Examiner presents the second half of its recent GDC interview with Quantic Dream co-CEO Guillaume De Fondaumiere. Click here for the first part of this interview.
Considering the way Heavy Rain is presented, it seems like four was the perfect number for the amount of playable characters. Was it hard to decide on that number?
It’s a balancing act when you start a project knowing you want more than one character. It’s an even bigger challenge when you want all the characters to be equally important to the story. You do have Ethan Mars as the central character in the game but you do end up playing with all four characters almost equally.
What David Cage wanted with all those characters was to explore different emotions and different motivations. I think it’s extremely difficult to tell a story over ten hours when the story is the game. Having four different characters on the same story makes this much easier compared to having one character. Can you imagine making a 10-hour story with one character meaningful and still keeping the tension up?
I don’t think David had a set number from the start. He first worked on making many characters with brief synopses and he continued to develop the ones that seemed to work for the story. It’s only then that he figures out which ones work for the story, sometimes based on which characters would work best in certain situations.
It’s hard to recall another game that celebrates the beauty of the mundane. Thoughts?
Interactive narration is really a new language. It has its own grammar and vocabulary. In this vocabulary, the mundane is a central element in characterization. It’s also a central element in identification in the relationship between the player and the characters. By doing those very mundane things, you slowly, consciously get closer to the character. Most people that start playing Heavy Rain ask “Why am I doing this?”. It’s not about asking “Why?”. It’s about identifying with the character, stepping into his shoes, and then once the story hits its stride, the player understands the characters’ motivations.
Your company’s previous game Fahrenheit (Indigo Prophecy) had a reasonably clean user interface, but you guys took it up many notches with Heavy Rain. Can you comment more on that?
Since the beginning, we set out to create experiences for the gamer that are based on emotion. The interface is something that is stuck between the player and the experience. In Fahrenheit, we tried to get rid of as much as possible of any kind of interface. There’s no inventory for instance. In Heavy Rain we wanted to go a step further and we managed to implement intuitive controls and we introduce the player with all they need to know in the first chapter. It’s clear from the reaction that this clean interface with no inventory can work.
Many gamers and critics draw comparisons to Heavy Rain’s Quick Time Events as an evolved version of the gameplay in Dragon’s Lair and Shenmue, while the exploration reminded many of PC adventure games. How did these types of game’s influence Heavy Rain’s design?
David said that he’s not consciously influenced by these titles, but he really likes emotionally-driven games like Flower, Shadow of the Colossus, Ico, and Beyond Good and Evil. Those are game that he likes and I’m sure he always takes something from them. I’m sure there’s a little bit of each of them in Heavy Rain.
We actually tried to look back as little as possible. One of our first thoughts was to put all classical paradigms aside. Let’s try to think of an experience that’s totally new. By doing this doesn’t necessarily mean putting everything in a basket to the side. There’s certain things that do work, other things need to change. As gamers and game designers, we’re used to doing certain things. We expect that pressing a button will result in a particular action. We assume that people want that and do not want to change their habits. Based on the response to Heavy Rain, that isn’t true.
When you start playing Heavy Rain, you’re a bit lost. Once you get acquainted with the control system, you’ll understand why we did it. Why do I have to press R2 to move forward? Very simply because my two thumbs are working all the time, interacting with the surroundings. It’s great freeing your thumbs to do other things and let your middle or index finger worry about the walking. There’s really no other way to do it in Heavy Rain.
Each and every interaction and action was analyzed. We asked ourselves, “What is the best way to make this action intuitive and gives us maximum leverage in terms of interactivity?” This is why we deliberately chose to keep the Quick Time Events, but brought it to the next level.
The concept of the QTE is interesting at it’s core because it is a system. It enables the user to do any kind of action. You can dance, shoot, jump, fight, anything and it can be spectacular. Now what we did though was we did not keep the old Dragon’s Lair system. Our system is not a Fail/Succeed mechanism. Depending on what you do, the animation changes. You’re never in a losing situation where you have to replay an action.
We also tried to emulate the movement that would appear on-screen on the controller, so you really feel in control. I can talk forever about every single aspect of the player interface. It’s a lot of research. We had four people working just on the ergonomics of the user interface, which is paramount with Heavy Rain when the story and the gameplay are intertwined.
With the amount of units already sold, you must be pretty excited that this game is bound to influence the next generation of story-driven games.
I’m both proud and happy. I’m proud because we delivered on a very strong promise which is to bring meaningfulness to a medium that offers very little of it. I’m happy because of the responses from the industry and the consumer. It’s going to enable us to grow the market and to expand the reach of video games.
I’ve played video games for 30 years now. I can share books and movies with my friends and family. I can seldom share a video game experience with my parents because they don’t care. What can I tell them about a great first person shooter? “It’s been fun shooting are people!” (laughs) I can’t elaborate on it! I can’t discuss it. There’s no talking point. With a game like Heavy Rain, I can talk about it with my parents, with my wife, with a friends who don’t normally play games. I have experienced something strong that left an imprint in my psyche and I can outwardly talk about the game’s great theme of “What would you do for love?”. I can talk about the story and the characters. It’s a different way to approach video games.
It’s high time for our industry to become more mainstream and reach out to the masses. You have a medium that is this fantastic and extraordinary, and from where I’m sitting it’s still a very niche medium. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 has sold what, 17 million units? What’s 17 million people in the world? This is a very tiny market.
Guillaume De Fondaumiere’s top 5 (1/2) games of all time:
- Another World – A very old French game that made me want to create games and want to be in this industry
- Final Fantasy VII – A great experience
- Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune – Unquestionably fun
- Shadow of the Colossus
- Killer 7 or Okami