Our three Heavy Rain critics join Tim for a post-mortem on the game. We don't talk much about the story. Instead we focus on the game's emotional resonance (or lack thereof), its "fail-less" structure, the effectiveness of its quicktime events, and its possible legacy in the annals of videogame history. Also, somehow, we mention Shenmue about 20 times. Featuring Richard "Really" Naik, Trent Fingland, Dan Weissenberger, Tim Spaeth, and a cat hair mustache.
[Sound of rain and thunder]
Tim Spaeth It's a rainstorm, because we're talking about Heavy Rain. Don't be surprised if we win a Grammy for that level of creativity.
Trent Fingland I'll be surprised if we did not win a Grammy for this.
Richard Naik: Aren't there some sort of awards called the Poddies or something?
Tim Spaeth The Streamies?
Richard Naik: I think that's what I'm talking about.
Tim Spaeth Yeah; we'll probably win a few of those for this podcast, this special bonus edition of the GameCritics.com podcast. The topic is Heavy Rain. We'll be discussing it for the entire show, and joining me are three of my colleagues from GameCritics. They've all written about the game on the site. Let's introduce them now. Richard Naik is the author of the main review of Heavy Rain.
Richard Naik: Salutations, everypeoples.
Tim Spaeth Richard, if you could describe your facial hair configuration this evening.
Richard Naik: It's much the same from the last time that we spoke. It's actually the same as it is on my picture on the website; it's just a moustache, a little flavor saver on the bottom, and that's about it.
Tim Spaeth All right. So for those of you sketching Richard, now you know what direction to go in. Also joining us, for the first time on one of our podcasts, Mr. Trent Fingland. You wrote the second opinion of Heavy Rain. How are you, sir?
Trent Fingland I'm doing fine. Thank you very much, Tim.
Tim Spaeth Is this your first ever podcast, or just your first appearance on one of our podcasts?
Trent Fingland It's my first time being recorded on the Internet, under any circumstance.
Tim Spaeth How does it feel?
Trent Fingland I feel exposed.
Tim Spaeth Yeah. It only gets worse from here. I'm going to ask deep, probing questions that will probably make you feel uncomfortable.
Richard Naik: Once you get a lawyer, you'll be fine.
Tim Spaeth And last but not least, oh, it's Dan Weissenberger. Dan, you authored an epic four-part of Heavy Rain's" story." It's posted on the site, as well. I'll tell you: we haven't heard from you in a while, but when you swing the Weissenhammer, you really swing the Weissenhammer. How are you, man?
Dan Weissenberger: Fantastic. Even better since I wrote that thing about Heavy Rain, which I'm going to try through this entire podcast to not accidentally call Chubby Rain.
I kept doing that when I was typing it out in the review. I don't think any made it into the final, but yeesh, that was embarrassing.
Tim Spaeth Is there a reference I'm missing?
Dan Weissenberger: You never saw Bowfinger?
Tim Spaeth No.
Dan Weissenberger: It was the movie Steve Martin was making in Bowfinger; it's called Chubby Rain. As a result, I couldn't hear this game's title without thinking of it.
Tim Spaeth Well, if you make a mistake, we'll just edit it out. It'll be fine.
Dan Weissenberger: I do enjoy editing to cover for flaws.
Tim Spaeth Absolutely. I do it to myself all the time, and I never remove any of Chi, Brad or Mike's. I leave all those in, and I just work to perfect myself. I don't know—editor's prerogative.
Two points before we get started here: Number one, I have not played Heavy Rain. Forgive me if my questions are vague and if I disappear for large blocks of time. I will do my best to steer the ship, but you guys are going to do all of the heavy thinking and discussion. Secondly, for those listening, we will be spoiling the entire game. Nothing is off-limits. I am spoiled for the whole thing. I know who the dude is that did the stuff. But if you're worried about spoilers, now is the time to eject. This is your one and only warning.
