Quantic Dream Interview - David Cage Discusses Breaking Away from PlayStation, PC Ports, Cloud Play, and Epic Games Store
Quantic Dream's David Cage reflects on the company's new ventures during one of their most important years ever.
2019 may be one of Quantic Dream’s most important years ever. After twelve years of working with Sony Interactive Entertainment to release Detroit: Become Human, Beyond: Two Souls, and Heavy Rain for PS3 and PS4, they are finally switching to multiplatform development. They secured some funding through NetEase, who acquired a minority stake in the company, and revealed their plans to release the three aforementioned games for PC through the Epic Games Store back in March.
The first two PC releases from Quantic Dream have rolled out during Summer 2019, and Detroit: Become Human‘s port is still on its way. During this very important time for the studio, DualShockers was able to talk to David Cage, founder of Quantic Dream, as well as the director and writer of all of its games. Over the course of the interview, he discussed not only breaking away from releasing titles exclusively for PlayStation consoles, but Google Stadia, next-gen development, and where the Epic Games Store can improve, as well.
Tomas Franzese: When did Quantic Dream initially make the decision to bring much of their catalog to PC, and what was the biggest influential factor in doing so?
David Cage: We were thinking about where we wanted to go with the company for quite some time, around two years before the release of Detroit. We wanted to explore new ideas for a long time, work on different platforms and reach players all around the world.
We also felt that the landscape would change in the coming years, with the emergence of new platforms, 5G and Cloud Play. We also wanted to become an independent publisher, not to rival major companies, but rather to be a “boutique” publisher, backing a few titles and championing originality and high quality, while providing tech and industrial support. As developers ourselves, we also believe that we understand developers. We felt there was room for a new publisher that would have an “ethical” approach, offering fair deals and not taking ownership of IP.
For all these reasons, after having worked exclusively with PlayStation for 12 years, we thought it was the right time for us to put our money where our mouth is. So we met many publishers and financers potentially interested in investing in the company, and ultimately we chose to team up with NetEase. They understood the ambition we had for the studio and we felt there were some very interesting strategic synergies between our companies. We also found them to be very passionate people, which is something rare in companies of that scale.
We always had a great relationship with Sony PlayStation. They have always been very supportive of my work, and we have always been very loyal to them in return. So we had a very open talk about all this, and they allowed us to release our catalogue of titles on PC. We spent a year working on porting our games, optimizing engines and redesigning controls, to make our titles accessible to all PC gamers. Heavy Rain, Beyond: Two Souls and Detroit: Become Human are also the first titles produced and published by Quantic Dream.
“After having worked exclusively with PlayStation for 12 years, we thought it was the right time for us to put our money where our mouth is.”
TF: What made Epic and the Epic Games Store an enticing partnership for these ports?
DC: Epic was very motivated by the idea of publishing our titles on their store. They offered visibility and marketing support, which was very important to us. Their platform is new, and we knew that enticing players to migrate onto it would take time, but it was also an opportunity to expose our games to PC gamers who might not be familiar with our work yet, securing extra visibility straight away.
TF: What has the fan response been to Quantic Dream’s library coming to the Epic Game store?
DC: Fans were very excited to see our games coming to PC, and the reactions in general have been extremely positive.
TF: Are there any specific features of the Epic Games Store that made it a better draw than Steam?
DC: Epic Game Store is a new platform: they don’t yet have the maturity of other platforms, but they’re making rapid progress. They seem very determined to offer a competitive alternative. Moreover, I don’t think a monopoly is a good thing in any industry. Giving gamers, publishers, and developers a choice between PC platforms is positive and healthy for everybody.
TF: Are there any features you hope to see the Epic Games Store add in the future?
DC: Epic is working on making their store as user-friendly as possible and adding more social features, but for the future, I hope that they will consider becoming a Cloud Play platform. Cloud Play is going to be the next revolution in gaming, and I hope it will be a competitive landscape. Games are going to look stunning no matter what screen you play on, and developers will only have to focus on one platform, which means that dev money will go into quality instead of compatibility.
TF: Has Heavy Rain’s PC release on the Epic Games store met Quantic Dream’s expectations?
DC: Absolutely. We are very pleased with the current figures, which align with our expectations. Our games are also long-sellers, so we know that new players will keep discovering our titles in the coming years.
TF: Were there any particular difficulties in porting these Quantic Dream games over to PC due to how they were coded/created for systems like the PS3 and PS4?
DC: When we developed the PlayStation versions, all the code was native for PlayStation, optimized to the bone to run as best as possible on that platform. We also designed the interface for the PlayStation controller, as we always wanted to support the platform as much as we could and to be as close to it as possible. All these advantages we had on PlayStation became challenges in porting the game to PC. The last thing we wanted was “straight ports” without paying attention to the differences between the platforms.
This is why we took a year of development to refactor the engine, ensuring it would run well on low-end PCs and in 60fps 4K on high-end PCs, with upgraded assets. We also redesigned the interface to make it suited to a keyboard and mouse, as well as to different types of controllers. It was a lot of work, but we are really pleased with the result.
TF: Do you believe the story of Beyond: Two Souls still holds up after 6 years? What will new players get out of the game in 2019?
DC: The good thing about storytelling is that it can pass the test of time. People found these stories and characters compelling when the games were released, and we believe that the emotional experience of these titles remains intact. “How far are you prepared to go to save someone you love?” is as valid a question in 2019 as it was when Heavy Rain was released. We believe Jodie’s quest for identity and the journey into her life is still a very moving experience.
