Two weeks to the Beta and still battling with memory. The game is now installed on the hard disk and this speeds up loading time. I'd like to find an idea for installing it. I know how frustrating it can be to buy a game and then have to wait ten minutes while it's installed on the hard disk. I'm keeping that idea in the back of my head, I'm sure there must be something we could think of.
I spend a lot of time on the direction, improving the scenes where the characters are introduced, particularly making sure they're introduced in the most effective way possible. It's difficult to interact with the team during this period and to talk about Artistic Direction. Everybody is completely focused on the bug report, especially the bugs that are flagged "Beta Failure" and could cause Beta failure. I can't wait to get going. I'm trying to make as much progress as possible with the people available to me. I get the impression I'm doing the AD in secret. I can't wait to get through with all this and get over with the Beta to be able to really work on the artistic aspects of the game.
A few more redrafts (yet again). I'm still surprised at how simple and fast we can make adjustments to the game play in scenes right up to the last minute. I'm trying not to overdo this. The advantage of the HR format is precisely that we can structure the game play of scenes in different ways without changing their nature. On condition that we make the right choices. The team really liked Jayden's addiction scene in the motel room after our last redraft. Perhaps it could serve as an example for another scene earlier in the game. I'm thinking about it…
Good feedback too from our redraft of the first scene in the game. Just as well, it wasn't easy…
The wall near the Camera and gameplay corner is plastered with the designs for Heavy Rain
Lots of marketing/press contacts again this week: a marathon interview for the US (three pages of questions), an interview with a French TV channel and a fair in Paris (the Video Games Festival). I always really enjoy meeting players and journalists. I'm happy to talk about what I do and to share my love for my work. But just two weeks away from the Beta, I have to admit that I'm reluctant to leave the studio.
I answer written interviews between midnight and two in the morning, which leaves my days free to get on with the work. I'm going to spend a day meeting the French press at the Video Game Festival. Paradoxically, we focused our attention more on the foreign press than the French press and I can feel this lack of information in some of the articles. Let's hope this day spent with the French press will bear fruit. I can tell from some of the questions I'm asked that the journalists aren't all as well informed as their foreign counterparts.
I go back to the Festival on Sunday for a public presentation of the Hold Up scene, which we already presented at Koln. It's an opportunity to show the last remaining unbelievers that HR is not a succession of QTEs. Guillaume is in Japan for the TGS and so Caroline accompanies me, playing while I comment on the game. Very good reactions, meetings with fans, everything works out well. I avail of the opportunity to have a quick look round the fair with my son and try out the latest releases before Christmas (kids never lose their sense of priorities).
No connection: my son has finished Batman. I didn't have time to play. Going by his recent Batmania, he seems to have liked it.
David and Caroline giving an interview at the Video Game festival une interview lors du Festiva
David presenting Heavy Rain at the Video Game Festival
The last week before the Beta. Strangely calm, no panic. Instead the team seems to be quite confident. Everybody is focused and concentrated. The number of Beta Failure bugs is dropping by the minute. The team has fixed an incredible amount of bugs (as many as 150/day last week, more than 600 since the last build). There should be about another thirty to fix before the Beta. We should be able to manage.
It doesn't matter how much experience you have, shit happens. This morning, the day before the Beta, an emergency call from the office: no electricity. It's no easy task to deliver a build without electricity.
A quick phone call informs me that the electrician who was supposed to come last week to repair a defective switch finally decided to come for the Beta without a word of warning to anyone. He set about his work merrily before anyone could intervene. He dismantled the switch and removed the cable all the way back to the electric board and changed the circuit breaker for the lighting. When he'd finally finished (the light had been off since morning), I was stupid enough to let him turn the light back on, thinking that at worst the circuit breaker would pop off. How wrong can you be? When he turned the lights back on, all of Quantic's power popped off.
General panic, checking the servers (fortunately on inverters), checking and changing the circuit breaker on the electricity board, which suffered from the adventure, a few PCs on scan disk when we turn them back on. After a few unfortunate tests, I finally suggest to our friendly electrician that he come back another day before the team tears him to pieces. So we finished the Beta in the dark, as we didn't manage to get the lighting back on (and I have to admit that I wasn't really into electrical experimentation that day).
So, a pretty strange atmosphere: Beta by candlelight. Not unpleasant, subdued lighting, a romantic atmosphere.
The ‘damn’ fuses in the background…
We start the upload at 11:57 p.m. – a full three minutes ahead of the official delivery date for the Beta (real professionals ;-) )
Charles and I decide to give the team a few days' rest while waiting for the QA feedback on the build from Sony. I can feel the whole team exhausted and it's going to take all our energy and lucidity to make it to the Master.
So Quantic was practically deserted for the next two days. I avail of the opportunity to refilm some scenes I really like at my leisure and start getting ready for the next stage. I know that now I'm going to have to refocus the whole team on the reviews and improvements that will take the game through to another stage. Over the last couple of days I improvised a review on the MoCap studio with a projector, a 5.1 system and a sofa. This enables us to watch the game on a screen measuring two meters by three. Not essential but comfortable. Upstairs a second review room has been set up for several months, as well as a station per department. The most difficult thing now will be to structure the reviews and avoid the anarchy of individual initiative…
I start getting used to the idea that I'm going to have to be a control freak, which I've always avoided in order to leave the team some breathing room. The work that remains to be done now is precise and must be coordinated like a rocket launch in order to give global coherence to the AD.
I think I know how to go about it but the timing is going to be very tight. I have to give precise instructions to one hundred people. I'm beginning to think that everything we've done so far was simple. The real challenge is about to begin.
I decide not to work this weekend (the first for a long time) in order to have a clear head on Monday. With experience we learn that lucidity is the most important thing as we reach the end of development. I'm going to have to keep a cool head in the weeks to come.
No connection: I saw the end of the last season of Battlestar Galactica last night. It really was one of the most interesting series of the last few years, one that was brave enough and intelligent enough to have an end. Surprising characters, an original story for SF on TV, inspired directing (in fact some HR scenes are a nod to this). In short, if you don't know it, jump right in.
A lousy week. Unhappy about where we're at, about how we're advancing. I feel like I'm looking up at Everest with an ice axe in my hand and wondering how I'm going to make it to the top.
The redraft of the first game scene was pretty good but the scene still isn't where I want it to be. There's something missing and I don't know what it is. It annoys me.
The feeling of advancing one millimeter at time is really exhausting. Lots of scenes advanced very quickly over the last few months, progressing from a cosmic void to something quite interesting. It's like someone said (was it George Lucas?): it's the last 10% that demands the greatest effort. I couldn't agree with him more.
Sometimes I really wonder why I'm doing this. Some kind of masochism no doubt. It would be so much simpler to position the enemy and then wonder where I'm going to put the weapons. I know it's a caricature but that's because I'm annoyed, but still, I can't help wondering. Every scene demands an unreasonable amount of work because of the absence of mechanisms. I knew this when I was writing it. Let's just hope it gives the game a little something extra.
I had a 60" TV installed on my desk today. It's not megalomania. The QA had it before but then they didn't want it because it took up too much space. It's true that now that it's set up on my desk (I already have two screens on my PC), it doesn't leave an awful lot of space. My neighbor, who's working on the lighting, asked me to turn the screen around, which means that I'm surrounded by screens on all sides. The upside: I'll have good heating this winter – as well as good lighting.
I availed of the opportunity to correct some graphic bugs (everybody can see them clearly now with the big screen). Some problems with aliasing, a bug in the texture streaming, another in shadow optimization. We're working on it.
Another way to make reviews: the MoCap studio converted into a luxury review room with projector and 5.1 system. In addition to this room, the studio also provides three other dedicated review rooms and several review stations per department.
I finally found the idea for installing. Glitch: everybody seems to like it. A bad sign. Think of something else.
Sony has organized test plays of the first 12 scenes in London for next Monday. Jerome and Caroline are going. I know what still doesn't work. I’d rather spend my time fixing the problems rather than listening to people telling me about them.
I redid some changes in the opening credits sequence today, mainly editing and a few adjustments. It's almost beginning to be good. A few adjustments to the music, adding a piano in the middle of the track that wasn't originally planned for. There's not enough piano in video games (famous quote).
That reminds me that I was woken up this morning by my son's music teacher. She played Debussy's Clair de Lune to perfection, a piece I've been laboring over for months (interspersed with all-night milestone sessions in the office). Annoying too, for that matter. Someone should make a law against playing like that.
When I got home last night my son had left a note for me on the box where we keep the goodies: "Dad, please don't eat my chocolates. Mom bought them for me". There are days like that when you wonder why you bothered to climb out of bed.
Never mind, tomorrow's another day. It's the after-effect of two days' rest last week. You feel like you've just got off your bike in the ride up the Alps in the Tour de France. It's good to stop for a while but when the time comes to get back on the bike, you think maybe you should have just kept going.
Right, so tomorrow I'm going over that damn first scene for the hundredth time, going over all the things that don't work right. After that I'll move on to the second scene. Once I'm through that, I know the rest of the game will just fall into place. I know it. It'll take a while to retune the seventh scene, which is a bit slack, but the rest should be all right. Don't worry, it'll work out.
