Heavy Rain Creator: Nine Ways Video Games Need To Grow Up

Heavy Rain Creator: Nine Ways Video Games Need To Grow Up

“These are exciting times for the gaming industry,” game designer David Cage of Quantic Dream (Heavy Rain, Beyond: Two Souls) said as he began a talk here in Las Vegas that seemed set to criticise the modern state of gaming. After all, the talk was called: “The Peter Pan Syndrome: The Industry That Refused to Grow Up.”

For the next half hour he argued that video games were, more or less, juvenile and bizarrely disconnected to the real world. This distresses him, but he thinks gaming can do much better.

He first looked back, charting at the 30 best-selling console games of all time. They were mostly from Nintendo or were a Grand Theft Auto. The game fit into three groups: “Kids games, casual games and violent action games.”

The themes in gaming have barely changed in 40 years, he said. Compare 1992’s Wolfenstein and 2012’s Call of Duty, he said. “They have not changed much. You still have this objective. You still have a gun. You still have to run and shoot and kill people before they kill you.”

Most games are still about mastering patterns the computer throws at you, he lamented.

Games live in “wonderland,” he said. They talk about things that aren’t related to the real world or to the kinds of people we know.

“We make the same games over and over,” he said. “This is also an issue for our industry.” It’s fine for kids, but for older gamers? “Many times starting a new game I feel like I’ve already played it a thousand times.” A lack of innovation plagues all industries. Gaming hasn’t escaped it.

“My gut feeling is that we need to find a way to reach a wider audience,” he said. The market is mostly kids and teenagers.

So, to solve this stuff, he suggests nine things:

  1. Make games for all: Time to invent interactive experiences for adults.
  2. Change our paradigms. “We need to decide as an industry that violence and platforms are not the only way. We are in an industry where, if the main character doesn’t hold a gun, designers don’t know what to do.” How interactive is the game, they’d wonder, he said. What do they do if they can’t shoot? He recalled pitching Indigo Prophecy, one of his earlier adventure games to an American games industry person. When he said the character didn’t have a gun, they assumed the character drove a car of jumped on platforms.

    ALSO: “Can we make games that are not based on systems?” As we get older, he said, adults don’t have the time or interest in beating a computer, of mastering a system.”

    AND: Can the industry make games without guns?

  3. The importance of meaning: What do we have to say? Most games, he said, have nothing to say. “That’s a toy,” he remarked. “Can we create games that have something to say, that carry an idea …. that you can resonate with?” Authors are the kinds of people who come up with this stuff, he said. Let them in! Games should use “real world themes.” Let games talk about politics, about homosexuality, about anything from real world. “They should talk about people. They should talk about our world. They should talk about society.” Films may try to do this, but games can put people in worlds that involve these issues. That’s potent. Games that could do this would leave an imprint on you.
  4. “Become accessible: Let’s focus on minds, not on thumbs!” He wants games to focus on the thoughts and decisions of players, not on how fast or skilled they are at manipulating a controller.
  5. Bring other talents on board.
  6. Establish new relationships with Hollywood. Related to the idea above, he wants to see actors, smart creative people bringing their talents to games. And he thinks that the filmmaking masters of linear storytelling could collaborate with game designers to make a new kind of medium.
  7. Changing our relationship with censorship. Cage said he has a censor looking over his shoulder when he makes games. The sense is that he can’t do in games what people do in movies, that people believe that the interactivity of games makes them more problematic, that what he cans do with sex and violence is curtailed. But he believes that interactivity doesn’t make games more dangerous or in need of censorship. He believes games are as constrained in content now as films were in the 50s, though he also said that content he saw at the last E3 shocked him in actually going really far to the extreme. “Sometimes we go too far and behave like stupid teenagers ourselves. We should stop doing this.”
  8. The role of press.. from reviewers to critics. On one side there are clever people who analyse the industry, he said. On the other side of the spectrum are people giving scores or giving a 5/10 because of a camera bug or bad AI. “I don’t think this is press,” he said. “Where is the analysis?.” He wants better criticism. He yearns for a gaming equivalent of the Cahiers du Cinéma.
  9. The importance of gamers. He considers buying a game to be a vote. “Buy crap and you will get more crap. Buy exciting and ambitious games and you will get more of them.”

