Q&A: Quantic Dream
Read our extensive interview with the development house behind Fahrenheit, an episodic adventure game coming to the PlayStation 2.
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Quantic Dream is best known for its action-adventure game Omikron: The Nomad Soul, which was released for PC and the Dreamcast courtesy of Eidos. Now the team is looking at breaking new ground with episodic games. Quantic Dreams' new project is named Fahrenheit, and it deals with a series of ritualistic serial killings. What's interesting about the gameplay is that players will not be focused on a lead character, but instead will control a wide range of characters. We sat down with Quantic Dream's David Cage, the producer of the project, to discuss the past, present, and future of Quantic Dream and learn about Fahrenheit and the technology and ideas it's built on.
GameSpot: It has been quiet for some time around Quantic Dream. What have you been doing since Omikron: The Nomad Soul?
David Cage: After Nomad Soul, we wanted to have some time to think about new projects. We also wanted to improve our infrastructure and start a new generation of technologies. So we have moved into big new offices (1,400 square meters) and bought our own optical motion-capture studio and sound studio. We have also reinforced our R&D team and asked it to develop our ICE platform, a new generation of technologies that will be used for all our future titles. We also took time to analyze players' feedback on Nomad Soul and evaluated what direction we would like to explore next.
GS: Some time ago, you introduced us to an ambitious fantasy adventure named Quark. What's the latest news regarding that game? Is it still in development?
DC: Quark is on hold for a while, as Fahrenheit quickly became the first priority. We are still considering Quark as a possible project in a very near future.
GS: Are you also working on a sequel to Omikron?
DC: ICE and Fahrenheit put everything else on hold. Also, after Omikron, the team and I wanted to work on something else (the Dreamcast version was just released last year). Excitement on Omikron comes back now, especially with new members joining the team today who played Omikron and who would really love to work on the sequel. We have a lot of new ideas for it. Now that the ICE technology is available, it makes any new project easier to set up.
GS: Let's talk about Fahrenheit. The concept sounds very ambitious since it's an episodic game. Can you outline how this will work for the user?
DC: The ambition behind Fahrenheit goes much further than just creating an episodic game. The interface, the gameplay, the technology, the way we manage interactive storytelling, the episodic format, and the business model are all new challenges.
The interface is probably the simplest you can imagine. Anybody can understand it in 10 seconds. It is totally transparent, with no icon or menu onscreen, and you completely forget it after a couple of minutes. Its main innovation is that it manages real-time cameras in a new way. In most games, cameras are just a window or a gadget. In Fahrenheit, you will have to play with them in order to play and thus participate in the movie directing. The gameplay offers a lot of original mechanics not seen before in a game. Allowing the player to control different characters in the story offers amazing new possibilities in the gameplay area, because actions performed with one character can have consequences on what you will have to do with another character. Fahrenheit is very different from most of today's video games. [There's] no life gauge, no ammo, and no big guns to get on the floor. [It's] just a real-time 3D movie where each action you perform with each character affects the course of the story. Interactive storytelling will really be one of the key points in Fahrenheit.
On the technology side, Fahrenheit will use our ICE technology. ICE is the result of more than two years of work by our R&D team led by our technical director, Olivier Nallet. They have done a great job so far, especially with lights and shadows and our complex portal system. They keep on implementing new features (the ICE engine will be regularly upgraded during Fahrenheit's development). All the animations in Fahrenheit are performed using our internal optical motion-capture studio. It gives us very high quality in a very short [amount of] time. It also allows us to create real virtual actors, interacting together and with the set.
For end users, Fahrenheit will be a normal CD-ROM game they can buy in any store, except that for the price of a two-year-old budget game, they will get a brand-new title using the latest technologies every month. Of course, we will play on the classic mechanics of TV like cliff-hangers, red herrings, mysteries, and surprises. We will really let players get into each character's personal life and discover his or her background. Regularly, bundles putting three or six episodes together will be available for people who don't want to buy monthly episodes.
With Fahrenheit, we aim to create a new format of interactive products. If we can prove this is what people want, we will use the same format, technologies, and interface for other titles and create more series. Fahrenheit can not only seduce hard-core gamers, but also demonstrate to people not interested in interactivity today that a video game can be a unique and fun experience.
GS: Since the game is in development for the PS2 and you intend to bring it to Xbox as well, do you plan to have the game episodic for consoles too, or are you going to implement a different model there?
DC: We are currently talking to Sony and Microsoft about the different possibilities of episodic content on their platforms. Sony has been thinking about episodic content for some time. The main problem is that our episodes are sold at a low price and manufacturers tend to ask publishers to maintain standard prices. If we can find an agreement with them, episodes will be sold the same way as on the PC. Otherwise, we will make bundles of three or more episodes to reach a more standard price. But we really hope that manufacturers will want to have low-priced, high-quality titles on their consoles.
GS: The story of Fahrenheit sounds very interesting. Can you give us some info on the main characters in the game?
DC: Lucas Kane is a normal person working in a bank in New York. One night, he goes into a diner and suddenly he feels like a marionette with someone else pulling the strings. He takes a knife, goes in the toilets, draws strange symbols on his forearms, and kills the first person who enters. In a weird state of trance, he sees a man surrounded by candles on the floor and a lost little girl. From there, he becomes a murderer to the police but he wants to understand what happened to him.
Carla Valenti is an Italian-American female cop in charge of the investigation. Looking for clues, she will quickly understand that there is more in this case than is apparent to the eye. Her investigation will lead her to discover things she couldn't even imagine. The player will also have to play with other characters like Tyler Miles, an African-American rookie cop working with Carla; Tiffany, Lucas' ex-girlfriend; and Lucas' brother, Markus, who is a priest. And while the story unfolds, coldness paralyses New York as the temperature mysteriously goes down every day--like a strange countdown towards a frozen age.
GS: Do you have a set target of how many episodes you want to create? And how much does an episode cost to play?
DC: The first season of Fahrenheit will offer 12 episodes over 12 months. The price of each episode will be around the price of a budget title.
GS: Previously you've had prominent people contributing to your games such as David Bowie in Omikron. Do you have similar plans regarding Fahrenheit?
DC: The experience with David Bowie has been so positive in all aspects that we would like to have the same type of partnership with other artists--not only musicians, but also actors and directors. The episodic nature of Fahrenheit makes guest star appearances possible. We really want our titles to be the place where artists from other fields can meet to create a unique interactive experience.
GS: The game looks very good already. Can you tell us a bit more about the ICE technology?
DC: We have been working on ICE for nearly two years already. Our basic idea was that making a great new 3D engine is not enough. You also need a coherent set of tools and a strong vision of your production chain if you want to produce high quality in a reasonable time frame, which is our goal with Fahrenheit.
ICE is, in fact, a four-module programming environment. ICE 3D is our multiplatform 3D engine. It works very well with lights and shadows, transparent loading, and complex portal management. It is, or will be, available on all platforms. IAM 4 is a very powerful scripting tool using a proprietary language object orienter and an amazing directing bench for virtual cameras. It allows us to work with real-time cameras exactly the same way we do with real ones. The language allows us to script any event in a 3D world in a simple and intuitive way. ICE Kernel is a multiplatform low-level module (for memory, devices, and so on). ICE Databox is a program managing all the data of the game through the network. It checks data versions and compatibility in a very effective way. All Quantic Dream's future titles will use the ICE technology. Our R&D team keeps working on it to improve it every day. The episodic format of Fahrenheit will allow us to include new versions of the technology during the Fahrenheit season to guarantee the players will always get the latest of what our technology can do.
GS: Thanks for your time.
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