Feature Article

How Real-World Issues, Including Terrorism, Affected Detroit: Become Human's Story

We chat to Detroit: Become Human's director, David Cage.

David Cage's latest game, Detroit: Become Human, was shown off for the first time in over a year at E3 2017. Sony's E3 2017 press conference gave us another look at Detroit's futuristic world in which Androids serve humanity, only to rise up and resist upon gaining sentience. Detroit's story touches on suppression, terrorism, slavery, and exploitation--serious, real-world issues that are rarely discussed in the bright lights of the video game world.

At E3, we got the chance to speak to Cage about these issues, and how they affected his thoughts while writing and developing Detroit. We also spoke about storytelling in games, about he wants the player to be the co-star, co-writer, and co-director, and about creating content most people will never see. Take a look at our full chat below.

GameSpot: How do your decisions in Detroit affect its story on a grander scale, rather than just on a moment-to-moment basis? Are your choices mere illusions or can you actually change the whole direction of the story? How much power do you have to shape the story into separate arcs?

David Cage: So that was a very important thing for us when we started working on this, was to say, "We don't want to do smoke and mirrors with this, we want to go the hard way." Let's create assets that maybe 10% of people will see. And let's embrace this idea that usually you reject because we're not going to create scenes for the 10% of people who make that choice. But we said, "We should," because that's the heart, the DNA of the experience that we wanted to create. So the tree structure is very complex: in each scene, in each arc, we added another layer of complexity which is that the arc of one character--we have three playable characters--can have an impact on the arcs of the other characters. So you can imagine the complexity of the tree structure.

There are entire branches you may never see. There are some scenes that you may see or miss or you may see differently. There are some characters that you may see only once or become your friend and accompany you until the end. And of course the three characters can die, which won't lead to a 'game over' situation, the game will carry on with the remaining characters. I won't tell you that you can tell any story and that there are a zillion stories that you can tell, there is a narrative space that we create, that the player can really travel a lot within this narrative space and tell their own version of the story. And for us the goal is that two players comparing their story playing Detroit will realize how different they are. They may talk about things that the other doesn't even know what they're talking about.

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If I wanted to see everything in Detroit, how many times would I need to play it through?

That's gonna take you a while. Honestly, it's impossible for us to say how many versions of the story there are because it really depends what you take into account and the tree structures are so complex that I don't really have an answer. But it's not this kind of game where you get three different endings and that's it--there are many paths, many ways of playing the story, of traveling through this tree structure, leading to many different endings, but the goal for us was to give the feeling to the player that they are in control of their destiny, that they are telling their own story. The co-writer, the co-director, the co-actor. I created the space, but they decide what they want to do in it.

What does Detroit offer people who loved your past games, such as Heavy Rain and Beyond: Two Souls, and how does it grab people who didn't like your past games so much?

Detroit is a very special game for us, it's probably everything I learnt in 20 years doing this job into one game. So I hope it's going to be the essence of what I learned, and I hope it's going to be a good thing. The reaction here at E3 has been pretty insane, seeing how excited the fans are, so all the people who love my work will find what they love: emotion in games, the strong narrative and the branching narrative and all this stuff, it's all there, just on a bigger scale. More spectacular, more branching, more everything.

It's all there, just on a bigger scale. More spectacular, more branching, more everything.

[For] people who didn't like my games so much in the past, I think it's an interesting experience. We try to do things a little bit differently in Detroit. We have bigger areas. We have much more exploration. We probably found a better compromise between what players are used to and what we want to do. Let me give you a concrete example [of that].

