David Cage gets heavy

David Cage, head of Quantic Dream and maker of Heavy Rain doesn’t want your money. That’s not why he got into video game development. He wants to build that brand that is ‘David Cage’ and create brand new IPs rather than revisiting existing ones. In an interview with Develop, Cage spoke of how there definitely won’t be a sequel to Heavy Rain, despite selling so well and being an unlikely poster boy for some of the first Move supported games. He said that he wasn’t in the business to make money and wrote Heavy Rain because he was excited about the idea and wanted to tell a that story. Now the story has been told, Cage sees no reason to go back to it and prefers instead to focus the energy of Quantic Dream into making ground-breaking concepts.

On release, Heavy Rain was a fantastic showcase for Sony and the PS3, with stunning graphics and a story that was truly mature, tackling subject matter that wouldn’t normally be found in a video game. The plan was to support the game with DLC furthering the story and the characters personalities but only one was actually made available as the studio was persuaded to develop Move functionality. Sony didn’t seem to bothered but the halt of Heavy Rain and nor does Cage who once famously said (and now claims he was mis-quoted) that you should only play Heavy Rain once and live the the story and consequences you chose the first time around. As tempted as I have been to go back to it, I’ve only ever played it though the one time and agree with Cage that there really is no reason other than a wallet-padding to go back to that world.

Cage added how he sees himself as more of an author and regardless of him celebrating his 42nd birthday this year, he hasn’t lost the spark or passion for game design and isn’t yet worried about concentrating on making money in order to fund his family. Maybe Cage should have a chat to his colleague Guillaume de Fondaumiere about the money making abilities of Heavy Rain. Just this month, Fondaumiere criticised the second-hand market for losing him and the studio upwards of €10 million in royalties because a rough estimation showed that 2 million people bought Heavy Rain whereas 3 million actually played it. The way I saw it, a further 1 million people were exposed to the work of Quantic Dream, potentially expanding the audience for whatever they make next.

Back in March, Cage’s talk at GDC caused quite a stir when he begged for the industry to make games for adults, not teenagers and forget the preconceived ideas of how to make a game – boss battles, levels, points, shooting, missions etc – and think of games in a totally different way. This latest chat with Develop echoes these sentiments but also adds even more pressure for the next Quantic Dream game to be as forward-thinking as Heavy Rain was. The fact that it’s not Heavy Rain 2 is a very good start.


Second hand rain

There’s nothing new about the used game market. I frequently bought second hand SNES and GameBoy games as a child because money wasn’t something I had a lot of back then. In the last few years I’ve opted to purchase my games new mainly because of the incentives offered and because I’m an inpatient git but the market for pre-owned titles is certainly not a shrinking violet. It’s huge and many publishers don’t like that one bit. Quantic Dream co-founder Guillaume de Fondaumiere is one of those not overly keen on the idea of his products being re-sold without his team receiving any money.

In an interview with GamesIndustry.biz Fondaumiere said how around 2 million copies of Heavy Rain had been sold worldwide but looking at the PS3’s Trophy system, the number of people who played the game is somewhere in the region of 3 million. One thing he didn’t take into consideration are households with more than one account on a PS3. The extra million players may not all be from second hand sales but siblings and housemates passing on Heavy Rain or even game rentals. Still, the annoyances of Quantic Dream remain the same:

“On my small level it’s a million people playing my game without giving me one cent. And my calculation is, as Quantic Dream, I lost between €5 and €10 million worth of royalties because of second-hand gaming.”

While this may be true, another way to look at it is that a further 1 million people played Heavy Rain meaning around 3 million people experienced the art and story Quantic Dream wanted to tell. The company may have lost an estimated €10 million but also may just have gained a further million followers. Put like that, pre-owned sales are actually helping expand the potential audience for future Quantic Dream releases.

Fondaumiere wants the industry to address what he feels causes gamers to go the second hand route; the high price of video games. He states how he’s always believed games are too expensive and there must be a happy medium where all parties – consumers, publishers, developers and retailers – are content with a game’s price tag. Until then, the industry is “basically shooting [themselves] in the foot,” leading to either an end to retail-sold video games are exclusively move to an online distribution model. But this looks to be where platform holders are taking the industry anyway with a greater emphasis on downloadable content that aren’t just additional content but full games. One of the biggest problems right now is the throttling of bandwidth internet service providers have on consumers. All the while people are fighting to up their download caps and speeds, they’re unlikely to accept the exclusivity of digital distribution. So maybe that talk Fondaumiere wants to have to find a happy place for gaming should include ISPs as well.