Another weekend in the office. I tried to find a way to organize production after the Beta. The solution came quickly when I realized that we were exactly seven weeks away from the Master. It helps make things more concrete. I have the unpleasant feeling that we're never going to make it. There's still a considerable amount of work to be done to get the game to where I want it to be. I gave the team a week's respite but now we're going to have to get back in gear.
Seven weeks, 70 scenes. I decide to get to work on five cycles of one week each, about fifteen scenes a week. That leaves us two weeks to sort out the last few problems. It's tight.
Monday morning, a general meeting with the team (I regularly review the situation with the whole team). I explain the plan, remind them of the schedule. I talk about the playable demo we're going to have to produce, even if it's somewhere between a Beta and a Master.
The team reacts well. I can feel that everyone is tired, but I think the idea of being able to see the end of the tunnel is reassuring in a way. Though not for me…
Sony has organized three days of Play Tests in London to test the game for three hours with different player profiles. I specifically asked for Hard Core Gamers, Casual Gamers and Non-Gamers. I can't possibly abandon the studio for three days. I decide to send Caroline and Jerome.
They give me their report over the phone every evening. Lots of interesting things in the feedback, particularly a relatively unanimous evaluation of the pacing at the start of the game, considered to be too slow. I spend too much time setting up Ethan, I knew that when I was writing it. We've been having this discussion in the studio for several months but I was reluctant to modify the balance at the beginning of the game, although I knew it didn't work right. The feedback from the Play Tests helps to make the decision. In all, three scenes cut in order to get to the core of the story faster. Strangely enough, I experience this as a sort of relief. Those scenes would have taken a lot of work to get them to function properly. And there's enough work to be done on the rest of the game.
Especially since the Play Tests sent back another important piece of information: in two hours of play, not a single player got past scene 7. Which means that we undoubtedly have more game time than we imagined. It's hard to know exactly. Both our QA and Sony's QA have played the game so much that we no longer discover it in the same way as a player would.
I remain focused on my original idea. I don't want to make the game too long (more than ten hours). It becomes very difficult to maintain the tension and the player's attention if the game is too long, not to mention the player's comprehension of the story. So no regrets, speeding up the beginning will be a great improvement.
However, good news this time, none of the player types seems to have had any problems with the controls or the navigation. Feedback concerning the interest level of the story was pretty unanimous (some players continued to play scenes quietly after the end of the tests to see what was going to happen).
Sheer torture, these Play Tests. The players are alone before their screens. They're filmed and observed from behind a two-way mirror. Everything is recorded, their voices, their faces, their games, in order to figure out what they're feeling. It's really unbearable to watch them stumbling over simple things, looking for the way through when it's obvious, not doing what they're supposed to do. Unbearable but informative. As a rule, I would tend to be skeptical about this type of exercise. The Nomad Soul play tests taught me nothing, nor did the Fahrenheit tests. The Heavy Rain tests are helping me to shape the game.
When Jerome and Caroline get back, a last report, and we elaborate a battle plan to implement the modifications and get moving as quickly as possible. The changes are considerable but they should be relatively easy to do. The whole game is assembled inside a tool, which makes changes fast and easy to make.
The Tools department
We have scheduled other Play Tests in our offices up until the Master date in order to continue to get feedback, watch people playing and see what we can improve. A painstaking and laborious task, let's hope it pays off.
The number of bugs continues to drop. Nearly 3000 bugs on the bug report, which isn't much really. The team fixes about 300 bugs a day, which is a good average. But still their numbers are dropping by only a hundred a day because of the new bugs being entered daily.
It's hard to have an idea of what we're doing. Impossible to say whether it's beautiful, interesting, intriguing or just slow, boring and uninteresting. We spend so much time looking at bugs, parts of scenes, adjusting a look at a given moment, adjusting the camera work, modifying an action or a movement, we lose track of what we're doing. The build up of fatigue and nights in the office erodes lucidity and I try to pay as much attention as I can to my physical and mental state. Working too much gets the game moving forward but it's bad for lucidity. Everything is a question of balance. A balance too between the confidence you have to have to motivate the team and get the game to progress, and the doubts, both healthy and necessary, that you have to have constantly in your mind in order to question what we're doing. I have somewhat more doubts at this stage of development than I want to have. I don't think we made the wrong choices. I just wonder whether we're going to achieve our objective once we have mixed up all the ingredients, fixed all the bugs, adjusted the game play, done the last camera adjustments, I wonder whether the result will live up to our expectations. Impossible to say for the moment. I think the game is going to be surprising. Now we just have to hope that, after the surprise, the emotion will come.
I get home from the office at two o'clock in the morning. I spent the evening reviewing scenes. No time to eat this evening (didn't even think of it). I'll finish off a bar of chocolate before going to bed (great for the figure). My kids who haven't seen me for the last week will storm my bed at 7 tomorrow morning.
I got a strange impression playing the scenes this evening. I tested ten scenes I hadn't seen for a while. A real graphic shock, a good few gameplay problems to be solved, some problems with the sound, the cameras, the animation, amazing things, a few disappointments, but most all of this strange impression.
Oddly enough, people think I know what I'm doing. They're wrong. In fact I discover what I'm doing as I do it. There is an element of discovery in any creative process, an element of surprise, the unexpected. Particularly when the work in question is the result of a collaboration between two hundred people. It's hard to know what you're doing before you do it. You can have hopes, expectations, but it's only at the end that you know whether you got what you expected or not. It's a bit like having children. The first time you wonder whether the baby will be pretty, whether you're going to love the baby, whether the baby is going to love you, what others will think of your baby. And when the baby comes along, it's never like what you imaged. You learn to discover them and love them. It's stupid but I feel the same way about the game.
So, a strange impression in this strange period when I'm learning to get to know my game. I played a scene, took notes, noticed some problems. Then I played another scene, and another and then another. After a while you forget the game and you become interested in the story and the characters, you forget it's a game. And in fact it isn't one. I don't know exactly what it is, a sort of strange experience. And then I played the "finger" scene. I got goose bumps. It's the first time that's ever happened to me in a game. It's got to be the most disturbing scene in the game.
The ‘Finger’ scene…
I wonder how people will react to it. It's impossible to know. There's always an element of doubt. The best and the worst of things. Causing me to constantly re-examine what I'm doing. Preventing me from being relaxed and confident. Four years' work, nights and weekends at the office, weeks without seeing my kids, for a few hours of a game, a few weeks on the shelves, a figure in a magazine. Sometimes I wonder why I do it. As I write these lines, I'm not so sure that I know why.
Second round of User Tests in London.
User Tests are the most sophisticated form of torture. It consists of shutting yourself up behind a two-way mirror and observing people play your game in groups of ten throughout the day. You see them not understanding anything, doing the first thing that comes into their heads, getting stuck for twenty minutes on actions that should take one. We see them not reading the instruction, not remembering what they did in the last scene, doing everything except what they're supposed to do. So we scream behind the soundproofed glass, we insult them, curse them, foaming at the mouth, we shrivel up, we beg to be released.
And as if that wasn't enough, then we listen to them talking about the game, still hiding behind a two-way mirror (real FBI-style). And we hear all sorts of things and nothing in particular, generous compliments, sound criticism, players who are affected by the game and those who got the wrong game, the ones who thought for ten scenes that they could control only one character, the ones who missed all the sequences but who found the game easy, those who stuck to the story and the characters, those who wanted Ethan to have a gun. You really hear all sorts of stuff in this sort of test. I suppose that's the object of the exercise. And it's not easy to know what to think about it all, between the things that really don't work and the rest.
Overall, positive feedback for the story, the characters, the interface and the action sequences. I'll settle for that. It's not bad at all.
A weird story though, those action sequences. I spent a year justifying them each time they came up, and now the players are regularly listing them as their favorite scenes.
The other amusing thing was the feeling some players had that their actions had no impact on the story, in other words that, whatever they did, the same thing was going to happen. A lot of them brought up this point in the one-to-one interviews and at the round-table session where all the players compared their impressions. It was only when they started talking about it that they realized they had seen very different things in the scenes, much to their surprise. Because a player makes choices without realizing it. They don't realize their actions have logical consequences and therefore impact on the story. They had to talk about it in order to realize this.
Another strange comment: everybody thought the game was easy, even those who failed in half the scenes and all the action scenes. It took me a few days to understand what had happened. There are no game overs or lives in HR. The player never starts a scene all over again because he failed, failing in a chase scene results in the fact that he doesn't catch the suspect, but you don't start the sequence all over again. And the story continues. As a result, some players didn't even realize that they'd failed in a chase because the game didn't stop and so they thought the suspect couldn't be caught.
It's weird how deep-rooted certain video game codes can be.
We organized our own user tests at Quantic in order to have them more often (every three days) in little groups of three and to try out direct permanent access to the player to see how they were playing, what they do, what they like and don't like. The overall feedback for the game is excellent. Just as well, after the weeks of intense doubt we've just been through.
Same feedback from the fairs where the game is shown and from the presentations I have to do. This weekend, Eurogame in London (presentation and interview all day long), Sunday User Tests in London again, Monday presentation at Micromania Game Show in Paris, then back to development. I took the evening off the following Monday to see my kids. I hadn't seen them for a week and I was beginning to feel the winds of anger rising. "Dad, just because you have a lot of work doesn't mean you don't see your children any more" (my 9-year-old son).
