David Cage – Roundtable interview (video and text)
As promised, this is the roundtable interview with David Cage that we could attend as gaming press. Still, there were 30-40 people and only 30 minutes available, so unfortunately – despite trying – I was unable to ask anything myself. Regardless, there are some interesting tidbits that you can either watch in the video or read in the transcript. Enjoy and, if you haven’t already, check his Beyond: Two Souls presentation we posted earlier.
In the videogames industry, you routinely lament that many games are recycling the same mechanics over and over again – like in some first person shooters, for example. It seems that not many games are following in your footsteps, so I’m wondering why – is it perhaps that other developers are lacking courage, or maybe just the means such as a more complex script and real actors to work with?
First of all, you don’t make games to be an example, that’s not the reason why I’m here. Still, it’s been interesting following other games in this trend, like The Walking Dead and others. What’s interesting to me is that all these games based on violence, people buy them because of the violence and once they’re done with the game, their conclusion is “Wow, fantastic story and all these emotions were amazing!”. We do things a bit differently, we start saying that it’s about the story, not about the violence, so come for the story and hopefully you’ll love it. But creating this kind of experience is very difficult and complex, everything is unique and contextual so there’s a real challenge here.
You know, when you make a game based on violence, you just polish this loop, but story based games don’t work like that. In storytelling, everything needs to be special. But I’m not against these games, there are some fun experiences there and I’m fine with that. All I’m saying is, it’s great if this is not 100% of the videogames out there and if we can offer them diversity, that’s great. Especially for gamers who are getting older and perhaps are looking for a different kind of experience. You know, I’m 44, I play videogames since I was 10 and I played so many violent games; now I want something else. My son is very happy with that, but we have different ages, different expectations and that’s fine.
David, we know that you’re one of the few in the industry who’s trying to find unexplored spaces for games. Still, we’ve heard from the Web that there will be some form of censorship in Beyond – why these changes? Do you think the European audience is different and somewhat more sensible than that of North America?
Thank you for asking this question, because this is wrong. The game is almost exactly the same in all territories and just very tiny details are different, such as a stick a bit shorter and a different camera shot (which, by the way, doesn’t have to do with sex), but nothing significant. All those stories about 10 seconds removed are wrong, I’m not even sure where it originated. As Director, the last thing I want is different people in different territories having different experiences. I can guarantee personally that the game is exactly the same except for these small, minor, unimportant things. Actually it happened with Heavy Rain too, for example in Japan it’s a little bit different because there are cultural differences and we need to take care of that, but as a Director I need to guarantee my creative integrity above anything and believe me, it’s not always easy. Sometimes we really need to fight really hard to say “I want this scene in the game, and I don’t want anyone to change it because this is what I want”, and in Beyond there are many scenes like this where people wanted to cut it, saying “You’ll never go through rating boards” and you know what? We struggled, we followed and we managed to get them in the game.
But censorship is certainly a problem in general. It’s very difficult to talk about sensitive things, even if you want to do it in a sensitive way. If you want to say something and touch difficult topics, you’d better be a film maker than a game maker because there’s a significant resistance you have to face to touch some sensitive subjects. On Beyond there was a struggle, not with Sony, but with some rating boards in a few territories, they still think that videogames are toys for kids, even if you say “I’m not doing Mario or Sonic, I’m doing a mature game for a mature audience so let me talk about these things, I won’t do that just for the sake of shocking, I’m an author and I want to tell my story”. And actually sometimes censorship can get in the way and just prevent you to do what you want to do as a writer.
It was the same problems with movies in the ’40-50s, when it was to have two characters kissing in a movie, even though it was fine to shoot and kill Indians, but two people kissing? “No, we can’t do this”. Or even having a black man kissing a white girl, it’s been an issue, so censorship happens in all media until society fully understands them. Now, movie directors can do pretty much whatever they want as long it’s consistent, reasonable, but they can talk about anything.
For games we’re simply not there yet, we’re still where movies were in the ’50s, unfortunately, but we fight to change this and Beyond is one step in this direction, you will play the game and hopefully you will see what I’m talking about, there are some very difficult moments with Jodie in this game and yeah, they were challenging to impose but we managed to do it.
