David Cage On Player Behavior, His Role As Director, And Violence In Beyond

by Mike Futter on Apr 29, 2013 at 09:30 AM

This weekend, Quantic Dream's Beyond: Two Souls became the second video game featured at the Tribeca Film Festival (L.A. Noire was the pioneering piece), and the first platform-exclusive to earn the honor. After the 35 minute gameplay demonstration and subsequent panel meeting, we had the opportunity to sit down with writer and director David Cage.

Game Informer: You've talked about the 12 months of performance capture, and we've seen the prop versions of the 2,000 page script. On a single play through Beyond: Two Souls, how much is the average player going to see?

David Cage: It is very difficult to assess, actually. It can vary. We don't really have that statistic, but it never mattered to me so much. When we started, people were saying, "You do all that work, and you do so much, and people will only see a sliver." It was never a concern for me, because what you see, you chose to see. It's your decision. It's your story.

With players shaping the narrative, what is your perspective on replay value? Obviously, that's a big focus for a very different type of developer, but when you approach something, do you expect that someone will play it once?

Replay value is something that is hard to understand. Gamers finish only 20% of the games they play. Why are we talking about replaying when they don't even finish the games they start? I am more interested in having a game where you play it from beginning to end, and you really enjoy it because every single second is pleasure, than having a game you can play 20 times. There is a replay value, and we saw it with Heavy Rain. Some people wanted to see all the possible branches, and some people died with the some of the characters and wanted to go back and play the scenes they missed.

Honestly, I do not think that is the core essence of the experience, and it's the wrong discussion, I think. It's like saying that a film that is two hours long is better than a film that is ninety minutes. I prefer when it's a very good ninety minutes than when it is two hours or three hours of crap. Let's create games people finish before we worry about replay.

One of the hooks that platform holders have used, and that publishers and developers have used, is the concept of trophies and achievements. You did something in Heavy Rain where the trophies didn't impede the flow and only popped up at the end of a chapter. Even with them showing up at the end, do you think that impacts the way a player approaches the game?

The trophies are very important and valuable for a certain type of games and certain type of gamers. They are less important for the games that we make. But we have people that demand them, so we make sure that it doesn't impede the flow, that it doesn't take you out. We do what we can to deal with that. 

Have you had conversations with Sony about not including trophies?

We talk about it to see how we can have trophies, because it's important for some gamers. At the same time, we can make them as unobtrusive as possible. When it's a shooter, it doesn't matter if you have this little icon popping up. When it's this scene, and it's very emotional, and suddenly there's this "bing!" it's very obtrusive. We are working with Sony on how to make it less intrusive.

One of the things you mentioned in the panel discussion after the screening was that there was a massive shift from Heavy Rain to Beyond, especially with the simultaneous capture of voice and physical performance. How has that changed your approach as a director, given that your titles especially are so much more character and narrative driven?

It enables me to be a director. Before that, I was probably a sound booth director. "Give me more of this, give me less of that." It's not true acting, it's maybe a sound booth actor trying to get the right voice. Now it's much more like being a stage director than a film director, because you're really here with the actors, and sometimes you can get really close.

You saw it in one of the clips when she's crying on the phone, and I'm sitting next to her. Of course the cameras can't see me. It creates a very different relationship, and the job as a director is very different. Suddenly you need to deal with very talented actors to get this emotion across. Your work is not to get this emotion on stage, it's to get it in the game. There is a lot of work after the stage to make it work in the game, in a matter of 3D, in a matter of filming and music, graphics. How do you get this emotion from the set to the game?

You've captured the performances. Ellen Page and Willem Dafoe have finished their work, and you're left with these performances, and you have cameras, set dressing, and lighting. How do you go about going from being on the floor next to Ellen to transition into the more technology-driven aspect?

There are three stages. The first one is the writing, where I'm working on my own. The second is the shooting with actors. The third one is post-production, so I'm managing 200 people and giving them art direction to make sure everyone goes in the same direction. It's different work, but I really enjoy it. It's pretty much like in film where you have shooting and post-production, it's pretty much the same process, but in our case post-production is more important and even more complex.

I recently re-watched your talk at DICE. There is violence in Beyond, and it's brutal, visceral. I think there was a misinterpretation of what you were saying at DICE about violence in general. Can you explain and draw the distinction between the type of violence that you use and the type of violence that permeates the rest of the game industry.

I'm fine with violence as long as it comes with a meaning. If it means something, if it allows you to tell something about the character or to create a specific emotional state, I'm fine with that. When you look at films, there are some incredible films from talented filmmakers that are incredibly violent. It's not gratuitous, not just for the sake of being violent. It serves the story, it serves the characterization. I'm against violence when it's free, when it's gratuitous and there is no reason for it; when it's just about showing blood or showing sex. 

There was a woman sitting near me who is not a gamer, but she was completely enthralled. She told me that she is now very interested in playing Beyond. In your DICE talk, you mentioned accessibility, and I'm reminded of the scene in Heavy Rain as Agent Jayden is climbing up the muddy hill, requiring a number of button presses in an awkward position. How will someone who isn't a gamer have access to Beyond? Will there be Move support?

We haven't made an announcement about Move support, but what you're talking about was actually Heavy Rain's normal mode. There was an easy mode. In the easy mode, and in this part in particular, it was easy to play. There will be an easy mode in Beyond, and we're thinking about everything feasible to make the game accessible to a wider audience. We want everybody to be in a position to enjoy this game.   

Beyond: Two Souls arrives on PlayStation 3 on October 8, 2013. You can watch the screening here. For more on how Beyond: Two Souls improves on Heavy Rain's acting and performance, please read our coverage from the screening.