Quantic Dream is currently in the middle of releasing the last decade of its PlayStation exclusive titles for PC users. Heavy Rain, Beyond: Two Souls, and Detroit: Become Human, for many, have raised the bar for narrative expectations in gaming, so to see the trio of AAA titles reaching a wider audience is nothing less than exciting.
OnlySP recently had the chance to speak with Quantic Dream studio head David Cage about the ports and his history with developing industry-leading narrative games. The studio’s PlayStation-centered foundation may have shifted, but Cage seems just as enthusiastic about the future as ever.
OnlySP: How long had you been considering the possibility of bringing Heavy Rain, Beyond: Two Souls, and Detroit to PC? Were there any contractual difficulties in the process of doing so?
Cage: We were thinking about the future of the company for quite some time, but we really decided in the last year of Detroit that the release of the game would be the right time to redefine where we wanted to go with the studio.
We wanted to diversify the studio, explore new ideas and different platforms. We also wanted to reach all players in the world no matter what platform they own.
We also felt that the landscape would change in the coming years with the emergence of new platforms, 5G and Cloud Play, that may well revolutionize the way we develop and market games.
We also had this idea of becoming an “ethic” publisher, helping other developers to create original and ambitious concepts and to make them available to a large audience worldwide.
Many publishers and investors have shown an interest in our studio over the years, but we always turned them down because we were in this exclusive relationship with Sony. We mentioned to some people that we were considering different options for the future, and things went pretty fast.
We had a very good fit with Netease, one that combined an alignment of vision and a synergy of strategy. We particularly appreciated that, although they were a massive company (fifth largest game publisher in the world) they were also very passionate people, who truly knew what they were talking about.
We always had a good relationship with Sony, so we could have an open discussion with them, and I am glad we could find a way to make our games available to all PC gamers.
OnlySP: Can you talk about the excitement levels when Quantic Dream announced it was going multi-platform? What’s it like knowing an entirely new audience will now have access to the team’s games?
Cage: This is very exciting! So many times we heard people say “I love your games, but I can only watch them on video because I don’t have a console.” Now anyone who owns a PC will be able to experience our games.
It is an entirely new market for us, although we started as a cross-platform developer (our first game Omikron: The Nomad Soul was released on PC and Dreamcast, and Fahrenheit: Indigo Prophecy was also cross-platform).
The reaction from the PC community has been tremendous. It is like expanding our family. We will, of course, remain a part of the PlayStation family, but we will now also make our games available to everyone, no matter their platform.
OnlySP: Moving forward to future projects and a wider release, what is Quantic Dream looking to change about its development formula, if anything?
Cage: Until now, we have focused on just one platform, optimizing our engines for one specific hardware and controller. Now we will have to do the same job on all platforms with the same ambition of quality. As you may know, Quantic Dream has developed its own proprietary tech for 22 years, which allowed us to focus on specific features (high quality rendering, sense of cinematography, virtual actors, complex branching narrative, etc.). We have a permanent team of 60 engineers working on our own tech, and we plan to reinforce this team to expand our R&D on all platforms.
The studio is also organized differently now, with more than one project in development at a time.
What will not change is our passion, the ambition we have to create games that are different, and the respect we have for those who play them.
OnlySP: Quantic Dream games are known for dealing with big themes: family love, death and what lies beyond, the nature of humanity. What does the studio find so compelling about discussing such topics when many games prefer to focus on war and conflict?
Cage: That’s indeed a very interesting question… Which I could turn back on you: why focus on violence when you could talk about family, love, death, and humanity?
Violence is only one of many possible things you can talk about through interactivity. I also think it is massively overrepresented in the industry, to the point where some people think if a game is not violent, then it is not really a game. I keep saying that I disagree with this vision of interactivity. The medium has the potential to be so much more. Looking beyond violence is definitely more challenging, because we need to find new creative answers and change some mindsets, but I believe that this is part of the future of video games.
OnlySP: The Navajo chapter was an interesting part of Beyond: Two Souls in that it was almost totally capable of standing on its own. Has the team ever considered working on projects that are of that sort of scale, or is the 10-hour narrative adventure baked into Quantic Dream’s DNA?
Cage: The scene featuring Navajo characters is something I really enjoyed writing. It was inspired by a trip to Arizona where I almost died in a car accident in the middle of the desert.
For whatever reason, when I was writing this game about death, that moment came back to me and I remembered vividly the Navajo farms I saw there.
I did a lot of research, talked to some Navajo people, and imagined this family we discover in the game. What pleased me most is that I received messages from some Navajo people who played the game, and who told me they felt the representation was respectful to their people.