So, guys, we talked a bit before the show. I know the three of you are in agreement that there's not much left to say about the story and the writing in Heavy Rain. I think you guys are agreed that it's pretty bad.
Trent Fingland Yes.
Richard Naik: Yeah, yeah.
Dan Weissenberger: That's fair.
Tim Spaeth I think you guys have Swiss cheesed that one well enough in your various writings. I do have one question, though, and I'm gonna direct it to you, Richard. (Obviously, please, everyone jump in). I was surprised to learn, as I was reading about the game, that no matter how you work your way through the game, the identity of the Origami Killer is always Scott. And right there—bam! there's your spoiler. I had been led to believe that the identity of the killer would change, depending on how you chose to play the game. I'm sure there's a lot of reasons why that isn't the case in the final game. But, Richard, do you think it would've been a stronger experience if the killer's identity varied depending on your decisions in the game?
Richard Naik: Not necessarily. For one thing, when I'm not sure if [the identity of the killer changing] is something they just cut out because of technical limitations, but I don't think it would've made it a stronger experience. I just wish the identity of the murderer made more sense. Throughout most of the game, I had it narrowed down to two people: I either thought it was the mom or the police captain. These are the only two people that could possibly make sense. And then it was Scott, and I'm just like: "What? Why?" I think what would've made it a stronger experience is if they had made the murderer be someone that made sense.
Tim Spaeth Dan, your laughter leads me to believe you have something to add.
Dan Weissenberger: I do. As s a mystery fan first and foremost, I think it's hard enough for a writer to come up with a mystery that works. Asking one to come up with a mystery that works four different ways…essentially, you're asking them to make Clue again, with events that are readable six different ways for six different outcomes. That's a near-impossibility. I haven't heard [about the identity-shifting], either, but then again, I never find out about games before I play them; I try to go in spoiler-free. We all know my feelings about the whodidit: that's pretty clearly outlaid in my review. But I've gotta say, from a narrative standpoint, the idea of letting you decide who the killer was is disastrous. I think it's a terrible thing to pursue, because the whole point of a mystery is the rewarding feeling of uncovering something. But if the killer's identity is fluid, a lot of that goes away. It could be anybody.
Richard Naik: I agree with that. That's what I was thinking when I first heard that The killer's identity would change based on the things that you chose? How would that work? That would've probably made less sense than what actually happened.
Dan Weissenberger: And that would be hard.
Richard Naik: That would be hard.
Tim Spaeth Dan, you point out in your write-up that part of the fun of the revelation of the twist that comes at the end is being able to go back through the game and see all the little clues that were planted that you hadn't noticed before but that make sense once you know who the killer is. Trent, I think you said in your second opinion that you went back to play pieces of the game a second time, but found it very unsatisfying. Is that correct?
Trent Fingland Yeah. It was very illegitimate—I think I may have used that word in the review. When I played it the first time, the decisions were based on what I thought Ethan or the others might do in that situation. When I went back, it was just me gaming the game.
Dan Weissenberger: That's always unsatisfying.
Trent Fingland Yeah, but I found it to be particularly unsatisfying in this game. With something like Planescape: Torment, where you might play it and go back and say: "Well, I wanna be a total asshole this time." It's still fun. With Heavy Rain, saying: "I wanna act like I don't care about my son" or something like that, it just felt hollow. I really couldn't do it.
To touch on the "killer could be anybody" thing: At first, I thought that might expand the replay value because I could play it this way and the killer could be Ethan. But it just seems really superficial. While playing the game, I got the feeling that they had originally made it for that purpose; I got the feeling that they just left it open enough. They weren't gonna do a good job. It was just gonna be, at the end: "Hey, Ethan's actually the killer," because he had these flashbacks and he woke up with the origami figure. That was gonna be the extent of it. I think it would've been pretty lame if they'd left it in. But I do think they probably were gonna do it. I haven't heard from any official sources, but just going by the way the game played out, I think that they might've thought that was a good idea at some point.
