Introducing David Cage…
Quantic Dream’s Heavy Rain is many, many things, and critics have already begun falling over themselves to use words like “momentous”, “revolutionary” and “masterpiece” to describe it. But “controversial” is the most unexpected, not to mention least deserved, epithet that the game has had thrust upon it in the build-up to its worldwide release.
The game’s creator (and Quantic Dream co-founder and joint CEO) David Cage has been here before, and the mere mention of the skirmish that his previous game Fahrenheit faced in the US – in which the sex scenes had to be completely cut before it could be released – causes his eyes to drop wistfully to the floor, and provokes a politely exasperated, mile-wide grin. “It actually makes me very upset. It always comes as a surprise to me when I see that people are concerned because you show tits in an 18-plus title. I’m not sure I understand it. What you see in Heavy Rain you would see in any TV series, or even in any commercial for shampoo. It’s nothing special. With violence you can do pretty much whatever you want. Cut off a finger, cut off a head… you can kill people as much as you want. As long as you don’t show tits.”
Cage is quick to point out that the US version has remained uncut this time, but the nudity (brief and matter-of-fact though it is) has been censored for the Japanese release. Why is this even an issue? “Because someone decided, and I don’t know why, that because it is interactive it has much more impact on people, and there is no study, worldwide, demonstrating this. I don’t know what can happen to you. When you are 18 plus and you see tits in a game… what can happen?”
Cage’s exasperation is easy to understand, not least because the same rules clearly do not apply across all media. This mild furore was simply the result of a couple of screenshots that leaked online late last year, and now that people have played the game – and have something to talk about besides speculating on the justification of the nudity – it has befittingly fizzled out into nothing.
Thankfully none of these absurd censorship affairs have done anything to damage David Cage’s worldwide status as an exciting, valuable and forward-thinking artist. He is a figure of renowned integrity, and his stature within the gaming industry compares favourably with the finest people currently working in it. His first love has always been music; he began learning the piano at age five, and studied religiously until his early teens when he began messing around with computers and samplers. He was earning a living by preparing arrangements and recording backing vocals in a local music workshop, until just after his eighteenth birthday when he moved to Paris and used his savings to buy his own recording studio.
Needless to say the soundtrack is an essential aspect of all his projects, and Heavy Rain in particular. “Music is always very important to me. When I wrote the script for Heavy Rain I had the music in my mind… I could almost hear it. On the first prototype we make for every project, I usually write the music myself. So that music is not used in the final product, it is just there on the early-stage prototypes. But it allows me to hear the tone, the voice, the atmosphere that I’m looking for.” Why does he never use that music for the final game? His response is characteristically humble: “I guess I think that it isn’t good enough.”
Heavy Rain is something that is intended to break down boundaries, and appeal to a whole host of people who wouldn’t normally be caught dead in the same room as a Playstation. Cage has taken great pleasure in speaking with all sorts of different factions of the mainstream press, many of whom were deeply surprised by what Heavy Rain appeared to offer them. “Oh we got some fantastic feedback from them, fantastic,” he says, visibly thrilled. “Many of them were considering videogames as something for kids, they didn’t want to talk about it… but when they played Heavy Rain they said, ‘Oh, that’s new. I can understand that’. Its not about shooting or driving or jumping…. its about characters, emotions and stories. And this is something they get.”
So did he have an audience in mind when he was making it? “No. We wanted to create an experience that gamers could enjoy. But we also wanted people who are more casual gamers to be able to pick up the controller and play it, without the interface being an issue for them… In fact our idea was that anybody who enjoys dark thrillers as movies, should be able to enjoy Heavy Rain.”
Considering how dedicated Cage and his team are to making the experience as accessible as possible for the players, it comes as something of a surprise to hear that by far the most important thing to him is a positive critical reception. This steadfast respect for the critical fraternity seems startling until you remember that Cage is French; and France is a country in which many of the last century’s greatest artists (most famously the filmmakers of the French New Wave) unpretentiously dabbled in art criticism as frequently as they created the art itself.