Cage thinks the future will see a rise of a better digital entertainment. He hopes it will be accessible to all and will be open to themes and genres relevant to society. It will be based on a journey, not a challenge and will be cross-platform so people can play at home, on the go… anywhere. “This is my hope for the industry,” he said. “This is a medium I love.”


      • I liked heavy rain too, I played the other game they made so i was expecting QTE galore. Though I did only play it once where as Call of duty and Grand thefts always get two or three playthroughs at least.

        • Heavy Rain was great. Although if he wants to improve games, he could start with hiring some decent voice actors. It’s no good sitting there and criticizing everybody else’s games because they’re just shooting and driving etc, then you go and put out something like Heavy Rain which is heavily built on character and story but doesn’t have the actors to be able to carry it. It could have been much more engaging on an emotional level if it didn’t sound like a whole bunch of French people doing bad American accents.

          • Yeah, the voice acting kind of ruined it a bit for me too. I just couldn’t take it seriously when they had those terrible accents. It was all over the place too and some characters sounded fine while some were quite terrible…

            And sorry to invade your comment Braaaaaaaaaaaains but just putting in a warning!


      • No it wasn’t a good game or story.
        Gameplay sucked
        Story sucked half of it was boring tedious stuff and the rest you would see from a bad thriller movie
        Voice acting from some people was terrible, the FBI guy
        The twist on who the killer was made no sense (you play as the killer but you don’t know it)

        It failed as a movie and a game

        I don’t know why he want’s video games and hollywood it really is a stupid idea and the two should stay away from each other.

        • It obviously wasn’t for you, but that’s OK. If you’re happy with the other things on the market, continue following point 9 of the article.

          But there are people out there, like myself, who are hungry for more experiences like this. And it’s not going to hurt you for existing, just know that they’re not for you in the future. There’s a hell of a lot of movies and music out there that I don’t pay any attention to, but that others still love.

        • Unfortunately they are on a collision course (video gaming and Hollywood). Video games has been making more money than Hollywood for a while now and appears that Hollywood wants to jump on the gravy train.

        • The point is, to try and make different styles of games – ok, maybe some of them will suck and some won’t.. but at least let’s have lots of different types of games, some variety. How boring would the movie industry be, if every movie was either a Michael Bay film or in the same style?

      • It was full of plot holes and bad characters. Badly edited and poorly translated. Apparently “empty lost” translate into “wasteland”.

        They were even going to originally have magic in the game, Ethan at one point had a mental link to the killer, which is why he’s always talking about drowning children and makes paper cranes. But they removed that plot point and left in the black outs.

    • I loved Heavy Rain.
      I even enjoyed the QTE stuff.
      Was a genuinely moving game with excellent story telling and characters i actually gave a shit about.

    • … except that Heavy Rain was one of the few truly engaging experiences I’ve had this generation. Which proves his point. They made something different, it resonated with a section of the community in a way that most other games don’t.

      • What does that even mean?
        I’m serious, the older I get the less I care about innovation. Bring me more Pokemons & Ni No Kunis. Bring me a Final Fantasy that plays like anyting before 11.

        • See, I’d think you were joking if I didn’t know you. What you’re describing is the polar opposite to what I seek as I get older!

          I don’t have time to waste on games that are the same as what I’ve played before. They’re already stored away in my memory, in a state that is probably better than they actually are.

          • Just personal taste. I can still play old games and have heaps of fun. I play Super Metroid and Resident Evil 2 almost once a year.
            I do like new games, I buy them. But every time I have to learn brand new controls I roll my eyes. If it doesnt really hit it off for me I’ll move on.