These games are not purely about tech or graphics or interface. They are about emotions: hope, fear, love, redemption. They are about who we are and who we would like to be. For all these reasons, I think that these experiences can be as powerful today as they were when we initially released them.
TF: As we are several years out from the game’s initial release, what do you believe Beyond: Two Souls’ biggest impact on Quantic Dream was?
DC: Beyond is maybe the most important game in my career as a writer/director. You cannot imagine how much I learnt working on it. Collaborating with talents like Ellen Page and Willem Dafoe helped me to become a better director. Writing different moments in the life of a character was also incredibly challenging and fascinating. It made me realize how the different moments of our lives are connected, how each choice we made makes us who we are.
“Beyond is maybe the most important game in my career as a writer/director. You cannot imagine how much I learnt working on it.”
It was also a freeing exercise for me, where I realized that games could evoke serious themes like suicide, identity, marginalization, and the difficulty of accepting who oneself is. It was definitely a massive challenge to talk about all these deep and intimate topics, but they gripped me. I really believe that Detroit: Become Human would have been a very different game if I hadn’t written Beyond. It’s one of the games I am most proud of. It may not be the most accessible game I’ve ever made, but it is a very unique and personal experience, and I know that the players who got it are deeply attached to it.
TF: In the future, would Quantic Dream like to release new games on PC at launch?
DC: Quantic Dream is not exclusive to any platform anymore. So yes, unless there are some specific exclusivity deals on a title-by-title basis, all our games will be released on all platforms at launch.
TF: If Quantic Dream releases more games on PC after Detroit: Become Human, will you keep the Epic Games Store exclusivity partnership for future titles?
DC: The agreement with Epic Games Store is only for Heavy Rain, Beyond, and Detroit for a limited period. Our future titles are not part of this deal.
TF: What are Quantic Dream’s thoughts on cloud-based game streaming platforms like Google Stadia? Do you believe the new tools a service like that introduces will have a noticeable impact on narrative-focused titles?
DC: As I said, I am a big believer in Cloud Play: I think it will totally change the face of our industry, both for players and developers. Players will be able to play the same game with the same graphic quality on all screens, including mobile. They will be able to start playing on their big screen in their living room, then continue playing in the bus on their mobile, all with the same visual quality. Developers won’t have to develop three or four versions of their engines to fit all platforms. They will just focus on one Cloud Play engine and get it streamed on all platforms. They can then reinvest the time, energy and resources they will save in making the gaming experience even better.
Cloud Play will also be a way to make high-end video games accessible to a wider audience. You will not need to invest $400 in a gaming platform, you will probably end up paying a monthly subscription to play your favorite games. Of course, there are many obstacles along the way before all this becomes a reality, and technology may not be the most challenging one. Business model and revenue sharing are still major questions to answer before the entire industry can migrate to Cloud Play.
Google Stadia is an interesting attempt at breaking this new ground. They definitely have the resources and technology to make it happen, but like their competitors, they will need to convince developers and publishers to make their platform unique. Content is king: the platform with the most exclusive content will win.
“I think that there is a lot of misunderstanding about what tech will bring on next-gen platforms.”
TF: As Quantic Dream is gearing up for next-generation development, how will the various improvements those consoles bring impact the creation of your upcoming games?
DC: I think that there is a lot of misunderstanding about what tech will bring on next-gen platforms. What players need to know is that all parameters are linked. You can have 8K content only if you have a 8K screen. You can do 8K, but probably not 8K AND Ray Tracing. If you have 8K content, the volume of your assets will grow very significantly, their size in memory and on your hard drive too. You will also need to load them very quickly from your storage device to the memory, so this pipeline will also need to be proportionally faster. I don’t want to get too technical here, but I try to convey the idea that improving one part of the hardware only makes sense if all is proportionally-accelerated to avoid bottlenecks.
Our current analysis is that few studios will go for 8K because it will necessitate too many compromises on the overall quality of the game. Ray tracing is going to be so costly that we will probably only see full HD titles using it (there is a direct connection between resolution, ray tracing and performance), at least in the first generation of titles. Next-gen consoles show a significant improvement in CPU power, which will mean significant improvements in physics and AI. GPU improvement should be enough to get ray tracing in full HD or full 4K resolution (without ray tracing).
All in all, we believe that there will be serious improvements in next-gen games, but maybe not the ones that are currently promoted the most. More power means more toys to play with, but also more complex and longer development cycles, and of course bigger budgets. We saw in the last-gen how middle-range developers struggled to get their games produced. I fear that it will be even worse on next-gen platforms, where there may only be room for big franchises, because they will be the most able to recoup their massive dev budgets.
I personally believe that technology is the pen to write the book. It can facilitate the writing, create nice-looking books, but a pen will never make your book great by itself. Content is going to be key in the coming years, maybe even more than before. All new platforms will need high-quality exclusive content to attract consumers, which is a positive thing for developers and gamers. My hope is that we will see creative and original titles, because more than technology, they are the ones that make our industry move forward.
Beyond: Two Souls and Heavy Rain are available now for PS3, PS4, and PC via the Epic Games Store. Detroit: Become Human is currently on PS4, but is coming to PC later this year. If you are interested in Quantic Dream’s PC ports, stay tuned for an upcoming giveaway from DualShockers.