Exclusive: David Cage Talks Beyond: Two Souls

by Bryan Vore on Oct 10, 2012 at 10:00 AM

As part of our month-long coverage of under the radar titles in our latest issue (#235), we spoke with Quantic Dream founder and co-CEO David Cage about his upcoming project, Beyond: Two Souls. 

It must be difficult to juggle promoting games like Heavy Rain and Beyond without giving away too much. In a perfect world, would you rather keep your projects secret and release them completely finished on an unsuspecting gaming public?

That’s definitely my dream: having the possibility of making a game without telling anything before, so players are really totally new to the story. This is something even the most talented and famous movie directors cannot do, so I have little hope. But yes, this is definitely horribly frustrating. I need to tell you enough to get you excited, but not too much so I don’t ruin your experience.

All I can say at this stage is that Beyond is the most ambitious title I have worked on so far. We took risks, we redesigned everything from scratch, we took the challenge of telling the story of someone through fifteen years of her life, and Ellen delivered the most incredible performance I have seen in a video game. I hope that gamers will give Beyond a chance, because this game is going to be different. We put our hearts and souls into it. I am convinced that people will feel it.

You’ve described the script as highly detailed with around 2,000 pages. Are all the branching paths planned out to the letter or is there room for improvisation when the actors are on set?

There is actually little room for improvisation. What is challenging with what we do is that it is like dealing with a broken puzzle. We create pieces and let the player put them together. Our challenge is that whatever the player does, he must get an experience that makes sense and is interesting from a narrative standpoint. It is much more complex than it seems. Some people say it is similar in structure to the “Choose Your Own Adventure” books. There are some similarities, but in these books, you had choices every four paragraphs or so, which left the writer a lot of space to make the story progress. In the games I write, the player is in control every second, not every ten minutes, which forces me to have very small bricks of narrative, as if it was a choice at every sentence in a book.

So everything is pretty much set in stone, although I always leave space for some changes on set with the actors and during the development for some iterations regarding gameplay especially. Some very important design choices are made quite late in the day, actually between alpha and beta. It was the case of the mental health system in Indigo Prophecy, or the 3D interface in Heavy Rain. When the scenes are playable, new ideas emerge and the format is flexible enough to support different ideas of gameplay.

I also always leave space for feedback from users, as we do a lot of user tests between alpha and master stages. We discover what people like, dislike, what they wish they could do, and adapt accordingly. As Quantic is heavily tool-centric, these iterations are quite painless to make, as long as they remain reasonable.

When you envision a player going through Beyond, how do you balance allowing the gameplay to be easy enough for players to experience the exact decisions they want for Jodie’s story with making it challenging enough to still feel like a video game? Is it important that players get everything they want out of their playthrough of the story?

This is a very complex question: Do video games have to be challenging? Do they always have to test how fast your thumb can be? Do they all need to let you prove that you can be better than your friends? Many games already do that very well. I don’t feel I need to add one more.

I work on creating an emotional journey for the player, something intense, epic, surprising, thought-provoking; an experience that will leave an imprint in the player’s mind, not giving him the feeling that he played something, but that he lived something. I know it may sound incredibly arrogant or out of place; I know many gamers just want a gun and someone to shoot at, but I also know there are people out there who are interested in something deeper and more meaningful. There are hundreds of games for people who just want guns. I want to bring a different experience for all the others.

There is some confusion as to whether Move controls will be supported in Beyond as they were in Heavy Rain.

Move support for Beyond is actually in discussion. No decision has been made at this stage. If we believe that a Move mode is a way to make the game accessible to people who do not usually play, we will gladly do it.

Does the spiritual entity, Aiden, have any weaknesses outside of having to keep Jodie safe? It seems unstoppable in the demo.

The problem when we show a scene of our games is that people usually apply video game rules to what they see. Many gamers probably think seeing the E3 scene that this is a game where you run away and destroy everything with an entity. But Beyond is not designed like a conventional video game. Each scene of the game is different, features different mechanics, triggers diverse emotions. The E3 scene is unique in the game. I know it sounds very abstract because games are usually based on levels and mechanics, but Beyond doesn’t work like that.

To answer your question, the entity is not just a power or a pet in the game. It is actually a character with its own personality. It can be very nice and protective with Jodie, but it can also become very jealous, possessive, and violent. The relationship between the entity and Jodie is one of the main parts of the game. This entity can do many things, and its power depends on Jodie’s physical and mental state. The story will lead the player to discover the entity’s abilities, and adapt to very different situations.

I try to stay away from mechanics and to have a more organic approach, not based on strict patterns and rules, but on context, immersion, and emotion. My character doesn’t have a gun, she doesn’t kill all the people she meets, but this is still a fully interactive experience, with intense and epic moments.

David Cage speaks with Ellen Page on the mocap set.

Aiden speaks in a language that only Jodie can understand. Will players be able to unlock the ability to know what it is saying on a second playthrough kind of like Ico?

Sure, maybe there’s a way. But it’s pretty clear what he says from how Jodie reacts to it and the player will, I think, clearly understand him from the context and Jodie’s answers. Again, he’s a very important character. 

When Jodie’s a kid it’s like an invisible friend. Then when she gets older or gets into trouble it really becomes a partner. But he’s some kind of uncontrollable partner because he doesn’t understand our rules and he’s really possessive. He’s not from this world so he’s really unpredictable. This is really the story of their relationship and how Jodie learns how to live with this thing. How she learns to accept that she’s never going to be like other girls. She’s special. She’s unique. She didn’t ask for that, and she’s really not happy about the situation. It’s not like, “Oh cool, I have this entity that gives me some power.” It’s really like a burden for her all the time.

How big of a role does the police commander who pursues Jodie in the demo and trailer have in the main game?

He has a very small part. He’s just this character. He’s a very important character in these two scenes but he’s not someone who will be there for 15 years. I’m sorry to be that mysterious. It’s really frustrating for me because there’s so much I’d like to say, but we need to keep a little bit for the future too, I guess. 

Heavy Rain received some knocks for some of the actors' accents and the differing pronunciation of “origami.” Are you taking steps to avoid this in Beyond?

Yeah, we worked only with American actors on this thing. We looked for them in Los Angeles so they may have a Los Angeles accent, but that’s the best I can do. No, it’s only an American cast, except Ellen Page who is Canadian, as you know. 

With Beyond's focus on capturing and displaying human movement as accurately as possible, are you concerned about dipping into the uncanny valley?

My take on the uncanny valley is that some people in CG already left the valley. I’m thinking of Avatar for example and some other films. They’ve done a great job in making you forget that these are CG characters. So for games it’s just a matter of time that we know that this is definitely possible. My goal in the games I make is really to make people forget that this is a game and not have anything in the way of listening to what characters say and sharing what they feel. Now, is it going to be perfect fidelity and as good as video would be? Maybe not. But is it going to be something that lets you experience the game and share the emotions of the characters and not be in the way? That’s what I hope. We work very hard in this direction. But for games in general to leave the uncanny valley, it’s just a matter of years. [Real-time rendering] is usually five to seven years behind CG, so this is the timeframe that we’ll need, maybe less, to have perfect fidelity. 

Be sure to read the new November issue of Game Informer Magazine (#235) for more on Beyond: Two Souls, including completely different content from our chat with David Cage. Visit the hub for more on all the under the radar games this month.