David Cage on creating emotion in Heavy Rain

GDC 2011: Quantic Dream studio head breaks out Heavy Rain statistics and speaks on the future of the industry; around 2 million copies of the game have now been sold worldwide.

Who was there: David Cage, founder, co-owner, lead designer, and writer at French game studio Quantic Dream, designer and director of the PlayStation 3-exclusive Heavy Rain.

Heavy Rain was designed to be an emotional experience.

What they talked about: Cage began the talk by giving the audience a brief rundown of Quantic Dream’s history, with picture slides of the 64-camera motion-capture system that was used to create Heavy Rain. He then debated Heavy Rain's genre: Is it an adventure game or an interactive movie? He settled on "interactive drama," despite saying he still thinks it remains open for debate.

Cage then showed some sales statistics: Despite Heavy Rain being what he called a "risky IP," he showed that the game has an overall score of 89 percent on Metacritic and good critical reviews around the world. According to Cage, Heavy Rain has sold around 2 million units worldwide since its release; he was quick to admit that this number is not much but instead settled on the idea that it still means something if you consider that Heavy Rain is not your typical action adventure game, particularly because its heroes do not wield guns (even though they actually did).

According to research Cage presented (which wasn't sourced), around 72 percent of players who started playing Heavy Rain finished the game. Cage said this was momentous when you consider that the industry average is around 20 percent (again, no sources for this data). He then talked about the reasons that set Heavy Rain apart from other video games. According to Cage, Heavy Rain was a game for adults, when most games are targeted at teenagers; it was not based on violence or physical action; it was not based on repetitive mechanics; and it was not based on the same paradigms that have been recycled throughout the industry for the past 30 years.

Heavy Rain aimed to answer these challenges and create a game that not only would feature adult themes, but that would also introduce more subtle, complex emotions into gameplay and steer clear of the 10 basic actions that video game characters tend to perform (that is, running, jumping, shooting, and the like). "The story of Heavy Rain is really about child abduction," Cage said. "That's not an easy sell. But we wanted to say something meaningful, and we wanted the audience to remember this game for a long time." Cage then talked about the varied interactions that Heavy Rain utilized, something he called "freeing the characters from the interface." To do this, Cage and his team experimented with a few new paradigms: the emotional (it’s not what you do but what you feel that is important); story driven; meaningful (the game has to resonate with players); and an experience for adults.

JASOOOOOOOON!

"I wanted to find a way to allow the player to become the actor, codirector, and cowriter of this experience. I created the context, but at the end of the day, I allowed the player to tell the story through gameplay and not through cutscenes. Everything in Heavy Rain could be played. Players do not want to move between watching, playing, watching, playing." Cage then elaborated on the role playing in the game, which he said many people laughed at. The fact that players can have the characters do mundane things like brushing teeth and drinking juice was deliberate. Without these mundane actions, Cage said, it would have been impossible for players to really attach themselves to the game's protagonist and really feel his pain throughout the game's story. Cage then talked about the nightclub scene in the game, where the character of Madison performs a striptease. This was meant to make players feel uncomfortable, so they could identify with Madison's own situation and discomfort in the story. According to Cage, this kind of characterization is a problem in games. Most of the time, he said, characters are simply empty shells because game designers are under the false impression that players want to project themselves onto the characters they play. However, a medium like film is successful in creating complex characters that find themselves in realistic, normal, and everyday situations; thus allowing the audience to relate directly to them and become emotionally invested in the story. Cage believes games aren't up to that level yet. He said in most games, what matters most is not the journey but the challenge, which is a mistake.

"In Heavy Rain, we tried to move the challenge from the controller to the mind of the player. I don’t care how fast you can move your thumbs. If you fail in Heavy Rain, you need to reconsider how you deal with the situation, as opposed to most games, where if you die, you have to go back and do it all over again until you are fast enough to move on. In the context of a story-driven experience, this makes no sense. Why would you want to go back?"

