David Cage and the Race for a Faster Horse

Laura Parker speaks with the head of French game development house Quantic Dream about peer approval and the growth of the gaming industry.

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During his 2013 DICE Summit presentation in Las Vegas earlier this year, Quantic Dream founder David Cage revealed a list of the 30 best-selling games of all time. The list was dominated by Nintendo, Call of Duty, and Grand Theft Auto titles. Few people in the audience could say they were surprised. But for Cage, the list represented everything wrong with the video game industry.

Those who have heard Cage speak are well acquainted with the game designer's frustrations with the current state of game development: not enough games explore the breadth of human emotion; too many games focus on mindless violence; there is not enough diversity and risk-taking; there is not enough art. He repeats these things in interviews and public appearances with astounding regularity, showing particular partiality to certain ideas and even certain words. There's one Henry Ford quote which is seldom absent from his routine: "If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses."

By this, Cage means that developers have become lazy, that they've allowed themselves to think that the 30 best-selling games of all time are a true indication of what gamers want. So why should the game industry stop delivering the same experiences that have proven profitable, time and time again? Because you can't expect the audience to know what it wants, Cage argues. Give them something new, something different, and chances are they'll like it.

For the last 10 years, Cage has urged developers to start making games that have something to say about humanity, games that attempt something bigger than mere entertainment and challenge you to think about the world you live in and those you share it with. He has asked the game industry to stop using the same themes and the same worlds. He has argued that more games should focus on giving you a journey, rather than a series of challenges.

The reaction to Cage's 2013 DICE Summit presentation was typical of the kind of criticism he has received since he first began talking about these ideas: some argue his cries for improvement ring hollow in an industry that has already grown up; others accuse him of deliberately setting out to "yank people's chains." He has been criticized for demanding less violence in games, for being a danger to the games industry, for being a hypocrite, and for being obsessed with cinema.

So why does Cage persist?

"Yes it's true, I only have one story," Cage laughs. "When I started shouting and screaming these things 10 years ago, no one had a clue what I was talking about. But today when I talk, people listen. Maybe it's because they enjoyed Heavy Rain, or maybe they heard about what we're doing [at Quantic Dream]. Do they agree? Do they care? Maybe not, but at least they hear."

Cage was born David De Gruttola in 1969 in the Alsace region of Mulhouse in eastern France and got his start as a professional musician, working in television, film, and eventually video game music and sound production. He started playing the piano at the age of 5 and went on to study at a conservatory for 12 years before starting freelance work from the age of 14.

At 18, Cage traveled to Paris to work for a record label and later acquired a studio in Montparnasse, Totem Interactive. For the next five years, he continued to work for clients in the entertainment industry, becoming more involved with video games and eventually creating music for games including Super Dany and Time Cop on the SNES, Sega's Cheese Cat-Astrophe Starring Speedy Gonzales, and Virgin Interactive's 1996 rail shooter Hardline. In 1997, at the age of 28, Cage founded Quantic Dream.

Cage jokes that he had to hire a co-CEO for Quantic (Guillaume de Fondaumiere) because he does pretty much everything else: founder, CFO, commercial and creative director, project manager, game designer, scriptwriter, director, and studio spokesperson. He credits his father for his entrepreneurial spirit and is not embarrassed to admit he changed his last name because too many English-speaking people mispronounced it.

He has designed and directed all of Quantic Dream's games to date: Omikron: The Nomad Soul in 1999, on which he collaborated with singer David Bowie, who had cameo roles in the game and who wrote several tracks from his album "Hours…" specifically for the game; Indigo Prophecy in 2005; Heavy Rain in 2010; and the upcoming Beyond: Two Souls. His longtime partner Sophie Buhl has worked with him at Quantic Dream since the studio was founded, serving as lead scripter and level designer on all the studio's games. Together they have two boys, Quentin and Ulysse. Cage's private life has often served as inspiration for his public one: he has often said his main motivation for making Heavy Rain was the realisation of how far he would go to save the lives of his children, while Beyond: Two Souls is inspired by Cage's own dealings with grief after the death of someone close to him.

