David Cage and developer Quantic Dream have for many years been chipping away at the ambitious goal of marrying the best qualities of videogames with the cinematic presentation and immersion of film, and with games like Omikron: Nomad Soul, Fahrenheit (aka Indigo Prophecy) and Heavy Rain, the team has slowly but surely been working towards perfecting the formula for gripping interactive stories.
Beyond: Two Souls is Quantic Dream’s latest contribution to this on-going journey and what David Cage says is the result of everything he has learned making games.
- David Cage at a gamescom 2013 presentation
Beyond follows the life and adventures of one Jodie Holmes (played by Ellen Page) who players will see grow and mature over the course of roughly fifteen years – from the age of eight to twenty-three – compressed into the space of a twelve hour game. What’s different about Jodie is her mysterious psychic link with an invisible and powerful entity known only as ‘Aiden’ – a link that has remained unbroken since she was born.
The potential of this co-dependent relationship is discovered by a research scientist, Nathan Dawins (played by Willem Dafoe), who takes Jodie under his wing at a special facility where she is raised and trained while the possibility of harnessing her ability (and the power of Aiden) is slowly but surely investigated, which leads to some very interesting situations, emotional moments and disturbing conflict.
Beyond: Two Souls – Ellen Page and Willem Dafoe Trailer
Cage was excited to tell us that the story of Beyond is told in chronological disorder, that is, “instead of having one third of the game being a kid and another third being a teenager and another third being an adult, actually all of the scenes are mixed up. So you will see a scene where she is an adult, then she’s a kid, then she’s a teenager, etc. etc., so it’s a little bit disorienting at the beginning when you start playing the game because you need some time to figure out what’s going on, but as you progress in the storyline it creates a very interesting effect, which is that the players need to connect the dots. They need to understand what has happened and to put the things in order.
“It creates a very interesting dynamic where you will see consequences before causes. Maybe you will see that a character is very upset with you, and not understand why, until later in the story you realise and see the scene where you met for the first time, and then you understand what happened.”
Beyond Heavy Rain
There are also apparently “many, many differences” between Beyond and Heavy Rain, says Cage, but the key difference is that the scope of the developer’s latest game is “absolutely huge.” Cage pointed to the confusion surrounding the showcase of the Somalia scenario at E3 2013 as a way to demonstrate the scope of Beyond, saying that that particular scene is just one part of the experience – you will never play the game (which was much more stealth-action oriented) in that way again:
“You need to keep in mind that we tell the story of someone over the course of fifteen years. Through fifteen years of the life of someone you travel, you change, you evolve, you see different things and you do different things.”
Beyond isn’t a game where you have levels and continuously play through the same action loop, Cage promises, “it’s really a game where each scene is different, not just the environment – Jodie is different, she looks different, of course, you see her growing, we have about forty different versions of Jodie in the game, so she looks different in every single scene. She moves differently, she talks differently, but also the gameplay and what you have to do evolves.”
The goal of Beyond is to surprise players and circumvent current expectations for what games should be. The way the story of Beyond is told, Cage hopes, will help to do just that.
A Story That Adapts to You
Cage is eager to change the common misconception that story-based games have to include long non-interactive cut-scenes by ensuring Beyond allows players to be the storytellers by progressing the narrative through their actions. In Beyond, players will be presented with what the team is calling ‘organic choices’ (as opposed to the texts of thought seen in Heavy Rain), which is “the fact that you make choices, but just as you act and as you decide what you want to do,” claims Cage.
An example of these organic choices was a particular scene in which Jodie has a date planned with a guy who will be arriving at her apartment in an hour. Depending on how you choose to spend the time preparing for the date will determine your relationship with the guy, with further story implications as the result. Maybe you choose to tidy up your apartment, get dressed and prepare a meal, or maybe you decide to simply let the guy arrive to a messy room with no preparation at all – it’s up to you. The date’s outcome will then open up further avenues in the story that you may or may not see the first time you play Beyond. Throw in the possessive nature of Aiden and his influence, and you’re in for an interesting time.
Don’t Insert Coin to Continue
Intriguingly, Cage confirmed that there is no ‘game over’ in Beyond, despite the fact that there are a few moments where Jodie, and other characters, can die. “I always felt as though the ‘game over’ was a failure,” explains Cage, “not only for the player but also for the designer, in a way, because ‘if you didn’t play this scene the way I wanted you to, then you’ll be punished and you need to go back, play it again and just redo it until you succeed.”
