Francis talks to David Cage – the visionary mind behind Heavy Rain about his upcoming game ‘Beyond: Two Souls” starring Ellen Page and Willem Dafoe.
It was a very last minute meeting with David Cage, director of upcoming game Beyond: Two Souls – coming exclusive on Sony PlayStation whom also directed Fahrenheit and Heavy Rain. Speaking with David Cage, he gives great insight in creating a seamless story driven game and also inspirations on how he came about creating Beyond: Two Souls.
Francis: Beyond: Two Souls, is a similar game to other games that is story driven but the concept behind it is different to what other games have. So how did you come up with the concept behind Beyond: Two Souls?
David: Do you mean the story point of view or the concept point of view?
Francis: (amused laughter) Good point, I guess both are linked together in a way.
David: Haha. True. Well I started thinking about how I would tell a story with interactivity which I first started implementing in Fahrenheit in 2005. I was very intrigued that many people are not interested in video games just because there are always based on violent action loops. Most people out there are not interested in shooting, jumping around for hours. So I thought, what I can do, to get people more interested in interacting because I think it’s a very interesting medium and very interesting activity but not many enjoy it. So I thought. Okay, telling stories is the way to go because everyone love stories and having good stories should be appealing to everyone. There are ways to interact with the story and in a way you feel you are in the shoes of the main protagonist and actually make decisions that will change how the story works. That was the initial idea which was first implemented in Fahrenheit and used a lot more in Heavy Rain. Hopefully the concept is used A LOT more in Beyond: Two Souls.
Francis: Honestly, I had no idea about Heavy Rain or Beyond: Two Souls so I had to do a lot of digging around and research about them. What really is intriguing is that many story writers and directors write a story that starts off a clean slate. But for yourself you started off this idea from a personal experience. How did that came about? What made you base the game off a part of your life?
David: You know before Heavy Rain I was just trying to be inspired by movies, films, comics or games and give my own version of this or that. And Heavy Rain was a big reveal for me as a writer because I realised I could write about things that were more personal to me and things that happened to me. So Heavy Rain was about my experience as being a young father and this love relationship with your son. The game was asking this question to players, how far are you going to go to save someone you love.
For me this is a big reveal because I realised I could do it. I could make a game. And even bigger surprise actually is people enjoyed it. I felt I could never go back to writing about things I don’t know about. I need to write about things that I found moving and with hope other people find it moving and interesting. That was my take on for Beyond.
So the starting point for Beyond was a little different. It’s a sad moment in my life where I lost someone I felt really close to. I thought ok, what I can do with this, I mean is there a way I can tell a story about death and about what’s on the other side. But I didn’t want to write anything hysteric. I want to write a different story. Then it grew into something about life and different moments we lived. Happy and difficult moments, all these moments that make us who you are. That was the starting point of Beyond.
Francis: Going along on how you talk about life after death because Beyond: Two Souls is centred around that. So you had to do a lot of research with the characters such as Jodie Holmes with her spiritual gift with the spiritual entity Aiden. So what research did you have to do revolving around spirits and ghosts and making that into an interactive game?
David: Turning this idea into a game was the most interesting thing for me. I really liked when you have an idea for a story that lends itself to a gameplay. But if it is just about having a nice idea for a story then make a film but here we could see how it could be played. This initial idea was about having a girl with a ghost. The interesting fact was that you can control the girl and interact with the real world or switch in a deep moment and play as a ghost. You really play as a ghost, being invisible and fly around being able to go through walls. All this was very interesting as that was the starting point of intertwining the story and gameplay together.
Francis: Testing the game and seeing how players react to the story and the choices they made during the play test. There were different reactions to what each path the players took. Some believed it was linear and straight forward but it wasn’t. How did you decide to make the story and choices you choose to be subtle or easy to choose, that are noticeable in the environment for players to choose.
David: There were two aspects that were important in Beyond: Two Souls. The first one was to make sure the story wasn’t told through cut scenes but told directly to through player’s actions. As you play you do different things and these things have consequences that are logical and you keep playing. This is what tells the story but the story is told through gameplay, not through cut scenes. The second was about the fact that your actions would have consequences and I really wanted players to own this story, this journey. Make it really unique and at the same time I didn’t want to have choices to be obvious on screen to have big flashy words that would tell you do you want to do this, do you want to do that. I actually wanted everything to be implied and organic so when you play, you do things that you see logical and natural. But actually you make those choices and decisions that affect the story. This is what I liked about it but at first it is a little bit disorientating because when you first play it you will think it is linear and straight forward. There is no game over, I never fail but when I do fail in something, it leads me to another path in the story. That is what I wanted in the story; I wanted to create something organic and natural and a seamless experience.
