Quantic Dream - David Cage and Guillaume de Fondaumiere interview
Quantic Dream, the ambitious developer of Omikron: The Nomad Soul, is once again promising innovative gameplay and progressive cinematic presentation with their highly anticipated new game, Indigo Prophecy (or Fahrenheit in Europe). In doing so, they are avoiding conventional game genre labels in favor of their own category, "Interactive Drama". Whether the game can deliver on all of its promises is still unknown, but it is without doubt a hot topic on gaming forums, and one of the most coveted games of the year.
Looking for something more substantial than hype, Adventure Gamers asked Indigo Prophecy's Executive Producer Guillaume de Fondaumiere to talk with us at E3. To our surprise, when he arrived, he didn't come alone. He was joined by the game's writer and director David Cage, who enthusiastically added his thoughts and perspectives. It was a unique pleasure to sit with them both for a long talk about Quantic Dream, Indigo Prophecy and their personal views on game development.
(Representing Adventure Gamers are Laura MacDonald and Emily Morganti.)
LM: You two actually represent the best of two companies coming together for this project. Guillaume, before you came to Quantic Dream, you were with Arxel Tribe, correct?
GF: Yes, I founded Arxel Tribe in 1992.
LM: Why the move to Quantic Dream?
GF: It's like anything else. You need time to learn, and I am only 33. However, one reason I joined Quantic is because I saw in Fahrenheit something that I had been longing to produce in a game. I really wanted to have this experience. So I talked to David and said, "David, I want to be a part of this because I think you are the future. This what I have wanted to do for a long time and never had the possibility before. I want to be on board."
LM: That's a very interesting combination -- Arxel and Quantic. Quantic was always very cinematically driven, whereas Arxel had strong narrative depth to its games. What did you bring to the equation when you came to Quantic?
GF: The main thing I brought to Quantic was my publishing experience with adventure games. And possibly some end client feedback, because I know how adventure gamers react to certain interactions. I talked with David at certain points in the game development and told him my feeling about it; where we should maybe focus more.
It is relatively difficult to sell this type of game. You must know that Indigo Prophecy probably is one of the only adventure games that will be published in the United States for the PS2. Generally, for various reasons, Sony does not publish adventure games. They believe that adventure games are not suitable for the target audience. So, we really had to show them that Quantic's work was totally different from any other game that was out there. We also made them understand that we could totally change the controls and still have an experience that was worth playing and could still appeal to adventure gamers.
EM: What do you think there was about this game that appealed to Sony?
GF: I think it has a very strong story and that it brings a complete experience. We conducted focus groups of hardcore gamers, who normally played Halo or such games. What we found out was that this game appealed in different ways. Some people liked it very much. Others did not because there was no immediate action. But it was a refreshing experience and told us the game has a wider market than just adventure gamers. So after all the testing and looking at the game, Sony decided they wanted to have it. And not being shy, I have to say we are happy and a little bit proud.
LM: The music is the first thing that struck me from the start, particularly with that first trailer. This sounds and looks very different from your last game.
DC: Yes, absolutely. You should wait for the final soundtrack by Angelo Badalamenti! He's the guy who did all the music for the David Lynch movies and shows.
We felt very proud to have someone with the talent of Badalamenti on this game and we really felt that in a lot of games you have a lot of "boom boom" type music, and this is exactly what we didn't want. Everything in the design of Indigo Prophecy is driven by emotion. And I was looking for music that would create emotion -- that would be extremely emotional itself. It was a difficult search as I only identified two composers that could bring this quality to this game: Angelo Badalementi and Michael Nyman, who did Gattaca.
LM: The music does convey a more mature ambiance. Was this with the adult themes in mind?
DC: It is really what I wanted to explore with Fahrenheit. I got the feeling that a lot of people had stopped playing games because they couldn't find content for them. I am 36 years old and I don't want to play a game like when I was ten. Most of the games you see in the [E3] booths and on the floor are for kids. I don't want to fight and shoot over and over again. I have played this type of game a thousand times before. People are really looking now for something new, for something innovative. All of my work is based upon an emotional ride. We will try to make you go through different feelings, like if you were in a movie.
LM: This game was in development for quite some time. It seems like almost four years. Is this accurate?
