worth it?

    Having been announced just a few days ago, the Premium service for Battlefield Hardline has been a topic of constant debate among the Battlefield community. Many look at Hardline as a Battlefield off-shoot that will just tide everyone over until Battlefront comes out in the fall. EA has other plans however, announcing a $50 Premium […]

  • Watch Dogs sold more than GTA 5 and FIFA 15 in Australia in 2014

    Watch Dogs outsold GTA 5, and FIFA 15, at retail in Australia last year. According to data obtained by the Interactive Games & Entertainment Association (IGEA) from the NPD Group Australia, last year’s year retail sales charts look a bit different in Australia. The top-selling game was Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, followed by Watch […]

  • Watch PC footage of The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt from GDC 2015

    The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt has a new gameplay video available that shows a bit of action from the PC version. The video below was captured from Nvidia’s GDC conference live-stream. Developer CD Projekt RED was on hand to show off The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt‘s graphical prowess running on a PC. Thanks, GamesHQMedia.

  • Dying Light: Hard Mode and Ultimate Survivor Bundle out March 10

    Dying Light’s second DLC drop, the Ultimate Survivor Bundle, and the free Hard Mode, have been given a solid release date alongside a new trailer. Dying Light developer Techland has confirmed that the Ultimate Survivor Bundle, the game’s second DLC drop, will release March 10. The DLC is part of the season pass, but will […]

  • Exploration puzzler Ether One is coming to PlayStation 4

    Ether One, the first-person exploration game that puts you in the minds of other people to help change events of their past is coming to PlayStation 4 this year. Ether One is coming to PlayStation 4 this year, developer White Paper Games announced at GDC 2015. A retail version will also be available alongside the […]

  • Larian “murdered” Divinity: Dragon Commander to focus on Original Sin

    Divinity: Original Sin developer Larian talked very candidly about the business side of development and the many unfortunate events that took place for the game to come out as it did. Larian Studios founder Swen Vincke gave a post-mortem on the troubled development of Divinity: Original Sin, and how it managed to overcome all of […]

  • Firewatch probably has the most natural dialogue of any game to date

    Firewatch developer Campo Santo has revealed the first ever gameplay footage of the upcoming exploration game. Firewatch is the first game from super indie studio Campo Santo. The game is set in the Wyoming forests where the player will be exploring the environment and act as a fire lookout. The game features extensive voice-acting as […]

  • White Night launch trailer is a noir thriller trip

    White Night is here, not long after it was revealed and with a mysterious launch trailer. White Night, the black-and-white survival horror set in 1930s Boston, has revealed its launch trailer. White Night is mix of old-school horror, exploration and puzzling solving in an eerie, noir setting. The game’s main mechanic is light. any object […]

  • Free-to-play is “a significant part” of PlayStation’s digital future

    Free-to-play games on PlayStation 4 have seen enough growth that Sony is now considering the model a major part of its future digital business. Sarah Thompson, senior account executive for PlayStation’s free-to-play business said at a GDC panel that Sony has witnessed impressive growth in the free-to-play sector. “We’re really looking at this as a […]

  • Double Fine Adventure Kickstarter documentary releasing free on YouTube

    Broken Age making of documentary Double Fine Adventure will be made available to all. When Double Fine turned to crowdfunding, changing the industry forever, it promised to give an unprecedented look behind the scenes with a professional documentary of the whole development process of Broken Age. That documentary was initially restricted to Kickstarter backers, but […]

  • Gone Home console ports cancelled following Midnight City difficulties

    Gone Home won’t be made available to the console masses after all. Indie hit Gone Home was announced for console release almost exactly one year ago, and we’ve heard absolutely nothing since then. Turns out, that’s because it’s not happening: developer the Fullbright Company confirmed to Eurogamer that the ports have been cancelled. “Our publishing […]

  • Microsoft rang Mojang the day Notch joked about selling

    Minecraft developer Mojang was sold because founder Markus “Notch” Persson made a joke on Twitter. Ever wondered how Minecraft came to be a Microsoft property? It’s actually a pretty great story. Remember when Notch tweeted this? Anyone want to buy my share of Mojang so I can move on with my life? Getting hate for […]

  • Halo: The Master Chief Collection matchmaking update rolling out

    Halo: The Master Chief Collection has been updated to help fix its tragic matchmaking. Again. Now almost four months old, Halo: The Master Chief Collection was still pretty broken as of this morning, with rubbish matchmaking and plenty of other issues to go around. 343 Industries is still trying to fix it, and has today […]

  • Nvidia unveils Shield, an Android 4K Smart TV set top box

    Nvidia has named yet another product “Shield” in an attempt to render us all hopelessly confused. The heart of Nvidia’s GDC 2015 press conference was the Shield, a $200 Android set top box launching in May. Apparently the “world’s first 4K Android TV”, the Shield supports 4K content encoded with h.265. The box runs on […]

  • Star Wars Battlefront footage shown behind closed doors

    Star Wars Battlefront is being shown to retailers. Now we want EA to show it to us. Star Wars Battlefront is expected sometime this year, so it’s about time EA gave us a look at DICE’s latest. It turns out that while press and gamers have had to twiddle their thumbs, EA is showing it […]

