The lights are on
In New York City yesterday, I had the chance to sit down with members of the Remedy team to talk about Quantum Break. The ambitious game will be coming to Xbox One in the future, and the time-bending action title will be different than anything you’ve ever played.
Remedy’s past games have delved deep into the psychology of a single protagonist steeped in noir storytelling. Quantum Break will approach things from a different perspective, with multiple playable characters.
Players will control the heroes of the tale, Jack and Beth, but during key “junction moments,” we’ll step into the shoes of villain Paul Serene. “He has this time power that gives him the ability to see glimpses of different timelines and different futures,” Remedy creative director Sam Lake tells us. “At the end of each act of the game, you actually get to play him during these junction moments. You get to explore and discover these glimpses of different futures, and you get to make the choice. Which of these two futures that are presented will come to pass?”
Lake says Quantum Break takes a different approach from the individual narratives of Max Payne and Alan Wake. “It’s our riff on the good action movie that the bad guy should be close to impossible to beat, but also someone really cool,” he explains. “Think about Die Hard. The bad guy comes close to stealing the show. This is our interactive dynamic way of doing these scenes where in the action movie you see the bad guy planning and making his moves. You get to play Paul Serene during the junction moments and make these choices. It really amounts to dynamic, player-created cliffhangers at the end of every act of the game.”
These junction moments are critical to the transmedia approach. Quantum Break will be shipping with the live-action tie-in content on the disc. Players will alternate between playing a segment of the game and watching an episode. “[The junction moment] leads into the next episode of the show. Immediately the first scene of the show is affected by the choice you made. It’s very much alternate content depending on the choice you made. The idea is that it will feel relevant to the plot of the show. You’ll learn important things that you’ll need for the game.”
One of the big differences between action movies and Quantum Break is that players will control the villain. While most people wouldn’t feel sympathy for Die Hard’s villain, Hans Gruber, there is a risk when putting the player so close to the bad guy.
“We want to make even the bad guy a deep, complex character that you will see different sides of,” Lake says. “You will understand why he’s doing what he’s doing. At the same time, the junction moment is just one gameplay scene, and the glimpses you see can be approached in two different ways. They are fragments. You are learning about certain things, but all options have both positive and negative from the bad guy’s perspective, but also from the heroes’ perspective.”
These decisions will have impact on the way the narrative plays out, but it isn’t a choose your own adventure tale. “It does affect the tone of what will follow,” Lake explains. “It will unlock alternate content. The consequences of the choice you make will follow for the rest of the game.”
Lake tells us that he’s excited for the potential that the Xbox One offers him as a storyteller, especially when dealing with as complex a subject as time and alternate futures. “It feels to me that we have passed that dreaded uncanny valley in many ways,” he says. “Suddenly, it is the real actor and what really matters is the actor’s performance. The way we tell stories and our games are very character-centric.”
At the same time, the power offered in the new console matters for the kind of game Remedy is working to create. “We are recording everything that is happening in the scene,” Lake explains. “Then we chop that into pieces and take individual objects and scrub them back and forth on their timelines as time is breaking down and can do that with anything in the scene.”
The new technology doesn’t make things easier, even if it is more powerful. “It’s the opposite,” Lake says. “You need a bigger team. You need all the hardware. It gets really complicated also, the challenges that the team and the coders are tackling.”
He also told us why Quantum Break is a strong fit for the Xbox One. “[Xbox One] is an entertainment center and the idea of having these different mediums come together, what we are doing with Quantum Break, is a perfect match.”