Dan Weissenberger: Although I maintain that my theory is the only one that makes sense: That it all works if Ethan is John Shelby reincarnated.
Trent Fingland That's a little metaphysical for the game.
Dan Weissenberger: It is more metaphysical than anything else in the game.
Richard Naik: But it wouldn't, though. I think you said this in part 4 of that write-up. They say the murders have been going on for two years, three years. It overlaps the time that Ethan was still in a coma from the accident. At least for the first two or three killings, he couldn't have done it.
Dan Weissenberger: No, no no—not that he was the killer. I'm saying that most of the plot makes sense, apart from the stupid things people do, if Scott was the killer and Ethan was his brother reincarnated.
Richard Naik: Oh, okay. I get what you're saying.
Trent Fingland Not to get caught up in explaining the story because it's a pretty [dull?] story: I have heard—and I haven't verified this, because I don't care enough about the storyline of the game to bother—that when you go to the graveyard with Scott and Lauren, you can find Jason's grave and it has the origami figure on it. Some people say that during his little blackouts, Ethan may have returned to the graveyard and picked up the origami figure and it's near that particular street. That's very dumb, but if that's true…
Dan Weissenberger: Yeah. It still wouldn't explain why he invariably ran back to the spot where John Sheppard died.
Trent Fingland That's what they're saying: the graveyard was very close to that spot. But I guess maybe he's just running past it, and then he comes back into consciousness or something. I don't know.
Tim Spaeth What I wanna talk about now is the emotional resonance of this game. That's the other thing I keep reading about—how connected the player becomes to certain characters or certain events in the game. I wanna call out something you wrote, Trent, in your review. This is actually how you closed your review, and if you don't mind, I'll actually quote a bit of it. You wrote:
"Playing around with the kids in the backyard instead of helping my wife set the table for dinner is one of the most memorable experiences I've ever had in my gaming career."
I'm not dismissing that statement and I'm not questioning your emotional response to that experience, but from where I'm coming from as a parent who plays with his actual kids in his actual backyard, I admit I read that statement with some skepticism. I really feel that the idea that a game can capture or portray the true experience of bonding with a child…One of the characters loses a child in this game, I think, and the idea that a game could convey the terror that the mere thought of that brings to me…I don't wanna say it's laughable, but I really don't feel like there's anyone making games right now who could effectively convey that. I'm wondering if you could just talk about specifically how that resonated with you. Why did you feel that way, and what, specifically, did the game do to evoke that emotion?
Trent Fingland To first address your comment that you feel like it's laughable that anyone could create that kind of terror, I would agree with you. The scene where Jason runs off is totally laughable. It wasn't so much the connection to the children that got to me. I'm not a father; I'm not married. It was that Grace, his wife, is asking him to set the table. I said I would do it, and then I wandered outside to see what the kids were doing, got caught up in the play and everything. Then she's like: "Come in, guys. Thanks for helping set the table, by the way," sarcastically. Something about how real that was for me, as something that I would really do because I do that kind of thing all the time, that's why it resonated with me so much. Not so much because I was playing with the kids: I do have little brothers and I kinda know what that's like a little. It was more that I got to be this unconsciously douchebaggy guy with good intentions.
That was a very nuanced series of emotions to go through for me. It wasn't like it overpowered me, but the fact that it was very nuanced, I guess, just really surprised me. Several of the scenes throughout the game did that to me. It wasn't that I was moved to tears or filled with rage or anything, but I had very complex emotions. That, I think, is where the game succeeds the most.
Tim Spaeth Richard and Dan, did you both have similar moments as you played the game, or was the story just simply too absurd for you to find any moments like that?
