"Look at Call Of Duty. How many copies does it sell every year? I'm fine with that. It's cool. I'm just saying that I'm not happy with an industry that is entirely limited to experiences where all you are doing is shooting. That's my problem. There is much more we can do with interactivity than just killing people."
David Cage has just sold two million copies of one of his games for the first time in his career. Heavy Rain has won him and his colleagues at Quantic Dream numerous weighty accolades, including three coveted BAFTA Video Game Awards. And Cage's controversial GDC session - in which he called out swathes of games developers for creating titles "for teenagers" - stole the show in San Francisco last month.
But satisfaction doesn't come half as easily to Cage as restlessness and wild ambition. He's still gnashing his teeth at what he calls the "frustrating conservatism" shared by the video games industry and its most vocal consumers - a trend he feels Quantic has striven to challenge with each of its titles, including 2005's supernatural thriller Fahrenheit and 1999's futuristic adventure Nomad Soul.
His opinion that video games creators are restricted by a depressingly limited template of ideas hasn't been quietened by Heavy Rain's runaway success - but rather vindicated and inspired.
"Would you go and see a movie which just shows shooting for 90 minutes?" the French game director asks CVG. "That appeals very much to my son, who is 10 years old. He wants to explore the world, but also fears it. Being in a video game where he can jump very far, have cool guns and shoot at people without getting hurt is something he feels very good about. It gives him exaggerated confidence, control. But as an adult, it doesn't work. When you think of non-gamers, very few people have an interest in that."
It would be all-too-easy to tie Cage's nationality into his noisy clamouring for revolution - it's in the blood, after all. But speak to him for five minutes about his lofty career goals, and it becomes clear that the 41-year-old's mission to personally improve emotional relevancy and sophisticated storytelling in video games seems to have far more to do with adoration for the medium - alongside, to be frank, individual legacy - than a mere penchant for upsetting the apple cart.
His love for gaming is aptly manifested in some inspired, respectful choices when we ask which have been his favourite titles of the last ten years, including Ico and Flower. ("Ueda told Ico's story almost without any dialogue. I couldn't have done that. It's very emotional. I thought he did a fantastic job.")
Furthermore, Cage shows himself to be intensely self-aware, realising that his forthright opinions on the games industry have probably won him more enemies than friends - particularly in that orthodoxy-come-lynching-ground, the angry forum thread. He takes it on the chin, but baulks at accusations of pretentiousness and arrogance.
"If what I was saying was totally agreed by everybody, then my life would be very boring," he says smirking, in a fleeting moment of bravado - before his smile transforms into nasal-voiced agitation.
"Look, I'm not a programmer, I'm not a graphic artist - I come from an outside world. I approach video games the same way I approach theatre, filmmaking, poetry or painting. I wish more people would take that point of view. It would help the industry to move on. I don't just say these things to annoy, or to try and sound cleverer than anyone else."
"These things" include doubts about the future potential of L.A Noire's technology and the bold claim that Quantic is "creating a genre" - both recent headline spinners which Cage's detractors have gleefully utilised to fuel suggestions of catty, self-serving egotism.
But the printed word perhaps doesn't do his fiery passion justice; when he offers his views on both subjects, Cage's eyes do not leave ours until he's finished talking, his hand chopping downwards through the air with diminishing constraint as his intensity builds. You get the impression that this isn't a man foolishly parading pomposity, nor deploying calculated rancour; it's someone genuinely angered by the boundaries such a young medium has already entrenched itself in, and the bunker mentality of its greatest fans.
"It's incredible how people can become really angry and aggressive just because you tell them we can do more than first-person shooters," he explains. "All I'm saying is 'Look, we can create different types of games working for a different type of audience.' I don't get why some people think that's so wrong."
Despite his self-appointed assignment to rip up the run-and-gun template, Cage knows that without expanding Quantic's audience even further, he's never going to be able to win over the naysayers or the nostalgia freaks - and, therefore, make any kind of real impact on the video game development hive-mind. But having pledged the exclusivity of his next two projects to Sony, will this sales growth be possible without dumbing down; without compromising to a few Call Of Duty clichés?
Cage hints that Quantic is aware of Heavy Rain's limitations, and is working to eradicate barriers for its next title - without betraying its revolutionary end-game.