You're right, son. You're entirely right. Dad's gonna try to be a bit more reasonable.
I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror after two weeks of sleeping three hours a night. Scary as hell.
Players testing Mad Jack at the Eurogamers Show
Eurogamer’s presentation in London. Ten minutes before, the room was empty. I told myself that it would be a fairly smooth presentation… I looked out at the window and here is what I saw. The show was just not open yet. Both the show and my presentation were a sell-out…
With our in-house user tests progressing intensively (in all, more than 70 people will have played the game, in addition to the normal testing. I continue to review the directing for all the intro/outro dramatic moments in the game to check the cameras, how the music fits in and hone the AD. A considerable job that is going to take me several weeks. It's my last chance to check the continuity and consistency of the narrative. Sometimes we got through some scenes a little too fast, and the fact that there were five of us in the camera team sometimes shows up in different styles. My work will consist of going over it all again.
The whole team is now working full-time on fixing the bugs. There are still more than 3000 left in the base. At the moment we're fixing 400 a day, which is pretty considerable.
In between fixing bugs…An origami family on a PS3. The scriptwriters regularly make them and they can be found almost everywhere in the studio. The smallest are only a few millimeters high, I don’t even know how that can be…
Another instance of our local handcraft…
We began our first presentation to journalists this week and the preview code containing the first 13 (I ain't scared) scenes of the game has been sent to the press in all countries. The first moment of truth. I would have liked to spend a little more time honing the scenes but I was busy on the rest of the game. And I imagine there comes a time when we have to say stop.
The journalists who are discovering the game seem to be fairly surprised, as far as I can tell. Some had come with negative preconceptions (it's gonna be a series of ultra-directive cut scenes with QTEs all over the place) and were surprised to find that the game is quite open, totally interactive and that the action sequences work quite well. The reactions we get most often stress the particularly powerful visual aspect, the atmosphere, the mature and "sound" aspect of the story, the originality and the interactivity. Of course these are just first impressions that tell us nothing about what the final reception will be like. But it's better to have this impression at the preview…
I've spent a lot of time reviewing the scenes and playing, along with the lead game play and the lead QA who shut themselves up for several days to play the game from beginning to end. After several weeks of exhaustion and discouragement, a glimmer of hope in the gloom. Our impressions concur with those from outside. The game really does give an impression of maturity, the story seems to be solid and, above all, a lot of the scenes leave a very powerful impression. Although we know the game by heart, we are in turns stressed out, smiling, shivering, relieved, terrified, surprised, uneasy, above all, we are really carried away by the story of these four characters. I really wonder what the players are going to say, if they're going to feel the same thing, if they'll be sensitive to the story and the way we tell it.
In a few weeks, the team and I will have completed our emotional roller coaster with periods of certitude, discouragement, hope and doubt. Now that the game is almost ready to leave the studio for good and soon will no longer belong to us, I still think we have a wealth of emotions in store for us.
First week of December. We're exactly 4 weeks away from the Master and, given that there will be a few days off for Christmas and the New Year, we've really got only 3 weeks left. I feel like there's a billion things to do. Sony's QA now numbers more than 40 people, to which we have to add our own in-house QA of ten, and the bugs continue to drop regularly although it's increasingly C- and D-priority bugs. We continue in-house, using reviews to trace two or three times more bugs. I can feel the team really exhausted, with the strange impression that it's never going to end, that the faster the bugs’ number drops, the more new bugs arrive… but the game is progressing by the minute. A few months ago the bugs we encountered were mainly crashes. Today they're details that can be improved, or particularly complicated bugs.
In spite of the fatigue, it's essential to keep a cool head, choose the battles that can still be fought in the time that's left, and forego the others without regret. I know the game should have been frozen ages ago and in bug fix phase only, but I need to continue to make adjustments here and there. Some seem to be important enough to take the risk. Apart from the few scenes I have to review (a half-dozen), I plan to review all the epilogues this week to make sure the game ends correctly. I heard enough about the end of Indigo to avoid making the same mistake a second time.
Apart from that, the game is finished. I'm trying my best to give the team post-Heavy Rain work to keep their hands off the game. It's definitively finished for the graphs, the anim still has a week of polishing to do, the sound and the cameras will probably continue to work right up to the last minute before the Master.
A part of the Anim team working hard on polishing the last scenes before the Master
I took my Sunday off this week so I could come back on Monday with a clear mind. The team worked all the weekend to finalize the pre-Master build. Next week we'll be delivering the playable demo for testing. The plan has changed three times but we finally managed to reach an agreement on the content and the scenes that have never been shown to the public. We're also putting the last touches to the official trailer for the game. We've validated the pack shot and marketing campaign. In short, it's beginning to feel like the end of the project. I want to stay focused right up to the end, not miss anything, check the smallest detail, and keep the pressure on the team until the last second.
Our last challenge comes this week. We start the last user test session on the full game. Twenty people will play HR continuously for three days and will be the first to play the game continuously from beginning to end. It's our last chance to check that everything is in place, that the last settings are effective. We will have very little time to do the final adjustments if anything important crops up. The last chance to improve the experience even more, to remove the last defects.
When I think of how skeptical I used to be about user tests… By the time we finish, we'll have been doing them non-stop for three months. In any case it's going to profoundly change the way we work at QD in the future.
I'm struggling to project myself into the post-HR future. This adventure has taken up four years of my life, brought me round the planet several times, caused me to meet hundreds of people, drained me physically and psychologically and made me experience intense emotions. It's going to be strange getting up in the morning and not thinking about HR, not going home at three in the morning, returning to a normal life. It's strange, the impression of living physically with a project, like living a relationship with someone.
Post-HR is already in the wings. You only leave an adventure in order to start another.
Only three more weeks and it's all over.
HEAVY RAIN for the ATARI console (one of the coders made this label and stuck it on an old cartridge…). Twenty minutes of side-splitting laughter.
Twelve years ago I wrote the first Internet blog recounting the development of a video game in real time. It was a fascinating experience that enabled me to share the ups and downs of developing OMIKRON –THE NOMAD SOUL with its future players (and annoyed the hell out of my then publisher, who had no interest in my development anecdotes).
Twelve years have gone by and now I'm happy to resume my development blog and share the human adventure of developing a video game, in this case HEAVY RAIN. The years have taken their toll and I am no longer a naive and impatient young developer, but my passion for my work is still intact, as is my desire to share it.
HEAVY RAIN is an important project. For QUANTIC DREAM, obviously, for SONY to a certain degree, for me, obviously, keener than ever to transform the experiment that was INDIGO PROPHECY/FAHRENHEIT. Beyond that, I believe it is a project of major importance for the games industry. If HEAVY RAIN fails for whatever reason, it will be years before another publisher takes the risk of creating a project based on emotion and interactive narration for an adult public. If it succeeds, it will prove that it's possible to create different kinds of interactive experiences that have nothing to do with the rules that have been pre-established for the last twenty years.
Whatever happens to HEAVY RAIN, I have a deep-rooted conviction that it's now time for interactivity to emerge from its adolescence and its associated excesses, and join the adult world. I hope that our work on this game will contribute to this end.
That's the setting. So this is my blog. Read it as you would read a ship's log recounting how the captain tries by every means at his disposal to bring his ship and crew to a safe port, through tempests and storms, in spite of illness and disease, pirates, sirens and other monsters of the deep.
When you see the ship heaving into the port, you will know what it's been through in order to reach you;-)
Einstein demonstrated that time contracts as it approaches the speed of light. He forgot to specify that this is also the case as we approach the master deadline for a video game. It's like when one of a pair of twins boards a spaceship and the other remains on earth. Months will have gone by for you, whereas we will have the impression that it's only been a few days.
For those of you who are not familiar with development, there are four particularly important dates: the date of start of production, the date of the Alpha version (in which all the game data has to be produced), the date of the Beta (in which the game is assembled and playable), and the Master date (usually the one we fail to make). The development of Heavy Rain passed the Alpha date successfully at the end of May, the next deadline is the Beta at end of September.
Quantic dream’s Openspace
HR is accumulating a large number of development difficulties that are specific to this type of game. Firstly, the game uses almost no mechanics (by mechanics I mean recurrent systems). Instead, it mainly uses a contextual gameplay. Each scene is different, depending on the point in the story, the character we control, and what is happening on the screen. Although this principle constitutes an advantage (I hope) for players by offering them great diversity in terms of action and game principles, it's a veritable nightmare in terms of settings because each scene requires specific handling.
The other particularity with HR is the importance of artistic direction. Because the aim of HR is to recount a complex story and generate emotion, each game element must contribute to this end, whether we look at the graphics, the characters, the animation, facials, lighting, sound, music and, of course, the gameplay (which is part of the AD in HR). Nothing can be left to chance because that might break the spell and lose the player's involvement in the game (what the theorists call "suspension of disbelief").
In addition to all that, we chose to set our sights high in terms of the overall quality of the game, and we quickly realized that these high standards always seemed to generate others that were even higher. The slightest illogical detail, the slightest badly lit face, the slightest camera shot out of sync with the scene, and the whole scene collapses. The game has high standards not only in terms of quality but also in terms of absolute homogeneity so that nothing detracts from player immersion.