DC: Not actually in true production. It took one year to sell it to a publisher and two years to make it.
GF: When David said it took us three years to sell and develop the game, that was just a part of it. You cannot create a game like this using conventional methods and tools, so we spent the first two years getting the tools we needed to create this experience, then we produced this game.
LM: So you devised the engine, the interface, all of that first?
GF: Everything. We have thirteen hours of full body and facial animation. It has never been done in a video game, a TV series or even a movie. The production process has been completely redesigned to be able to produce such a game. It has a multi-path scenario. Each player is going to have a unique experience. Imagine in terms of production what it takes to create all the assets necessary to have this type of adventure. We didn't have a thirty million dollar budget, so we had to find ways to write the story, in a different manner than is usual. To create something we call "bending stories". They are similar to a rubber band. Basically, you have a beginning, a middle and an end, but you can stretch it so that the story is longer. You can also make parts of it wider or twist it this way, so that you have a story that goes that direction. You also have different endings, because you have a multitude of endings that are possible.
LM: Many games appear rushed to market these days. Do you think the longer development time paid off for this game?
DC: In these type of games, you have no real choice. You need to do what is right. We are really lucky at Quantic Dream to have had the time to do things the way we wanted. The same thing happened with Omikron 2. We really had the time. Often in development you have a publisher who says things like "Oh no, that should be green or that should be blue." It is very difficult for a publisher to try and say something when the design is so complete. The only compromise I had to make was on the U.S. version, because of censorship.
EM: The U.S. version is going to be different than the European ones?
DC: A little bit, yeah, because of the sex scenes. The European versions are exactly as we wanted, but we had to change some things for the U.S. market.
EM: Was that so you could get a certain rating?
DC: Yes, 16+ was the rating we wanted. Otherwise it would be 18+ and people just told us our game would only be available in sex shops with that rating. There is nothing sexual in it that you wouldn’t see in a regular movie. But that is what we were told.
LM: Regarding design compromise, did you have to compromise the narrative format to accommodate the innovative gameplay you also wanted?
DC: On the story and gameplay, the first thing to know is that we consider this an "interactive drama". It is something we believe we are really advancing with this game. It is something a lot of developers have tried to do for a long time. It is a story that is evolving according to your choices in the game. The gameplay IS the story. It starts with the interface.
I designed it to focus on physical immersion. You control the animation with the right analog stick. Then you push the action button and see what happens. For example, if you want him to push the door you must make the same movement with the stick.
Whenever your character does anything physical you are really in charge of the motion. This idea of physical immersion is everywhere in the design. For example, when you drop the body in the restroom, you very quickly move the triggers. Whenever you have an action where strength or speed is involved, you must move the sticks very quickly to simulate a strong pull or action. The idea is to put you in the same physical space as your character. It is hard for him so he drags the body and then stops; you have to time your movements with his. You are always in the same position as your character.
LM: Our character definitely got depressed over our lack of skills. So, how well you handle challenges with your analog or control movements and make choices in the game affects your characters' mental health or moods in the game?
DC: You need to be careful with your characters' mental health. You need to take care of your character. If you let him get too upset he may commit suicide or turn himself into the police. And it's not just one action; it's all of the things you do. If his level goes way down to where he is a total wreck, he can become mad. It's not just like you drink some water and you feel better. There is a relationship with these characters. For example, at one point you will meet your ex-girlfriend. You can choose to be really nice with her and perhaps fall in love again, which really makes you feel good. You can also choose to be very rude and tough with her, which turns her away. If so, you will feel really bad about this.
LM: Though there are elements of Indigo Prophecy that are clearly action-oriented, there has not been the level of outcry you would normally get from within the traditionalist hardcore adventure community. What do you attribute this acceptance to?
GF: It is an adventure. But this is why we came up with this concept of interactive drama. Indigo is an adventure game, but you will have to play through action sequences, though not like in action games. You play with the same interface, but you really fall within the story. You are playing the story. Your own character is the story. This is much stronger than the usual puzzle-styled adventure or shooting games. I think that everyone can see what this game really is. A brand new experience, that can appeal to hardcore adventure gamers as well as more casual gamers, who play action, shooters and adventures.