  • Dragon Age lead creative moves onto mysterious new BioWare project

    Dragon Age creator David Gaider is leaving his baby behind. Dragon Age is a team effort, but Gaider was one of the key creatives behind the franchise, creating the setting of Thedas (which, I was recently amused to learn, is an acronym: “THE Dragon Age Setting”). He was lead writer on all three games and […]

  • Unity 5 available for free with “no fucking around”

    Unity 5 looks amazing, and you can download and faff about with it for free right now. “We’re not nickel-and-diming people. When we say it’s free, it’s free. We’re not charging a royalty, which I think is akin to looking for whales.” Unity Technologies announced the release of the fifth version of its popular, simple, […]

  • Five Nights at Freddy’s 3 may be the end of the series

    Five Nights at Freddy’s 3 released yesterday, and many fans theorise that it marks the end of the series. Five Nights at Freddy’s developer Scott Cawthon has released a new teaser image on his website, but rather than pointing to a new game, many fans believe the teaser signals the end of the series. The […]

  • Source 2 announced, will also be free

    Valve has formally unveiled Source Engine 2, the third major engine to go free to developers at GDC 2015. Source 2 is the successor to the engine Valve has been using since Counter-Strike: Source and Half-Life 2. Valve didn’t have much to say about the technicalities of this long-awaited release. It is apparently focused on […]

  • SteamVR: Valve’s Lighthouse tech allows you to walk around while playing

    SteamVR’s key differentiator is a piece of tech allowing headsets to connect with other devices for extra accurate, room-scale tracking. Valve has announced a new bit of technology called Lighthouse, which it is making freely available to any hardware manufacturer. Like the extra tracking LEDs on Sony’s updated Project Morpheus, Lighthouse improves the headset’s accuracy, […]

  • Steam Machines, Controller, streaming box to launch in November

    Steam Machines will finally become a reality before the end of the year. Valve’s living room PC systems will release in November, the company announced today. Well, I say Valve’s – the idea behind Steam Machines is that a number of manufacturers will offer variously priced systems. Alienware and Falcon Northwest are among the dozen […]

  • Telltale veterans form new team, announce teen thriller Oxenfree

    Oxenfree is a supernatural teen thriller from some of the team behind Telltale Games’ award-winning adventures. New indie Night School Studios unveiled Oxenfree at GDC 2015. It tells the story of a group of friends who accidentally open a “ghostly rift” at an overnight party on the coast. Night School, which is made up of […]

  • PS4 global sales now stand at over 20.2 million

    The PS4 has sold 20.2 million units worldwide. Sony announced the new PS4 sales milestone at GDC 2015 today. It’s a hell of an achievement and salt in the wounds for Microsoft, which hasn’t updated us on Xbox One sales since it shipped “almost” 10 million back in November last year, and has fallen back […]

  • PS4 VR headset Morpheus out in 2016, capable of 120 FPS – video

    Sony’s VR headset Project Morpheus has some impressive grunt. Virtual reality and Morpheus were the heart of Sony’s GDC 2015 presentation today, ahead of its newly announced first-half 2016 comemrcial launch. SCE Worldwide Studios boss Shuhei Yoshida detailed the headset’s impressive capabilities, notably the fact that it can handle 120 FPS VR games. The PS4 […]

  • Papo & Yo developer making a VR game about dinosaurs

    Some days you write a headline and it makes you so happy that that you have to do a little chair dance, you know what I mean? Papo & Yo developer Minority Media, whom I would personally go to the wall for after they cut out my heart and stomped on it via the medium […]

  • Wasteland 2, Shovel Knight and more in big ole bunch of indies coming to Xbox One

    Xbox One owners are about to receive a pile of great new indie games. At GDC 2015, Microsoft revealed a list of new indie games headed to Xbox One. Some of these titles have already released on other platforms, so it looks like Microsoft has really relaxed the parity clause of ID@Xbox – or perhaps […]

  • Here’s an indie VR game made with Unreal Engine 4

    GDC 2015 is blowing up with indie games, VR and Unreal Engine 4, so here’s a video combining all three. Loading Human is a virtual reality adventure from indie developer Untold Games. It’s in the works for Mac and PC, and Sony has given an early green light for Project Morpheus, too, so expect it […]

  • GTA Online: Daily Objectives and Adversary Mode coming next week

    Heists aren’t the only thing coming to GTA Online next week: players can also expect Adversary Modes, new Daily Objectives and other Freemode activities. GTA Online’s Adversary Modes are new PvP modes which feature a range of competitive challenges and will unlock as players progress through Heists. Here’s a rundown straight from Rockstar: Come Out […]

  • Syndicate is the latest free game download on Origin

    The latest free title to be added to EA’s Origin service is 1993′s Syndicate. For a limited time, you can download the game for free and keep it, much like previous titles such as Theme Hospital. The isometric, real-time, tactical-action game was developed by Bullfrog Productions and released in June 1993. It is a favorite […]

  • Ancient Labyrinth DLC for Lords of the Fallen now available

    The Ancient Labyrinth DLC for Lords of the Fallen is now available for PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One. It will run you $7.99 and builds upon the existing lore, characters, and storyline. Have a look at some new screenshots in the gallery below.

  • Shadowrun Online gets a name change and release date

    Shadowrun Online developer Cliffhanger Productions has announced the game’s name has been changed to Shadowrun Chronicles: Boston Lockdown and a release date for April has been set. The new title was formed via the developer and its Kickstarter backers, with the goal being to let those unfamiliar with the game know by the title alone […]