He says the things he repeats over and over at gaming conferences and in public addresses and interviews are not the kinds of things one can say just once and move on. It takes time for people to understand his point--even more time to say what he means in the right way, to the right people, in the right place. How he is perceived, either by his peers or by the media, is inconsequential.

"I'm not saying these things to be liked or disliked by people. I'm saying them because this is what I believe. If there are a ton of people who love me because I'm saying them, then great; if there are a ton of people who hate me, great again."

It's worth noting that Cage doesn't want his point of view to be the only point of view. He has never asked his peers to do as he says, nor has he ever stated that the types of games he would like to see more of--ones that deal with more mature, adult themes and have a higher meaning--should be the only types of games that exist. He's not actually saying that Call of Duty and Grand Theft Auto are bad games, or that they don't serve a purpose in the industry.

He just believes the market is ready for new ideas, and it's the games industry's job to deliver them. Not in place of Call of Duty or Grand Theft Auto, but in addition to them.

His critics have often remarked that many of these games already exist thanks to the indie space and that it is ludicrous for him to suggest that all games should be deep, given that games are first and foremost supposed to entertain. He says he understands this perfectly well.

"The answer to the industry's problems could very well come from the indie space. I know that. Indie game development is exciting, interesting, and risky. Independent game developers are pioneers, and we're in desperate need of pioneers. When you look at cinema, you can see the same thing: it was really the underground filmmakers that brought about the revolution and broke free of what the big studios were doing. Maybe this is what needs to happen in the games industry."

The comparison--while not altogether apt given how different games are to cinema--helps Cage illustrate his ideas for growing the storytelling potential of games. He says that the games industry should be as diverse in experiences as the film industry--drama, action, comedy, satire--and that there's no reason games should not attempt to widen the current boundaries and create new genres that play with different combinations of story and gameplay.

Most people know Cage is impassioned by the idea of more-engaging stories in games. He genuinely believes you should invest yourself in the games you play, and keep thinking about them long after you've stopped playing. One of the more controversial claims he has made is that more games should employ the services of professional writers, rather than relying on programmers and artists to throw together a story that fits in with the gameplay. He insists this isn't about the long-standing debate about story vs. gameplay: a game doesn't need a rich, involved story to be compelling and say something meaningful. (He points to Journey as an example.) Rather, it's about knowing how to give players memorable experiences: memorable set pieces, memorable characters, and memorable ideas.

To achieve this, he'd like to see more collaboration between the games industry and Hollywood, something akin to the partnership that JJ Abrams and Gabe Newell are keen to develop. It's not simply so games can be more like films, as some people accuse him of believing, and Heavy Rain of trying to do, but more about learning from a more established medium which has had a lot more practice in evolution and revolution.

"A filmmaker's job is to create emotion. Does that mean we should just copy that? No, because our medium is different. It has its own language. Can we learn from them? Yes."

This may sound silly, but it is not an uncommon wish among advocates of deeper, more-enriching gaming experiences. The problem, it seems, is with Cage's implication that game development hasn't come far enough and that the medium is struggling because of it. His critics take personal issue with this, as if it is them that Cage is attacking. (A point he made during the 2013 DICE presentation that the games media should take more responsibility with criticism drew particular ire from some writers who felt insulted by the idea that their job and talent were being called into question.) To them, it feels like Cage doesn't even like games besides his own.

"When I talk so much about film, people get really upset because they think I'm talking about making interactive cinema. They say, 'We want to make games, pure games!' But how many mediums were created from scratch? How many art forms were created the same way as ours? We should listen and learn from anyone who has anything meaningful to say and to show."

Cage points to a number of game makers he believes are bettering the industry by providing exactly the kinds of experiences he has been talking about: studios like Telltale Games, Thatgamecompany, and Minority, and game designers like Jonathan Blow.

As long as someone, somewhere is paying attention, he feels it has all been worth it.

"Maybe I should just shut up and get on with my games and not bother talking about all these tricky things, telling developers that they should change or telling the press they should evolve, but I can't. It's part of my responsibility as a member of this industry to say these things. It's my responsibility to share my experiences and my point of view, and to see if it's useful to anyone else."