Richard Naik: I'll say that most of the time, the story was just too much for me to really get emotionally connected to anything. There were a couple of things. The one thing that the game does really well is the composition of some of the individual scenes. But without a strong story to back those up, to give you reasoning for becoming emotionally connected to those moments, I really didn't. And in that first sequences where you're playing with your kids in the backyard and Grace is setting the table and everything, I could just see this little timer counting down: ETA tragedy in 5, 4, 3…
Trent Fingland Yeah, I would agree. I think the game really stumbles when it goes for those huge emotional…it builds up this tragedy and then it wants you to really feel it when it happens, but you can't because it's so overdone. Whenever it's reaching like that, it's totally failing. But it's more the little, more personal interactions that I thought were really successful. A lot of games have succeeded with the big emotional things, so games have proven that they can do that. But when a game comes around and does the smaller things right, even sometimes, I think that's important.
Tim Spaeth Trent, just to clarify: Could you, in that moment, have stayed inside and helped her set the table?
Trent Fingland Yeah, you totally could have.
Tim Spaeth Did any of you do that? I'm just wondering if the kids would've reacted.
Dan Weissenberger: Yeah. You can do everything. I finished all of his work; I set the table; then I went out and played with the kids. There's time to do all of that.
Richard Naik: I couldn't find the plates. I was walking around for five minutes looking for the plates.
Dan Weissenberger: It was a bitch finding the plates. She says they're in the cupboard, but what she means is a credenza, which is a small table with cupboards underneath. I think that's just 'cause he didn't know the word.
Trent Fingland I think you're right about that, Dan. I think I noticed that a lot, actually.
Dan Weissenberger: There are all these situations where David Cage did not know the right English word that he wanted to use, and it created some confusing situations.
Tim Spaeth Like he thinks a duvet is an ottoman or something.
Dan Weissenberger: Yes. That exact instance happened.
Tim Spaeth [Laughter] Let's take a 10,000-foot view here. Let's not so much get into the minutiae of the story; we know Heavy Rain has a bad story. Does that fact make Heavy Rain a bad game?
Dan Weissenberger: Yes. Next question.
Tim Spaeth [Laughter] I will ask you to elaborate, sir.
Dan Weissenberger: It's an interactive movie. The whole genre created by Yu Suzuki with Shenmue is: "Give them an interactive movie." In much the same way as if a movie has a bad story, it's a bad movie, if an interactive movie has a bad story, the very fact that I'm playing it doesn't make it a better experience.
For the love of God, what's the first trophy you win in the game? "Thank you for supporting interactive fiction." He can't elevate what he's doing to the level of interactive fiction. [The title itself] means he wants us to equate it with a novel or a movie, but then say: "But it's acceptable to have a terrible story, as long as it has passable gameplay." You wouldn't say: "This book is okay, because it has a terrible story but it has a nice cover," or "This movie is okay, because it has a terrible story but it has nice effects." You wouldn't give it a pass. It's a bad movie with good effects. Heavy Rain was a bad game with good Quick Time Events.
Trent Fingland I would have to take issue with that, only on the movie comparison. I feel like you could see a movie with a terrible story that has really good technical accomplishments and that could move it beyond what the content of the movie is. I kind of wanna throw The Matrix out there as an example.
Dan Weissenberger: You're right; that is a whole debate. But I'm making a distinction between a bad artistic product [and] elements in it that I like and support. It's still a bad game.
Trent Fingland I would agree with you, but I don't know. I guess we would disagree on whether or not…I wouldn't feel comfortable calling something like that just bad [as a] whole. There's a lot of things that go into it, and I still think of the story as one facet of it—although in Heavy Rain it is a major facet.
Dan Weissenberger: I would argue that it is the most important single thing.
Richard Naik: Yeah. Especially when you're gonna tout your game as something that's emotionally engaging, it has to have a good narrative. If I don't care about the characters, how do you get emotionally engaged with it? I don't care about the characters and I'm constantly questioning the reasoning behind pretty much everything that happens in the entire game. It's really difficult for me to get "emotionally engaged" because I just don't care about anything that's happening.