When we reached the Alpha stage the game was in a pretty weird state: three or four scenes polished pretty much to a Beta level (prepared for the internal presentation with Sony and for fairs). This was the case with MAD JACK and MADISON AT THE BLUE LAGOON (presented at E3), as well as two or three other scenes, including the first scene with Madison and a scene with Ethan, considered too violent to be presented at a fair.
The rest of the game broke down into two categories: scenes that had not been polished but which nonetheless gave a very clear impression that all the elements were present to enable them to work, and scenes that were completely rough and ready and left us wondering how we were going to finish them.
Given that the game consists of nearly 80 scenes, each different, having a different set and gameplay and requiring specific and precise AD, we had more than enough to keep us busy…
In order to reach the Beta stage in a coherent fashion, we chose with Charles (HR's producer) to divide the game into eight cycles, each cycle containing ten scenes. We gave ourselves two or three weeks per cycle to polish them up and bring them to Beta level. It seemed to be more rational to focus on ten scenes at a time rather than trying to spread ourselves out over 80 scenes at the same time.
Charles Coutier- HR’s producer
We'll soon see if we made the right choice…
I'm emerging from two months of recording voice sessions, two months shut up in a little 10 square meter recording studio with another actor, surrounded by infrared cameras and hundreds of flickering diodes, responding, correcting, encouraging, asking the actor to repeat it faster, not so loud, with more emotion, etc. These sessions were particularly exhausting, first of all for the actors. The four main actors had to learn their lines by heart (if they had read them, we would have seen their eyes following the lines in the animation). With dozens of markers stuck to their faces, they had to imagine the sets, situations, characters, with only the script and me as guides. Each time we had to adapt to the actors' pace and habits, reassuring them, helping them to give their very best in an incongruous situation.
Quantic Dream’s recording studio for facial capture
All the actors gave a lot, particularly the four main actors. We've been working together for more than a year, scanning their faces, having them rehearse scenes, photographing them from every possible angle, recording their movements. We know each other well. They know their characters well and you can feel it.
Sometimes, in the course of a break, I get this strange impression that I'm talking with a character from a video game. I've spent so many hours filming their 3D clones that I've almost forgotten they're real people in the real world. I take that to be a good sign.
Actor equipped for facial capture (left), 3D version of the same face (right)
I'm writing these lines in the middle of cycle 5 (the first 5 cycles comprise the most difficult scenes in the game; cycles 6 and 7 are relatively simple, and cycle 8 consists mainly of epilogues).
My days are a bizarre kaleidoscope: I help Charles (the HR producer in charge of production at the Quantic end) as much as I can to keep track of the team (there are now four people working full-time just keeping track of production, plus me), mainly for problems linked to scenes in the current cycle. I spend lots of time in review, sometimes in the review room, sometimes at home in the evening. Reviewing consists of playing a scene several times and noting everything that doesn't work or needs to be improved. These notes are then entered in the bug report on the Intranet and Quantic's internal QA then does the follow-up. We have our own in-house testing team of ten people. Steve and Caro, two members of my team in charge of directing and gameplay, conduct the first reviews (before the scene is sufficiently advanced to be able to speak of AD). I intervene when the scene is playable and try to bring it to the Beta level.
Quantic Dreams testing team (left), Caroline Marchal –Lead Gameplay (right)
Sometimes I also have to do some refactoring in the game design for certain scenes that fail to work as well on screen as they do on paper. This was the case for five or six scenes, which is quite manageable given the scale of the game. Having an in-house Motion Capture studio really saved our lives on more than one occasion, when an animation was missing, although I try to avoid having too much recourse to it at this stage in development.
For example, the first minutes of the game had to be completely rewritten just after the Alpha. I wasn't satisfied with the way we got into the game. It's really a luxury to be able to improve the design at this stage in development without burdening production. Quantic has invested a lot since the beginning of the project in improving its chain of production and tools, and this sort of limited change is relatively painless.
Lots of work in store in the weeks ahead: only two months left before the Beta, before preparation for Gamescom at Koln (two new scenes presented), then comes the Tokyo Game Show, then the Beta, then the playable demo, then the Master. Not much time to catch our breath, but it's essential to remain detached about what we do in these periods in order to avoid errors, let nothing slip by, keep the same high standards as all the team beginning to feel the accumulated fatigue of several years of development.
After months (years in fact) of hard labor, I finally saw emotion appear in the game for the first time. Some already quite advanced scenes began to give the first indications of this in recent weeks but this time I saw what I had been feverishly waiting for for months: a moment of grace. It may sound stupid but as far as I'm concerned, it's the most important aspect of our work on HEAVY RAIN: creating moments where you forget you're in a video game, where you share the feelings of the characters, where you live their experiences with them. It's a unique moment where you get gooseflesh or your throat tightens, an instant in which we glimpse the magic of something that escapes us. There's no recipe for achieving this, no method and no technique. All you can do is mix up the ingredients, add all the passion you can give it, stir for three years and hope the sauce thickens and you're gonna witness this fugitive moment of emotion.
The first time I had the feeling was when I was playing Ethan's first scenes with his son. I really experienced moments I had experienced with my own son, and although I wrote the script and I know every word of it by heart, the scene surprised me. I watched the scenes unfold, scenes that were particularly difficult to fit in but in which we discover the nature of Ethan's relationship with his son.
Ethan with his son
I don't know what the journalists at Koln are going to think, but for me this scene is really powerful. There's an ambiance, the night falls in real time in the house until it is plunged in darkness and you have to turn on the light, the way his son behaves, the fact that he has to look after him, Ethan's sadness in this scene, so many things that I'd never seen in a video game. The characters are beginning to exist. We begin to forget they're just a load of pixels animated by a program. I think the players are going to empathize with Ethan. The feeling is there. It is strange, surprising and powerful.
I think I've found my favorite scene in the game.
The second moment of grace is the opening credits sequence. This sequence changed six months ago. Initially I was into something very complicated and pretty abstract, but I finally returned to something I think is much closer to the game and more powerful. During the preparation stage for HEAVY RAIN we spent two weeks in Philadelphia with some of the members of the team, taking pictures and filming, soaking up the atmosphere of the place. I chose this destination almost by accident, because I liked M. Night Shyamalan's films and because I read somewhere that he shot them there.
Philadelphia was a real shock. Assisted by a movie scout (who had worked on the film PHILADELPHIA), we entered the poorest parts of the United States, a far remove from the usual clichés we see in most of the movies shot in Hollywood. Barbed wire in downtown areas, abandoned factories, railroad tracks where no trains run, and poverty everywhere you look, misery, crumbling houses, factories behind schools, abandoned car shells. People roaming the streets aimlessly, empty-eyed, disillusioned, lost, junkies on the pavements, children waiting for something that will never come.
I came to Philadelphia by chance. I knew as I left it that I had found the location for my new story.
I hope I managed to put some of what we saw there into the game. Another America, the America of broken dreams.
Location spottings in Philadelphia
Getting back to the second moment of grace. After weeks working on the credits, it happened as I watched them with music for the first time. For the moment the music is just a rough, the definitive version will be recorded with a symphony orchestra in the Abbey Road studios in a few weeks, but it already communicates all the emotion I was hoping to hear.
No matter how many times I tell myself that the music is important and gives added meaning to the image, it always knocks me out. I was so happy to see how much Ethan's theme finally lent color to the game that I showed the sequence to everyone who passed by my office at Quantic… A real kid…
When you make a game, you wait patiently for the first time you hear its "voice". As far as I'm concerned, I heard it today for the first time. It's much stronger and more moving that I imagined.
Cycle 5 was delivered today, along with the demos for Koln. A lot of work went into finalizing the builds, a lot of time spent improving the Motion Kits and lighting, particularly close-up lighting. Heavy Rain uses a specific lighting system for close-up camera shots in order to improve the quality of the facial rendering. In most games the lighting is global for the whole scene, which works perfectly well for long shots but begins to pose serious problems as soon as we want to do very tight shots (streaky shadows, lit-up mouths, fluorescent rims at eyes and lips, etc.). To avoid this problem we developed a lights editor associated with the camera editor, thus enabling the cameraman to create his own lighting setup. This produces a very significant improvement in the rendering (as well as a significant quantity of extra work…).
Version of the charcters without close-up lighting (left) and with close-up lighting (right)
Another significant improvement: the motor department found a way of increasing the definition of shadows in close-ups by dynamically reassigning the texture size for character shadows in cases of dynamic lighting. The few remaining artefacts caused by imprecise shadows have now completely disappeared.
This week's new idea: implement Bleaching! This technique comes from the movies and consists in bleaching bright zones of the image in order to artificially increase the contrast. David Fincher uses this technique (or at least its "physical" version) in the photography of some of his films.
We set up a means of integrating a rendering similar to 3D in the game. The result is pretty impressive, with significantly improved realism, particularly for the characters. The Koln demos will be the first to benefit from this.