We always try to have a sense of cinematography with our cameras. Not during cutscenes, but during gameplay sequences. Having the feeling that it's filmed by a director, even when you're in control of the character. It's great for people who like that, but for gamers, sometimes [they're] like, "Oh, I want to move my camera and I can't," so we've developed this system where if you don't touch the right stick, the camera is managed and you have a sense of cinematography, but at any point, once you just move the right stick and you control the camera and you can look around. It's these kinds of--not compromises, because I don't like this word--but these kinds of choices that we made in the design to make sure more people will want to play and enjoy the experience, because I think it's action-adventure, it's nothing else than that. It's also really funny to see how many QTEs there are these days in action games and if you look at the demo we presented, there are none. It's a trend. I think the industry makes a step in our direction. Maybe we make a step in the direction of the industry.

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There's a lot of turmoil in the world right now, for example with the recent attacks in London and, before that, Paris. Has that changed your thoughts and your attitude about this game, given the scene you've shown off at E3 is, essentially, an attack?

Yeah, absolutely. The events in Paris happened while I was writing the script and it happened very close to the studio. We are very close to the Bataclan, very close to the supermarket that was attacked, and my kids, they were at school, very near the supermarket where this thing took place and they were locked in school, so I was at home, watching TV about what was going on, calling my kids, no answer, and you can imagine what goes through your mind when that happens.

I have one guy in my team who was in the Bataclan when it happened, so I was writing scenes and I'm very clear and very honest and very sincere and ... I was totally comfortable with the story I wanted to tell, because I think it's a very positive story in telling something very important and meaningful, but at the same time, I didn't want any ambiguity in my story.

There are a couple of scenes that I cut, because I felt [they] could be misinterpreted and could be understood in a way that wouldn't be right. I cut them away and it made me think about the story I was telling and how I was telling it and, at first, I was really scared, because I thought, "Wait a second, we're dealing with very sensitive issues here. This is so important and so serious for real people in the real world, how can we create a game that would even resonate with this kind of thing?"

Do we always have to talk about zombies and aliens and stuff, or can we talk also about the real things?

Your first reaction is to step back and way, "Whoah, what am I doing?" But then, the second reaction is to say, "Wait a second, that's important. That's meaningful." It's definitely sensitive and sensible. I'm going to need to be careful, but at the same time it's very interesting to be able to talk about such important things in the game. As long as you feel respectful and careful about what you're saying and how you say it, why wouldn't games be qualified to talk about real-world issues? Do we always have to talk about zombies and aliens and stuff, or can we talk also about the real things?

My take was this is a creative opportunity to see if a game can talk about these things or not, so don't see [the scene shown off on-stage] as, "Oh, this is the [entire] game." Each scene is different and the meaning is absolutely not binary. Don't take away from this scene that it's going to be, "[Do] you want to be violent or pacifist?" because that's not what the game is about. The game is much more complex than that and you show all the complexity and the repercussions of your choices, on opinion, on media, on your people, and being violent is not the wrong thing or the right thing. It's not about being right or wrong, it's really questioning what would you do if you had to fight for your rights and it's one of many questions in the game.

Do you think more games should tackle those sorts of issues in real-world politics?

I don't know. What I feel is that games are a respectable medium and that there is nothing they shouldn't talk about. It's a fantastic medium, because you put the player in the shoes of the character and you confront them in a very unique way, that is totally different from feelings, or TV series, or theater or literature, because you are in control. What I do with Detroit is ask the player questions. I don't give the answers. I don't say, "This is right, this is wrong, you should think this, you should think that." No. I just ask the question and I let the player answer by themselves and face the consequences of their choices in the story. This is what makes Detroit very unique and exciting to me.

What date are you targeting for release?

We've not announced a date, but it's going to be next year.

Got a news tip or want to contact us directly? Email news@gamespot.com

oscardayus

Oscar Dayus

Oscar is GameSpot's Staff Writer, and as the youngest member of the UK office he's usually the butt of the joke.

Detroit: Become Human

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dark_420

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Edited By dark_420

I miss the days when developers just made the games they wanted to make and didn't feel the need to get political or deal with social issues. Just make the game fun and skip the diatribes.

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Jimbowesker

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Played heavy rain and Beyond: Two Souls and gotta say, I'm really expecting this one to do great things for PS4!