Cage then talked about Heavy Rain's interface and its control layout. "Game mechanics are evil," he began. "We need to do more than just run and shoot in games." Heavy Rain used what Cage calls a "contextual interface," in which players are not limited in the number of actions they can perform; rather, this varies with the context of the situation. So, the same button can be used for many different actions, according to the scene. Cage moved on to discussing the moral choices in Heavy Rain and the number of consequences offered to players. For example, in a scene where Ethan must decide whether to kill someone to save the life of his son, players are faced with a difficult choice. Cage said he received a letter from one player who turned off his console for two weeks to think about what he'd do. (In the end, he made Ethan kill the other character.) "That's about the slowest gameplay ever, right?" Cage joked. "But it was important because you have to give meaning to the idea of killing someone in a game. We kill people in games all the time, and we never care. But I wanted you to care for this one. We wanted the game to become a mirror for players…to make them really question who they are."

After 30 years of game development, Cage believes the industry has reached a stage where every avenue has been explored. Video game rules like mechanics, levels, bosses, points, platforms, cutscenes, ammo, and inventory have to be forgotten for the industry to move forward. A new language must be invented to allow developers to explore new avenues. We cannot, Cage said, allow ourselves to become the only medium that is "empty." Cage's solution to this is to take away power from programmers and give it to game writers and allow them to control the direction of a game.

"We can make games about love, fear, homosexuality, handicapped people, politics, and more. We need to create more meaningful experiences; that’s where the value will come from."

Cage wrapped up with a special surprise: Pascal Langdale, the actor who played Ethan Mars in Heavy Rain, was at the panel. He took the stage and did a very special impersonation of Ethan by shouting "JASON!" into the microphone.

Quote: "This is Pascal. We have done very strange things together. Nothing sexual."--David Cage.

Takeaway: David Cage passionately believes that games need to change if the industry is going to survive. While the way he expresses these ideas may not suit some, there is no question that what he is saying makes sense.

Written By

Want the latest news about Heavy Rain?

Heavy Rain

Heavy Rain

Discussion

77 comments
akiwak
akiwak

I had failed the other challenges and could only think of my own son when it came time to shoot the gun. I basically felt the same way when I pulled the trigger. My stomach turned and all i could say was I HAVE TO SAVE HIM.

ree246
ree246

this game was one of the best games I have ever played!!!:D

thetravman
thetravman

I love the game since it's an experience like no other, but the plotholes in it just keeps nagging at me when i think of this game.

pokecharm
pokecharm

Heavy Rain was really a 'different' game and one that brought so much to the table. I almost want to see another iteration, but realise I could never truly replay the game.

vader501st
vader501st

@Lozzica I see your point, however, stating that he had no source for his info only once would have sufficed, at least for me. Thanks for taking the time to address the issue properly. @Philly1UPer Yet again, you failed to interpret my original statement. I DID NOT say that GS was bashing the PS3 or any console for that matter. What bugged me was the fact that they emphasized Cage's "lack" of sources twice. Then, I made use of a little something called "irony" by saying that if it were RDR (for instance, Sam Houser), no "lack" of source would be stressed. (Again, an IRONY). On another note, Cage probably had his reasons to omit his sources, and a little bit of trust wouldn't hurt anyone. So far, he accomplished everything he promised (he's not Molyneux, after all), and wouldn't have any logical reason to lie about the info he provided. Much like Casey Hudson when he provided numbers about how Mass Effect 2 players played his game.

Philly1UPer
Philly1UPer

@vader501st Um, no. You said that this was typical Gamespot bashing the PS3 because they wrote out that they had legit facts from sources about the game and such. yet when asked for the sources, he couldn't name them. Why is it so hard to name your sources so we fully know your not full of BS?

Lozzica
Lozzica moderator

@vader501st Hey. I wasn't claiming that Cage lacks any source "whatsoever", I simply pointed out that Cage did not source the reasearch he was talking about. He was citing facts, percentages and industry figures, and failed to provide a source for them. It was my duty as a reporter to state that no source for these figures was given.

vader501st
vader501st

@Philly1UPer Dude, read my statement again. GS claims that Cage (a respected producer, mind you) lacks any kind of "source" whatsoever, making his credibility look doubtful. If you're butthurt by the fact that I pointed out the truth, that's your problem. If you've got nothing interesting to say, just STFU.

DanielL5583
DanielL5583

Heavy Rain did what many other games similar to it didn't. Actually make you stand as if you were the character. Case and point, the Lizard Trial, where Ethan had to cut off a bit of one of his fingers. There.

redlaith
redlaith

heavy rain is the best best story graphics game play .......i hope the will make other games like it!!

lazycomplife
lazycomplife

I agree that more games need to be unique like heavy rain.

anthonycg
anthonycg

So are they thinking of some new project or something? While the game was good, it came out a very long time ago and few games get PR like this unless they're planning something.