The demo scenes for Koln finally needed a lot of work. Although the Scott Shelby and the Hold Up scene were fairly easy to finalize, the scene of Ethan with his son (presented behind closed doors) was much more delicate, given the complexity of the scene. I have absolutely no idea what the journalists are going to think of this scene. It's a slow scene that is based entirely on ambience and emotion and contains absolutely nothing spectacular. We play the role of Ethan who has to look after his son on his own whereas he obviously has a particularly difficult relationship with him. The feature I appreciate in this scene is the way time passes in real time. The scene begins about 5 o'clock in the afternoon and we see the light fade in the house as night falls and everything is plunged in darkness. The player has to turn on the lights to be able to see. It's simple and direct but this scene generates a really grim ambience. Shaun, Ethan's son, is managed by the game and a lot of work went into making him lifelike, so that he behaves like a real kid, an independent agent that the player can interact with (or not).
Hold-Up scene released during the Gamescom
One small detail: I wasn't happy with the rendering for Shaun, Ethan's son. I found it a little too 3D, charming but not really like a kid.
Sudden panic in the prod, we finally decided to scan two ten-year-old kids to see if we could improve the character's face.
The whole team went into overdrive to get ready for Koln (two weeks to redo a character from scratch and retarget all the facial animations).
The team did a great job on time but the integration had to be done the day before we left for Gamescom. Everything was a little too tight and so I decided to take the old Shaun to Koln. The team was a little disappointed. Although I didn't want to take any risks before Koln, I know that the work they did will be used in the game when I get back.
My program for Koln: Monday, rehearse the Sony press conference that I have the honour to participate in. I did two or three runs in order to get used to the prompter (what a wonderful invention!) and get my bearings on the stage. Tuesday: final conference rehearsal in the morning with Andrew House and Kaz Hirai. It gave me a chance to get to know them.
Last minute revisions to my text (I'm on stage for nearly five minutes). Last minute anxiety. Telling myself that my text is really out of place. In the midst of all the very businesslike announcements, there I am telling my life story. They reassure me and tell me everything is going to be all right. I tell myself they must be right and that anyway it's too late to start asking that kind of question.
I jump into a taxi and run to the GDC where I'm expected to make a speech in a conference on "how to make games for an adult public". I arrive dead on time (in spite of the rehearsals that were easily two hours late). Just enough time to set up my PC, the HF mike and notice that the room is packed.
A spontaneous outburst of applause when I announce that you should never allow a marketing person to have any say in the game design (easily done). A second outburst when I demand that ratings for video games be based on the same rules as those used for television and cinema (not quite so easy).
It's nice to feel in sync with your community from time to time. It isn't always the case.
I emerge as quickly as I can (a good half hour later, enough time to answer fifty thousand questions, exchange as many calling cards and shake as many hands). I dive into a taxi and get back to the Sony conference. No more rehearsals, this time it's for real…
800 people in the room. Impressive… Just for a moment I'm back in Los Angeles launching Omikron in 1999 (already ten years ago). A press conference at the House of Blues with David Bowie. 200 accredited journalists from all over the world, tens of TV channels. Mindblowing.
Just a slight flutter of the butterfly's wings when Andrew announces my name. I'm motioned onto the stage. There's a step leading to the stage. Mustn't trip on it. Shake Andrew's hand. Go to center stage. Take my time. Articulate. Speak slowly. Watch my accent.
Then the teaser. Applause (warm, I thought). A couple of words to conclude. Shake Andrew's hand before I leave. Don't trip on the step. I take a deep breath backstage as I announce to myself: Done!
I take off my HF mike and wait for the end of the conference. I thank Andrew and Kaz for having me there. I go outside to talk to the journalists, answer their questions, pose for photos. Dinner with a high-flyer from Sony to discuss recent developments, and so to bed.
A pretty good day, looking back on it. The feedback from the new teaser presenting Ethan and the emotional part of Heavy Rain was unanimously really very good. I think people were expecting something like that from the game.
David Cage during the Sony conference at the Gamescom
The next day was entirely devoted to interviews. Guillaume handled the Germans/Austrians (he speaks fluent German) and I took care of the rest of the world. A lot of journalists, saying the same thing hundreds of times over, answering the same questions until I'm speaking automatically, no longer knowing whether I said this to this journalist or the last one… A few brilliant journalists who ask really interesting questions, other less brilliant ones who ask less interesting questions… It's by no means sure that anyone has yet realized what we're trying to do… I put myself in their shoes and tell myself that I wouldn't understand a thing either…
Back to the hotel, dinner with the marketing manager and the Sony producer for HR. Then we start getting the room ready for tomorrow morning's presentation of Ethan's scene. The demo is absolutely horrible, the colors are hyper-saturated, everything looks green. A moment of panic, a problem with the code? Suspicions come to bear on the television. Emergency lights flashing in my head as we borrow a projector from the hotel, connect up everything in the room at 1 o'clock in the morning, hoping desperately that we're going to get something vaguely presentable. A nice surprise: everything works correctly and the grain of the projector is quite flattering for the image. Check the sound, adjust the image, position the chairs and tables. To bed at three o'clock. Up at seven. Time for a shower and a last-minute check to make sure everything is ready for the first session at 9 o'clock.
Didn't have time to see Pascal (the actor who plays Ethan Mars). We had planned to have him enter the room at the end of the presentation to let the journalists meet him.
Thursday morning, the first session with the journalists. We show them the scene with Ethan, then the teaser, and keep the surprise for the end: enter the real Ethan Mars aka British actor Pascal Langdale who leant his face, voice and talent to the character. I'm beginning to dread the presentation. Yet again it's a completely atypical scene that we're about to show, slow, nothing spectacular, based solely on the ambience. We see Ethan, very depressed by the death of his first son, having to look after his second son, picking him up from school, getting him to do his homework and preparing his dinner for him. The scene has two features that I think work particularly well: time passing in real time progressively plunges the house in darkness, forcing the player to turn on the lights in the rooms he visits. This gives a real impression of the passage of time in a way that few games have done so far. The second feature is the way the boy is managed as an independent agent with his own agenda and with whom we can interact freely.
The scene is reminiscent of the sombre ambience at the beginning of UNBREAKABLE by M. Night Shyamalan, or the sadness of Tom Cruise in MINORITY REPORT (relatively speaking, of course).
David Cage (left) with Pascal Langdale (right) giving interviews during the Gamescom
No explosions, no zombies. Just twenty minutes of living in the sombre ambience of the house as night falls, observing Shaun and trying to build a relationship with him.
For just a moment, I begin to wonder whether I'm suicidal or merely a masochist…
The journalists follow the scene with a degree of attention, although I can't figure their reaction. Then I announce a surprise and I have Pascal enter the room. The surprise works. They've just spent twenty minutes watching a 3D character and suddenly they seem him enter the room. Pascal is his usual self, kind, interested and interesting, brilliant. It's easy to see the journalists are more used to talking with programmers than actors, but the discussion is open and interesting. End of first session.
In the course of the day six one-hour sessions along the same lines. Overall, the reactions are very positive (at least as far as I can see). Some of the journalists are putting two and two together and beginning to understand what I'm getting at. Others still seem to be groping in the dark… One of them tells me he's no longer interested in games because he finds them devoid of meaning compared to movies. Another tells me that most of the games he sees are for kids and adolescents and that none of the content appeals to him. It's good to see I'm not the only one coming to that conclusion.
Our industry is about to go through an identity crisis: we continue to make games for twelve-year-old kids whereas the average age of players is 35.
In any case I learned that a lot of journalists have come to realize that video games have reached an impasse and that new answers have to be found. I don't know what will happen to HR but I think it's at least an attempt to introduce something new and different.
As ever, impossible to know in advance what the journalists are going to write after this type of presentation. There are usually three categories: the enthusiastic ones who think they have seen something really new and who believe in it, who want to share their feelings and who are willing to stand by them. Then there are the ones who don't really know what to think because, well, they're waiting to play the game in order to form an impression, and who settle for reporting what I said and showed second by second. In general these are the ones who think that if they say it's good and it turns out not to be, they'll lose their credibility, so they prefer to be as factual as possible and reserve their opinion for later. The third category is the cynics, the ones who know in advance that it's not going to be good, who have no idea what I'm trying to get at because they think that video games are fine just as they are and there's no reason to change anything.
Journalists with convictions are increasingly rare. They're quite willing to stick their necks out when the game has been released and everyone has said what they think of it. The ones who analyze, dissect, think and have the courage of their convictions are becoming more and more rare.
Overall I'm very surprised by the number of journalists who are tired of video games and who are desperately waiting for something new to happen because they can see we're stuck in a rut. I can see in their eyes that they really hope HR will be the game that will finally break the mould. So do I…
That evening, dinner with Pascal to share our impressions of the day. He was a little disappointed by the games presented at the fair. He stopped playing when he was fifteen and he has the impression that nothing has changed since… Join the club.
Friday, a new series of interviews, with American journalists this time. Slots of a little more than 30 minutes (instead of the usual 15) enable us to have slightly deeper discussions. I'm beginning to be exhausted by my week. I feel I've been saying the same thing thousands of times over (it's only an impression). I'm beginning to feel impatient to get back to the studio and do some work on the game. I know there's an enormous amount of work to be done in order not to disappoint the people I've met here.
The queue lining to play Heavy Rain at the Gamescom
Except that Monday I won't be at Quantic but in London to supervise the recording of the game's music in the Abbey Road studios with a symphony orchestra. I can't wait to get there. It's the kind of thing I wouldn't miss for anything in the world. I take Steve my assistant director with me (he'll be integrating the music into the game). We'll have to wait and see whether I stay for the full four days of recording or just a day and then get back to Quantic.
