Kevin Ohannessian: How did the game come together?
David Cage: When Fahrenheit was finished we wanted to continue to explore this approach based on interactive storytelling and emotions, and we wanted to continue to explore how also to tell a story through your actions and not through cut scenes. With Heavy Rain we wanted to build on what worked well in Fahrenheit, and improve what didn’t really work. We spent a lot of time reading reviews, talking to gamers, going on forums, and we had our short list of things we wanted to change after the game was delivered. Basically, we wanted to have a very fun story from the first second to the very last, and we wanted real characters in real life situations, with no supernatural elements. We thought the media was now complex enough and detailed enough to tell very subtle things. Most of all, we wanted to write a better story, trigger more complex emotions.
When planning the game, did the story come first or did gameplay come first?
All the challenge of writing an experience like Heavy Rain is that you need to do both at the same time. And all the challenge is to play the story. Because in most games all you have are these mechanics where you shoot or you drive, but when you need the story to progress, the game goes into cut-scene mode. And this is what we wanted to avoid. We really wanted the player, through his actions, to tell the story and for these actions to have consequences. We tried to do our best in the writing to have an interesting and strong proposal for gameplay and for narrative in every single scene in the game. That was challenging because we don’t use mechanics, we don’t use patterns in the game. What you have to do and how you are going to do it is pretty much different in every scene.
Did you want to make a game like a film? Or did you want to make a game that was emotional, and that made it similar to a film?
The second one, definitely. I never thought I wanted to make a movie. I really wanted to create an emotional journey, where the player would really feel immersed and would feel emotionally involved in the experience. It’s about creating these characters, and sharing their lives, and making them behave in one way or another. A story allows you to create very emotional moments and as you control the characters and you feel empathy for them. When they feel really uneasy, or uncomfortable, or really depressed, to a certain extent, you can feel that as a player and you can share that with them. I wanted to trigger more complex emotions than what is usually found in games. Usually you find fear, or stress, or power, or frustration, but here I wanted to explore very different types of emotions and this story was the perfect way to do this.
Why did you decide to have four protagonists?
This is something I explored since my first game Omikron. I am very interested in schizophrenia in many ways, but I also believe games are a great way of seeing how it is to be someone else. In Omikron, your soul can be reincarnated into another body. In Fahrenheit, you end up controlling three characters, which was very interesting and very new. On Fahrenheit, someone told me, “People won’t be interested in play a lot of characters; they want to play the hero–they won’t feel empathy for them.” And I thought that was so wrong!
When you go to watch a movie you can feel empathy for any character on screen, whether it’s the hero, or the girlfriend of the hero, or the best friend, or whoever. TV series have grown through the last few years and made big use of narratives with several characters at the same time, whether you think of Lost or Desperate Housewives. It demonstrates that the audience can feel empathy with many characters and not just with one. So with Heavy Rain, the idea was to continue to explore this direction. I wanted to have four full stories that would be interlaced, that could collide at some point, that paths can cross.
You gave each a character a flaw. How did that come about?
It’s an homage to video games, in many ways. In most games when you can control several characters, they all have pros and cons. If you take fighting games for example, one character is very fast, but very weak, or another character would be very powerful, but very slow. I approached it in that way, but on the story side. Let’s try to justify that these characters have some very cool elements about who they are, but at the same time, lets try to create some strange things in their personalities, some weaknesses. Shelby, for example, suffers from asthma, or Madison is an insomniac, or Jayden is addicted to Triptocaine, and Ethan suffers from feelings of guilt. I think it helped to create very balanced characters, but also characters with some credibility because in real life no one is absolutely perfect and only has very strong points. We all have our weaknesses. And I think these weaknesses made them look and sound real.
What brought about the use of origami?
I really don’t have a clue. There are things where you know where they come from. And there are things that just come in the writing. Initially, I was interested in the Modus Operandi of the killer and I thought it would be very intriguing if the killer left a gift to his victim, like an excuse, “I’m sorry; I don’t hate you personally, but it just had to happen.” And then with the origami, I thought I would like to use them as the way to communicate between the killer and Ethan. Each origami is an animal, and each animal is related to a trial. The trial to cut your finger off is a lizard, an animal that can lose its tail and it grows again. It was a strange parallel, I thought. We tried to find these kind of similarities for every single trial and animal. Someone mentioned that rain and origami can be found in Blade Runner–maybe that’s where it comes from? Sometimes you make associations in your mind when you are writing and you don’t know where it comes from and maybe that was the inspiration.
And the use of rain? Obviously it’s the mechanism for Shaun to be in danger. Is there any other reason for the use of rain?
