There were a number of great speeches made at DICE 2013 by some of the industry’s most talented developers; many of whom are dedicated to creating unique gaming experiences that challenge the typical “take this, shoot that” approach the industry seems so obsessed with. One such creator is David Cage, the founder of Heavy Rain developer Quantic Dream. We’ve already covered thatgamecompany’s Jenova Chen and his stance on art games, but David Cage’s speech covered another aspect of the gaming industry: storytelling. Thanks to an extensive Q&A courtesy of Wired’s Game Life, Cage got the opportunity to discuss why he hopes games learn to grow up, and what obstacles are currently in the way of achieving that dream.
During his speech, Cage discussed his affinity for home consoles and why they’re the superior platform for creating games with meaning. In the interview, he got the chance to take his thoughts one step further. “…I think the most sophisticated experiences remain on game consoles,” he said. “When you look at what’s available on mobile and tablets, there are some fantastic games, but at the same time they are much more casual games. They’re games where you have fun quickly and that’s fine, that’s great, they do a great job at that. But at the same time, there’s nothing meaningful.” Furthering his point, Cage added that, “Very few titles are really meaningful in the matter of experience. And I believe, that’s my totally subjective point of view, that it would be a step forward for the industry if we could make these people play our games on consoles, because it’s the most sophisticated platform, and we can create quite unique experiences for them.”
Cage goes on to explain that while he appreciates the casual gaming experience mobile platforms provide, it’s still a relatively new space. According to him, that unfamiliarity makes it difficult to create meaningful experiences similar to those the team can create on high-end home consoles. “First of all, we love the tech. We have so much to learn from it, and we still need to understand what it takes to have a realistic character. So for [us] to achieve this and to learn this we want to work on high-end systems. And the best hardware right now is the PlayStation. We also have an exclusivity deal with Sony that makes us work exclusively on PlayStation systems. But that’s really a choice, it’s not a constraint.”
He hopes for an industry that sees the value in taking a chance on unconventional game mechanics, a common viewpoint among visionaries within the community. To that end, Cage has a deep appreciation for the indie game scene. “Indie is for me the real lab where all these things can happen first, because they have less pressure — or, I would say, not the same pressure — as triple-A titles where a lot of money is put on the table and there’s a lot of pressure to get this money back,” he said. “So you have less creative freedom sometimes, and you prefer to give people what you know they want, rather than take the risk of something they don’t expect.” But Cage understands that giving the people what they want all the time won’t lead to innovation. “But at the same time, you know the famous quote from Henry Ford about the horse: If I had asked my customers what they wanted, they would have said a faster horse. No one would have said a car. This is exactly the position we’re in right now: Do we give people what they expect, faster horses? Or can we imagine what they want without knowing they want it? And indie development is definitely the right place for this sort of thing to happen first.”
One of the obstacles in creating an emotionally-driven experience that can reach a wide audience turns out to be an issue of practicality. When questioned on whether or not putting a console controller in people’s hands creates a certain anxiety for those only used to casual games, Cage admitted that, “controllers are still a major issue.” “We try to simplify the games but the controller itself is so impressive by itself, there are buttons all over the place and most people don’t even know how to hold it,” he continued. “For us it sounds so obvious, we were born with a Dual Shock in our hands. But that’s not the case for everyone. And it’s not a matter of being dumb or being clever, it’s just a matter of culture, and being used to it or not. And yeah, I definitely think that our industry needs to find answers, and there are different interesting experiments going on or products being released like Move, Kinect, so the industry is definitely aware that this is a very significant issue. But I still think we can go further, and we work at Quantic Dream towards finding different answers to that question.”
But what will happen if the industry refuses to mature? Cage appears far from dramatic in his response, dismissing the idea of any cataclysmic breakdown within the development process. “The world won’t collapse, and we’ll keep making games. And there will be some fantastic games coming,” he admits. “But they will be more of the same. They will be Call of Duty 200. And that’s fine, I mean, I guess that this is what most people expect out there — for nothing to change. The videogame industry is really weird, because it’s an industry that’s highly conservative. People see the technology evolving every month, but when we talk about concepts, what people really want is for things to remain the same. So I wouldn’t be surprised if nothing from what I described on stage ever happens.”
He likens the industry’s mindset to that of another form of media with intense fan loyalty. “Look at comics. Comics is a very interesting example of another industry that has a very active, hardcore fanbase and they can be very successful and they can sell their IPs to Hollywood and they can make a lot of money.” “But at the same time, comics don’t evolve much,” Cage said. “There’s some great stuff, but when you think of superheroes, that’s what they keep doing. And they’re very successful, and that’s great. And I think this is possible with games, that we could get more of the same, but that it’ll get better, and still have an intense fanbase, and still make people happy. But my personal wish is that we can in some way expand our market and reach out with more diverse content.”
For the full interview, including Cage’s approach to storytelling, design process, and his thoughts about collaborating with actors to create emotional connections with audiences, be sure to head over to Wired for the full Q&A.
I have to agree with most of what the developers spoke about during the DICE summit. I think this industry has a lot of room for growth in regards to storytelling and game mechanics. I have a hard time playing shooters, especially FPS’s because after a certain point, if you’ve played one, you’ve played them all. Unless there’s some aspect of innovation, there’s little to gain from running and gunning. I would love to live in a world where games aren’t afraid to put away the guns, address mature themes and connect to players on an emotional level just by telling great stories with memorable characters. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not adamantly opposed to violence; there’s certainly a place for violence in games. But I am adamantly in favor of games that keep me glued to my seat for more than the adrenaline rush of an intense action sequence; games that resonate with the player emotionally even after the credits roll and invoke meaningful conversations months, if not years after release.
But what are your thoughts on the subject? Should games take on the responsibility of being more than just cheap entertainment? (Please say yes.) How would you change game mechanics or storytelling in games to create a more meaningful experience? Share your ideas in the comments.