L.A. Noire skips a beat

Remember the chortling at Nintendo for adding a feature in its games where you can skip hard segments? It appeared in New Super Mario Bros. Wii and Donkey Kong Country Returns so that younger and more casual players could potentially get through the entire game without feeling like inferior gamers. Though a lot of people saw it that way and in some cases, your ‘hardcore’ status was brought into question if ever you resorted to this digital aid. But what if Rockstar Games were to include such a feature and if one of their most ambitious titles was the first to try it out? Does it still remain a joke?

At the Tribeca Film Festival, attendees were shown a screening of L.A. Noire – the first time said festival has allowed a game to take part – and it was during the Q&A session that art director, Rob Nelson, revealed an in-game option that allows players who failed a certain segment a few times to skip it altogether. “You can skip those action elements and still experience the bulk of the narrative,” he said. Since Rockstar are going after a considerably wider audience for L.A. Noire, it actually makes a lot of sense to let those who wish only to absorb the story to do just that. Depending on whether they actually own a console of course.

What’s strange is how for traditional gamers, it’s usually the other way around and the cut-scenes are the parts that get skipped with action being the main reason why a game is played. But as the industry strives towards being something more than a quick entertainment fix, story is becoming increasingly important to the point where it’s now taking precedence over balls-out action sequences. The majority of L.A. Noire is devoid of action per se and instead has players seek out clues, interrogate suspects and slowly unravel a case to completion. MTV Multiplayer blog who reported the news said that in the demo shown which lasted about an hour, only about five minutes could be considered action-packed with the rest massaging the often neglected grey matter. Despite having a similar look to GTAIV in terms of engine, the gameplay itself is more akin to Heavy Rain they said.

It’s a bold move. Not the inclusion of a skip button, games have had something similar even before the aforementioned New Super Mario Bros. Wii. Devil May Cry 3 had a somewhat patronising but comparable pop up message on failure, suggesting troubled gamers try the easier setting. Rockstar are taking a risk by such a massive departure from their previous titles and fans wanting a cop-based GTA game may be angrily disappointed. But if they succeed and lure a different kind of gamer altogether while delivering an all encompassing experience for everyone clambering for more out of their games, L.A. Noire could be more important to the industry than anything that has come before it. Can games finally be regarded with the same respect as some movies rather than being mocked for cheesy story lines and emotionless characters? Maybe…

It’s raining BAFTAs

Quantic Dream took quite a risk with their new approach to video game design and story telling in Heavy Rain but it was one that paid off both financially and critically. At last night’s BAFTA’s, David Cage’s melancholy drama left with three awards; Best Original Music, Best Story and Technical Innovation. Not bad for a game whose overall credibility is still being debated. Though I whole heartily agree with all three victories and like many other fans find it even more frustrating that we’ll probably never get to explore the world any further by way of DLC.

Back in June 2010, Guillame De Fondaumiere of Quantic Dream spoke of the three planned DLC, known as Chronicles, were to be put on hold while the team focus on developing PlayStation Move controls into the game. Later, David Cage revealed how the DLC was no longer on hold but effectively cancelled because revisiting Heavy Rain would have delayed their next game.

Implementing Move into Heavy Rain hasn’t really done wonders for its sales figures. Before the patch (and re-release), the game had sold over 1.5 million units worldwide and now the estimated total is 1.65 million. It’s difficult to gauge the profitably of DLC but the potential would have been 1.5 million customers downloading three add-ons for, say, £4-5 each. That opportunity is all but gone now though so no real point moping about it, just hope that after such success, Sony will convince Quantic Dream to find some time and finally develop the add-ons since they persuaded them to focus their attentions to Move. My breath is not being held, however.

The best games of 2010: Heavy Rain

This is an easy choice for me. Heavy Rain was so very different to other video games and treated its story as if it were the star instead of using it to justify game mechanics. Add to that some frankly stunning graphics and a true feeling of choice with every action you do having a purposeful effect on the narrative. There were a lot of mentally challenging scenes that presented me with mature adult situations, the likes not common in gaming. Do I kill an unarmed lunatic? Or drink a vile of poison for the final clue to the whereabouts of my kidnapped son? And how does someone react when watching a child drown because of the incompetence of adults? The best and most touching moment was taking control of Ethan Mars after picking his boy up from school. A scene that could have so easily have been the epitome of boredom became like a test for my own fatherly instincts, making sure my kid is fed and trying to discuss the death of his brother. And as quick time events go, Heavy Rain doesn’t do the usual button-press sequences. The process you’re going through to get the playable characters to respond tries to be representative of real life. Mars’ awkward traversal of an electrified maze is mirrored on the PlayStation pad by a finger-bending combination of button presses making the inclusion of QTEs a necessary one. All this brilliance, only sullied by a peculiar wrap to the story, had to make it into my top games of 2010.

