Choose Your Own Adventure in Psychological Thriller ‘Heavy Rain’

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Heavy Rain is sort of like those Choose Your Own Adventure books from our childhood, where you’re able to decide what you want to do and then turn to the corresponding page to see what happens.

But in the PlayStation 3 game, obviously,  the stakes are much higher, and you’ve got a lot more choices than just page 10 and page 33. In Heavy Rain, players take on the role of four different characters — an FBI profiler, a private investigator, an architect and a journalist — in a psychological thriller surrounding a serial killer.

“At the core, it is really this type of (Choose Your Own Adventure) experience,” said the game’s executive producer Guillaume de Fondaumiere at a recent demonstration in New York. “You can constantly interact, you can constantly change certain things in the environment and the relationships that you have. It’s the next-next-gen of Choose Your Own Adventure, a video game in real-time 3D.”

Though the game follows a main narrative based on solving the mystery of the Origami Killer, the developers from French studio Quantic Dream wanted players to have choices in every scene along the way.

“I can make myself a coffee, I can open the fridge. I can do whatever makes sense in this context of the apartment,” de Fondaumiere explained. “If it should be interactive, it is interactive. There’s nothing you have to do but to a certain extent the more you do, the more you learn about the character, the more you learn about the environment and, sometimes, the more you learn about the story.”

With its deep, engaging narrative, de Fondaumiere hopes that Heavy Rain will elevate the medium of video games to the level of respect that movies have. Quantic Dream founder David Cage, the writer and director of the game, was influenced particularly by films like Silence of the Lambs, Seven, Fight Club, The Usual Suspects and other psychological thrillers. And while de Fondaumiere thinks game creators want to integrate more movie-like, story-driven elements into their games, it’s not easy.

“It’s a nightmare to write, it’s a nightmare to test, and it’s a nightmare to produce,” he said. “There is a paradox in creating an interactive game that is, by nature, non-linear and to still have the core element of what a good story is — characterization, strong narrative.”

“What we wanted to create is an experience that would leave an imprint in people’s minds,” he continued. “We want to make people feel something, like you do when you have a great book or movie and you experience something strong. It touches you as person. This is what we are trying to do with Heavy Rain, make something that questions you as an individual. And show people that that is possible with a video game.”

To read the essential things you should know about Heavy Rain, turn to page 2…

The scenes are as long or as short as you want them to be.
One of the first scenes with FBI profiler Norman Jayden has you investigating a crime scene. You can play it in one and-a-half minutes, but the developers saw playtesters spend over an hour in the same scene.

“If you rush through (this first scene), you’ll continue, but it’s going to be quite a lonely moment,” de Fondaumiere said. “And this character is going to be less and less interesting because there’s nothing you can do. It would be reasonable to assess that you can get fired from this case.”

There are over 20 different endings.
“What I mean by different endings is different last scenes, because you really can have totally different journeys,” de Fondaumiere explained. “We always say in our game there’s no ‘game over,’ but you can lose all four characters. There are different ways to lose your characters. They can die.”

If a character or two dies or goes away (like the FBI agent getting fired, for example), it’s not the end of the story though. “Your actions can change the way one scene ends,” he said. “And sometimes you only see the consequences (of your actions) four or five scenes down the road. You can enter into relationships — or not — in this game, which also influences the way the story evolves. Those are all the different possibilities that can change the story.”

In fact, there are so many possibilities, that the script ended up being over 2,000 pages. The minimum playthrough is about 8-10 hours, regardless of the choices you make, which means you can’t “lose” a character before that time. As for the maximum, de Fondaumiere couldn’t put a number on it. “It depends on the type of player you are,” he said. “You have those guys and girls who want to look at everything and touch everything.”

You need quick reflexes to land punches.
But the game isn’t all talk and touch. There are occasions when your characters will engage in physical combat. To control the combat and actions in the game, players will be asked to quickly push a series of buttons prompted by icons flashing on the screen. Hit the right button at the right time and you’ll land a punch. Miss, and you’ll likely receive one.

“And when you miss, it’s not the end; you don’t lose,” de Fondaumiere said. “It’s simply a different animation.” However, if you miss too often in a life-threatening situation, your character could wind up dead. But don’t worry: if you’re not quick with the button presses, there are three levels of difficulty. The easiest setting will give you less complex button presses and more hints.

Change your mind about a decision you made? No problemo.
Quantic Dream encourages players to bear the consequences of their actions, but they also won’t let you beat yourself up over it. If you do something you regret, you can go back to the start of the chapter for a do-over.

“I think it’s more interesting to play it all in one playthrough, and then maybe come back and try different things,” de Fondaumiere said. “But we also wanted to give (players) the possibility at any time to play it differently. There’s no reason why we should frustrate them.” Thanks, Quantic Dream.

Attention Trophy Whores: you’ll still get Trophies. And bonus footage.
Trophies are the PlayStation 3′s system for measuring one’s accomplishments in the game, and they’re awarded to the player when they complete certain objectives or milestones as delineated by the game’s developer. But they’re often based on a linear story or other traceable stats.

“For us, the real challenge was understanding how to integrate Trophies into a game that’s not based on achievement, but we found a way that’s relatively elegant,” de Fondaumiere said. “At the beginning we told Sony, ‘Sorry, it’s nonsensical. How are we supposed to do this?’ But we understood that for certain players, it’s important.”

Without revealing too much, de Fondaumiere said they found “interesting” ways to do it, and they’re never displayed during a playthrough — so as not to disturb the immersion — but at the end of the scenes.

“What I can tell you is that it’s impossible to get all the Trophies in this game in one playthrough,” he added.

And you can earn bonuses for successful combat sequences, like the video footage from the actual motion-capture sessions.

There are mature themes (and equal-opportunity character nudity).
When I walked into the demo a bit late, we were able to watch a revealing shower scene with the female journalist character Madison Paige. But there’s also a shower scene with the male architect, Ethan Mars.

“We even scanned (the actress’) breasts,” de Fondaumiere revealed, laughing. “But this is not just to show the breasts of a character. If you want to see naked women, there are less expensive ways and more choices to be found on the internet. The idea here for the first scene is to really create a bond between the player and the character, and also to show her vulnerability.”

And what is true for the shower scenes is true for everything else. “We wanted to create a mature experience but also a meaningful experience,” he added. “In this game, we don’t want to shock people just for the sake of shocking them. Everything we think has a meaning within the story, within the context. There is some violence — after all it’s a psychological thriller — but it’s not gory.”

And no guys, you can’t tell Madison to take another shower.

Heavy Rain will be released for the PlayStation 3 in North America on February 16th.

More on Techland:
A Shot in the Dark: Caption This Heavy Rain Screenshot

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