David Cage is surprised, but then again, maybe not. He's speaking behind closed doors at Gamescom, and the topic is Beyond's E3 demo. Set in Somalia, it was an action-filled bit of nonsense that dampened expectations and seemed utterly out of character with the rest of the game. But, according to Cage, it was meant to be confusing.
'Chronological disorder' is how he puts it. Beyond follows Jodie from the age of 8 until 23, and its scenes play out of sequence. It's meant to keep you guessing, but he appreciates it could be strange, out of context, to see what he's pushing as a thought-provoking existential meditation at one showing, and Rambo 5 the next. His goal, or one of them, is to "disorientate" players. Well, he succeeded.
But he's still confident about Beyond, that much is certain. The Frenchman is never shy about putting forth his ideas about how he sees the future of narrative in games, and this represents his boldest moves yet.
Focusing on player choice, the Quantic Dream overlord outlined the new features that he thinks will make this a cut above what he achieved previously. Like in Heavy Rain, the outcome of your decisions affects the rest of your story, but here there's no signposting. An example given was that Jodie had someone coming over for a date. She could spend the hour tidying her apartment, getting a shower, or doing nothing at all. How the story would then play out was different, but there wasn't an immediate signifier.
It's an attitude he's taken to the concept of death and other fail-states as well. He believes that the concept of game over, and as such playing something in a certain or restricted way to beat the game, is a fault of 'the designer as well as the player.'
I asked him whether or not he felt that dying wasn't, itself, a valid end to someone's game. He countered by asking what happens "if you die ten minutes into the game?" Well, why not?
He admitted that "he'd looked into it", but wouldn't offer anything more than that. Besides, Beyond doesn't seem like the game for that sort of punishment - with the new Duo mode and touch-device gameplay, he wants to go wider with his audience, not narrower.
If he pulls off half of what he's saying he will, it'll be brilliant. The decades-spanning narrative sounds interesting, as does the relationship between Willem Dafoe and Ellen Page's characters. ("[They] brought amazing heart and soul to their performances" was Cage's enthusiastic take.)
And, in fairness, what was shown was far more interesting than the E3 demo. Cage stated he could have made Heavy Rain 2; it "would have been easy" and that this game is "not about money". It's to his credit he's trying something different, but I'm still on the fence about this one: poor dialogue and clichéd environments (underground military/scientific bases with gore-stained walls, anyone?) were reminiscent of other missteps, both in this game and in his previous ones. It could yet go either way, and with Cage himself asking the audience to give Beyond a chance, even amidst the deluge of yearly sequels, massive franchise instalments and new consoles, you get the feeling he thinks it could as well.