As early signs indicated, Quantic Dream’s David Cage took center stage at a GDC panel last week not only to discuss what drives emotion in games but to show such a thing in action. Instead of merely talking his head off, I wouldn’t mind such a thing as I find Cage to be a fascinating game designer, Cage wowed the GDC audience and gamers in general thanks to the power that is the interweb with “Kara”, a short film showcasing the advances in motion capture and graphics fidelity Quantic Dream has made since releasing Heavy Rain in 2010.
With Kara wowing quite a few folks and even the most jaded of gamers I began to wonder if we’re finally on the verge of seeing a renaissance in which game developers put the scope of action on the back burner in favor of getting all emotional, perhaps finally giving us more experiences in which a video game will make us cry.
For those loyal readers who actually read my rubbish, you know that I’m the type of gamer who does like blockbuster games like Killzone 3 but I also want games to evolve and actually mature instead of being stuck on one level. I wouldn’t say that the current state of video games is akin to a caveman and needs to evolve, but the industry seems to be far from reaching a high brain power level which constantly wows us with what it accomplishes.
What David Cage and Quantic Dream decided to reveal to the public last week may only be an early indication of what we can expect in the future seeing as how the studio has already made advancements which the game engine, which was according to Cage is already on its third iteration. So in a sense Kara, which was running in real-time on PS3 hardware, wasn’t a complete bullshot riddled video of what Quantic Dream hopes to achieve but what they were able to achieve last year with their new full performance capture tech and development pipeline.
The thing that struck me as interesting, aside from the concept and visuals of Kara being breathtaking is that Quantic Dream and David Cage opted to show Kara at GDC. Sony, who seems to be one step away from buying Quantic Dream, may have given the notion to Quantic Dream to premiere Kara at the event instead of the mega show that is E3. I would imagine that seeing Kara as opposed to Quantic Dream’s next core project at E3 would’ve been a major highlight for Sony and likely received a lot of buzz for the company along with whatever other highlights they may have such as God of War or the long rumored PlayStation fighting game. But instead we received Kara at GDC – which as Casey and I experienced last week is an event that’s almost exclusively catered to developers and those within the development industry. So will the exposure Kara had at GDC and the concepts David Cage is implementing and pushing rub off on those who were in attendance, perhaps making developers want to tell emotional tales?
I’ve somewhat touched on the subject before but looking back at things it’s surprising that no one has ever really attempted to tell an adult emotional video game since Heavy Rain released. Outside of L.A. Noire and maybe a few indie games we’re still stuck in a generation in which gamers and game developers to an extent are entirely focused on getting a fast thrill in a game that may last anywhere between eight and fourteen hours. But with Cage’s GDC presentation being a big deal and the event being almost filled to capacity I’m wondering if game developers are finally going to take a queue from Cage and Quantic Dream and deliver more emotional games.
As someone who enjoys the work of Quantic Dream and wants to see games push emotion it was amazing to hear Cage speak at GDC, not only in expressing his thoughts on the different types of motion capture, but how Quantic Dream is evolving as a company on the technical side of things. What struck me the most interesting during Cage’s speech were a few comments that came towards the end in which Cage spoke about the next generation of consoles. We all know the next-gen is coming sooner rather than later but Cage’s comments consisted of his desire or at least hope that developers won’t be as focused on pushing polygons and other technical aspects but will instead focus on the stories games tell in key aspects such as mature storytelling and using the massive budgets games have to acquire key writers and actors to help tell those stories.
In the past the video game industry has had major talent, Hollywood or otherwise, pitch in creatively but it has never really felt like it came from an earnest source and instead felt like it was a marketing tool to sell a few more units. I wouldn’t say that developers in the future should just focus on getting high profile actors to appear in their games, but as Quantic Dream showed with Kara we’re fast approaching a point that even now on current gen hardware (at least on the PS3) that video games are capable of delivering performance capture techniques that are comparable to what’s presented to Avatar and Tintin, two performance capture driven films Cage said were the best of what they do. So having this high level of fidelity of visuals and performance capture as seen in Kara may be enticing to more actors since they won’t be “restricted” in their acting and can deliver the performances they want, which in turn can mean better games and experiences for gamers.
Of course the status of what games and experiences we deliver in games is up to developers and that leads me to my main question: will developers finally step up to the plate now that Cage has once again taken a huge risk, albeit it’s backed by Sony, with Kara? The one thing that struck me as interesting during my inaugural visit at GDC is that it’s almost a no-frills type of event. Sure, some people go out on pub crawls at night and have a good time but when it comes to what occurs during the day the show is almost all about business and how game devs can learn from one another. I wasn’t able to check the background of every single person who attended David Cage’s GDC presentation, but aside from folks from Blizzard showing up to hear what Cage had to say and show I can only hope that a few other big devs or even talented indie folks took the time out to see what Cage was doing and maybe, just maybe in the process ended up learning a thing or two.
One point that Cage almost consistently expressed during his GDC panel was that Quantic Dream wasn’t trying or focused on doing the best possible performance capture techniques by any means necessary. I think any game developer would love to have the performance capture system used by WETA Digital as seen in Avatar and Tintin but it’s not a costly venture for a game developer – at least for now. So while what Quantic Dream accomplished with Kara may be a mixture of sheer talent and good decision making on the budget front, it may still be possible for other developers to accomplish such a thing or even surpass Quantic Dream down the road; an event that I think may please David Cage if it still means that emotional experiences in games will be pushed in favor of continued brainless activities.
Game developers are almost always influenced or inspired by one another so inside my gamer heart I hope that some of the aspects David Cage is pushing eventually rubs off on people in one way or another. I think there’ll always be a place for video games that are pure fun, whether it’s over-the-top titles like Lollipop Chainsaw or things that are entirely dumb yet fun like. But at some point there needs to be a balance of sorts just like there is in movies or other mediums between things that allow us to turn our brains off and things that in turn may make us cry or deeply reflect while playing or upon completing it. I don’t know if Sony and Quantic Dream are simply ahead of the curve since I sadly can count the amount of wholly original games on one hand and most of them are from Quantic Dream, a fact which does depress me to a degree but at least it’s better than nothing.