Willem Dafoe, Ellen Page star in interactive game

Ellen Page in a scene from the computer game Beyond: Two Souls.David Cage doesn’t think he’s captured the future of storytelling, but he’s pretty confident he’s seen a glimpse of it. ”I’ve been interested in interactive storytelling for 16 years now and I really think this medium is just at the beginning,” the French writer-director of the acclaimed interactive game Heavy Rain (2010) says. ”We’ve only explored a tiny part of what interactivity can be.”Full movies coverageMore games coverage
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With Beyond: Two Souls, the new game from his production company Quantic Dream, Cage is hoping to push the advance party a little further into uncharted territory (though he readily acknowledges his games are not alone in attempting to do so).

”I’m trying to explore different types of emotions, in continuing to explore this strange relationship that the game can establish with a player that is very different to the relationship between a film and an audience,” he says. ”When you watch a film you are passive, you cannot change what is going on, but when you play an interactive game you become an actor, you can actually change the story. This is really fascinating.”

Fascinating enough, certainly, to lure Willem Dafoe and Ellen Page to sign on for the project. Cage says he had Ellen Page – best known as the title character in Juno – in mind for the lead role from the moment he began writing it three years ago; the game follows her character over a period of 15 years, and he worked surrounded by images of her as a child actor, a teenager and a young woman.

His game is, he insists, primarily an emotional and spiritual journey, conceived after he lost someone close to him, and it needed real actors to carry it off. ”It’s the first time we’ve had talents of this calibre in a video game,” he says, with pride.

Page filmed for four weeks, Dafoe for a little more than one, and it was a demanding and sometimes gruelling experience, with 20 minutes of footage a day being logged (by comparison, a film shoot would usually aim to capture two to three minutes a day).

They shot on a sound stage with no props or costumes – ”they shoot in this silly motion-capture suit”, says Cage of the lycra onesie dotted with what look like tiny ping-pong balls – surrounded by 65 cameras, trained to capture their every movement in three dimensions.

”Sometimes actors think ‘I can do films, so I can do a game’. Actually, it’s a very challenging exercise,” says Cage. ”It’s all about imagination. The role of the director is more important in a way, because you have to explain what’s going on, what’s around them. It’s like shooting thousands of pieces of a puzzle, most of the time in disorder, and then much later you assemble all the pieces in a way that is hopefully consistent and satisfying for the player.”

A typical film script runs to about 100 pages or so; Cage says the script for Beyond: Two Souls, which took him a year to write, has about 2000.

The game play takes about 10 hours, ”but it’s non-linear and all those possible paths you have to write,” he says. ”In every scene there are choices and some have local consequences, some have long-term consequences that will effect the outcome of the story.”

All up, he says, there are 23 different endings.

It hurts the brain a little to even contemplate such a complex web of narrative, but Cage has had 16 years to get his head around the possibilities and challenges of interactive storytelling. He started gaming at 10, and working as a composer at 14, and eventually found a way to combine those passions by writing music for games. From there he created the game Omikron The Nomad Soul (released 1999), which had cameo appearances and 10 songs from David Bowie (some of the songs later appeared, in reworked form, on his album hours…).

How, I wonder, did a novice game developer go about luring such a legendary figure to such an unlikely project? Much the same way, he responds, as Dafoe and Page were enticed. He asked.

”Talented people can be very easy to convince when you come to them with something they find appealing, exciting and new,” he says. In scanning Bowie’s face and motion-capturing him, ”we made him probably the first virtual actor ever in the gaming industry”.

With Page and Dafoe in Beyond: Two Souls, Cage is quietly hoping he’s created another bit of history. Even if it is only the beginning.

Beyond: Two Souls will be released for PS3 on October 9.

twitter: @karlkwin

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

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