It's a responsibility David Cage is taking seriously.

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Discussion

355 comments
John Osborn
John Osborn

I loved the storytelling in heavy rain

advancedcaveman
advancedcaveman

Omikron is the only good game David Cage ever worked on. Everything else he's done is a basically a modern re-hash of the awful FMV era people went through in the early 90s. At no point have I ever watched a movie and thought "man, this would be so much better if I had to hold down a button while repeatedly pressing another to keep the video playing."

And oh boy he's motion capturing Ellen Page so we can have another fucking realistic game with a bunch of motion capture smeared all over the advertising in this endless campaign of "technology is everything." Yea, he's a real maverick there.

Grant Mentor
Grant Mentor

The walking dead emotionally drained me...so did MGS and M.E

Reid Follis
Reid Follis

Lol. Nice try Janice. Video games will only become increasingly accepted by society. Banning video games for the next generation would be like banning movies for ours. Good luck.

Freboy
Freboy

"One of the more controversial claims he has made is that more games should employ the services of professional writers, rather than relying on programmers and artists to throw together a story that fits in with the gameplay."

Controversial? Really? How? Why?

Game developers are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on a game, but the idea of hiring a writer is controversial?  No wonder most characters in games have as much depth as the evil henchmen in an 80s action movie.

erMonezza
erMonezza

Yes, I bought and played MGS4. It definitely had too much video, but there was gameplay. Decent gameplay. Not just QTE, mesh button to decide what route to go.

PlatinumPaladin
PlatinumPaladin

I've always liked the work that comes out of Quantic Dream. They're great experiences that provide gripping narratives and some truly emotional performances. But they're not fun. In fact they're pretty intense in parts. If there were more games like QD's, and the same people played them all, then I think those people would eventually get worn down.

Games, as well as movies, television shows, and the printed word (books, magazines, newspapers) each have their own hierarchy pyramid of sales. You tend to find that the games that sell more copies are usually less intense or less engaging on an intellectual level. Now I'm not saying someone who buys Angry Birds is less intelligent than someone who buys Heavy Rain, but it's likely that there are more people who just want to have fun with their games. I know I do, but at the same time I'm willing to set aside the time to try something heavier like Fahrenheit/Indigo Prophecy or Heavy Rain. (Is it wrong that I can't think of any other games to place in this category?)

I do find it insulting (not personally) how he seems to view the whole industry as being in the wrong. Yeah, he's clarified his words, but when in full swing rant mode he does sound like he's having a pop at everyone. And I think a lot of developers are embracing a more mature approach to games, but they're doing it much more subtly, slowly cranking up the levels of plot and character development while still trying to keep things fun.

Personally I think part of Cage just likes to feel like he's the only sane man in an insane world, and he likes letting everyone know it. But those poor kids with names like Quentin and Ulysse.

Stardust7
Stardust7

Omikron the Nomad Soul 2 please !! ;)

Erebus
Erebus

Am I the only person here who thinks "choose your own adventure" gameplay powered by QTEs is neither innovative nor fun?

Shmiity
Shmiity

Love this guy. Love Quantic Dream. Everything he has done is inspiring and fantastic. I absolutely applaud him for sh*tting on other game developers and companies. So many games are becoming more shallow and stale. Heavy Rain was an amazing accomplishment, and everyone can take notes from it. Rock on David Cage. 

Chronologo
Chronologo

Cage has point, and all of that is backed by all the successful kickstarters for games like the new broken sword, the next dreamfall chapters and so. We who grew playing in the 90s with the SNES, PSX and old PC games know what he's talking about. The last COD I played was modern warfare 1 and even I find it a bit boring, nothing like the old ww2 setting, they made those ones awesome because they had the Medal Of Honor franchise as a heavy competitor back then, now they are against Battlefield who was always focused on multiplayer and that's why we get LAME single player experiences and washed out remakes of the last years game.

vivalatour
vivalatour

I like what these guys can do ! I just wish they could produce more often ! I become disabled andgot into gaming later in my years I doubt that I am the oldest , but , some kids laugh at me ! a couple friends my age 60's came over and chuckled so I handed them a control and from that time on they were hooked , particularly in the mature games such as Heavy Rain to name a VERY FEW ? anyway I will stop hogging the board and end with saying Keep it up Quantic Dream ...

