David Cage Should Probably Just Shut Up and Make Games

First things first, sorry about not posting on Tuesday like usual.  I just recently started a new job so the couple of days I usually reserve  for writing suddenly got busy and I didn’t have the time or energy to form coherent thoughts.  Time for the main event.

David Cage

I love/hate this man.

After being so optimistic and congratulatory to CD Projekt Red and The Witcher 2 the last couple of weeks, I think it’s time for a little negativity.

Let’s talk about David Cage, founder of Quantic Dream and the director of Indigo Prophecy, Heavy Rain, and the upcoming Beyond: Two Souls.

Now I’m not going to bash Cage for his games.  I’ve only played Heavy Rain and (despite some rather sizable flaws) I really enjoyed it.  I appreciated his attempt to tell a story that’s not a power fantasy confined within a typical game genre, and the decision to progress the game even when a central character died is downright fantastic.  Cage certainly has his difficulties as a storyteller, but I respect him for trying something outside the status quo.

And don’t even get me started on Kara, the short tech demo that Cage and Quantic Dream premiered at GDC 2012.  That shit nearly made me cry the first time I saw it.

So I like the gameplay elements and ambition of Heavy Rain and Cage is skillful enough as a writer and director to genuinely move me,  so what is it about him that annoys me so much?

What bugs me about Cage is that he acts like he’d rather be making movies than making video games.

I don’t mean that Heavy Rain or any of his other games are more akin to movies than games or that they don’t count as video games.  What I mean is that Cage is so ready to ape cinematic conventions as if they were superior to any gaming techniques that he often comes off as being a wanna-be movie director who thinks he’s above gaming.

In Indigo Prophecy, after pressing start and selecting your profile the first option you’re presented with in the main menu says “new movie”.  The tutorial takes place on what looks a lot like a film set with Cage actually appearing as himself to explain how the game controls.  When you pause the game, instead of being presented with a “resume” or “quit to main menu” it instead says “play” and “stop”.

As part of the promotion for Beyond, Quantic Dream sent 2,000 pages of blank paper to a number of gaming publications presumably to demonstrate how much story content is in the game.  Totally unironically printed on the first page is the sentence: “The average film script is 100 pages.  At 2,000 pages, this is not your average film script.”  Cage and Quantic Dream apparently being unaware that Beyond isn’t a film but, in fact, a video game.

Beyond Two Souls Box Art

Beyond also features mainstream film actors like Ellen Page and Willem Dafoe in its lead roles.  Its box art looks suspiciously like a DVD cover with its stars’ names front and center, something that games’ don’t often (if ever) do.

At the DICE Summit earlier this year, Cage said that the game industry has “Peter Pan Syndrome” and needs to move on from focusing games towards “kids, teenagers, young adults”.  In the same speech, he argued that the game industry needed to make more connections with Hollywood.

At Sony’s press conference at E3 just a few weeks ago, Quantic Dream premiered a tech demo running on the PS4 called The Dark Sorcerer.  In it, the making of a video game is shown to be like the filming of a movie.

Now I’m not saying that any of these design choices or ideas are bad or misguided and I actually agree with some of them.  But does make it clear that Cage is modeling himself, and his games, after the film industry and to a lot of people, myself included, it looks like Cage would rather be making movies than making games.

This leads me to my final point.  I believe it is Cage’s devotion to a movie-like experience that led him to make a presentation at the PS4 unveiling that is not only ignorant to modern game storytelling but a dangerous attitude for the game industry to have.

In his “Old Man” tech demo, Cage analogized the current game technology to early silent films.  He compared the lack of intimate or subtle emotion in silent films to the way emotion is portrayed in modern games. His solution to his perceived lack of emotion in gaming?  More polygons.

And I couldn’t disagree more.  High tech, envelope-pushing graphics do not make a game good, and games like The Walking Dead demonstrate that you don’t need 30,000-polygon character models to make players emotional.

On top of that, stating that to truly invest your players you need high tech graphics is dangerous for the industry.  The making of AAA games is an increasingly costly and risky way to produce games.  Cage believing that emotional storytelling is limited to this already shaky industry model is very limiting artistically and very risky financially, and I think it’s Cage’s obsession with film that pushed him towards this totally misguided idea.

So that’s why David Cage annoys me.  He takes his single-minded cinematic obsession too far.  But he’s got a lot of great ideas and he made a game I really admire so I sort of love the guy.

– Cam

Check back every Tuesday for more posts, reviews, and opinions.

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