GDC Europe

How far were they prepared to go to make Heavy Rain?

September 6, 2010 — by Vlad Micu


GDC Europe

How far were they prepared to go to make Heavy Rain?

September 6, 2010 — by Vlad Micu

Quantic Dream’s CEO and founder David Cage was invited to GDC Europe to explain why, how and what happened after his team made Heavy Rain. Not before he started his talk criticizing the state of current games as being too much “defined by who you kill or what you destroy”. Cage argued that games have barely changed in the past 25 years, which are mostly based on violent actions, similar gameplay patterns, are emotionally poor and mainly target kids and teenagers. “I believe you lose something in this experience,” He stated. “Your experience can be much richer with all these great emotions. There is very little that you take away from your games.”

Why they did it
Cage continued to explain his opinion that games be art and not toys. Cage went on to call adult gamers an untapped market that is strongly interested in emotion and narrative. “Games do not have to be challenging to be entertaining,” he argued. “That’s fine, but as an adult, I have little time.”

“The market is ready for new paradigms,” Cage also suggested. “Our industry is about technical innovation, but very little conceptual innovation.” Accordign to cage, the game industry should stop doing the same things over and over, while the few people who want to innovate often do not have the opportunity to do so. Over a year has passed since Cage and his team had worked on Heavy Rain. Both Sony and Quantic Dream apparently did not expect the game to be such as a success.

How they did it
Cage went on to describe the biggest challenges his team had faced. “You need a very clear idea you want to achieve,” he explained. His team first had to face the problem of creating new paradigms that made Heavy Rain into more of a journey than a challenge.”What you see, what road you take, what you’re experiencing or feel, makes the difference.”

The second problem became the interface, with any average game controller limiting the animation of the protagonist to a number of buttons. This required Cage’s team to invent a new interface that supported strongly contextual interactions. “This is a big change and it solved many problems when people have to tell stories and create emotions in games.”

The third problem was hitting the right strings of emotion and meaning for the player. ”We wanted you to have something that resonates with you, that gives you food for thought.” According to Cage’s findings, many players reported that it really made them think about the relationships they have with their own family and friends. “I wish more games would explore this direction,” Cage admitted. “It is still unfortunately very rare in games.”

Heavy Rain also posed a lot of narrative challenges and required Cage’s team to invent a new language to convey the game’s story to the player, with no real reference material to work with. The team had adventure games and movies to work from for puzzles and dialogue, but that clearly wasn’t enough. “We could borrow the visual language from movies, but the interactive language had to be invented.”

Failing certain parts of the game had to become usual while playing Heavy Rain. Cage admitted that he was always against the fact that failing has always been a big punishment in games. His team found that some testers would fail pretty much ever single action scene. “When we asked them about the game, they answered it was easy,” Cage explained. “When we told the guy that he basically missed every single action scene, he was surprised.” It dawned on the team that the tester thought he couldn’t actually succeed in the game’s scene.

The 2000 pages of script for Heavy Rain took over more than a year in writing, but Cage highly doubts he could pull it off again. “The bad news is that there is no recipe,” Cage admitted. “If you ask me how you did it, I don’t have a clue.”

After they did it
Cage ended his talk by sharing some numbers on Heavy Rain. The game got a total of 4475 reviews with a 90,1% average worldwide. The game also sold out with 600.000 copies in the first two weeks and has sold over 1,5 million to date on full price. The title also won numerous awards, including Develop’s best new franchise and best independent studio. Though what Cage was personally most thankful for, was the support and respect he’d received from both journalists and game developers.


Vlad Micu

Vlad Micu is managing editor of He previously has been a freelance game industry professional for over five years and traveled around the world while running his company VGVisionary. Starting VGVisionary during college, Vlad was able to work independently as a pr & marketing consultant, event manager, industry journalist, speaker and game developer. He just returned from Bangkok, Thailand, where he pursued his dream of making video games as the game producer at arkavis, an up and coming casual game studio.