            I got no problem with new stuff I just think there’s room for both.

          • It’s a time thing too. I have about 2 or 3 hours a night I can play. If I spend an hour learning how to play then I’m not having fun. I’m very aware that I just spent a third of my nights game time on tutorials

  • Heavy Rain wasn’t perfect, but damn was it ambitious, and I’m glad I played it. If there were more cinematic games like that (I don’t mean all games, but a new genre) then I’d be very happy.

  • I agree with all the points.
    They are all stuff we all want intellectually but there are a lot of hurdles in between. Making games without guns is a nice thought, but its not devs that make that call, its consumers. I also like point 7, censorship has a bizarre relationship with gaming that should actually be opposite. By this I mean as gaming becomes more and more realistic, more and more immersive, at what point does a dev who is making a Roman Warrior game go “Well, I am making an adult game, this is what happens when you cleave a man *cachunk*, yet a dipshit with a clipboard is telling me my game will be banned if I show reality.”

  • Everything he says is an interesting avenue to explore, but I don’t think games need to start limiting themselves in that direction. The whole medium just needs to keep expanding. There’s room for all kinds of games to co-exist.

  • Funny one would think with the history of Nintendo games being as great and innovative as they have always been would pigeon hole his comments into xbox & PS3 more so. However when you look at the XBLA, mobile, app games and Indie games movements I think he has a bit of tunnel vision these days.

    I can agree with him, to a limited extent, but any media based industry has the safer proven methodologies and genres for the larger production budgets. It’s simple business economics taken priority over designer or developer innovations.

    Hopefully consoles like Ouya, steambox, XBLA, kickstarter and tablet/mobile app games are a sign of change…

    • I forgot to comment on franchises like Guitar Hero or Kinect based titles. You can’t tell me there isn’t innovation in gaming today.

      • theres not enough innovation.
        you get one instance of a new idea, like guitar hero, and then you get guitar hero 12 being released with no further innovation having been done.

        Indie devs are where the new ideas are coming from. big publishers like EA & Acivision are generally too chickenshit to take a risk on an unproven idea.

  • I believe he has some interesting ideas in terms of story and the industry for video games, but in terms of the bigger picture he’s way off the mark

    I completely disagree with:

    “Become accessible: Let’s focus on minds, not on thumbs!” He wants games to focus on the thoughts and decisions of players, not on how fast or skilled they are at manipulating a controller.”

    Skill is what makes things happen in a great game. Look at Shadow of the Colossus: each Colossi requires you to think of a plan, and then requires you to use your skill at manipulating a controller to pull it off. Skill is what the player uses to pull off the “thoughts and decisions” that a story or environment should inspire.

    While story is great and an important aspect to a quality game, it’s merely the context and meaning for the challenge. A great game should still hold up if you tore away the graphics, story and music; if Half-Life 2 was all grey cubes, it would still be a fantastic game, because the game theory, puzzles, enemy set up and challenge are all solid and well thought out. Take a look at Left 4k Dead: it’s a game of Left 4 Dead in 4kb in an 8-bit top down view. It’s still fun, because it’s Left 4 Dead, a game with a solid game idea.

    What the industry is REALLY forgetting is the actual idea of a game. They think that a meaningful story and good game feel constitutes as a great game. A great game is an actual game; one with goals, objectives, challenge, formula, problem solving and an idea. People are throwing features into a game and not thinking about how it affects the core idea of the gameplay. Take a look at the Assassin’s Creed series: the core game idea of Assassin’s Creed is using your wit and skill to get past obstacles and enemies to assassinate targets, but because they’re throwing in features that sell well (like RPG elements and a 60-hour story), the game theory is diluted with things that completely throw off the challenge and idea of the game; I just want to use my skill and wit to assassinate targets in hard to get places, why are you making me do all this bullshit?