I like this kind of element, because it creates a very strong atmosphere, very quickly and very believably. You got rain in the streets, everything is shiny, your characters are wet, and they got drops on their face. If effects everything, from the light, to the textures, to the way people move. Also the umbrellas in the street, that was very interesting visually. But most of all, I really enjoyed the fact that rain was something that everybody can feel, that no one can stop, no one has any control over. That it would be a countdown. Any character, at any moment in the game, can look through the window and see that it’s raining. The players know that the countdown elapses, and that you have less time to save Shaun because of the rain. I thought that was a very interesting situation. We also wanted to treat it like a character with different moods. The rain can be very calm and very quiet, or it can be very violent and very dense.
Another interesting choice you made was to set the game in a nameless city. What was the decision behind that?
Not having your story in a specific place helps to make it more universal, but also to reflect the state of mind of everybody; they are all lost in one way or another. I am a big fan of M. Night Shyamalan’s movies like Unbreakable and Six Sense; I discovered they were shot in Philadelphia. I was just in the writing process and had no specific idea regarding the background–I knew I wanted a place that would say something. I didn’t want just a postcard in the back–make my story happen in New York, or in Miami. So we took a plane to Philadelphia, hired this movie scout that worked on the movie Philadelphia. We asked him, “Could you take us to some poor houses and meet poor people?” The movie scout was surprised by the request. I was inspired by Bowling for Columbine, the movie by Michael Moore. The social background he showed in this movie was a big shock to me, being European. I know the U.S. quite well, but I was always in L.A. or in New York. I never saw what Moore showed in his movie. I thought he was telling something very interesting about the United States–not the Hollywood side where everyone’s tanned and has big muscles and is very sexy–but how people actually live.
What we discovered in Philadelphia was beyond anything we could imagine. We saw despair. We saw violence. We saw fear. We saw poverty, in a way that no one in Europe could imagine takes place in the U.S. And we saw all these huge factories near people’s houses, these big chimneys with black smoke. You know where Ethan looks for his son near the school, big chimneys just behind it? This is something we saw in Philadelphia. And we met poor people. They kindly let us come into their house and take pictures. We didn’t want to just imagine what it looked liked, we wanted to take pictures–which is a very stupid thing to do, when you think about it. I remember one specific time where we went to this family, and the movie scout had arranged it a month before. But when we arrived, their ten-year-old daughter had died the day before in an accident. The family was there crying in the kitchen and we immediately said, “We’re going to go. Sorry.” And they said, “No. You came from France to take pictures of the house, please come in.” We didn’t want to say no, we couldn’t say no. And we were taking pictures of their house while they were crying about their daughter. This is something that stayed in my mind for all the years I spent writing, this moment of intense sadness, and depression, and death. I hope a little of this is in the final story.
When you created the game, who was your intended audience? Who were you making it for? Who do you think the game is appealing to?
You can only make games for gamers first. If you don’t reach gamers, usually you don’t have any chance to reach a wider audience. I always thought that gamers could appreciate the atmosphere, the story, the fact that your actions have consequences, discovering what would happen in the next scene, and all that stuff. I thought that there were enough very clever and sensible gamers out there who could understand the emotional part of the experience. If they could enjoy it, maybe then we could reach a wider audience of people who only play 3 or 4 games a year. They would be interested by the originality and the innovation in Heavy Rain, the emotional parts and the story. I always have in mind that many people played Fahrenheit with their wives. Men would hold the controller and actually playing and interacting, but the wife would be there and enjoy the experience, the same way they would watch a TV series together. I felt that it was possible to enjoy Heavy Rain the same way.
What would you like the legacy of Heavy Rain to be? How would you like to see it influence the game industry?
I always thought Heavy Rain would be important to this industry, one way or another. If it sells well, it will send a message that there is a market for adult experiences based on emotions; that it’s possible to make games that are not based on shooting, on driving, on jumping, on solving puzzles, or whatever. But on the other side, but if it is a major commercial failure, it will send the opposite message to the industry, “You know what? Continue to do games where you shoot, and you have swords and trolls and you kill zombies, because this is what the market wants.” I hope the legacy of Heavy Rain is to open doors to other people, that Heavy Rain is not the final result, it’s just the first step in this new direction. I am convinced there is more to do with interactivity than we currently do, and that video games could be an art, rather than a toy. This is my biggest hope, because some people may just miss it, because they aren’t sure and they read somewhere there are no guns and maybe this isn’t the game for them. I hope people give the game a chance.
For more on Heavy Rain, read the second interview with David Cage. Warning: contains spoiler-heavy questions on the story and direction of the game.