The developer studio Quantic Dream attracted a lot of attention with Indigo Prophecy back in 2005. In addition to the players, Sony also recognized the potential and secured the exclusive rights to their next project: Heavy Rain was a huge success. This was followed by Beyond: Two Souls and Detroit: Become Human, which also appeared exclusively on PlayStation. David Cage is the creative head of the developer studio, who drives his video game philosophy inexorably forward. He is undoubtedly one of the most interesting representatives of his profession and he has taken the time to answer our questions. The result is an exciting and very personal interview in which he talks about self-doubt, his fear of failure, about schizophrenic work processes – and also about games that can change the world a bit.
Allegations agains David Cage / Quantic Dream
As a maker of narrative gaming blockbusters, David Cage has received many positive reviews – however, there are numerous negative voices about the portrayal of the female characters in his games, which we do not want to suppress in this place. Kotaku has provided a comprehensive account of questionable game scenes in his article “David Cage Games Keep Treating Women Like Shit” in 2018, which we recommend as additional reading here: https://kotaku.com/david-cage-games-keep-treating-women-like-shit-1826550592
The studio Quantic Dream has also been confronted with accusations of toxic working conditions in the past. Venturebeat offers an overview of this: https://venturebeat.com/2020/02/27/how-quantic-dream-defended-itself-against-allegations-of-a-toxic-culture/
Wall Jump: When it comes to feelings and emotions in games or games for a mature audience, we often hear your name. Are you happy about it and do you see yourself as a pioneer?
David Cage: (laughs) No, I don’t see myself as a pioneer. You know, while working, you don’t have time to step back and say: “Ok, this is what I am. This is what I am doing”. You just do things from a day-to-day basis. I don’t like to look back, I rather look forward and see what I am trying to do. And when people think that what I am doing is innovative and interesting, then great, but I just do what I believe in – that’s truly what drives my work.
Wall Jump: “Emotion” is a flexible term. I feel adrenaline when I get haunted by zombies and I am getting angry when I don’t master the jump at the end of a level. I suppose this isn’t the kind of emotion you want to evoke in the first place, right?
David Cage: Well, you know, there are different kinds of emotions in videogames, for the past 20 years – especially in the past 10 years I guess – are really focused on certain types of emotions. It’s really about adrenaline, it’s about being frustrated, being angry, being scared – and that’s pretty much it. But when you think of all the other emotions that we feel in real life but also that we can feel in films or the theatre or in literature, you realize that games are really focused on a very tiny part of the emotions that they trigger – and why this is the case, well I don’t know… Maybe it’s linked to the fact that games want to deal with mechanics,… and they want you… they focus on violent actions a lot. Videogames are most of the time about killing someone, or destroying something – and fair enough, some people enjoy that. But I think there is a fantastic world to discover with deeper emotions and this is probably more challenging but it is much more interesting.
Wall Jump: Can we have an example of a game you felt an emotional connection with?
David Cage: I really enjoyed Papa & Yo and it’s one of my favourite games in the last few years and I think they did an amazing job. They didn´t only play with emotion – which is something of course very important – they started to play with something that very few people do. They played with meaning. Their experience was meaningful. It was something personally, it was something moving, it was something that gave food for thoughts and you ended up the game being a little bit different. And that’s what I love, I mean, this is what we should do, we should… okay, there are games that you can enjoy but they are toyed, they are entertaining and that’s fine, but I am more interested in games that can change the world, can change who you are. And that’s maybe me and I know there is really not a majority of people out there, but today not everybody wants to shoot…
I am more interested in games that can change the world, can change who you are.David Cage
Wall Jump: So when you speak of own experiences,… Heavy Rain grew from your experiences as a young father. What was the origin of Beyond: Two Souls?
David Cage: You know, the thing is that I discovered – a little bit on Indigo Prophecy, but really on Heavy Rain – the fact that, as a game writer, I could write about myself. And for me, that was a huge discovery. And it seems when you talk about it with novel writers or film makers “Yeah of course”, but in games it is very rare. And Heavy Rain was really about my experience about being a young father and this strange relationship that you have with your son and what love means. Beyond was based on another personal experience that was not that pleasant – I lost someone in my family who I was pretty close to and I really wanted to think about death in a different way – not only in a depressed way – but really try to figure out how we can talk about death and what’s on the other side…
Wall Jump: Every child can come up with a hero-rescues-princess story, but how do I have to imagine the story development of your projects? Do you start with a white paper and just start writing?