Francis: The storyline of Beyond: Two Souls goes between Jodie Holmes life at the age of 8-23. What was the decision to create the game between those ages?
David: When I started writing the first scene, I was thinking what was it like when Jodie was a little kid when all this strange things happening around you which cannot be explained. Then being able to speak to this invisible friend, it could be really scary. Then I thought about what would have it been like as a teenager, like these things that happen to you could be really cool and appealing. You then end up telling different moments of someone’s life which appears appealing, which ends up creating the life of this girl, Jodie Holmes that you experience from when she was a little girl to the end of the game.
Francis: Creating the characters Jodie Holmes and the spirit Aiden, you cast Aiden to be a protective and a possessive entity. Did you research behind Ghosts and Spirits because these are the typical characteristics of ghosts?
David: Yeah we did, because these are your classical urban legends and myths that we are aware of. So we looked at ghosts to see how we are going to portray a ghost being able to float and go through walls. Everyone has their own perceived idea of what ghosts look like and people think they look like auras.
Francis: Through the game, you touch upon real life issues and themes that we experience through life. In the gaming industry, there is much controversy of certain themes being put into game and they are a hot topic. What other themes do you talk about in Beyond: Two Souls?
David: It is all about growing and learning, it is about accepting who we are. It is about the different moments in our life that makes us who we are; it is also about death, what is on the other side. There are a lot of different scenes that are really moving and hope it resonates emotionally with players. Different scenes talk about different moments in your life and many things you will experience in your life. Even if you don’t have a link to a spiritual entity.
There were questions I had asked David regarding about death and continuing through the game in how that was played out but was not answered but given a response that I have to play the game to find out. Leading up to the end of the interview I ended it asking David how he reacted to Beyond: Two Souls being chosen as part of a feature at the Tribeca Film Festival. These are his thoughts.
Francis: A few months back, Beyond: Two Souls was showcased at the Tribeca Film Festival to be chosen as a film. You must be so pleased that it was chosen in gaming industry that it was picked to be shown as a film.
David: Yes, it was the first official game in history to be chosen as a film and showed to people who were not gamers and just coming into the theatre not knowing what to expect. Some thought it was going to be about shooting and see a lot of violence. What we showed them was about Jodie being homeless and living on the streets and under the bridge. They were really surprised and fantastic to see that, seeing people’s perspective changing about what video games are. It was a fantastic experience.
Francis: I did watch that film footage as well and at first glance you don’t view it as a game, you view it more of a story. That’s where the fine lines between games and storytelling will come into.
David: What you don’t get from when you watch it is that it’s playable. Some people thought it was a big cutscene. No you can play and many things can happen in the scene, you play as Jodie second by second. Putting you in the shoes of someone living on the outside…You know I try not to deliver a message to mankind what this game is. But I felt that maybe it gives you an idea on what living outside means. Not having anywhere to go, not anything to eat and be ready to do anything to get something to eat. If this scene achieves it, this is a reward for me for making Beyond: Two Souls.
Francis: You are correct. After watching this, it connected to me and made me emotional on how it felt being homeless and prepared to do anything to survive. Though for yourself being at the film festival, you have a larger audience and to see the reactions from them, it is immense.
David: Oh yeah. It was great to see that. No one left the room. (amused laughter) But you know what, that’s cool. You put people in a theatre and show 45minutes of footage from a video game played. And people still found it compelling enough to stay and watch it. That is rewarding enough for me but when you play the scene you have a stronger connection when you make those decisions yourself.
A lot was said and told during this interview and gave a lot of insight on story writing from David Cage. Personally, sitting in a room with David you can tell that he is strongly passionate about storytelling and making you experience everything in his stories. After speaking with David Cage about Beyond: Two Souls and the imaginative mind behind it, it gave the game new meaning and perspective.
Beyond: Two Souls is available exclusively to the PlayStation 3 on 9th October. If you enjoy a great story driven game with strong characters and deep meaningful scenes, Beyond: Two Souls is a game that will push your emotions to the limit. Our review of the game is coming soon. Thanks to PlayStation Australia for the opportunity.