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iskaroth

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Edited By iskaroth

I played Fahrenheit also know as Indigo Prophecy and my god it sucked ass. It started pretty strong with mysterious murder and a bit of supernatural events but by the end the whole story got so ridiculous i was facepalming at every new scene. I vaguely remember Mayan shamans and evil A.I. trying to take over the world, secret society of hobos with machine guns, our protagonist becoming an undead Neo from Matrix etc. Oh, and the gameplay... The whole thing was just a bunch of walking, QTEs and button mashing.

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WuShogun212

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I'm very excited for this game to come out, not even to play it but to watch Two Best Friends play it so we may continue the Sadness.

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Pyrosa

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Edited By Pyrosa

Cutscenes and QTEs for hours... ugh.

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Huglyone

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@7tizz: I agree in part ...
But you can't compare Last of Us with this were you really don't do much like you said its a decision game ...
Unlike Last of Us !

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Nadsat-77

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Considering this what really is, interactive movies, i can say enjoyed Heavy Rain, however Beyond Two Souls not so much, the story was ok but the interactive parts were too simplistic and redundant for the most part imo.

I'm on a "wait and see" mode with this one but i gotta give props to the amazing art design of what they have shown of Detroit so far, it looks REALLY good and the premise is very interesting to me being a huge fan of sci-fi in general.

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PlaystationZone

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Game out next year so all great games coming 2018 when all crap games coming end 2017. And remember he said kara not going be game since where testing engine but at end turn Kara into Detroit game.

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uninspiredcup

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Edited By uninspiredcup  Online

"My take was this is a creative opportunity to see if a game can talk about these things or not"

Comments like this where he is ignorant of the meduim while simultaneously putting himself forward as some ground breaking free-thinker are exactly the reason people don't like him.

No David, it's been done. Many times. With actual game-play attached to it.

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BarcaAzul

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@uninspiredcup:

I liked HR a lot, but never got round to playing two souls. Partly due to the fact that he comes across as such a pretentious tosser and it puts me off his good work.

Detroit looks promising, but he needs to let the game do his talking.

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Pyrosa

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@barcaazul: But he/they did EXACTLY that during the stage show, and it spoke volumes... Retread/worn out plotline, and almost no actual interactive gameplay whatsoever. It's a gorgeous, paper-thin "choose your own adventure."

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videogameninja

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Unlike a lot of people out there I actually quite enjoy David cage’s more story based narrative driven games.

Heavy rain was personally one of the stand out titles of last gen for myself, a game that while polarizing (controversy over limited gameplay.) actually stood out on its own as something different from the typical 3rd person over the shoulder shooter that was becoming the dominating trend at the time (and to some extent is still today.). Unlike a lot of other games that give you the illusion that your choices make a difference in the grand scheme of things every little interaction in Heavy rain had direct and indirect consequences. The fact that it had multiple endings, some drastically different from each other is a testament to this fact.

I hope this next installment from Cage is more true to the Heavy rain style of choices and outcomes rather than Beyond 2 souls (another great game but more “linear” dare I say than even Heavy rain). That may sound ludicrous seeing as how both games are so similar but I felt there was less of those moments in beyond in part due to an intricate narrative taking center stage. One that I feel the developers didn’t want to deviate too far from. As such, straying too far from the intended path was not as much an option as in Heavy rain.

I think the sci-fi surrounding will only help add a layer of intrigue to the overall tone of the game. I can see how a game like this may get pigeon-holed for a certain category of gamers but I still think this is a title anyone out there should still be keeping a watchful eye out for.

-SLEEPER HIT NINJA APPROVED-

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Thanatos2k

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@videogameninja: I also really like Heavy Rain. The problem is his other stuff....

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Nadsat-77

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@Thanatos2k: Yeah, its a mix bag with David Cage. I still think Omikron is one of his best games despite its age.

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