"Heavy Rain didn't reach all of the audience we could have," he admits. "Maybe that was because some people were reluctant to trust us regarding the QTE system. They thought: 'Oh my God, this is Dragon's Lair.' In fact, that's absolutely wrong and people who played through know that. At the same time, the theme of the game sounded quite cerebral: 'How far will you go to save someone you love?' It's not a question you ask hardcore gamers. We have to expand our audience but also reinforce what we believe in. We can do much more with this format of interactive drama."
His confidence is fortified by Sony, whom he heaps almost as much praise upon as he does Heavy Rain's previously unknown acting cast. The platform holder has won his loyalty, he explains; not only for taking a "big risk" with huge dedicated marketing last year, but also being "incredibly fair" in response to Cage's wish never to make another Heavy Rain. (He says he's "closed the book" on Ethan's story and that Quantic is "fortunate enough to be in a position where we don't have to make a sequel just to make some money".)
But it's not just those with whom Quantic has a commercial relationship that have bolstered Cage's belief in his market-changing aspirations.
"My biggest surprise on Heavy Rain was the recognition from big names in the industry, very respected people," he reveals. "Peter Molyneux was one of them, saying publicly that he really enjoyed it. Warren Spector was another. [God Of War director] Stig Asmussen sent me an e-mail saying that he loved the game. I mean: 'Oh my God', you know? I received an award voted for by the best game designers in Japan, which was a huge honour.
He adds: "I think there is a slight disconnection between how the industry's most talented people see the future and maybe what some 'pure, hardcore' gamers think. Perhaps I say it loudest, but many big developers want this industry to change, to be more diverse - and there are more and more of them speaking out. That's a good thing."
I suggest that Cage is perhaps being too dismissive of the gradual, piecemeal innovation already being worked into the genre staples he so often rallies against. "Sometimes I'm frustrated because I don't think it goes fast enough," he replies. "When you go to E3 and walk on the show floor, you see all these games and feel this noise: 'Boom, boom, boom.' That's not narrative you're hearing. You think: 'Okay, still a long way to go.'"
It's an inarguable riposte. So can we expect to see a more thoughtful title from Quantic at E3 2011 in June - perhaps a little emotion in amongst all the mayhem?
"This is in discussion right now with Sony," he reveals. "We'll see. I can't really answer anything on release dates. We are in production right now, so nothing will be coming out this year for sure."
All Cage can tell us is that the duo of projects Quantic is currently cultivating are "very different" both to Heavy Rain and to each other, with a "different tone and different gameplay, but still based on concepts of narrative, storytelling and emotions".
They will both be published by Sony, he says - but will this first-party association see Quantic dabbling with motion controls once again, as we saw with the Move edition of Heavy Rain?
"That was a very interesting experience," says Cage. "We learned a lot doing it. We need some time to think about it and see how we can crate even more exciting experiences. Maybe there will be more devices in the near future in the same direction but which work slightly differently that will open new ground. I can clearly see how DualShock is the end of an era and we need to move to something else as an industry. I don't know if Kinect or Move are the ultimate answer. It's up to console manufacturers to bring [a new device]. But something will happen, hopefully soon."
Regardless of the form Quantic's new titles take, or how their control interfaces build on Heavy Rain's oft-misjudged gameplay mechanic, Cage - as ever - is looking to do more than merely release well-received software. He wants to turn the heads of his peers and re-programme their intent; to inspire others to at least reach for some kind of poignancy via interactivity, no matter the clumsy plot or awkward dialogue they may suffer along the way.
If he fails, Cage admits that he may exit the video games industry; the memorable libertine who valiantly tried to tackle narrow-mindedness in what should be the world's most creatively vibrant trade. But, for now, his objective remains unimpaired: to drop grenades of gravitas into gaming's gun-heavy artillery and, no doubt, to earn lasting status as a masterful trailblazer.
Worryingly for those left uneasy by thoughts of this brave new world, Cage is already making headway.
"Many people I meet in studios today tell me they want more emotion and better storytelling in their software," he says. "They're bored of creating the same games again and again. These guys have been following the same basic rules since they were in their 20s, but as they get older they have discovered a will to do something different, to express something deeper.
"They have realised that it isn't the job of true creators to follow 'what the market wants.' In fact, it is our job to tell the market: 'You don't know you want this. But just wait until you try it.'"
This article first appeared on Computer And Video Games on 07 April 2011 9:00 AM
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- Aliens: Colonial Marines
- BioShock Infinite
- Dead Space 3
- Gears of War: Judgment
- God of War: Ascension
- Grand Theft Auto V
- Metal Gear: Revengeance
- The Last of Us
- Tomb Raider
- Watch Dogs