Voice_of_Wisdom
Voice_of_Wisdom

guys like him, Ken Levine and Hideo Kojima are killing the industry

CaptainBerserk
CaptainBerserk

" It's worth noting that Cage doesn't want his point of view to be the only point of view. He has never asked his peers to do as he says, nor has he ever stated that the types of games he would like to see more of--ones that deal with more mature, adult themes and have a higher meaning--should be the only types of games that exist. He's not actually saying that Call of Duty and Grand Theft Auto are bad games, or that they don't serve a purpose in the industry.

He just believes the market is ready for new ideas, and it's the games industry's job to deliver them. Not in place of Call of Duty or Grand Theft Auto, but in addition to them."

I couldn't agree more, you are very welcome Mr. Cage.

Ovirew
Ovirew

I like David Cage, and what he brings to the table.  I really couldn't agree more with what he is saying.

Making a really original game that carves out its own 'genre' probably isn't an easy task.  But if all game developers could try to be more imaginative and not simply copy everything that has been done before, then maybe we would be able to take gaming more seriously as an artistic medium.

nate1222
nate1222

I've been a fan of Cage's work since Indigo Prophecy. I loved it on the PS2, and now enjoy it on PC (thanks for bringing it to GOG).

While I have no intention to become a PS3 owner (done with consoles as of the 7th gen rackets), I'd like to see Beyond Two Souls come to PC.

BuzzLiteBeer
BuzzLiteBeer

Game makers with egos clearly do not like being criticized and the industry is jam-packed with them. Cage is entitled to his opinion and I am inclined to agree that game development has turned into Hollywood.  Tons of "summer block-buster" titles that are fun, but ultimately void of artistic value and fails to connect with the consumer. While there are many more gems in Hollywood  amist the crap, the same cannot be said for gaming. 2, maybe 3 games every year are "Oscar-worthy". 

I am thoroughly bored by the current gaming landscape and I wish there were more David Cages working on new things. I want to be amazed, not merely satisfied.

charlesdao
charlesdao

The guy is just saying CHANGE, do some innovation!
 COD lovers gonna hate - Journey lovers gonna love 

everything on comments below

advancedcaveman
advancedcaveman

Game developers do hire writers; the actual issue here is that a lot of writers nowadays are terrible. How often do you see a game journalist write "this game is hard to describe" when the game is actually abundantly easy to describe and there are many frames of reference to draw upon in order to effectively summarize all the basic aspects of what it is.

How often do you see a company go on about how they brought in a bunch of Hollywood "talent" to work on a game, including a writer or two, and the characters in the game are exactly the sort of 80s action movie henchmen level cliches you're describing? 



TheEveryMan
TheEveryMan

@Erebus  

In the market as we see it today its different, and that is what you have to be in order to succeed in an industry, be music, art, film or even a job placement, you have to be unique, and Quantic Dreams games are like that, but come at the price of being a little tedious. 

Speranza318
Speranza318

@Shmiity Agreed.  I don't think GTA 10 will be any different than GTA 5: get arrested, wake up in jail, break out, steal a car, shoot people, go to an objective, and be rewarded with a cutscene from a shitty storyline until the game is over when you go back to jail.

COD/Battlefield version: "realistic" shooter: Empty a clip into someone on multiplayer mode as their health drops yet they still don't die.  Health in a war game...really?  But lets make it better and add achievements and levels to make it cool and "power" your soldier up and kill people in 1 hit.  I guess my idea of a "realistic" shooter is much different than these trash game developers.


Cage FTW

Incubus420
Incubus420

@Voice_of_Wisdom How are they killing the industry?  You are full of S my friend.  That comment alone with no points makes you look like an idiot.   Hideo is one of the best game designers of all time. Yes, he is pretty much stuck with the MGS series, however, he never releases a versions of the game that feels exactly like previous version like COD.