Between E3, Koln, the recordings and the Tokyo Game Show, I have to be careful how I spend my time and avoid becoming too dispersed.
Koln behind me, just enough time to go home, unpack my case, take an afternoon run in the Bois de Vincennes and lie on the grass by the lake, then it's back in the train to London. It's the beginning of the recording sessions for HR in the prestigious Abbey Road studios. I go there with my assistant Steve who'll be supervising the integration of the music in the game.
We get there the day before and curiosity leads us to go by the studios to check them out. A plain enough little street in a residential district. About twenty people in the street at 10 p.m. taking photographs of each other on the pedestrian crossing. This is the right place all right…
Suspense the next morning: Norman Corbeil the composer delayed his flight from Montreal to have time to finish writing the last cues (more than 275 in all for more than 75 minutes of symphonic music). If he has the slightest problem, there will be 75 musicians waiting for him.
The suspense doesn't last long. Norman is in the studio garden drinking a coffee and waiting for us. He hasn't slept much, he didn't manage to finish everything, but he plans to finish the last scores in his hotel room between two recording sessions (four days planned in all). He has rented a piano for his hotel room in order to finish the last scores.
A word about Abbey Road, a point of convergence where, apart from the Beatles, many movie soundtracks have been recorded, including The Lord of the Rings. I discover the studio where we're going to record. A large room, 75 music stands in position, a rostrum for the director, a smell of old wood, apparently neutral acoustics, no resonance, which is surprising for a space of this size. The room was transformed into a recording studio in 1931, making it the oldest recording studio in the world.
The musicians arrive one after the other. I take my place facing the orchestra, behind Norman who will be directing. A great collection of strings, brass, percussion, a harp, a piano. The score is already on the stands, several months in the writing, several days' recording, and just over one hour of music at the end of the day.
Everyone is in position on schedule, bows poised over the strings. The moment of the first note of HR. I hold my breath. I wonder what's going to happen, whether I'm going to like what I hear, whether I'm going to feel anything. Whether we haven't been fooling ourselves all these months.
The first notes raise the hairs on the back of my neck; Ethan's theme fills the studio, swelling with emotion from the breath of the brass and the stroking of the strings. Ethan is born for the third time, first in the writing, secondly in the image and now in the music. This theme will give colour to Ethan's story. For just a second, I think back along the road that has led me to listen to a symphony orchestra, the only listener before 75 musicians. An idea, a desire, work, the effort to share a vision, more work, bringing together 200 people, more convincing, always convincing, to arrive here at this instant listening to the music of my story.
Quite a hike!
I wouldn't give up my place for anything in the world.
Abbey Road recording studio
The cues follow each other. They do different versions, louder, not so loud, with more brass, fewer strings. The musicians have never rehearsed together. They are discovering the score for the first time and interpreting it directly. The orchestra is organized like a little army, with leaders for each section and the first violin who acts as an intermediary between the conductor and the orchestra. He's the one who keeps them in rein whenever necessary and restores silence, he's the link between the conductor and the orchestra.
I'm surprised by what I hear, by the different colours, the richness, the life and emotion that is conveyed in every note. The orchestra is capable of murmuring with incomparable gentleness and, the next second, swelling to its full power without ever becoming deafening. Less and less often we have the opportunity to listen to real symphony orchestras playing live. Classical music being more and more often replaced by other types of music. If you've never listened to a real orchestra, do so now. You'll see what I'm talking about (oh well, all right, then listen to the music for HR, it's a good start;-)
Barely two days later I decided to go home. The recording is coming along very well without me. I haven't been to Quantic for nearly ten days and there's a ton of problems waiting for me on my desk… I leave some instructions with Steve for the end of the recordings and I set out for my train with my heart in my boots. I would have loved to stay there and listen to the orchestra just two metres away from me and not miss a note, chat with Norman and the musicians about whether to play it piano or mezzo forte. But the days are numbered until the end of the project. I have to make optimum use of my time.
Back to the office. A billion meetings late, decisions to make and people to see. My days are divided between meetings, follow-up on certain technical questions, reviewing and passing the directing.
Cycle 6 has just been delivered. We're advancing with the last two cycles, the ones with shorter and simpler scenes. There's a lot of work to be done on most of the scenes in the earlier cycles both in terms of settings and visuals.
I decide to concentrate on the Shelby scenes which have fallen behind. A lot of delicate scenes, with tense dialogues and some sustained action scenes.
We modify our approach to the crowd scenes that are dragging behind a bit. It seems the 1000 characters we have to display to fill out the Mall scene at the start of the game are finally beginning to fit into memory. Still a lot of settings for this scene before it reaches the desired level. I knew as I wrote it that it would be a nightmare to develop. I wasn't wrong. A meagre consolation. One year on a scene of a few minutes, a lot of work for a technical performance (and a dramatically important moment in the game).
Artwork from the Mall scene (left) and in game picture from the Mall scene(right)
The feedback from Gamescom was really very good. Strangely, Koln was a sort of pivot in the press's perception of the game. The teaser with Ethan met with exceptional approval, as did the press demo of the scene with Ethan and his son. I was really reticent to show this scene to the press because I found it particularly slow and depressing. It works really well in the context of the game, but out of context, it could be misunderstood. In fact I think it surprised a lot of people, even destabilized some.
Some reviews surprised me too. Journalists explaining that in the teaser they found scenes they experience with their own kids. Others were reminded of moments in their childhood when their parents separated. It's the first time I've seen this kind of personal comment in an article on a video game and it really touched me. I've never been so convinced of being on the right track. If the final game can touch personal memories and feelings in players, we will really have accomplished something.
The whole team in the MoCap room today for the Koln report. We show my appearance at the Sony conference so that the team can understand the message that goes with the game. I sum up my impressions of the fair and my feelings about the way the game is perceived. I tell them about my visit to Abbey Road. In short, I make sure everyone has all the information and can see the captain on the bridge. The team kept track of feedback from Koln on the net. They are more familiar than I am with what's being said about HR. It's good to know good things are being said about it. The coming weeks will be difficult. This is no time to start having doubts…
Time has speeded up… September already. The Beta in two weeks. Since I got back from Koln, the whole team has been in intensive crunch mode. Steve has started to integrate the music with the scripters. I've been reviewing all the key moments in the story in order to rework the directing. After doing a big pass on the Ethan scenes shortly before Koln (particularly the one that was presented to the press), I have switched to Shelby's scenes. The majority of the work was on Kramer's Party, a scene where Shelby and his "partner" go to investigate in the millionaire's villa in the middle of a somewhat depraved party. A lot of work. The scene was one of the first ones we worked on and it needed to be seriously upgraded. I spent a week on it, just on the directing…
Close-up of Shelby
A few Shelby scenes later, I switch back to the Ethan scenes. A lot of key scenes, obviously, based enormously on the quality of the acting. Rather pleasant surprises while filming the scenes. I rediscover a lot of what I saw on the shoot.
The current work is a little strange, a mixture of using the data shot but cut up (all the animation is cut up for use in the game play) and "added" data. For example, all the looks between the characters are added in procedural fashion. We mix the micro-movements of eyes captured on the actor with directions imposed by the director during the directing (we can thus adjust the direction of the looks to the nearest second).
The same thing with the facial animation: although dialogues are shot specifically, everything that is "non text" (reactions, silences, etc.) is managed by means of a library of facial emotions that the director can use as he wishes. For example, we can decide that a character will react to a line with a smile or, on the contrary, that he will be angry. Each character in HR has a library of several hundred emotions ranging from sadness to disgust, seduction to hatred. All these emotions were captured in several versions with the actors in motion capture.
The power of the director thus becomes very important during the integration: far from merely setting up the cameras, he practically takes part in the actor's performance by choosing his expressions and directing his looks.
The difference in the result is quite spectacular: no facial between lines and no looks. We witness a flat dialogue between two dead fish. The dialogue suddenly springs to life when we integrate all the elements correctly.
This power demands that I be particularly vigilant with regard to contradictions. A smile added at the wrong time and the meaning of a whole scene changes.
Series of generic facial expressions
Camera integration is done via a module called "Sequence Editor" in a tool called IAM. IAM is a scripting tool that enables us to assemble all the elements in HR, to position triggers, to define conditions and variables, to configure the AI, etc. In short, the game is really created in IAM.
The Sequence Editor is a real time dedicated advanced editing application. It can be used to summon up all the game data (characters, animations, sounds, FX, etc.), assemble them according to conditions, and add cameras if we wish. Given the cinematographic perspective in HR, it is obviously a key application in development.
We systematically use editing tracks and a time line. We can place animations on a track, duplicate them, cut them up, resize them and accelerate them as we wish. We can then create a camera track and move it in real time as the animation is played. We can obviously record camera movements and create as many as we wish depending on our directing.
This tool played a major role in the idea of freeing the camera from the character. HR attempts to create an experience in which the camera is not permanently locked in position behind the player but instead plays an active role in the narration, as if the player were playing in a cut scene. He retains control permanently while still enjoying the benefits of veritable directing.
This cinematographic approach has often caused misunderstandings with regard to what HR is really going to be. Some people think that because we are working on the narration, emotion and directing, the game will be one long cut scene. This is obviously false. The player is permanently in direct control of his character. But we work on allowing him to tell his story with his actions, to live his different emotions by interacting.