DC: You like movies? Then if so, you will like Indigo Prophecy. You like a great story? You will like the game. This isn't like Myst, with puzzles. It is very simple; you are there immediately. You don't think about whether it is an adventure or an action game.
EM: Getting back to the story and how it develops in the game. Your choices in the game have an effect on the story?
GF:Your actions in the game affect the story. For example, in the beginning, you can rush out, covered with blood and you are going to be suspect numero uno. So when you come back and play Carla Valenti and Tyler Miles, who are a couple of cops, it will be very easy for you to track down your other character. Now you can play it totally differently if you want. You can hide the body, wash yourself up, and go out into the diner virtually unnoticed. So the story is going to be different.
LM: Then if you choose to take a stealthier route at this point, it complicates the cops' investigation and changes their part of the story?
GF:Yes, the investigation is going to take much longer. You will actually find different clues. You will have to dig deeper into the story. What is important is the experience. Do you like this experience or not? Comparing it to other games is what will be difficult.
EM: I had a question about the name of the game. Whose decision was that and why the title change?
GF:It was Atari's decision. We endorsed it. It was a difficult title for the U.S., since it suggests September 11th [due to its resemblance to Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11]. I don't think that the name of the game mattered that much, and they felt they would have a better time selling it as Indigo Prophecy. But it wasn't that important to us; what matters is the game. I prefer the publishers change the name and let me make the game that I want.
EM: Does the title Indigo Prophecy correlate with something in the story?
DC:Absolutely! We would have changed it worldwide to this, but the title Fahrenheit was very well known in Europe and changing it there would have been more difficult.
LM: The people playing the demo here at E3 appear very enthusiastic. When you watch the reaction or actions of gamers playing, has anything surprised you? Also, did anything come up in testing that caused you to change the design at all?
GF: Right now there are few surprises, because the testing process with actual gamers has been ongoing throughout the development. This was something that was very important to us -- to have people playing the game very early in the production process. So we could have feedback on how people would react to the controls, first of all, because we have very unusual control setup. Also, we had the opportunity to adjust, see what was working and not, to create the best game. I think this is something we should do more often -- have players involved throughout the development. We did things like totally change the story and the interface just to see if people enjoyed it. To see if the experience was as they expected. At the end of all this, we have to create an experience that people must enjoy. We are selling or creating dreams; if people do not see it, then it has not happened. Now we are not surprised at all, since we carefully and meticulously worked with players.
DC:The design was constructed to anticipate how players play a game, how they feel about it.
GF:Of course it is very interesting to us to see how people play it. By looking at how they play it, you see sometimes how they are. For instance, if you rush out in the game, you are definitely an action player. Then you see the more careful, puzzle-oriented gamer, who will look into every corner, change things in the settings.
LM: The two prior years building the infrastructure for development, the playtesting going back to day one… this is the underlying attention to detail that you just don't see normally. What motivated you to be so thorough in your planning and design, other than to create a good game? It does increase costs with such a long timeframe.
DC: It is a question of trust. The gamer's trust of the developer and ours for the publisher. You know we changed publishers. At that moment we felt we did not have the necessary support for our belief that we go through certain processes from the beginning to the end. It is very difficult to negotiate away those items and end up with the product that you want. It is a concern, of course, to the publisher, because it is a big financial investment; the pressure of the market that these people have is different from the cozy environment that the developer enjoys. However, I think this industry is not going to move forward if we do not get a publisher who has the guts to change a bit the way in which they are working, and give the developer enough time to see the project successfully to the end.
GF: It is a real problem we were having. With Atari, throughout the development process, we had true interaction. They truly understood the product. We are not capable of organizing focus groups worldwide. They have been very involved and supported making this game the way it should be made. Of course with the risk that is involved, innovation is sometimes not recognized enough. The public needs to be educated about this. You have to work a lot to really understand what you are trying to do. People have to buy the game or you fail. You can't just say, "take this and this from that game plus this; let's do it."
LM: What games do you play, other than your own, of course?
GF: I like adventure and strategy games. I have produced and/or published approximately twenty adventure games. I am getting tired of it.
LM: You guys have both been great. We know you have to go now and just want to thank you so much for talking to us.
GF:Not a problem; it was our pleasure!