Shmiity
Shmiity

@Voice_of_Wisdom You mean saving it? Actually doing something meaningful instead of churning out garbage?

FalSc
FalSc

@BuzzLiteBeerDiversity has it´s importance in everything. It generates new possibilities. Books and movies and now games, it is important to celebrate divesity. Just because Cage´s games doesn´t play well for everybody or its story is unapealing for some, it doesn´t mean that it isn´t a game or it´s particular game genre doesn´t have its importance. To say that is the same thing to bash all industry and gaming history...

emptycow
emptycow

@BuzzLiteBeer play LA NOIRE  CAGE IS OK BUT I WANT GREAT STORY WITH GREAT GAMEPLAY NOT JUST POINT AND CLICK GAMES ALSO I THINK GAMES LIKE MAX PAYNE 3  ARE BETTER THEN ANY SUMMER BLOCK BUSTER  THE MAX PANE MOVIE WAS TRASH  

emptycow
emptycow

this is a must play  awesome gameplay and a  vary well told story

Freboy
Freboy

@advancedcaveman  

So, you're in a bar and someone tells you that's what they do... and you ask "so what games have you worked on?" and they say something like "Resident Evil 6" or "Binary Domain"... will you be able to stop yourself before saying 'So those games had writers...?'

LukeWesty
LukeWesty

@Speranza318

What if there is vertual reality machine by then so when you kill a random in the street with in a year you will be suffering from post traumatic stress disorder, it's that realistic... how cool would that be. lol

MarcjinJaume
MarcjinJaume

@Speranza318 @Shmiity As much as I like GTA I agree with nearly everything you said. Why action games have to be like shitty action movies only changing the enemy's bad aiming for the protagonist's superhuman resistance to gunshots?

People keep telling me that game's would be impossible to beat if they were realistic and that makes me mad because I believe they have been miss-educated by all those shitty action movies in which a single guy beats an entire army of enemies.

But thaks to you I see that I'm not alone. 

Incubus420
Incubus420

@Speranza318 @Shmiity I liked Heavy Ran as a concept and when I was playing I never really felt like I was playing a game.  More so like I was pushing along a story that was eventually going to come to fruition regardless of what actions I made.  I liked the experiences,  however, I feel like the game play needs to improve.  I feel like Cage neglects to mention those great games that are doing it right.  Games like Mass Effect and Red Dead Redemption couple great story telling with great and entertaining game play.  I agree he can share his opinion as much as possible, but why does he not point out who is doing it right and acknowledge that games like COD and other violent videogames are like the action movies in the film industry. There is enough room in this industry for everyone.  Not every gamer at every moment is looking for the Titanic or Gone with the Wind of videogames.  Sometimes we just want to put on a mindless game and have some fun.  And Heavy Rain was everything but pure fun.  Good, but not fun. 

BuzzLiteBeer
BuzzLiteBeer

@FalSc @BuzzLiteBeer I failed to address this point but I do agree with you. There will always be a place for CoD and annual sports titles, but what I think David Cage is highlighting is the lack of innovation all-around. With the recent announcement from EA about micro-transactions, it is exceedingly clear that the industry is becoming more profit oriented than ever. Diablo III for example was a total bust in terms of consumer reaction yet it was a massive financial success. It's branding and banking on the good graces of the fanbase.

I don't think game makers are necessarily lazy, but they are driven by corporate restrictions and demands that result in lackluster products.

CaptainBerserk
CaptainBerserk

@FalSc  exactly, diversity is what the gaming scene need the most and we gamers should embrace it always liking or not.  well said.

MarcjinJaume
MarcjinJaume

@Incubus420 @Speranza318 @Shmiity I agree with you that many games can be related to a specific type of movie. But as much as I like the gameplay of games like RDR or FarCry3 I have to say that if they were movies they wouldn't certainly win an oscar for best script. 

**Spoiler below**

I really hated RDR's story, the fact that Marston get's killed at the end doesn't make it a good story. And most dialogues are awful.

Now I've said it!