Dan Weissenberger: When emotional engagement is, as you said, the primary stated goal, you'd better have fantastic characters and a fantastic story—neither of which the game has.
Richard Naik: They presented me with a story-driven game with a bad story. That is a dealbreaker, I'm sorry.
Trent Fingland I don't think that's a unique situation in games. I feel like the majority of story-driven games in the history of the world have had pretty bad stories, but might've been successful in other ways. Good stories in games are a rarity. The story is abysmal—I'm not gonna argue that. It's just that I felt like the game succeeded in the isolated scenes, as Dan mentioned. The overall story, to me, didn't ruin the impact of a lot of those scenes. I know Gene Park, who used to write for the site, mentioned on Twitter that it worked better as a series of vignettes. I looked at it as that while I was playing it. The story was very bad, but I didn't think it made it a bad game. I thought that the strength of the individual scenes made up for that.
Richard Naik: You said that a lot of story-driven games have had bad stories and still have been successful in one way or another. Can you think of any others in that vein?
Trent Fingland I would say nearly every RPG ever made have had pretty rough stories but always try to sell it on that point. I just finished Final Fantasy XIII not long ago. Again, they used the story as this huge, big selling point and it fell short. Shenmue was mentioned, and I don't know that the story was bad, but there wasn't very much of it going on.
Dan Weissenberger: Can we disconnect him? That game has a fantastic story.
Trent Fingland Like I said, I wouldn't say it was bad.
Dan Weissenberger: Not a lot happens in the first one; you're totally right. But a lot happens in the second one.
Trent Fingland But I would say that, in spite of that, it's still an amazing game. I love Shenmue for a lot of the same reasons that I like Heavy Rain: more because I lived as Ryo doing his thing.
I've read an article where it was mentioned that it's unfair to burden Heavy Rain with giving games good stories. Even though David Cage in all his pretension tried to sell the game that way, I would agree with that. I would say that to act particularly disappointed with Heavy Rain on that point just seems like a huge burden to lay on this one game. We've all been disappointed by bad stories in games before, and this game's no exception.
Tim Spaeth Mass Effect 2 would be a game I would add to that list. Trent, you mentioned Gene's "vignettes" comment: I think the overall story in that game is terrible, but the individual loyalty quests, those hour nuggets of game that have a beginning and middle and an end in a little self-contained narrative—those are delightful. I had a great time with that. But to have the entire 30-hour experience to be: "Let's get the band together and fight the boss from the third level of Contra 3," that's just a terrible idea.
Richard Naik: I'll agree with that. That's probably something we can do another entire podcast on: Games that are story-driven that have bad stories that get praised for great storytelling anyway.
Tim Spaeth This is a complete aside, stepping away from Heavy Rain a moment. I'm just curious: Best game story ever?
Dan Weissenberger: Yakuza.
Trent Fingland That's tough. I need something vague. Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. That's not a real answer. I don't know—I'd have to think about that one.
Dan Weissenberger: That's two for Yakuza. Move on.
Trent Fingland I did like Yakuza; I did like that game.
Dan Weissenberger: It's an amazing story.
Trent Fingland Too bad the second one didn't live up to the—
Dan Weissenberger: Hey, hey. I've not done the second one yet. Shut up.
Trent Fingland Oh, okay. Well, you'll see.
Richard Naik: It's probably a good thing that we discussed this in the call right before the podcast; I actually know what my answer is without having to think about it: The Longest Journey has the best game narrative that I've ever played.
Tim Spaeth I adore that game, and I love that April Ryan reacts to the events in that game appropriately. There are so few games that you can say that about a main character, but that is the case with The Longest Journey.
Richard Naik: She is one of the best gaming protagonists ever. Her reactions are always realistic to the situation that she's in.