David Cage: Hmm, the thing is, it’s a strange experience writing these things because it’s a mix of trying to be creative and come up with a good story idea and, at the same time, it’s a real brain-thing where you also have to be organized. So you want to be crazy and creative but you want to be organized in the way you work, you have variables, you have conditions, you have consequences to deal with and there is a structure and you need to make sure that whatever you write is possible on the technical point. So it’s some kind of a schizophrenic work in some way because you need to divide yourself in two and usually, I start with a very simple idea. In the case of Beyond: Two Souls the starting point was really like: Ok, I am going to write something about a girl with a guardian angel. Very simple start and I can see how the gameplay mechanics work, how they switch from one to the other and I can see what kind of story I want to tell – so very simple starting point…
Wall Jump: …and the Quantic Dream team is always afraid when David Cage starts a simple story, because they know it turns into a huge project?
David Cage: (laughs) Well, they are not afraid anymore, because they know it is going to end up huge. But yeah, usually I start with that little story and start writing but what is interesting for me in the writing process, that it’s only by the end of the writing, by a year, that you know really what you had to say. And it is quite a subconscious process, because you think you write something but, at the end of the day, you read it and say – wait a minute, that is not what I wrote, I thought I was just making a game about a girl with a guardian angel and at the end of the day I realised I want to talk about growing, I want to talk about learning, about accepting who you are, also about how the different decisions in your life make you how you are. And it was also about moaning and death and what’s on the other side and… the script was probably more moving than I initially thought it would be… and cool. That’s a fascinating thing because it is kind of your inner voice speaking to you through writing.
David Cage with Ellen Page and Willem Dafoe on the set of Beyond: Two Souls
Wall Jump: Isn’t there a daily danger of a nervous breakdown when you are working on such a project for years?
David Cage: Oh my god, all the time. Every day. And not only through the writing period. You know, some people think that I am very sure of what I am doing and I have actually no doubts, which is definitely not the case, I have doubts every day. And I question what we are doing and how we are doing it every single minute. Because we don’t have many references for what we are doing – we have created a genre. So we cannot refer to this game or this game like “they did it that way”. So we are pretty much in isolation and trying to figure out what the best choices are.
I have doubts every day. And I question what we are doing and how we are doing it every single minute.David Cage
Wall Jump: And the doubts stop after releasing the game?
David Cage: No, the doubts continue. Usually, the end of a project is a very depressing period. It was the case with Heavy Rain and it was the same with Beyond too, because, in a way, it’s some kind of a baby – but it is also like you never know what people will say about your baby. You would be so disappointed and so sad if people just didn’t like this.
Wall Jump: Well, let me quote two lines: “Indigo Prophecy is an artistic synthesis and the most important game of our time.” – “Heavy Rain is an involving experience that no one has ever created before and that will remain in video gamers’ hearts forever”.
David Cage: (laughs) Yeah, these are very, very nice quotes and I wished that was, what everybody wrote – but it was not the case for Heavy Rain. Some people loved it and we are really proud it sold so well. And there are still people today buying the game, coming to me and saying ”Oh, well I just played it last week“ – usually they come and say: “Oh, well I played it with my wife or my girlfriend and we enjoyed the game, this is the only game we’ve ever played together” – this is really the kind of stories that I love, because…
In Quantic Dream games the players are confronted with dilemmas and have to make decisions that will have an impact on the story
Wall Jump: …Indigo Prophecy, Heavy Rain and Beyond: Two Souls are actually kind of multiplayer games in way…
David Cage: …yeah, right! Because we create experiences that can be shared including people who don’t like videogames in general. And I am really proud of that.
Wall Jump: Normand Corbeil passed away in 2013 – and of course much too early in general. You have been working with him for a long time and you’ve always seemed to understand each other blindly…
David Cage: …we started working with Normand on Indigo Prophecy,… so we started to work together on this game and he did an amazing job and we knew that Heavy Rain also has to be with Normand and he did again an amazing job. He was incredibly nice, easy to work with, incredibly talented, a very moving guy and, when we started working on Beyond,… it had to be with Normand, who else? So we started working together and he wrote a couple of tracks… and then he gave us a call one day, saying: “Leaving the doctor now and he said… I may not be there in the next three or four months. So I am sorry, I won’t be able to…” So, it was of course a huge shock and we were incredibly sad. And we called him many times to see how it was going and… he thought it would be better at some point, but… – well I remember the last phone call we had together, and he said “it’s really funny, it’s a strange situation working on a game about death.” And some days later he passed away.
Wall Jump: Can you actually hear some of his tracks in Beyond: Two Souls?
David Cage: We have not implemented the tracks because we needed the entire soundtrack to be consistent. So he wrote some great songs, but they are not in the game. He was an amazing guy. And we all were really sad and… we wrote a line for him in the game.
Wall Jump: Thank you very much for taking your time!
David Cage: My pleasure – there were very interesting questions by the way.
David De Gruttola, known by his pseudonym David Cage, is a French video game designer and founder / writer / director at Quantic Dream. Over the past 20 years, he has written and directed a range of emotional and innovative games like Indigo Prophecy, Heavy Rain, Beyond: Two Souls and Detroit: Become Human.
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