Another somewhat condescending interview with David Cage, but as usual, I agree with most of what he says. Especially as I become older, I don't think my love for gaming will last if we keep receiving the same types of experiences.
The creator of Heavy Rain thinks videogames need to grow up.
In a fiery speech at the DICE Summit in Las Vegas last week, David Cage told an audience of game developers and industry executives that it has a "Peter Pan complex". Big-budget videogames, he said, were being made for teens and kids, not adults. If games were going to be played by more grown-ups, they needed to tackle more mature themes, with mechanics that go beyond shooting and platform-jumping. If they didn't, Cage said, they'd see more of their audience move away from consoles and onto smartphones and tablets.
Cage, at least, has put his money where his mouth is -- and lots of Sony's, besides. His last game Heavy Rain married colossal production values to a decidedly non-traditional genre, sort of a combination of point and click adventure and quick-time event in which you solved the mystery of your son's kidnapping. While players are divided about its merits, I found it to be a positively entrancing experience, something I'd never seen before.
Following Cage's speech, Wired.com met him at the summit for some follow-up questions about his belief that the industry is heading in the wrong direction.
Wired.com: Coming out of your speech, my first question is: What does it matter if the adults go and play games on smartphones and tablets versus traditional consoles? Probably a lot of people in the audience that you're speaking to are mobile developers, happy they're getting that audience.
David Cage: Good question. It matters because I think the most sophisticated experiences remain on game consoles. When you look at what's available on mobile and tablets, there are some fantastic games, but at the same time they are much more casual games. They're games where you have fun quickly and that's fine, that's great, they do a great job at that. But at the same time, there's nothing meaningful. Very few titles are really meaningful in the matter of experience. And I believe, that's my totally subjective point of view, that it would be a step forward for the industry if we could make these people play our games on consoles, because it's the most sophisticated platform, and we can create quite unique experiences for them.
It seems to me that trying to do that, trying to affect that kind of massive change on the consoles, is like trying to beat back the tide. With all the momentum that is behind the way the industry works right now, how do you actually try to reverse that? How do you attempt to get them making different types of games?
Well, it's not me who is going to change that. What I tried to explain in my presentation is that the landscape is changing very fast, and you can watch that from afar and say "I'll just keep doing things the way I do it and that's fine and I won't be affected in any way," or you can say, "Hey, there's something going on." There are more and more people wanting to interact. How can we give them appropriate content so that these people keep playing Angry Birds but also get interested in playing more complex experiences on game consoles? It's a matter of expanding the market, but it's also a matter for our industry to become mature, to create experiences that are not based on violence or platforms.
Do you think it makes sense also to encourage the developers in the indie space as well? What you're talking about -- the journey vs. the challenge, games with meaning -- we see a lot of that in the indie space right now.
But indie is for me the real lab where all these things can happen first, because they have less pressure -- or, I would say, not the same pressure -- as triple-A titles where a lot of money is put on the table and there's a lot of pressure to get this money back. So you have less creative freedom sometimes, and you prefer to give people what you know they want, rather than take the risk of something they don't expect. But at the same time, you know the famous quote from Henry Ford about the horse: If I had asked my customers what they wanted, they would have said a faster horse. No one would have said a car. This is exactly the position we're in right now: Do we give people what they expect, faster horses? Or can we imagine what they want without knowing they want it? And indie development is definitely the right place for this sort of thing to happen first.
After Heavy Rain was released, did you feel like that had made some progress in terms of getting some players, some group of consumers to gravitate towards that sort of experience?
Heavy Rain was definitely a big turning point for me, for my company and hopefully for the genre. We tried to create -- it was the first time that we would see so many players coming back to us saying, I really enjoyed playing Heavy Rain, I played it with my wife, I played it with my girlfriend. I hear that pretty much every day every time I go to a conference, and it's such a pleasure to hear that. And it really means to me that this game accomplished something. And maybe it didn't correspond to the expectations of all gamers out there. There are still a lot of people who want a gun, and they want the adrenaline. They didn't get that from Heavy Rain, of course. But at the same time there are also many people out there who expect something else from their gaming experience that they found in Heavy Rain. So I think it's fair [to say] the industry can create content that is appropriate for these different audiences.
Is the controller still a barrier? If I put a PlayStation 3 controller in front of my mom, she won't know what to do, but they'll play games on the iPad.
You're absolutely right and controllers are still a major issue. We try to simplify the games but the controller is so impressive by itself, there are buttons all over the place and most people don't even know how to hold it. For us it sounds so obvious, we were born with a Dual Shock in our hands. But that's not the case for everyone. And it's not a matter of being dumb or being clever, it's just a matter of culture, and being used to it or not. And yeah, I definitely think that our industry needs to find answers, and there are different interesting experiments going on or products being released like Move, Kinect, so the industry is definitely aware that this is a very significant issue. But I still think we can go further, and we work at Quantic Dream towards finding different answers to that question.
So you don't want to make a Quantic Dream game for a tablet, or a lower-powered system? You want to be constantly on the bleeding edge of technology?
First of all, we love the tech. We have so much to learn from it, and we still need to understand what it takes to have a realistic character. So for this to achieve this and to learn this we want to work on high-end systems. And the best hardware right now is the PlayStation. We also have an exclusivity deal with Sony that makes us work exclusively on PlayStation systems. But that's really a choice, it's not a constraint.