Cage and the Quantic Dream team have strived to ensure players are given the freedom to experiment and continue with the story as they see fit and explore the many and varied branches of the narrative, rather than force players to play it in a specific way. “The story adapts to your actions,” says Cage.
Changing tracks suddenly, Cage was proud to reveal that famous and award-winning music composers Hans Zimmer and Lorne Balfe, who together have worked on film scores for movies like Inception, The Dark Knight, The Dark Knight Rises and other major Hollywood productions, will contribute compositions to Beyond. You can watch both composers speak about their work on Beyond in a recently released announcement trailer:
Beyond: Two Souls – Hans Zimmer and Lorne Balfe discuss the soundtrack
The topic changed again to co-operative play in Beyond, a very intriguing addition to what is essentially a singleplayer experience. David Cage says that he was told by many players of Heavy Rain that they enjoyed the game with a friend, or a significant other, or even with their parents or grandparents, and that they enjoyed experiencing Heavy Rain with someone else.
“The way people played was very interesting,” Cage explained, “because one would be holding the controller while the other one would be playing the puppet master: ‘Do this, do that, go there, I know what to do, shut up.’ That’s my wife…” he said with a wry smile. The team thought this was very interesting but not unusual, because these were the same stories heard from people playing Fahrenheit. So how could Quantic Dream let two people play together in Beyond?
Two Controllers For Two Souls
In a new scene shown off for the first time, where Jodie found herself in a creepy research laboratory with dead bodies strewn about the place, Cage demonstrated how Beyond shows players which points in the world can be interacted with, denoted by a simple white dot on the screen. In order to open a door, or investigate a cupboard, or move further into a room, you’ll only need to push the controller’s stick in the direction of the dot.
You’ll also be able to take direct control of Aiden at the press of a button (read El33tonline’s hands-on preview of Beyond to see how), which will then allow you to float around the world to help Jodie move past obstacles and solve puzzles. If you have a second PlayStation 3 controller, however, a second player will be able to take on the role of Aiden at any time during the game, giving that player all Aiden’s abilities and influences over the physical realm.
Beyond: Two Souls – gamescom 2013 Images
There will be another way to play Beyond, however, and that is by using a specially created (and free) application for smartphones or tablets across iOS and Android that will, according to Cage, be a more familiar and friendly way to control the game for anyone put off by complex and intimidating console controllers. Called ‘Beyond Touch,’ the application will switch the game to easy mode and simply by swiping your finger across the touch screen, you’ll be able to move Jodie and control Aiden on an external device. “A first in videogame history,” claims Cage.
These different controller setups mean that you could have three different players all controlling Beyond in different ways, all at the same time – any combination of the PS3 controllers and touch screen devices can be used to share the experience with friends. Cage hopes that these methods will open up the audience to more people.
To end the presentation, David Cage delivered a touching speech regarding the development of Beyond and its role in the videogame industry, so I decided to include it here in full – I hope it strikes a chord with you as it did with me:
“We are really passionate about this game,” said Cage. “You could feel it if you’ve seen the different presentations of Heavy Rain. This is not about money, it’s not about fame, it’s not about selling as many games as we can so that we are richer. It’s really about passion. It’s really about creating an experience that is different from the things you are used to playing. Some people will love that because they want something that is really new and innovative, and they want something they have never played before.
“Some people will be a little disoriented because you don’t have a gun. There is no button to jump. It’s not this kind of experience. Even if you like adventure games, there is no inventory, there is no ‘puzzle.’ It’s not a point-and-click adventure. It’s something completely different.
“Rather than creating another videogame and doing the same things as all other videogames out there, using mechanics where you can shoot and kill people and destroy things, we thought we would like to create something that is more of an emotional journey. That is more of an experience. That is more something that you will remember for a long time. So that is what we wanted to create with Beyond.
“Something completely different and original. Something really emotional. And if by the time you’re done with the game and you turn off your console, and you have the feeling that you miss Jodie Holmes, because she became someone you know by heart, and you felt goosebumps during an emotional scene, then I will feel that I will have achieved my goal.
“I know there are many, many great games out there this holiday and there are some huge licenses and some excellent games, but I really hope that you will give Beyond a chance because it’s a different game and it deserves to exist and will hopefully open up a new experience that’s not based on violence.”
Beyond: Two Souls is out on October 8th in the US and October 11th in Europe and the UK – don’t miss El33tonline’s extensive coverage of the game for more screenshots, trailers and information.
You can also follow El33tonline’s coverage of gamescom 2013 for our continued impressions from the show this year, with photos, sights, sounds and more to come.