In Quantic Dream’s 2010 game Heavy Rain, the player controls four different characters involved with the hunt for a kidnapped child and the Origami Killer, who will murder him unless his father finds him in three days. Writer and director David Cage garnered attention for making a game that uses realistic graphics and acting performances that was more akin to an interactive film. This year, Sony is releasing Cage’s follow-up, Beyond: Two Souls. Beyond stars Ellen Page as Jodie Holmes, a young woman who seems to be psychically tied to a ghostlike entity name Aiden. Willem Dafoe also stars, as researcher Nathan Dawkins. The game follows Holmes’ life from a troubled little girl to a teen being trained for military purposes to a woman on the run from the government and seeking refuge among the homeless. We spoke with Cage about writing and filming Beyond and the creative advantages new tech gave him this time around.
Co.Create: Heavy Rain was focused on four lives, and now Beyond seems to be focused on Jodie.
David Cage: Actually, I’m not just focusing on Jodie. I’m focusing on Jodie and Aiden. Aiden, this entity, is really a character with his own personality, his own desires, and his own goals. It’s the story of Jodie and Aiden, and their relationship and how it’s going to evolve through time. What was interesting to me was to tell the story of one person through several years and actually realize that when you control Jodie when she is 8, she is almost a different character than when she a teenager or an adult. She doesn’t move the same way, she doesn’t speak the same way, and you don’t have access to the same actions. It’s like having more than four characters. We have 40 different versions of Jodie in the game.
How did it affect the process, working with someone like Ellen.
When I was writing the script, I really wrote it with Ellen’s face in mind. I wrote the full thing, and when I realized I wrote for Ellen Page but didn’t have Ellen Page, I was in trouble. The first thing we did was ask her—you never know. We sent her the script and then talked to her. We talked a lot about the character and after our conversation, her conclusion was, "I really want to do this because I feel really close to this character. There are many things in her life that reminds me of things that happen to me." When we met again and we rehearsed, we tried to find the right voice for her at different ages based not only on her actual age, but also on her mental status at each moment of her life. She plays the role of Jodie from the age of 14 to the age of 23.
From all the different demos and trailers, it’s clear that she goes on quite a journey: What she goes through as a kid, then military training, then traveling by herself, or her time in that homeless community. That’s a broader scope than we usually see for a game character.
It was important for me to show that. You can’t pretend to tell the life of someone and just have the same place, the same look, and the same character all the time. So I made this diversity to reflect exactly what a life is. It’s really funny because we just showed these military scenes in Somalia, and people come to me and ask, "Did you redesign the game?" No I didn’t. It was part of the game from day one. It says something positive about the game, because things are very different in the game from what we showed at Tribeca, to what we showed here. But it says something about the game industry when you usually have one character that can do a certain set of things and you see these things being done through different levels, and that’s the game. It’s not about mechanics; it’s about the life of someone. Life is sometimes you’re happy, sometimes you’re sad, sometimes you’re in love, sometimes you fight, and that’s a life. That’s what we tried to achieve. And people seem to be surprised by that; they are really puzzled by Beyond. But it’s a good thing.
You also improved the graphic engine from Heavy Rain to Beyond. How did that free you up creatively?
After Heavy Rain, we thought we could go further with the technology. There are so many things we wish we could do and we can’t, so let’s do another engine. Of the two most important things that are involved, the first one is the lighting. The way we deal with light is very different now and it allows us to do really close shots of the characters, without having any dirty shadows. So our characters look good whether you are very far or up close. Playing with light is something that is very important, especially when you want cinematography in your game. And the second thing was the performance capture. Suddenly we had an acting performance; it was one piece, consistent, because everything was shot at the same time. You wouldn’t need Ellen Page and Willem Dafoe if you shot it the way we shot Heavy Rain. It was in a sound booth, shooting the face and the voice, then go on stage and shoot the body. Nothing is in sync, you don’t have the eyelines right, actors are not together. So you don’t need very good actors if you shoot with technical limits like that. But now, the difference it makes when you have Ellen and Willem on set together. . . . When I get the result, I get the same emotion that I had on the set in the game.
When you wrote the game, did you keep the technical limitations of the game engine and the performance capture in mind?
I never write with constraints, which I don’t know if it is a good thing or a bad thing. It gives a challenge to our team, because you give them the script and then they have to create it. I understand the technology quite well. I have been in the industry 16 years and have run Quantic Dream for 16 years. I know what’s feasible and what’s impossible and what’s challenging. I always try to be out of the comfort zone, to be in the challenging area. Not in the impossible, and not in the comfort zone, but in the ‘we can do it, but it’s going to be tough’ section. This is the interesting zone; this is where everyone has to work hard. But if you manage to do it, you achieve something really strong.
Was Beyond a faster or a slower schedule to film versus Heavy Rain?
I was a quicker schedule. We started working on Beyond at the end of 2010, so it was a two-and-a-half-year process. It was faster, but we had twice as many people working on it, about 200. It was a different process, it took more time shooting. It was more challenging shooting, because the scenes were more complex. It took more time filming, and we are still not done filming. The bar for quality has raised significantly with everything: with the sound, with the acting, with the animation, with the filming. It takes more time and it’s more challenging, but it’s more interesting. I hope the results will be significantly better.
My goal with Beyond is really to create a strong sense of empathy between the player and Jodie Holmes. You will know her by heart, by the end of the game. You will know her since she was a kid. You will remember when she was in love, when she was happy, when she was sad—all the hard things and the good things that have happened to her in your life. I really hope by the end of the game she will be someone you know like a close friend. And I hope by the end, you will be sad to leave her and you will miss her.