Staring realitiy in the face

In 2008, Rockstar released Grand Theft Auto IV that had some great video game character acting for its time. The two add-ons which followed bettered the theatrics and this year’s Red Dead Redemption had some superb moments of drama thanks to the dangerously debonair John Marstan. As good as they were, all four pale in comparison to L.A. Noire and we’ve only seen a snippet of that. Today Rockstar gave a little more with a video (after the break) showing a behind the scenes look at capturing the real actors performances and my God does it look good. Little is known about the content of L.A. Noire other than its basis on 1950s crime fiction and the lead character’s role as a detective. A role that players will replicate by hunting out clues and reading the faces of suspects, done so with the aid of the brilliant facial work.

It’s crazy to think how far games have come in a relatively short time. The last generation couldn’t even come close to offering this level of realism in video game acting even with Sony’s Emotion Engine. A chip that did all of the PS2’s processing and was so called because of its alleged ability to give characters feeling. But now every little detail an actor or actress delivers can be captured by the many camera’s surrounding them. Check out around two minutes in the video to see what I mean. It goes beyond what Ninja Theory achieved in Enslaved and the great work done by Sam Douglas as Scott Shelby in Heavy Rain and shows a great future for story telling in video games.

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Offline gaming is dead. Long live offline gaming

I don’t know about you but I very much enjoy the offline experience in games. Developers have proven that shoehorning in an online mode, usually multiplayer, doesn’t make a better game (anyone tried The Darkness online?). But EA Games label president, Frank Gibeau, thinks single-player games are dead and that all future titles from the studio will pretty much have to feature some form of connectivity: “I volunteer you to speak to EA’s studio heads,” he said in an interview with Develop. “They’ll tell you the same thing. They’re very comfortable moving the discussion towards how we make connected gameplay – be it co-operative or multiplayer or online services – as opposed to fire-and-forget, packaged goods only, single-player, 25-hours-and you’re out. I think that model is finished. Online is where the innovation and action is at.” Really? Some of the best games this year have been solitary experiences and the ones that do include online aren’t always best implemented. Games like Heavy Rain and Mass Effect 2 were fantastic as stand-alone products with their respective online features merely playing a supporting role. And even then they were DLC. To say that an online space is the only area for innovation is a little shortsighted when a lot of developers’ idea of a connectivity will either abuse your Twitter and Facebook accounts or add a multiplayer component that has its servers closed down shortly after release. PlayDead’s Limbo was innovative in how it approached storytelling GoldenEye 007 for the Wii shows how you don’t need a game to be connected to the internet in order to have a great time playing with friends.

To be fair, Gibeau isn’t forcing the inclusion of online to every type of game – Develop cited Dead Space as part of a genre where being alone adds to the immersion – but does want to see how developers can broaden their ideas with online services; “I don’t go up to every game team and ask – what is your deathmatch mode?” He chuckled. The PR manager added “It’s more about educating the developers. Not on the creative side, but on the way people play games. Social media has really changed the way consumers look at entertainment. Everything’s more interconnected and 24-7 these days.” EA don’t want to insist but “inspire” game creators and Gibeau believes his role is to “edit and tweak [their creative vision] so it’s a bigger commercial opportunity.” But ‘inspiring’ teams to add some kind of online feature to their games seems a waste of resources if it’s not key to the experience. One area where it could work is an extended version of Mass Effect 2‘s Cerberus Network, an nonintrusive screen that tells you of new DLC etc. Expanding on that idea could be hints and tips from other gamers, promotional information that helps gameplay, user videos etc. Again, such a thing would be pretty cool but not integral and I’d rather the developer concentrate on making a better game than making sure it’s always online.

It’s still way too soon for the industry to put all their eggs into an online basket. We’d need to see real evidence that doing so would be entirely beneficial for all concerned, not just the publisher before a move like that would make sense. That and a promise to keep servers alive regardless of user numbers plus continuing support for these 24-7 connected realms.