    If Cage really believes that story immerses players more than rewarding challenge, then I have to claim that he doesn’t analyze games enough himself. Story adds context; rewarding and challenging game play adds feeling. You feel like an Assassin in Assassin’s Creed WHEN YOU’RE ASSASSINATING PEOPLE, you don’t feel like an Assassin when you’re having battles with enemies that are in no way related to the core idea of the game (which is solving assassin problems).

    What’s the difference between a game of basketball and throwing a ball against a wall? One is pointless fun, and the other one is a game. While throwing a ball against the wall is a lot of fun, it gets stale because there is no challenge or substance to it. In a game of basketball, you still get to throw a ball around, except you actually have a reason to. Half-Life 2, Shadow of the Colossus, and Left 4 Dead are games, Heavy Rain and David Cage’s dream for the video game industry is throwing a ball against a wall.

    Don’t get me wrong, I loved Heavy Rain as a concept and an experiment. It was new, refreshing and something different that made me appreciate the power of story in video games. The problem here is though, story is merely a feature of a game, not a game idea. It ADDS something to a great game, but it is in no way the idea behind one. Story is context to a great game, in the same way music is atmosphere and a strong physics engine is feeling to a great game. An interactive story isn’t a game, it’s a feature. Strip away Heavy Rain of it’s story, graphics and music and it’s absolutely nothing.

    (Sorry for not being very concise. I wrote this up pretty quickly.)

  • Everything doesn’t need to be innovative ALL THE TIME. SOme innovation is good but so is refinement.
    Before you go off re-inventing something, how about getting the old stuff fixed?

    • L.A Noire takes everything that worked in Heavy Rain (in terms of in depth story telling) and turned it into an actual skill based problem solving game. He’s delusional.

      • LA Noire was a broken mess. There was no skill or problem solving involved – the game was permanently terrified that you might stop playing at any moment because the player might be a ‘non gamer’.

  • “Zey are so immature. Shoot the zis, shoots thes that. What zee indorstree needs is eh-how do you say.. Eh Quick-ah time events so as you can see ze boobeez noh?”

  • I’d have to say that I dont like point 3, it sounds a bit pretentious and games dont need that element. Look at Portal, covered nothing except solving puzzles and trying to get cake and it blew everything else away when it was released.

    Point 4 is a little bit short sighted, you need both of those elements in good form, complementing each other to make a good game.

    Point 5 doesnt have any context. Is he suggesting I get HR into my dev team or something?

    Point 6 I’d actually like to see less of. Hollywood’s pedigree has always been movies, and while movies are cool they dont translate well into games and ends up introducing gameplay elements (such as quicktime events) that are jimmied in to make a movie play like a game. Let Hollywood stick to their movies.

    Point 7 is interesting. I remember a time when censorship wasnt a huge deal, when the top games that came out weren’t subsequent installments of the adventures of a man with a gun. If the industry would return, if just a little bit, to making games that are fun and not just gritty then censorship wouldnt be a problem. For example, Playstation had Crash Bandicoot and Spyro, Playstation 2 had Jak and Daxter and Sly Raccoon, Playstation 3 has no mascot like characters to represent the brand except for ultraviolent ones like Kraatos.

    Point 9 is a hard point to back up and will instead only make it harder pitch a game. If people stop taking a punt on games then the market will become stale as people will only make the game type that will sell.

  • Regarding his point concerning reaching a wider audience: Didn’t Iwata do that speech several E3s ago? Mind you I’m not trying to do a “X did it first”. I’m just trying to expand on what I think is a fallacy. The whole casual category as we know it today is more or less due to waggle and motion based games Wii introduced whenever it was it launched. Is he purposely ignoring this fact for some reason? Could he have not at least gave credit where it’s due and then perhaps suggest the casual category can be more than what it is now?

    While I have issues with a few other points of his speech, I do recognise its merits and that the industry does need to explore and create protags that aren’t just guy with gun/sword. That said, it’s almost like he is entirely ignoring something that we already have and making it seem these sort of suggestions are a first for the industry…

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