David Cage: 'My team say my ideas can't fit into consoles'

David Cage: 'My team say my ideas can't fit into consoles'

By Rob Crossley

May 18th 2012 at 3:00PM

After his Heavy Rain breakthrough, David Cage knows he must meet bigger ambitions

And finally, after fifteen years and three game releases, David Cage has met second album syndrome.

His vision, to create an interactive drama that sells on its narrative, was not realised at the first two attempts.

The Nomad Soul (1999) and Fahrenheit (2005) hardly exhibited the silver screen sophistication that Cage had always strived for. Yet they both shared the same DNA as his third title and breakthrough hit, Heavy Rain (2010).

Quantic Dream will strive to build games in the same mould, Cage explains in his interview with Develop. What’s changed, he says, is the intensity of expectation.

For more than a decade you have strived to create a certain style of interactive experience, and it’s fair to say this was finally achieved with Heavy Rain. Now that you’ve passed that threshold, do you have a vision for where you want your games to go next?
What I’ve tried to achieve since day one was emotional experiences and maybe more for a major audience as opposed to kids and teenagers.

It has taken me time to clarify the vision, and to understand myself what it would take to achieve this. But I do agree that I really feel that vision I had was achieved in Heavy Rain, or at least the vision became clear.

But I don’t have a new vision every day, I think my games will carry on in the way we have established them at Quantic Dream.

What about longer-term plans? Do you think about your goals project-by-project, or is there an overarching, long-term vision?
I think my ultimate goal is to make the genre I work in much more popular. I want to see other people explore this genre, with their own approach, so that we can some day create a major audience for it.

But honestly I don’t have an overarching plan. I don’t know where I want to be in twenty years from now. I’m driven by passion. I need to be passionate about my next project, otherwise I won’t be able to work on it for the next two years.

Let’s look at the next project. Was it your brainchild? Did you come into the studio and explain your idea?
It pretty much comes from me. I come with the idea, the vision. I define the goals. Then it becomes a collaborative work, but you need someone at first to decide where the project needs to go.

The way I deal with that is to not give people orders. It’s really about, at first, trying to convince myself that this is what we should do, and then trying to convince my team. And trust me, a lot of the time they are really difficult to convince. They are not easy buyers.

I have to really know everything about a project, and be able to answer all my team’s questions, when pitching the game concept to them. Because these people are going to be working on this project for a number of years, so it’s really important that it doesn’t feel like you’re forcing work on them.

You want your studio to share your passion, but how do you achieve this with an idea that is your own and not from your team?
It’s all about talking and being completely honest, being capable of accepting and hearing criticism. I think the team also feels that I’m being honest about what I’m doing. I’m not right all the time and I cannot see into the future, but if I believe in something I will fight very hard for it.

It’s like being the captain of a ship. The team has to know I’ll always be there whether we sink or reach our destination.

Certainly, with regard to commercial success, you did reach a prosperous destination with Heavy Rain. Does that past achievement help convince people to believe in your ideas?

Yeah it was much easier to convince my team after Heavy Rain. But the trust goes the other direction too. I trust my team with so many things that I feel passionate about, and that’s because I’ve spent fifteen years building this team of creative individuals that I really believe in.

Do you think that emotional interaction is the final destination for your games, or perhaps the ultimate ambition?
No, I think all I want to do is offer some diversity to the medium. I want to give people the chance to buy something other than ten different first person shooters and RPGs.

There should be games for all ages, all tastes. Whatever is possible with interactive entertainment should be explored, and I don’t think we’re seeing that right now.

The industry is too far balanced towards kids and teenagers. It’s too focused on violence.

But perhaps that’s indicative of the console cycle itself, which, now at its final phase, typically pushes publishers to make safer bets.
But is it really a safer bet? I’m not sure. Releasing yet another war-based shooter; there are already so many on the market, some of which are so incredibly popular. You probably run the risk of being crowded out in that genre.

But it must be profitable for most people, because it’s what the whole industry does. If I wanted to make just profit I’d have made Heavy Rain 2 and 3 and 4 and 5 for our publisher.

When you say “our publisher” there’s a collective understanding that you’re referring to Sony, such is your relationship with the company.
We have a great understanding. It’s quite unique I think. They don’t own us, and we have all the creative freedom we want. We approach them with sometimes five pages of notes and say, what do you think?

We have this fantastic trust. Sony trusts me, and allows me to do what I want. They know I’m serious about my work, and that I’m passionate, and that I would die for my work. This is always my guarantee to them.

I’m extremely fortunate to be in this position right now. It’s because I’ve worked so hard, I think, and because I’ve been so consistent with my ideas.

Regarding those ideas, how would you categorise them? What rigid genre do they belong to?
Well, we call them interactive dramas.

And would you like more rival games fill this space?
Of course, we want many studios to do it. Do it better than us. Do it with your own ideas, your stories, your characters, your style.

Regarding the underpinning technology you use today, is there a flexibility that allows it to be developed for next generation technologies?
Well, you know, each platform needs its own engine. We are not in the business of doing middleware, where you just develop a standard generic application and just port it to different platforms. We work exclusively for Sony, who expect us to show what their hardware can do.

I’ve always wondered why you don’t license out your tech – it could be a popular money generator?
It would be money but also troubles. It would be getting a whole team together to work on it. It would be changing our whole business model. I’m not saying we’d never do it – it’s just that we’re really busy making games right now.

You allow studios to use your mocap facility though, right?
Yeah we rent it to different people in the industry, but also outside the industry for commercials and things like that.

We’re a year or two away from a new console era. What do you, as a developer, want to see from the new hardware?
Well, we invest a lot in technologies and tools. We’re a very tools-centric company, with about 40 engineers all working on technology right now.

But to be honest, I’m not that interested in technology or the next generation of consoles. If we could continue with PlayStation 3 for another five years it would be fine with me. I think the main challenges are on the creative side than on the technical side.

Are there technical things I can’t do on PS3? Honestly, no. The limitation is much more about the ideas we have. When you look at the past, you realised that the technology evolved must faster than the concepts we rely on.

As an industry we have pretty much have been building the same games for fifty years, despite the platforms changing.

So, what do I expect from the next generation of hardware? You know, the usual. More polys, and higher resolution texture maps, and, horsepower, and, stuff. Wow. It’s so cool and exciting.

You appear to be getting increasingly bored talking about next generation technologies…
I suppose it is interesting, in a way. It’s more stuff to play with, I guess.

The reason I thought you would be interested is because your studio likes to push technology, and in fact, you like to give your teams grand visions for games that the tech guys no doubt say is not feasible.
But they always say this. They always say they cannot fit my ideas into consoles. But they always do.