One of the most distinctive and acclaimed titles released this year, Heavy Rain has also gone on to be a significant commercial success, to the surprise of its creators and its publisher. The title gets a second lease of life later this year when it adds motion control support, becoming one of the first core games to make use of Sony's Move technology.
At the recent GDC Europe, GamesIndustry.biz took the opportunity to meet with founder of Quantic Dream and director of the game, David Cage. In this exclusive interview, he discusses the vision of the game and the importance of maintaining the direction of the title, why he turned himself into a brand to promote it, his thoughts on the increasingly risky triple-A console space, and why Move needs to be about more than just pleasing a casual gaming audience.
Q: You've said that with Heavy Rain it was essential that you maintained a creative vision, something that was established at the very start of the project, and led by you as the visionary. But how do you balance that the with the creative contribution of the team?
David Cage: This is what I called enlightened dictatorship. It's all about being the vision holder and guaranteeing the consistency and the direction you want from the project. But at the same time remaining open to ideas because you can't think of everything and you don't only have the best ideas yourself. Sometimes my ideas are just crap. I'm lucky in that I have people around me saying, "you know what, David? This is really bad." That makes the project what it is. I'm really fortunate to have this team around me, we're very close.
Q: How rigid was the original design vision of Heavy Rain when you started the project four years ago, and how did it change over that time?
David Cage: We did a Power Point presentation to pitch the project to Sony and if you review that now that the game is released the presentation is incredibly faithful to what we've done. Sony said it's insane how every single bullet point in the presentation is still present in the final game. The overall vision was extremely clear. I just had a two page synopsis at the time, but I knew it was the story of four characters, it was about love and redemption - all those key things were there from the start.
Q: In order to market the game you turned yourself into a brand - Heavy Rain was definitely a David Cage game. Was there a danger there that you could alienate the 200-odd staff that worked on Heavy Rain?
David Cage: That didn't happen for a number of reasons. The first was that they understood it's not an ego thing. It wasn't to make me feel important. It was a business decision. A business decision that guarantees their creative freedom. You're right in that it is a difficult balance to find. At some point if I'd have got a big head and started to feel like a genius there are people around me who would have said "no you're not. You have a team surrounding you."
Q: There are some names that you can easily associate with games - Sid Meier and Civilisation, Will Wright and The Sims - but not more than a handful...
David Cage: It's true, not many people are in this position. I don't know if not many people want to do it, but honestly it's not an uncomfortable position. When you go for two years on the road telling people your game is going to be great and they should trust you - your game better be great. Because otherwise people will remember and they will kill you. Really, it's what happens. I wonder if publishers maybe don't want people to take this position so much because there is a fear of creating stars. In the same way as it happened with movies. In the old days the studios were the stars and the directors and actors were just employees. But things change and it's been a total switch. Maybe it's an unconscious fear that may happen in games but it needs to happen because you need more vision holders, more voices, more faces for this industry.
Often studios are run by programmers or people who are used to building things from scratch and they don't always want to be in the limelight or be onstage discussing how they feel about their projects. It's a slightly different job, making games and talking about games to the press and consumers, and not everyone is comfortable doing that.
Q: Sales of Heavy Rain were strong, particularly during a time when releasing new IP is seen as increasingly risky. As an independent studio, do you think it's still a viable option to create new IP for the triple-A console market?
David Cage: It's very difficult to get into this market and we could only do it because we have been around for 14 years, because we did Nomad Soul with David Bowie, because we did The Casting demo. Each time we climbed step by step in reaching the point where we can have this credibility and at the same time working with triple-A projects. But if I was starting from scratch now there is no way I could get that, no way.
But the indie environment is very interesting because they have the creative freedom. They don't have the financial means yet, but again, step by step, that path we've followed for the past 14 years can be faster by going online with online games. You can do them very cheap, very fast, very interesting, do another one with more money and climb up until you reach that triple-A project.
Q: You've had a great relationship with Sony, but do you think it's possible to create a new triple-A project without the backing of a format holder?
David Cage: Honestly, Sony was the perfect partner for Heavy Rain and I'm not sure many other publishers would have picked it up because it was such a big risk. It's much less of a risk now but when they signed it, it was a big risk. Sony said that even if it's not a huge commercial success the platform will benefit from the image of promoting original games. It definitely made sense. I think that when you want to do a triple-A project with a publisher you need to have a very strong track record otherwise it's difficult to get their trust.
Q: Do you ever regret sticking with one platform? Because youve said that you wanted Heavy Rain to reach wider audiences and prove that games can stand head and shoulders with other forms of entertainment - siding with one format seems to go against that.
David Cage: No, honestly, no. Im absolutely happy with the agreement with Sony, it was the perfect move. It was the right platform for what we wanted to achieve, it was the platform with the Blu-ray disc, promoting movies, promoting a more sophisticated entertainment experience.
Q: So it helped that Sonys platform is seen as more of a home entertainment box rather than just a games machine?
David Cage: Yes, certainly. The question is more for us now, with Heavy Rain it was right, but after Heavy Rain the question can be asked whether we should stick to one platform or open out to different platforms. Now that were established why are we limiting ourselves to one share of the market when we can reach more. There are pros and cons and its not an easy decision.
Q: Are you looking to go multiform at with your next project?
David Cage: Were not looking at anything, we have people asking, and were seeing different options. Were really thankful of Sonys support and the relationship we have because there are very few publishers that would have supported Heavy Rain the way they supported us.
Q: You said in your session at GDC Europe that there were no tools for the kind of game you created with Heavy Rain, apart from Word.
David Cage: I didnt have any tools to write it, but we had tools for every other aspect of the project. Were a very tools-centric company. But in terms of writing we dont have any software to write this specific type of game. Its difficult to have a tool that can simplify the writing because there are no mechanics. Each game is different depending on what story you want to tell and how you want to play it. Having a tool that was dedicated to writing would be extremely useful.
Q: The next step for Heavy Rain is to introduce Move support. Was that a significant extra cost to add that to the game and at what point in the development process was that incorporated?
David Cage: It came up at the end of the project and Sony saw the success of the game. We came up with the idea fairly early on to have motion control in the game. So we thought it was the perfect fit, it makes sense from a gameplay point of view. We dedicated all of the Heavy Rain team to this extension, so its not really something we did cheap. We did it right, weve added a lot of content, there is about 45 minutes of extra video content thats really interesting. The team has done a really great job of this version, its something we really, really worked on.
Q: Do you see it helping sales of the game to pick up again?
David Cage: I think were going to get some sales of the game by releasing this version, which is of course why Sony asked us to do it. Is it going to sell zillions of copies? I dont know, I think people who were already interested in the game have already bought it. Im also glad that those people have access to a free patch for the new version of Heavy Rain. For some the (DualShock) controller was maybe a barrier, and hopefully theyll pick up the game with Move.
Q: Do you think Move can extend the lifecycle of the PlayStation 3 significantly?
David Cage: Its difficult to answer that question and I think Sony has better insight into that. Im curious to see how Move will do. It really depends on the software because the hardware works really well. Its all about the software. If its only about casual entertainment and casual games I dont think its going to play a big role in the life of the console. If it can get more support from triple-A titles then that will be interesting.
David Cage is founder and president of Quantic Dream. Interview by Matt Martin.