At some point in the future, companies will release new videogame hardware. What do those machines need to do to help you get your games out to more people? Is it purely processing power, or is it something else?
I think processing power still matters. We do want to go further. The future I expect the most from future platforms is really emotion. But when you say this, you also need the technology supporting emotion. When you think about the first black-and-white films, some of them are absolutely amazing and they did a fantastic job -- think about Metropolis, for example, which is a fantastic piece of art. At the same time, when technology evolved, when colours appeared, and when they added sound, and IMAX and 3D and whatever we can think of, it helped the cinema industry to get to more details and more nuances and more subtleties, so you didn't need pantomimes anymore. You didn't need people to jump all around the place to understand what they meant, because the technology was there to make you understand, just looking at their eyes, how they felt. I'm still looking for this moment in games. Where we can stop making pantomimes and really work on subtlety and nuances.
What other big-budget triple-A games that have happened in the last couple of years would you point to and say this is a good example of what I'm talking about, moving forward?
[smiles silently, shrugs]
Anything at all?
Not really. I play a lot of games. I love indie games. I feel much closer to indie games in general than to most triple-A titles in general. I think the last triple-A title that I really enjoyed was Portal 2.
What happens if the industry doesn't grow up?
Nothing terrible. The world won't collapse, and we'll keep making games. And there will be some fantastic games coming. But they will be more of the same. They will be Call of Duty 200. And that's fine, I mean, I guess that this is what most people expect out there -- for nothing to change. The videogame industry is really weird, because it's an industry that's highly conservative. People see the technology evolving every month, but when we talk about concepts, what people really want is for things to remain the same. So I wouldn't be surprised if nothing from what I described on stage ever happens. And that's fine. Look at comics. Comics are a very interesting example of another industry that has a very active, hardcore fanbase and they can be very successful and they can sell their IPs to Hollywood and they can make a lot of money. But at the same time, comics don't evolve much. There's some great stuff, but when you think of superheroes, that's what they keep doing. And they're very successful, and that's great. And I think this is possible with games, that we could get more of the same, but that it'll get better, and still have an intense fanbase, and still make people happy. But my personal wish is that we can in some way expand our market and reach out with more diverse content.
Comics definitely expanded, and there are all kinds of comics with all kinds of subject matter, they just never caught on in any mainstream way.
That's what I meant. But is it bad for them? No, it's not bad for them as an industry, there are still many talented people there doing great stuff and having a very active and happy fan base, so when you go to Comic-Con you can only be impressed with how active the fan base is.
And yet they're not really introducing new characters, right? All the major comic book movies that are successful are based on characters that were invented a long time ago. That can't go on forever either.
I don't know this industry that well, but yes, that's my feeling.
Having finished Heavy Rain, years later, what about it did you not like, and how are you trying to rectify that with Beyond?
I never design in reaction to something, because otherwise you keep trying to fix things, and I don't think that's the right way to move forward. Heavy Rain responded to a period of my life, things I strongly believed in, things I wanted to suggest or experiment with. I'm really happy with the overall feedback, the reception was a success. But now we turn the page and it's a new game. The game of course was not started from scratch -- we tried to build based on what we learned on Heavy Rain, but at the same time it's a different experience, different people, different ideas and new concepts that we want to test and experiment.
What did you think about the Walking Dead game?
I thought it was a very interesting approach. Anybody working on storytelling has my respect. They try to do things differently. And they're really courageous and brave, and they were rewarded for that, and -- congratulations, guys.
That's a small studio that's -- they're not on the graphics level of Beyond, but they're edging close to it, where it draws the viewer in, it's realistic enough.
I totally agree. It's all about meaning, it's all about emotion, it's all about how can we get you sucked into the experience. You can have a different quality of graphics. Look at Pixar: They made incredibly successful movies based on characters in plastic. You forget about that, you just see characters with emotion, and you cry and laugh with them and you forget that they're just CG and plastic toys.
How important is it to collaborate with actors, like Ellen Page in Beyond?
I'm really not claiming that this is the only way to go, and again there are many examples of characters in films or in games who didn't look that realistic at all, and that you felt that you were emotionally connected with. Look at Journey, their character is not realistic at all, but is it weirder? No, it's not, it's very powerful, a very powerful character. The path I'm taking is really about working with actors and trying to create consistent representation of their emotional performance. In the past, we invented a face, and then we had one actor doing the face, and another actor doing the body, and then we put everything together and tried to create something, and it was just inconsistent, most of the time, now, if you want to have better performances in games, I think it's an interesting direction to explore -- let's work with one actress and let's try to recreate her clone in 3D, so we have the same person, right face, right voice, right movement, everything is basically a clone of the real actress.
If you get the chance to speak to other game developers, or people in power who you feel can affect the change you want to affect, what do you tell them?
I don't see myself like I have a message to deliver to anyone -- when people ask me to come and share my views, like here at DICE, I'm happy to do it. But I don't pretend that I think I'm going to make a revolution in the industry, or tell people what do to and not do. These people that have become important in the industry have always been very clever, talented and successful. So they don't need my advice.