We had a talk with Quantic Dream’s COO Guillaume de Fondaumiere about last year’s ‘Fahrenheit’ (‘Indigo Prophecy’), the company’s current and future project, and – of course – the future of videogames.
A few months after the release of Fahrenheit / Indigo Prophecy: How satisfied are you with sales figures and ratings? Did they meet your expectations?
The game has been perceived very favourably by both the specialised gaming press and the gamers. We have won more than 20 international awards for Most Innovative game, Best Adventure game, Best Story in a game, Best Music, etc…And a number of gamer’s choice awards. In certain countries, we have even been awarded „Best PS2 game of the Year“, we are very proud of that!
Fahrenheit/Indigo prophecy is actually the best ever rated adventure game of all times on PS2 and X-Box, and only second to Grim Fandango on PC.
As for sales, well, that is another question. The game has sold very honourably „for an adventure game“, but failed to reach as for now the mass market. I think it has both to do with the fact that video games still fail to appeal to a large audience, and to a timid marketing campaign on the product. Fahrenheit is a game that is designed for a very large audience, but since „the large public“is not very much interested by games, you need to put up enormous means to make your product really known. This is why you see so many movie licenses, which carry the necessary marketing buzz, being brought to games and selling in huge quantities.
But Fahrenheit is still selling well and will continue to do well in the future because it stands so much out of the competition. The word to mouth is very favourable; the fan base is growing….
What have you learned from the development of Fahrenheit? What went right, what went wrong?
The production of Fahrenheit was a challenge in every sense of the word. From a financial standpoint, we „needed“ two publishers to finalize the game and release it. It has been a real battle to convince some of the most influential people in this industry that a video game that was not relying on mechanics could be both intuitive and interesting to play. And that a video game driven by and relying mostly on the emotional experience of the players could be regarded as a AAA title.
It was also challenging because we were venturing most of the time into fields where nobody had dared to go before us. We had to create most of the tools and technologies to be able to produce the game we had in mind. That means trying, testing, challenging our choices at every corner. And of course, making mistakes and doing it all over again when necessary. It has been in a sense a consuming experience, but the result was as we expected it. We created the game we wanted to and this is probably the biggest reward you can have as a developer (with, of course, receiving dozens of awards and selling millions of units;).
Fahrenheit’s storytelling and graphics (especially the fighting scenes) were outstanding but the gameplay itself lacked some depth. Do you think you could have done a better job with the puzzle design by making it more challenging?
Well, I don’t know. To me, the gameplay is at least as interesting in Fahrenheit as its graphics universe, maybe even more;)! Fahrenheit is not a game where you can easily separate gameplay from story, characters (and their design) and the graphics production. An „interactive drama“as we like to call our game is an experience where, by essence, everything is strictly intertwined. The overall experience and emotional reaction of the players is what matters to us.
Of course, some gameplay elements may have been dealt with differently. Take the action sequences for instance. We were looking for an interface that would enable players to live and play a number of different actions, from playing basketball, shooting, dancing, playing guitar or swimming. Now that is a challenge to design! We have found a solution that may seem „simplistic“to some or „retro “to others. But if you take the overall experience, the interface not only served its purpose of offering a much diversified range of action sequences, but was also perfectly integrated into the other elements of gameplay, be they the interactions with objects, the dialog interface, etc…
In the beginning, Fahrenheit was planned as an episodic experience. Why did you change your plan? And do you see the possibility for episodic games in the future? Ritual will try that distribution model with SiN Episodes, for example.
Fahrenheit was indeed originally designed by David Cage as an episodic experience on PC. But back in 2002, this was considered to big a risk to take for a publisher. Vivendi Universal Game however like very much the story and the overall concept and asked David to redesign the game as an „interactive movie“rather than an „interactive series“.
We see a great future for episodic content, however only for those titles which will really take the most out of the format. You don’t design an episodic game like you’d design a full game. A TV series has a very distinctive structure than a feature, with its rhythm, twists, characterization…and very own business model. The same will apply to episodic gaming and Quantic Dream is discussing potential projects today with major industry players.
SIN Episodes will be distributed on-line and in slices, I do not think however SIN really qualifies for the denomination „episodic“, at least not how we understand it.
We heard rumours about a sequel to Fahrenheit. Is there any truth behind this?
„Ach“, Rumours…. ;-). „Ein fliegendes Gerücht findet überall Landeplätze.“ Ich glaube es ist von Jacques Tati… ["A flying rumour finds everywhere places to land." I believe it is from Jacques Tati…]
Last year, you announced Omikron 2 which came as a surprise to many players. Where are you going with this game? Can you give us some details?
This is more than a rumour, as we have started to work on this very innovative and very challenging project (Omikron 2, called KARMA). However, you shouldn’t expect this title anywhere before 2009. Quantic Dream will be developing another title before that. It is actually already in the making, we have a deal in place.
Another game you announced was Infraworld. Any details on that one yet?
Infraworld, at date, is cancelled. The concept did not appeal to publishers.
What possibilities do you see for the next-generation consoles?
We clearly see today the possibility of creating emotional experiences that will push video games into real competition with cinema. We will cross the „Uncanny Valley“during the next cycle – create characters as real as it gets -. Urban spaces will become vast, alive and near to „true“.
Artificial intelligence will make its big entrance and, if used correctly, could become an essential element in major productions. It could well be the next „big thing“in video games, enabling NPCs to be much more than stand-by characters.
New physics engines will also enhance dramatically the graphical realism in games, in particular if associated with other spectacular visual effects.
But above all, we believe that new franchises will truly break the mould and open the door to new popular genres. ICO, Shadow of the Colossus, the Sims, Katamari Damacy, Nintendogs and of course Fahrenheit have opened the door to this during the last cycle. I am optimistic; I think the future of video games lies here rather than in sequels and Hollywood licenses.
Have you made any deals with publishers regarding your new projects yet?
We have a production set but I cannot divulge the name or details on the project. But it is an original franchise of ours, a game for Playstation 3, X-Box 360, PSP and PC systems.
When can we expect to hear more about you future games?
We will make an announcement at E3 2006 and present some interesting stuff we are working on right now. Hopefully on a very large screen.
Guillaume, thanks for your time!