End of Cycle 7 today. The last cycle contains only epilogue scenes, therefore lots of scenes of limited complexity. We decided to use only one cameraman to film them with only one scripter as backup, the rest of the team being devoted entirely to debugging the rest of the game. Only two weeks from the Beta, there are still 200 bugs flagged "Beta Failure" (bugs likely to cause the Beta to be refused). It's doable but we're going to have to focus on this target.
The whole team is now going to go into review mode. All the managers will spend a maximum amount of time reviewing the game and dissecting, scene-by-scene, pixel-by-pixel, everything that can be improved. I set up a second review room with a projector for joint reviews on a big screen. I know that the quality of the game will depend to a large degree on the rigor of this long and painstaking job. Play, play again, analyze, observe, enter the bugs to the team, start the new build, play again, see what has improved and what has broken. Begin again.
All the languages have now been implemented in the game. It's strange to hear Mad Jack speaking Japanese. The localization looks good, insofar as I can judge… It works in any case. Just as well, the TGS is coming up next week.
Lineup to play at HR at the TGS (left), Guillaume de Fondaumière –executive producer- presenting the game at the TGS (right)
The two children we hastily rescanned just before Koln have now been integrated into the Build. Overall, they work much better.
More changes in the main menu this week. I'm not quite finding what I'm looking for. Some things have been simplified, others made more complex, in search of something that is both simple and original. It's hard to tell how much time we spend on parts of the game that no one will really notice in the end. But I believe we're slowly reaching the final version.
On a completely different track: it's incredible how many people have projects they can't talk about. It's top secret. Because if we heard their idea, we might steal it.
Everybody has ideas, it's the easiest thing in the world. They say that every waiter in Hollywood has an idea for a scenario. In the world of video games, every developer has an idea for a game. Anybody can have an idea. The hard thing is bringing them to development.
It may sound stupid, but I've never had any difficulty talking about my next idea. On the contrary, it often enables me to 1/ practice formulating it clearly, 2/ convince myself that it really is a good idea, 3/ check that I still think it's good after explaining it fifty times over.
Nobody has ever stolen an idea from me.
Not surprising really. Generally people don't believe in them to start with.
That's a good way of recognizing a really good idea.
I've decided not to go to TGS. Too much work in the office. I can't afford to take a week (plus jet lag) right now. A pity. I would have liked to stroll around Akihabara… Oh, well, next year, I guess… Guillaume is going to go there on his own. He has done all the breakout sessions with me since the beginning of HR. He'll be able to handle it…
Reviewed the first scene of the game for the fiftieth time.
Fed back 25 pages of bugs. Not too serious, but still 25 pages…
I listened to the first scenes with the music integrated.
I can confirm that it changes everything. Good news, the addition of 75 minutes of music in 5.1 did not explode the build.
However, we still have stability problems on big crowd scenes. Memory leaks finally flushed out today. Things should look better tomorrow.
Found a better idea for the break.
Found a better idea for the closing credits.
Suggested a third redraft of the Tutorial in the first scene of the game. This should be the last one.
No connection at all: went to see Inglorious Bastards last night.
Tarantino… that guy is a genius…
Today, February 18th, I'm writing the last post in the Heavy Rain blog where I have shared my feelings for several months now. A final post in the form of a summary, recounting the promotion, the previews, reviews, meetings that conclude a human adventure that lasted four years.
My plane from Madrid has just landed. Tomorrow I'm off to the Alps for a week's skiing with my family after two years with no holidays. The last presentation in Madrid marks the end of the Heavy Rain promotion, a week before the game is released. For the last month I've travelled the length and breadth of Europe meeting the press and doing presentations. Milan, Oslo, London, Paris, Madrid, with Guillaume filling in for Vienna and Copenhagen.
I must have given hundreds of interviews over the last few months, explained my inspiration at least a thousand times, why Heavy Rain is different and why I'm not afraid of player reactions. No, I'm not afraid. I crossed that hurdle a long time ago.
Game presentation in Madrid
A few weeks earlier the previews set the tone for how the game would be received all over the world. And I have to admit that there were really no surprises between the previews and the reviews. Along with Sony we had decided to send the first eleven scenes of the game to the world press for previews. The first eleven scenes are expository. They introduce the player to the story and characters. I was quite surprised by the reactions of some of the journalists who had previously been fairly cautious if not downright wary. A lot of them really enjoyed the experience and wanted nothing better than to continue the game beyond the preview. Others talked about a slow start and wondered what the future held in store, though they were curious rather than apprehensive. Yet others, who were fortunately in a minority, had definitively chosen their camp and condemned the game to the hellish torments of commercial failure because of a lack of guns, monsters, adrenaline and testosterone. Predictable. Nothing to worry about.
I was particularly touched by two previews, one by Eurogame.net and the other by the French magazine Joypad. In the first one the author described the scene between Ethan and his son and explained how it reminded him of his own childhood, commenting he experienced profound depression in a video game for the first time. The article was touching and well written and I found it particularly moving. I said to myself if the game can provoke this kind of reaction, it has a good chance of succeeding. I also think that Heavy Rain offers talented journalists an opportunity to demonstrate their talent by writing sensitive and intelligent articles that reflect on the medium, beyond the usual descriptions of levels, enemies, weapons, bosses and end of levels.
In the second article, published in Joypad, the author is surprised to find himself appreciating the slow beginning and experiencing previously unknown emotions in a video game. He also explained that "David Cage's Fahrenheit succeeds second time round". It's a bit hard on Fahrenheit. But I take it as a compliment.
I was only half reassured by this first feedback. Apart from a few enthusiastic journalists who were already convinced of the quality of the game, most of them gave a reserved appreciation of the game but without any indication of their final evaluation. I retained two things from these previews. The slow beginning had a greater impact than I expected. Of course this was no accident, rather a deliberate and conscious design choice that I had discussed at length with Sony. No, Heavy Rain would not start out with explosions and spectacular stunts. The game would begin by building up the story and the player's attachment for the characters, so that when the story takes off, the players will be emotionally involved and will experience the same feelings as the characters they have become attached to. By asking players to become involved with the characters, I was counting on amplifying their emotions at a later stage and rewarding them for their patience.
I was also surprised by the impact on the journalists of the simple actions that stud the early part of the game. Here again, I was relying on the role play, the fact that the players "become" the character by experiencing his everyday life. By asking players to look after their son when he came home from school, my idea was to make the players into fathers, to make them responsible, to build up the relationship with the character and between the character and his son, not by means of a cut scene but directly via the interactivity. The player plays the role of the father, he becomes the father, the one he chooses to be, exhausted but trying to re-establish bonds with his son and face up to the situation, or a father who is prostrate with grief and guilt and self-absorbed.
Most of the press seems to have understood this approach. I already know that overall the game will be a success because of the position it takes and its groundbreaking approach. I also know that it will meet with profound incomprehension on the part of others. Everything depends on how substantial each of these reactions is.
The first review came from England in January, before the end of the embargo, as a result of a mysterious misunderstanding in England. It came out on its own before everybody else and gave the game 9/10. Still under the effect of the embargo, I begin to receive other scores and other reviews, all of them located 9/10 and 10/10. I was moved by some reviews, like the one in The Official PlayStation US magazine that devotes two pages to describing what the reviewer felt as he played. Not a word about the technology, the interface, the graphics, no descriptions, just the emotions experienced. The article gives the game a 5/5 score.
The end of the embargo comes along and I'm not even thinking about it. I'm too taken up by promotion, keeping track of the latest details for the patch and the first DLC and reorganizing the team for the post-Heavy Rain phase (and there's lots of work, analysing post-mortems, necessary restructuring, new technical orientations, and all this in the absence of most of the management staff who have taken six weeks holidays at the end of the project).
On the stroke of 5:00 p.m. I feel a certain tension in the studio though I don't pay any attention to it… until groups form around a desk and exclamations begin to crack the air. End of embargo: all the reviews land at the same time. Pressing F5 to refresh the information in real time, scores come rushing in from all over the world at the same time, articles tumbling in on top of each other in a variety of languages.
The scores are closer together than I expected. I was expecting a wide range of scores, given the "non-consensus" nature of Heavy Rain, but overall they turn out to be either 9/10 or 10/10, just like the first reviews. The articles vary in their content and are more or less interesting in their analyses, more or less superficial, but overall, they all say the same thing: Heavy Rain has met its target. The story holds together, the emotion is there, the interface is surprising but fits the format pretty well. Relief.
I have exposed myself to an enormous amount of flack over the last two years for this game. I knew that if it didn't measure up to my promises, I would probably have had enormous difficulty recovering my credibility. When you try to develop ambitious and atypical projects, credibility is your main trump card, the only thing that enables you to keep working.
More good news: the QTE sequences, that I spent the best part of two years defending, were well received. Most of the articles explain that the player is in control of the character most of the time and that the action sequences are gripping and intense. In short, exactly what I had been trying to explain for months, but it's always better when someone else says it.