The structure of Beyond was definitely very unusual, playing with chronology and having a diversity of length and tones across the game. This is something I really enjoyed doing, it gave me a real sense of freedom in the writing rather than having the constraint of a pre-established format. I think it gave a distinctive tone to the experience.
Back to your question, we would consider any type of format in the future, as long as it makes sense from a creative point of view and for our players. I would really like to work on shorter experiences to experiment with new ideas, but in reality, it remains to be seen whether there is a market for such experiences. Many titles suffered trying to experiment with shorter formats, so I would say that this is something we’ll keep an eye on, but we will need to find an experience that is perfectly suited before experimenting with a shorter format.
OnlySP: What has it been like revisiting Heavy Rain and Beyond to bring them to PC after all this time?
Cage: It’s been a very interesting journey for the studio to go back to these games and consider them from a different angle.
When you’ve just finished a game, you’re so still emotionally invested that you lack the distance to appraise it. I still cannot say I am very objective, but I felt that the emotional journey of both games remained intact, which was the most important thing for me.
We feared that the transition from the PlayStation controller to mouse and keyboard would be problematic, but actually the controls were adapted quite smoothly, while staying faithful to our philosophy of mimicry and mimesis.
It was also great to see these games running in 60fps and 4k, which makes the experiences more fluid and enjoyable.
OnlySP: Many may assume porting games can be done with just the flip of a switch. What unexpected difficulties has the team faced when porting these games to PC?
Cage: Actually, our games were optimized to the bone for PlayStation, with a very specific architecture to be as close as possible to the hardware. That’s one of the good things about being on a single platform, you can really tailor your engine to be optimal… but the bad side is that adapting to other platforms becomes more challenging.
This is why we had to work on new engines dedicated to the PC in order to have optimal performances on this platform. Heavy Rain/Beyond and Detroit: Become Human will use different engines: for Detroit, we will have our latest generation PC engine running under OpenGL Vulkan, which will be our platform for all future projects.
OnlySP: Quantic Dream is reportedly moving into helping smaller teams to publish their games; what sort of projects are you looking for in particular?
Cage: We are interested in any project in any genre (not necessarily narrative), as long as it is original and has real ambition regarding quality.
Our philosophy is to offer “ethical” deals: our contracts are short and clear, we offer fair terms and revenue sharing models, and we don’t take ownership of the IP. As an experienced developer working for 20 years on AAA titles, we can provide industrial support if needed, including Tech, Motion Capture, outsourcing expertise, sound facilities and of course our expertise in casting/directing/filming/narrative, actually whatever the developers need to make their game shine.
We want to find the next talents of this industry, and give them an opportunity to show meet a large audience while being creatively ambitious. We totally appreciate the challenges ahead of us, and we don’t put too much pressure on our shoulders: we are not going to rush or sign millions of projects just to make our business plan. We will work on few projects that we love with people we respect, and do everything we can to publish games we can be proud of.
OnlySP: Actors like Willem Dafoe and Ellen Page were featured prominently in Beyond. Has the team ever discussed including more Hollywood talent in Quantic Dream games? Or, at the least, is there any dream actor Quantic Dream has ever wanted to include in one of its titles?
Cage: We never considered actors with big names as an asset in themselves for our games. Actually, we sometimes felt it was even the opposite: having famous actors could be a handicap for a title because some press and gamers will think that they are just marketing assets.
We worked with people like Ellen Page and Willem Dafoe, but also Jesse Williams or Clancy Brown because we believe they are wonderful talents who bring something absolutely unique to our games. I think that Jodie Holmes would be a very different character without the wonderful performance of Ellen Page.
We will certainly continue to work with Hollywood talents in the future because they significantly help us to create emotional experiences and believable characters.
There are many actors we dream of working with for future projects, whether they are famous or not. I think that the duet between Clancy Brown and Bryan Dechart is the type of partnership we love: the talent of an experienced actor that everybody knows and loves, combined with a fresh face that we introduce to a new audience. For me, that’s the ideal combination. I am really proud of the attention that Bryan Dechart got through his performance in Detroit. It really shows that actors can now also show their talents in video games and receive acclaim for that.
OnlySP: Is there anything else you’d like to add about Quantic Dream, PC ports, or the studios now more open future?
Cage: I would like to thank all our fans for being by our side for so many years. We have had an absolutely wonderful community ever since Omikron, but particularly so on Detroit: Become Human. It is amazing to see, whichever country we visit, people wearing android symbols or Connor’s jacket.
The personal feedback we receive every day from people who responded to the humanist message of the game, or were personally moved by particular scenes, is something we value more than anything.
We feel immensely grateful to our fans, and we can only promise them that we will keep creating games that are different, with the same passion and even more ambition, than ever before.