Hi David, you talked about a new controlling technique with touch screen. I have to ask you, what about Oculus Rift for a future project? I can’t manage anything more immersive than playing a storytelling based game with the Oculus Rift. What do you think about this?
You know, I’m very interested in all the evolutions of the hardware, and all these new virtual reality things are very impressive. But you need to write something specifically for this device in order to make sense and yeah, it’s going to be interesting since you need to design the experience using this in a clever way. Why not in the future? We’re not doing this right now, but we watch that very carefully.
After a very intimate project, you’re going back to an environment you know pretty well – sci-fi. Do you think that videogames are more suitable for this kind of stories than other media?
Actually I get this question sometimes, like “Oh, this is a game about paranormal” and actually Beyond is not. I know that when you pitch a game with a ghost people tend to go like that, but actually it’s not the topic of the game. It’s really about the life of Jodie and, you know, being different and accepting who you are. Jodie has this link with the entity but I think we all have something that makes us feel different, we all wish we were a little bit different and sometimes we feel like we could live a different life and this is how Jodie feels. My hope is that the player is going to resonate with that and feel similarly.
[Question about combining open world games and narration, it’s misunderstood by Cage who however still gives an interesting answer about blockbuster vs indie games]
First of all, I think we see an interesting thing in the industry right now with huge games (GTA is one and there a couple others which you all know) which gets released regularly, perhaps every Christmas, and there’s a huge followup on these games and people love them – that’s great. But at the same time, they’re not really creative, they’re pretty much the same and they deliver the experience that people expect. On the other end of the spectrum we see indie games, with little time, money and resources which means they have no choice but to be very clever and creative and to invent new ways of playing. It’s a very interesting situation because when you think about Hollywood in the ’70s, there is this new trend called “New Hollywood”, where you had these big blockbusters in cinema but also these new directors making indie movies such as Brian De Palma, Scorsese, Coppola, Spielberg, George Lucas; they did things that maybe were even more interesting. That’s my hope for the future of games as well, with indie games taking more space because I think they might invent the future of games maybe more than blockbuster games.
When you’re a game maker, you have two options in your strategy. You can either give people what they expect, watching what were the games that sold well in the past three years and just try to replicate and that’s one option which I’m fine with, or you try to be creative, trying to give people what they don’t expect or rather what they expect but didn’t know they expected. There’s this very famous quote about Henry Ford who said “If we had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses”, since people didn’t know what a car was at that time. This is exactly how I feel.
What do you want to say to those gamers that criticize Quantic Dream’s games?
[laughs] You know, different people have different expectations, so my goal is not to create games that absolutely everybody will love, because some people don’t want to feel emotions, some people are not interested in story telling; all they want is to compete with other friends online and shoot at things, and I’m fine with that, I don’t try to convince these people to change their mind. I’m talking to people who have different expectations for their entertainment time, and I respect everybody – let me say that again loud and clear – I’m not against anything or anyone, I just create a certain type of games for people who respect this entertainment type and with Heavy Rain there were 3.5 millions of people who had this expectation about the game and it’s great, it’s a lot of people for one game that is a new franchise, a new concept etc.
With Beyond we’ll see what happens, we’ll see if we can do better or not. Different people, different expectations, different games: it’s all I’m fighting for, giving the choice for what they want but also to change a little bit the demographics of games, because sometimes it’s too focused on teenagers who want adrenaline, stress, competition. Fair enough, I’m trying to say, even to people who are not videogame fans, that this medium is interesting for everyone and has the potential to become a new form of expression, maybe one day it will become an art.
You talked about the possibility to connect several devices with your game – what about PlayStation Vita?
Well, we love the hardware, it’s the most powerful handheld gaming console out there. At the same time, the idea of Beyond Touch is to convince people who are not gamers by giving them something they can play on a device they use every day. Vita is mainly a gaming console, so it’s not about the device which is great in itself, but rather about what we wanted to achieve with Beyond Touch.