With Beyond: Two Souls just around the corner, Sony Australia brought Director David Cage to Australia for a Q&A session and panel discussion at Event Cinemas in Sydney. While people continually tout the similarities between the highest-end videogames and movies (as a compliment, usually), they also bemoan those games which are too ‘linear’, and there isn’t much which is non-linear about films.
The competitive teething issues seem to be largely falling by the wayside now as people begin to embrace the differences and strengths unique to each medium. Beyond: Two Souls perhaps represents one of the closest harmonies between the two, but Cage explained in great detail what made the process of creating Beyond so different than film production.
"Collaboration with Hollywood actors of this calibre is really a premiere for this industry," he began. "The goal [with Beyond] is to make you feel emotions that are rarely found in videogames. Most videogames are focused on action, tension, stress, frustration, competition. When you look at films, TV series and theatre, literature and life in general, there are many other emotions that we can find in these mediums but not in games."
Collaboration with Hollywood actors of this calibre is really a premiere for this industry. The goal is to make you feel emotions that are rarely found in videogames - David Cage.
He’s entirely right, of course. Games fundamentally rely (in the majority of cases) on space and movement. You have an ‘avatar’ and have to travel through a game world. Interactions are based on positioning and timing more than they are on the nature of the interaction. The simplistic nature of the majority of these interactions means that the genre of film most likely to be emulated by a typical videogame is something which involves a lot of movement — the action genre.
"I'm interested in all the other emotions that you can have, but not yet in a videogame," Cage continues.
The non-linear pathway choosing of Heavy Rain is well known to most gamers out there. You are essentially playing a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure wherein the segments of gameplay tend to separate the segments of cinematic linearity, creating a believable narrative story which appears as though it was hand-crafted from beginning to end. Like most videogames, it’s about smoke and mirrors to allow the suspension of disbelief.
The process for creating the vast, vast amount of footage needed to shoot so many multiple paths and endings, as Cage explained, required that they shoot up to ten times as much footage per day on Beyond as would be expected on a film set, using the same type of technology James Cameron used to capture performances when creating Avatar.
"This is a great challenge for any videogame developer," he explained. "When you're James Cameron doing Avatar, you can really calculate one frame per week, and there are 24 frames in a second, and that’s ok because everything is pre-rendered and in the end you just see the results in the theatre, but you can’t interact, you can’t change anything."
"What we do is calculate 30 frames per second on a piece of hardware that is $299 (PlayStation 3). We captured this performance, and in cinema they use quite invasive systems with cameras and helmets and sometimes projectors on the faces, sometimes a backpack, everything is wired, heavy and quite intrusive."
"We wanted to have something that would be totally non-intrusive. We wanted all actors to be basically free — no wires, no helmets, no projectors in the face, no backpack, nothing — just their acting. We developed the technology to do this and also developed the specific technology to capture the movements of the eyes just by placing very small markers around the eyes just to see how the little muscles moves as the eye turns and you can detect these movements. We can then recreate that in the game."
"Filming is done in a second phase. First we capture the animations and place the actors, then go back and place the cameras. It’s a really interesting exercise for actors because they really have to rely on their imagination, and it’s really ‘bare’ acting. It’s just you in this silly suit, the director, the script, and the other actors. It’s truly about acting in its purest form."
Cage balked at the competitive notion presented on the night that a short film only having seven pages was somehow inferior to his 2000 word opus for Beyond: Two Souls.
"It’s not a competition,” he asserted. “It can be much more difficult to write seven pages than 2000. When you’re a film writer, you write one version of the story. As a writer you probably consider different possibilities and different options, but you actually have to make a choice and that’s the one you’re going to get. When you’re an interactive writer, you don’t write one line, you write a narrative space in which the player is free to move, so he can engage with the story. It’s not just one version, it’s all the possibilities in the story. You write everything that can happen, and you let the player deal with that and choose his path."
"The good news is you don’t need to choose which version is the best – you can just write them all – but the bad side is that you end up with a huge script where you need to maintain a consistency (and your team hates you, usually) and there are just thousands of camera shots.";
All in all, it’s a time consuming and exhaustive process to create as much cinema as is required for almost any game, but Beyond: Two Souls is really taking it to a new height.
"It’s a year in writing, a year in shooting (and when I say a year in shooting I mean every day for a year)," says Cage. "You’ll shoot dialogue, you’ll shoot stance, walks, technical things, more acting parts. Then you have a year in editing, balancing the game, adjusting gameplay, putting together the pieces of the puzzle and just hoping that you haven’t forgotten one because if that’s the case then you’ve got to panic and get Ellen Page back, but thankfully that didn’t happen."
"So in the last year you just put all these pieces together and fingers crossed that you didn’t miss anything."
We’ll have to wait until October 9th to find out whether Cage did miss anything, but either way, this will be a dramatic conclusion to the pre-PS4 era of Triple A games for the current gen console.