Oct 14, 2013
Quantic Dreams is set to take the gaming world by storm once again through the release of action-adventure game Beyond: Two Souls. The company is famous for the influential Indigo Prophecy (known as Fahrenheit in Europe), a 2005 thriller about a bizarre murder case that shook New York City to its core. Quantic Dreams considered it to be the first true “interactive film”, where actions, quick-time events, and dialogue choices affect the storyline considerably.
Heavy Rain followed this success in 2010, borrowing similar control methods, and the choice-driven narrative structure. Beyond: Two Souls is shaping up to be a successor in cinematic style, with an emotional story exploring the concept of death and “what lies beyond”. And speaking of death, therein lies the new controversy. You won’t be able to die while playing this game; according to director David Cage, anyway.
Seeing the concept of game over as a “failure” of game design, Cage says that players will simply be allowed to continue from a different pathway instead. However, an alternate chain of events could eventually lead to an ending where Jodie (our lead) dies.
This way, Cage believes that mistakes made by players will result in certain consequences, and all of this will somehow make for a more fluid experience, as opposed to being punished by tradition. While this sounds interesting – and already it’s reminiscent of classical choose-your-own-adventure books – it can eliminate a core idea that had defined gaming for decades: trial-and-error.
As far as design is concerned, the most fundamental aspect of gaming is to win or lose. Dying several times in the same spot should be an effective motivator to pull yourself back up. Most of the earliest games, before the existence of save states or checkpoints, would send the player back to the start of the game. Repeated death will only strengthen the player’s desire to triumph and complete the game.
In comparison to Beyond, Indigo Prophecy featured lives (represented by small white balls in the game’s HUD), and these are etched off one-by-one. This mainly happens when the player fails a command prompt in the quick-time events. The same thing also happens when the ‘wrong’ option is selected in tense dialogue sequences – for example, the scene where Carla the police detective interrogates Lucas in his office about a murder. A suspicion meter presents itself and green bars rise up as Carla’s mistrust of Lucas is increased. If the bars hit the top the game ends there with his arrest and a chance to restart the level. The game was never easy on the first playthrough, and training one’s eye to remember quick-time prompts was the key to steering Lucas, Carla and Tyler (the latter two are also playable) through the game.
The lack of a game over screen could be another way of holding the player’s hand and guiding them through the game, all for the sake of seeing the ending. Historically, another design feature that changed the face of gaming was the regenerating health. While it helped gamers continue smoothly through fierce gunfights in games like Call of Duty, it completely removed the challenge of locating the classic medical kits. Taking cover and watching that health bar return to normal had never been sweeter to modern gamers.
Even so, there are particular examples where the idea of regenerating health can work, while adding some depth. In the Halo franchise, players take control of Master Chief, a seven foot tall superhuman in a heavy suit of armour, drawn into a war of massive proportions. The Chief’s armour protects him through shields, and also makes use of a regenerative health system when taking cover. This game design is realistic enough to warrant regeneration, since the armour is a piece of futuristic technology.
Already, Beyond has been given a lukewarm reception by a committee of serious critics, with some frowning on the lack of a proper game over. IGN describes the game’s narrative as disjointed owing to Cage’s script jumping back and forth between different times in Jodie’s life. Meanwhile, Joystiq has criticized the game’s story as “unbelievable” and lacking in good character interaction. Despite some harsh words, Beyond‘s visual beauty and emotional drive has done its part to cement cinematic gaming as a rapidly emerging style within the industry. Games are no doubt becoming more cinematic in general, but only time will determine whether Beyond: Two Souls manages to popularise this unique and innovative form of interactive storytelling.