In the end of the day, the unpleasant articles can be counted on the fingers of one hand, which is pretty unexpected. The two main French video game sites are among the most vociferous objectors (a prophet is never accepted in his own land). Most of the French press gave the game a very positive reception, as did other countries, but curiously enough these two sites seem to have missed the whole point. Apart from the mediocre scores (the worst score from any country being three points below the world average), I was struck by the mediocrity of the articles. An absence of reflection and analysis, the kind of article you'd expect from a fourteen-year-old in a schoolyard. Developers and publishers are trying to get video games to evolve. One of these days some of the Internet press is going to have to have a good hard look at itself.
The English magazine EDGE deserves special attention, another international exception. This magazine used to be a thoughtful avant-garde magazine but it just isn't what it used to be. After three months of unpleasant articles on Heavy Rain (two of them before the preview, so without getting their hands on the game), the review was predictable. A strange article in the form of a settling of scores and in which my name appears in every other sentence, as if the review was about me and not about the game. Here again, no analysis, no reflection, no detachment, just a load of pseudo-intellectual waffle devoid of content.
Of course there were also a few negative articles with reasoned arguments that defended a point of view in a coherent fashion, as there were positive articles without any real analysis, but overall, Heavy Rain enabled us to see where the last outposts of stubborn conservativism lie, the ones where they think that the last thing video games should do is try to change, just stay where they've been for the last twenty years while improving a little (though not too much). In the end of the day, this resistance is extremely marginal, much more so than I expected. The vast majority of the international press is avid for change.
I have to admit that I awaited the results of the reviews with a certain degree of nervousness over the last few weeks. I know that the survival of my studio depended on these scores, as did my own survival. They are the best guarantee of my artistic freedom for my next project, the level of confidence I can demand, my legitimacy.
The scores were a relief to me. I know that lots of people were waiting to see me fall. I feel that I've fulfilled at least one part of my contract. I have always believed that a good critical reception was the least I had to achieve in order to continue working. I'm happy to have achieved that target.
The second part of my prediction now remains to be fulfilled: to see the game finding its public and selling.
At the end of a competition organized by Sony, a certain number of players were given access to the playable demo a week before its official release. This demo was an enormous preoccupation over the last few months and the subject of many discussions with Sony. The original idea was to use the HASSAN SHOP scene, which had already been presented to the public, particularly to illustrate the fact that it could be replayed in several different ways.
I wasn't really convinced that this scene was the best one to showcase the game. We finally agreed to show two scenes instead of one, SLEAZY PLACE and CRIME SCENE, in order to illustrate the diversity of the game play and to convince the remaining players who still thought the game was just a succession of QTEs and show the gripping atmosphere of the game.
ad always remained hesitant declared that they were convinced by the demo and had decided to buy the game. Others preferred not to play the demo in order to avoid discovering the game and buy it as soon as it was released.
The first feedback from the players proved that we had made the right choice. A lot of players who h
Outside and inside the German bus that promotes Heavy Rain
Great expectations seem to have built up around the game. I have been seeing this for several months in the media coverage the game received, of course, but also in the course of meetings with journalists and players, from our gamestatistics score (which measures the number of pages visited and therefore the level of interest for any given game, a score that placed us in a leading position in recent weeks with 98-99%).
The expectations are there, the reviews are good. Everything looks good. But this doesn't stop me getting stressed out about sales.
Fortunately, Sony doesn't leave me much time for soul searching. A presentation to the Italian press in Milan, then one in Oslo to the Norwegian press in a cinema, followed by a preview in London.
Lastly, and the biggest of all, a preview in Paris.
Game presentation by David
I have to admit that I was particularly apprehensive about this stage. A big cinema on the Champs-Elysées where film previews are usually shown. Red carpet, limousine, several hundred journalists, players, VIPs, the game's actors. On the agenda: a projection of the making-of, one hour of gameplay edited as a film, a roundtable discussion with film directors. I invited the team management and my parents. In other words, the kind of event where you don't want to put a foot wrong.
Heavy Rain’s Paris’ premiere
Guillaume has been working on the editing for several weeks in order to get one hour's film out of the first game scenes, obviously without spoiling the story. I spent the day doing interviews, with Heavy Rain's six main characters who will be present on stage for the first time this evening, along with set designer Thierry Flamand and the man behind the music score, Normand Corbeil, who has come from Canada for the occasion.
The day with the actors went particularly well. It's always an immense pleasure to see them, with the strange impression of seeing them as the characters in the game rather than real actors.
Having spent the day in interviews, I set out for the cinema. An enormous crowd in front of the cinema, you couldn't miss it. The show begins in thirty minutes… and nothing works. The projector can't read the video compression format correctly. We've spent two years freaking out at every demo that doesn't work and end up freaking out for the preview that shows the game in video.
Fortunately, it was all worked out at the last moment, much to everyone's relief as we were beginning to wonder what we could show instead.
Two packed cinema theatres, one in French, the other in English with international journalists from all over Europe (a special hello to the German journalists with their Heavy Rain bus!).
We get the actors up on the stage and I can feel the audience shudder as they note their resemblance to the characters. A special word for Jaqui Ainsley with whom it is difficult to pass unnoticed (I know from experience). I take advantage of this scene to get my son up on the stage (he did the Motion Capture animations for Shaun). A moment of pure pleasure. The kind of moment that makes us do this job. We accept having no life for two years, spending nights in the office, ruining our health in pursuit of chimerical illusions.
After the film, Neil Labute's documentary on the game is projected, with the collaboration of Stephen Frears, Samuel L. Jackson, Jean-Marc Barr and other famous actors, directors and artists.
The big moment of the evening for me was the roundtable discussion with Neil Labute, Mathieu Kassowitz and the immense Terry Gilliam. They have all played Heavy Rain and hearing Mathieu and Terry discussing it was a moment of sheer pleasure. Terry Gilliam, one of the old Monty Python team, director of the fantastic Brazil (one of the films that most marked me) and the amazing 12 Monkeys, to mention only two. The fact that he appreciated Heavy Rain is an immense honour for me.
I am also surprised by Mathieu's and Terry's analysis of the game and I feel we are speaking the same language, I feel that the medium fascinates them. With these people there's no need to discuss things like whether the emotion is important, whether telling a story is worthwhile, whether having sensitive and credible characters serves any purpose. All that goes without saying. In many ways, I feel much closer to them than to many game designers. I envy their talent, but I also feel that the fact of telling a story where the spectator is the hero is something that attracts them.
Now I know that it will be possible to build bridges between our media, not based on economic reasoning but on a creative desire, a joint project. People as talented as Mathieu and Terry don't exist in our industry. Perhaps Heavy Rain will provide unique opportunities to convince actors and directors to come and teach us what they know and help us to grow, evolve and develop.
The main cast on the scene
After the projections I speak with other famous directors who have come to see the presentation and they all tell me how extraordinarily interested they are in the medium. It may be possible to overcome another hurdle and enable interactivity to reach adulthood and find the talent and creativity to grow and become what it is: a fantastic means of expression.
An extraordinary evening of meeting and sharing. Sharing with the actors and the team who worked hard for nearly four years and now sees its efforts recompensed in the course of the evening. Sharing with players who have come to meet us. Meeting with directors and artists who came to see this strange video game that everyone is talking about.
When you come to the end of project, there are times when you feel at one with the world. It's a very fugitive moment, a sort of feeling of accomplishment. That's what I feel right now.
The next day, more interviews, then a presentation and a preview in a large Paris store (the FNAC at Les Halles). A weird coincidence: it was in this store that I bought my first video game with my own money (BARBARIAN by PSYGNOSIS on ATARI ST) at a time when it was difficult to find two game boxes in the midst of the accountancy software. It was also here that I came for the first time to talk with a creator of video games (Hervé Lange, programmer of B.A.T) without dreaming that I might one day become one myself.
Also, and most of all, it was here that I lost my son one Saturday afternoon, a misadventure that was to inspire me to create Heavy Rain.
So, a presentation, signing autographs, photos with fans, then off to Madrid for interviews, a presentation, more autographs, more photos with fans.
And this evening I end this strange adventure that has lasted four years. The game came out in Japan today. Our sources tell us it sold out in several stores on the first day. In a few days Heavy Rain will be released in the rest of the world. The game will then have ceased to be our baby and will belong to the players.
Presentation of the game in a shop in Tokyo
I know the whole games industry will have its eyes riveted on the sales figures to see if the completely crazy adventure that Sony and Quantic Dream embarked on four years ago will pay off. I know that a commercial success can have a profound impact on the industry. Just as a failure would have negative consequences on desires to get the medium to evolve.
In more prosaic terms, I know the minimum number of sales I want to reach, below which I will consider that the game failed to find its public. The worldwide Day 1 is of great importance. The pre-orders are there, targets per country are ambitious but realistic. All the elements are there to make Heavy Rain more than just another critical success. Response in one week. I'll try not to think about it during my vacation. In any case, there's not much that I can do at this stage. In a few days we'll be able to count one by one the players who believe in the approach we used in Heavy Rain, the ones who believe that video games can be more than just a toy, that they can become a means of expression and perhaps, one day, an art form.
I'm sure of just one thing. I don't want to make any more toys.
Thank you for following my life and moods over the last few months on this blog. I hope I have managed to share my passion with you but also my doubts, without which there is no progress. Perhaps you will appreciate Heavy Rain differently having shared the moments that went into its creation. As you read these lines, you may already know whether Heavy Rain has found its public or not. Spare a thought for me ;-)