Death_Blade_182
Death_Blade_182

Heavy Rain was awesome, a bit short in my opinion, but still awesome. I think I stilll like Indigo Prophecy more though.

Darkmoone1
Darkmoone1

I was watching this as a playthrough. Felt like an awesome movie! :D Would've been better to play though. :(

DAFTArticuno
DAFTArticuno

I want to play this game sooo badly. Everyone tells me how great it is.

stephenbarr
stephenbarr

Heavy Rain is without a doubt one of the best games out there today based on story. I just feel like i invested so much emotion into the game. I even remember that i was unable to bring myself to kill that guy during the scene with Ethan. I then replayed it tho and did everything different.

ash162
ash162

Loved this game from start to finish(many of them). Can't wait for their next 'original' venture

dantefenix
dantefenix

this is a whole new experience....awesomw it was gr8...and one of 2010s best

TheRealLisaAnn
TheRealLisaAnn

It sold through $40,000,000? At $20 a pop ($40+ store price, 50% of that going to the publisher) that's not a bad return. If it cost less than $10 million to make, with advertising and other costs that has made the co. a lot of pocket change.

Sulaymanqazi2
Sulaymanqazi2

thumbs up if you think Ethan Mars is a hero.

Sulaymanqazi2
Sulaymanqazi2

thumbs up if your favorite character was Scott Shelby

Sulaymanqazi2
Sulaymanqazi2

thumbs up if you thought Madison Paige had the best voice acting.

DBZKING1234
DBZKING1234

Heavy Rain was great. Just disappointing to see what was cut from it.

Crash_WL
Crash_WL

I suppose the sources are worldwide trophies achieved for "Game finished"? Which can't be accurate anyway, trophies might be glitched etc... Anyway, Heavy Rain sure was full of emotion, and succeeded in sucking the player in. Great game, good work Quantic Dream.

monson21502
monson21502

i went to school with david cage. that gimped leg kid made our teams lose alot of school games. and also got the moneybars banned from our playground!!

liam72
liam72

It's an interesting project, kind of an exploration for further, more polished games in the future. What I mean by more polished is the narrative. The story for Heavy Rain really is not as coherent as you would expect from a great movie. If Heavy Rain is an interactive movie, you would expect the movie part to be as good as the game part. But don't get me wrong, I still very much enjoyed this game.

VengfulOne
VengfulOne

One of the most engrossing games I 've ever played. I'm a sucker for a good story and this game defintely delivers. I've been telling my friends to buy it since the first day I played it.

redder1111
redder1111

Indigo prophecy (Fahrenheit) > Heavy Rain

DarkNeoBahamut
DarkNeoBahamut

Everybody have different tastes, some people didn't like the game, others liked it. I liked it, and I got every single ending. I congrat developers like this one, because they try new stuff no matter if it's "weird" to some people. We need new IPs, new genres, new visions, what happened to innovation? it's not just about graphics...

warhawk-geeby
warhawk-geeby

This game seriously deserves to have more sales. It's definately one of the best games to have ever been created in my opinion. Kids wouldn't get it obviously, but it was sheer genius. Had me from start to end. Look forward to their next project.

ramb1402
ramb1402

I hate when they make promises they won't deliver, such as the dlc. I also think that it became a cliche looking for your sons, while the game overall was pretty good, there are times i wished it was different, like Fahrenheit (Indigo Prophecy) because the music was excellent, i felt more immerse into it and not to mention there was a stronger mystery which Heavy Rain didn't have(aside from the killer) anyways thats just my opinion...

