David Cage is (Singlehandedly) Saving The Gaming Industry

Heavy Rain was a surprise hit of 2010.  With its choose-your-own-adventure narrative and its dark, twisted ambiance, there’s no arguing it is one of the greatest stories ever told by a videogame.  In Heavy Rain, the player controls four characters trying to find a serial killer who drowns children in storm drains.  Messed up, I know.  As far as the premise goes, Heavy Rain is The Killing of videogames.  However, unlike The Killing, Heavy Rain is more psychological and brooding.  The plot takes its sweet time to build momentum, but it is swift in how it repays the player.

Image Courtesy of Sony Computer Entertainment

David Cage, the brilliant mind behind Heavy Rain, is really a pioneer.  His vision of an “Interactive Drama” has materialized into one of the most gripping games ever created.   Cage told Joystiq “the main goal of Heavy Rain was to trigger different types of emotions and not ones you usually find in videogames. So, it was not about stress or fear or tension or frustration, it was about empathy. It was about sadness, it was about depression, it was about making you feel uncomfortable”.  The emotional depth Cage added to Heavy Rain is part of the continuing complexity of gaming in general.  Videogames will eventually become a suitable medium for profound drama, like television and movies did after their creation.  In fact, it wasn’t until recently that television has become so complex and intricate.  In the same interview, Cage acknowledged that Heavy Rain is popular because of its innovation, saying he “always saw Heavy Rain much more like a format than just another game”.  Sure, there are humongous plot holes in Heavy Rain, but it does a great job at being innovative and fresh.

Heavy Rain won’t get a sequel.  There’s only a certain amount of children you can kidnap before it gets old.  Quantic Dream is only beginning to pursue Cage’s dream of the interactive drama, announcing Heavy Rain’s spiritual successor Beyond: Two Souls.  Beyond is still a dark and gritty game, but this time it focuses on what happens after death.  In a preview by Forbes, contributor Carol Pinchefsky pointed out that Quantic had ditched Heavy Rain’s “noir style mystery” for one that had “a supernatural element”.  The most interesting thing about the entire game is its cover.  Or, to clarify, that its cover features the lead actress’ name.  Inception and Juno star Ellen Page is bringing life to character Jodie Holmes.  In an interview with USA Today, Page said she “didn’t understand what it meant to be in a videogame,” but signed on because she “was so moved by this young female protagonist, who was strong and complex and interesting, and a story that was profound and subversive and emotional and completely epic in scale”.

L.A. Noire has used realistic face capture material to make realistic police interrogation sequences.  To my delight, Mass Effect 2 and Mass Effect 3 featured a character modeled after and voiced by Chuck’s Yvonne Strahovski.  Uncharted featured cutscenes where the actors were in motion capture (“mocap”) suits.  The character models in Heavy Rain were based off of real actors.  Beyond: Two Souls will take these techniques to a whole other level.  In fact, the developers shot the cutscenes of Beyond just like movies.  Later in her interview with USA Today, Ellen Paige said that “In addition to the body, they’re also doing the face and the voice at the same time, which leads to less discrepancy. At times in Heavy Rain, you notice the characters’ face and body movement would be slightly off and disconcerting, so the full performance capture–what they used in Avatar–would create a more realistic animation for the characters,”.

Heavy Rain was a huge advancement for gaming in general.  Other developers have become inspired by their work and tried to improve their titles too.  With the litany of changes and improvements to Quantic’s storytelling style, I have high hopes for gaming’s future.  Beyond: Two Souls will release in Q1 2013.