Catching the Rain
Quantic Dream's Guillaume de Fondaumiere on Heavy Rain, emotion in games, and the maturing dev-pub relationship
Following on from part one of this exclusive interview with Quantic Dream co-CEO Guillaume de Fondaumiere, in which he talks about his role with the EGDF and the importance of games as culture, here he talks more about the development of Heavy Rain.
Specifically he updates us on where production is at, as well as the challenges of emotion and the maturing relationship between developers and publishers.
Q: How is Heavy Rain coming along - the last few miles of the marathon?
Guillaume de Fondaumiere: It feels very good, we're very happy. We delivered the alpha of the game on April 15 - on time, on budget - so we're pretty happy. It's a great moment, because we now have the whole game in our hands and we can play from beginning to end. So we're now entering the most interesting part of the development, I think, which is perfecting it - making sure that all the scenes are as we expect them to be, at the same level of quality. It's a great moment to be at.
Q: "On time, on budget" - that's good, something that doesn't happen enough in the industry, one might argue. How have you managed the process to make sure that's happened? Is it as simple as just having the right management procedures in place?
Guillaume de Fondaumiere: I think we prepared for a long time, before we started production of Heavy Rain, and I think that back in 2005 when we were finishing Fahrenheit and starting to look at next-gen consoles in particular, we understood we could no longer produce games the old way, like in the old days.
We understood we'd have to double the structure in our studio, that we'd have to rely on external resources to produce our next game. And for almost a year and a half we not only worked on technology in setting certain standards, and the quality bar on the development, but also on the organisation.
You don't work the same way when you outsource - especially when you outsource 500 man-months of production - than if you have everybody working in the same room on a project. So it took quite some time, but it's been quite successful, and we're very happy with how we organised internally to be able to work with faraway outsourcing companies, the way the outsourced work was delivered, and the way that the whole thing integrated into the final game.
I don't know if we found a recipe, because I think each studio and each project is a bit exceptional in a way, but for us it turned out to be a very good experience. Of course, it's extremely difficult to plan a production on a new platform and to basically create two, three, four times the amount of data that you'd have had to for previous cycles on other consoles.
But from what I can tell, looking especially at the games I've seen at E3, a number of developers are doing this successfully. I think we've reached another stage in the industry where developers can be much more mature.
I think it also has a lot to do with the way that publishers interact with developers. I must say that we've enjoyed a great relationship with Sony. The Worldwide Studios group in Liverpool has been really dynamic, it's been a great working relationship. This is also very important - when you don't have to worry about whether the publisher is going to pay you, whether they're going to accept this and this, whether they're going to ask you to do the same thing two, three or four times, and so on.
Unfortunately we've all experienced that in the past, and you're using up a lot of time and resources - but thankfully we've had a great relationship with SCE and I think, from what I hear from other developers, not only are developers becoming more mature, but also publishers.
Q: There seem to be fewer horror stories around these days, that's true. Working on a platform-exclusive title brings benefits, one of which is greater visibility - Heavy Rain's now a key PS3 title on the slate - but how do you respond to the added pressure that brings?
Guillaume de Fondaumiere: I think it puts positive pressure on us - it's exactly where we wanted to be when we started the project. It's extremely important for all the members of the team to know there's a point to what they're doing, that people care. Especially in a game that's emotionally driven, where emotions are at the core of the experience. It's important that the team know what they're doing will be seen, so we're very proud.
We know this positive pressure brings responsibility, especially because I think that the promises we're making with Heavy Rain are quite important for the industry. Also because we're trying to show that it's possible to have an interactive story, that it's possible to offer players something different to just fighting, shooting and driving - that interactivity can be more than that.
So I think there's a strong responsibility, and we're very focused - but it's a positive pressure.
Q: You mention a word there that's important for the industry - "emotion" - because adrenaline rushes are common, but the sensitive emotions are much harder to bring out. Looking back you can pick out a few games - Another World, Shadow of the Colossus to name just two - as quite sensitive titles. But how do you think people will look back on Heavy Rain in that context?
Guillaume de Fondaumiere: I hope that Heavy Rain will leave an imprint in people's minds, like the best movies or books - that's really our objective. I hope it's going to be not only something that they can look back on from a gaming perspective as new and original, but maybe from a more global perspective as an entertainment form, a form of expression.
This is where we'd like to be - Another World is my all-time favourite game, it's the game that made me decide to work in this industry, and I think that it has been for many a trigger point in realising that games can do more, can bring more, to people.
Q: Would it be the ultimate compliment for Heavy Rain to inspire a new generation of developers?
Guillaume de Fondaumiere: Yes, absolutely.
Q: So the game has a 2010 release - is that because you don't want to put it out in the busy pre-Christmas period, or was that the timing planned all along?
Guillaume de Fondaumiere: We've always known that we had a window to release the game, and it's important for us to finish it the right way. We've got some margin either way, to some degree, but again I think there's a responsibility, and we don't want to deceive - so it's important for the game to be polished up until the last minute.
Also, purely from my perspective, most publishers today realise that it's not ideal to release a new IP or a new genre just before Christmas. It's a very crowded place to be, and certain games need more space to live their life. Everybody at working on the project, both at Quantic and Sony, believe this is the right time.
Q: Do you look back at releases like LittleBigPlanet and try to learn lessons? I know they have a consistent long tail on that game, so do you see Heavy Rain as a big bang or slow burn?
Guillaume de Fondaumiere: I think it's a game that will probably have a longer lifespan than other games, simply because - a bit like LittleBigPlanet - we're in our own area. So one shooter could shoot another shooter out of the charts to a certain degree, and that's probably why you're seeing the high number of sales for a short period in other game categories.
For innovative titles that stand out, that are different and almost have no direct competition to a certain degree, then you can see a longer lifespan. That's what makes publishing those titles very interesting - I think LBP has been hugely successful. You may not have seen it in the charts at number one everywhere during one particular week, but when it adds up you see that they've sold, I don't know the exact numbers, but around 2.5 million units worldwide. That's quite an achievement for a first game, definitely.
Guillaume de Fondaumiere is co-CEO of Quantic Dream and chairman of the EGDF. Interview by Phil Elliott.