“I always consider that having positive reviews is my mission. It is always my first goal as a designer, though I probably shouldn’t say that. I am committed to delivering a great game, and after that, the game can sell or not. There are so many factors, so many elements that you can’t control. The moment you choose to release it, the competition, the marketing… Having some kind of critical success is the most important thing, the minimum, that I need to reach.”
He is obviously delighted by the overwhelmingly positive critical reaction to his new work, but that’s not to say that he isn’t also confounded by it. “I thought that the feedback would be polarised. I thought it would be 50/50 between people loving it and people hating it. At the moment the ratio is like, 90/10, which is a huge surprise. It really means something to me. It means that minds have changed, and people understand the value of this experience. Although you don’t have a gun, you can do something else with the interactivity. This is very positive news.”
Cage also thinks that the game assists journalists in creating more interesting copy. “When you write about a first person shooter, there are only so many things you can say. How many enemies, how many levels, ammunition, weapons… but when you talk about Heavy Rain, you need to think about the medium.” Is he partial to a bit of Modern Warfare 2 himself? “No. Well, I play other types of games but I do that less and less to be honest with you, and it is for the same reasons as many people. I am 40 years old. I’ve played videogames since videogames existed, and I get the feeling of playing the same games again and again. Just with more polygons, more texture maps. The mechanics of games are still the same.”
When quizzed about his favourites, Cage speaks passionately about Ico, Shadow Of The Colossus (“Fumito Ueda has real talent and vision”) and Flower, but when asked about what choice he’d make between a book, a CD, a game and a movie on a brief internal business flight, he doesn’t even take one second to answer. “I would read a book.” So are many of his influences literary? “Yeah, definitely. When you look at Scott Shelby, all his world is really influenced by James Ellroy, also film noir and all that stuff… And it is in the same piece with Norman Jayden with ARI and his futuristic glass and stuff. The way this worked together in my mind is really strange and interesting.”
Norman Jayden, a drug-addicted FBI agent and one of Heavy Rain’s four playable characters, represents the game’s solitary sidestep into the fantastical. His desk, and most of his work tools, reside in a pair of dark sunglasses that run a faux virtual-reality computer program called ARI. Although Minority Report is frequently presumed to have been the main inspiration for ARI, Cage says that it was actually inspired by an advertisement for Hewlett Packard. “You can find it on Youtube. You just see the hands of the character, and they just manipulate objects that are data, but they manipulate them as physical objects. We did some research into that, into ‘added reality’, and we saw some very interesting technologies coming along.”
So is the progress of technology essential to the growth of his vision? Could he, for example, have made Heavy Rain on the PS2? “With Heavy Rain my goal was to trigger more subtle emotions. To trigger more subtle emotions you need more subtle vehicles for those emotions: the actors. And you need them to be detailed enough to trigger those emotions. You need the eyes, you need the skin, you need the tears and the rain… we needed all that stuff in order to create the experience that is Heavy Rain. So I think that the Playstation 3 was really required to make this. If I had have worked on the project on PS2 I probably would have had to consider the project slightly differently.”
When the gargantuan tidal wave of fawning reviews hit the internet last week, Heavy Rain quickly topped the list of retail pre-order charts all over the world. David Cage looks like he could have a monumental smash on his hands, and neither he, nor Heavy Rain, could be any more deserving of it. But people are inevitably going to want more, and Cage is already knee-deep into writing the scripts for what will hopefully become new downloadable content. Could he ever step back from the project and allow others to create new stories in his world, with his characters? “It would be very difficult because I wrote Heavy Rain on my own. So I know the characters, I know their backgrounds. I know why Madison is an insomniac. I know why Jayden has a little scar on his face. So it would be very difficult for me to say to someone, ‘Just do it, I don’t care’… it is really my world, and my characters.”
“But I am in the process of writing new DLC. And I think that this format is in its infancy, yet every single thing you deliver has to be really good. So we are not now at a stage where we are saying you know… we’re done, we’re established, whatever we do after this, no-one cares…. Every single thing we deliver has to be at that same level of quality.”
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