TheBatFreak777
TheBatFreak777

for me, I fully invested in Heavy Rain because it WAS different. admittedly, I totally agree with Cage that in order to advance the idea of gaming needs to change. Throwing 3D into the mix isn't really changing things all that much. Things like Kinect, however, can.(note that I'm a PS3 owner giving a compliment to MS) lol I've been playing games since the early 80s when text adventures like Zork were the big thing. Even at 38 I continue to enjoy the creativity of gaming and am always excited for things like Heavy Rain. Sure, I play all of the traditional games too but it's refreshing to have new concepts come out. It will be interesting to see how gaming evolves into the future. Connecting with one's emotions in a game seem to be quite difficult but Heavy Rain was a good start, I think, because there was less focus on using the controller and more focus on the story and character development. I love gaming and think it is one of the best ways to spend free time when you're at home and not away doing something else. Cant wait to see where things will go!

jamesinho
jamesinho

This just gave me an idea. Gamespot should get interviews with industry professionals after their game has been released. Instead of telling people how great a game will be, they could talk about the innovative/strong points of the game they produced and how they overcame the challenges. It's great that the games industry is always looking forward, but people could benefit from their expert knowledge and it could even inspire the next generation of artists/techies.

benny1366
benny1366

The idea bosses in games returns to 20yrs ago in the golden age SEGA but EA games or Japanese Industries still follow the same bullshhit rules in games because they only care about money !!!! i was playing video games when i was 5 now i am 24 !!! they treat us like kids !!! they made me only follow some certain games Like RDR or LA Noire because other games r badly fiction !!!

anshanlord
anshanlord

I loved Heavy Rain but I would've loved it even more if it had a unique story Like Fahrenheit...I believe Despite Heavy Rain's Gameplay and graphics superiority and the fact that it was released 5 years after Fahrenheit ,still Fahrenheit was far more superior in its journey...I hope the next game will combine the fantastic unique story like Fahrenheit and great gameplay and story telling of Heavy rain.

red-ray
red-ray

David cage is quite a stat maker, too many percentage without any source. He'd be better asked why a new yorker speak english with french accent?

Dualmask
Dualmask

Heavy Rain was a neat experiment, but if too many games get made like it, it'll be hard to call it a "game" industry anymore. There's room for Heavy Rain and games like it just as there's room for Mario, CoD, Street Fighter, Metal Gear and everything else. The great thing about gaming is that it can be everything it wants to be or something completely new. "David Cage passionately believes that games need to change if the industry is going to survive. While the way he expresses these ideas may not suit some, there is no question that what he is saying makes sense. Perhaps, but definitely not the way Cage wants it to. Not every game should try to be some deep cinematic emotional experience (especially since Heavy Rain's story was not all that interesting). Nintendo is doing just fine selling Mario games. CoD games are selling just fine. BioWare manages to have great story work and great game mechanics in titles like Mass Effect and Dragon Age. Because gamePLAY, not story, is king.

Oldboy08
Oldboy08

this was a great game! althought i pretty much failed at it...i had to have the worst ending in the game, lol. sigh...

TheCyborgNinja
TheCyborgNinja

I'm more interested in "David Cage on 'why we cheaped out on voice talent."

Marineb0i
Marineb0i

@SovietKitteh No I have to agree with you. If I had a son like Jason, I think I'd punt him... hard. One thing that really killed it for me was the voice acting. Plus the few plot holes... Honestly, I really enjoy this time of game, but there were just things that prevented me from being fully immersed in the game world.

djwood84
djwood84

The game industry is becoming like Hollywood, constantly cranking out the same big blockbuster-hopeful story over and over. Its nice to see someone trying something fresh. If you want to play nothing but FPS games for the rest of your life, please wish the guy ill. Then you can go see Iron Man 5 and on the way home pick up a copy of COD12.

Czech895
Czech895

Oh YAY, We totally need more extremely depressing games like Heavy Rain? amirite?

nathan83_xp
nathan83_xp

it's coffee, cocoa, or juice.. people have different taste, in food, gaming or movies.. soo not one vision of gaming works.

SovietKitteh
SovietKitteh

Maybe I'm just heartless, but I felt no emotion for the characters, especially Jason, whilst playing Heavy Rain =/

hastati4
hastati4

I don't think games should shift to being more like Heavy Rain. Maybe it makes its own genre of sorts. Cool for it. But variety is wealth when we're talking about video games. I do not think playing a game for the challenge is "a mistake." A story driven game is all well and good, and I love a good plot when I'm playing, but in the end games should be about gameplay, and not about story.

diesil
diesil

press X for JASON!!!

DennisWZH
DennisWZH

why is this guy so popular? he made a unique game big deal, shinji mikami revolutionize the TPS genre with RE4 and he didnt get all these attention. and his game barely sold 2 million which lots of other games also do and some even more.

Maleek2K8
Maleek2K8

If this interactive movie is the best 'game' you have ever played then I truly feel sorry for you.