Dan Weissenberger: That actually reminds me of one of my favorite things ever. When I first played the first Silent Hill, there's a scene where it's just after you've been in the hospital and you fought a giant moth on the roof. Then you get outside and the cop calls you on the radio, and she's like: "What's going on?" and Harry's like: "Nothing. Just walking around." You just fought a giant moth on the roof of a demon hospital! You can't mention that? That isn't strange to you? And you're right: The Longest Journey is one of the very few times that people are legitimately impressed enough by what's going on.
Richard Naik: Yeah. In a lot of other games, something totally ridiculous will happen: monsters will pop up out of the ground, you'll kill all of them and then right after that thaey're just like: "Oh, well, you're here. That's nice." But then in Longest Journey, shit starts warping, dimension starts changing around. Everyone's like: "What the hell is happening? This is really, really screwed up."
Tim Spaeth Longest Journey is my answer to this question as well. But the game that impressed me the most while I was playing it, up until the climax was Final Fantasy IV.—hen I played it it was Final Fantasy II. All the characters kept dying and sacrificing themselves. Then you get to the end and they all come back. It's like: "Oh. Well, so much for their sacrifices." That for a long time while I was playing it was my favorite story, but then I grew up, guys. I grew up.
So let's bring it back to Heavy Rain. I apologize for that aside, but those types of random questions interest me. Next question: Are we comfortable calling Heavy Rain an adventure game or do we wanna categorize it a different way? What is the genre of this game? I ask the question because, as gamers, we love to categorize things and put things into nice little buckets.
Richard Naik: First thing I would say is that I would call Indigo Prophecy, Heavy Rain's spiritual predecessor, more of a stepping stone than Heavy Rain. They're very, very similar. There's some mechanical and technical differences, but the overall concept between the two of them is largely the same and they were both made by David Cage and Quantic Dream. One of the things I was really disappointed about in Heavy Rain is that thy didn't fix a lot of the criticisms that I and other people had for Indigo Prophecy.
When I played Heavy Rain or Indigo Prophecy, I always got the same feeling as I would in an adventure game like Longest Journey, Tales of Monkey Island, stuff like that. Not that they're the same, by any means, but it felt like it was a very natural extension of that genre. The pacing was very similar in both games; the "find item and use it on something" mechanic for puzzles and stuff was still there; the very narrative-focused and dialogue-heavy storytelling was there—there was a lot of back-and-forth between NPCs.
The difference that I think Indigo Prophecy and Heavy Rain took forward was in terms of Quick Time Events. It's a lot of snap decisions you have to make. Everything's very time-, very reaction-based. [In] adventure games like Longest Journey, you have an infinite amount of time to solve anything, even during the "fight" scenes. You could basically stand still for four hours and nothing would happen. It was that reaction-based [mechanic] I felt Heavy Rain and Indigo Prophecy really took a step forward. It didn't necessarily make them both successful, mind you, but they took a step forward.
Tim Spaeth As a pretty experienced adventure gamer, the prospect of having pressure to perform in an adventure game isn't something that I necessarily find appealing. I like the idea that I had four hours to perform an action in The Longest Journey or any adventure game. The idea that an action that I would want to take but am unable to because I couldn't perform the quicktime event in time, that's a little off-putting to me. Did that happen to any of you as you played Heavy Rain? You wanted to do something but you just weren't fast enough, or the controls weren't tight enough to execute the move?
Richard Naik: Not in Heavy Rain so much. But in Indigo Prophecy, at the beginning of the game when you have that fuse at the top, when you've got [only] so much time to pick a dialogue option, I was like: "Man, this is gonna suck!" But eventually it grew on me and I got what they were going for: that more intense "you have to do this now or you're gonna die" feeling. So at the beginning, it was off-putting, but it did grow on me after a while. And then it got to the point where when I played Heavy Rain, I had no problem with it.
Tim Spaeth Trent, if you had to put Heavy Rain in a genre box, would you do it? How would you classify it?
Trent Fingland I probably wouldn't naturally, but if I was forced to, I would first ask: Did we ever decide what genre Shenmue was in? I feel like it goes in that same category. Even though there are vast differences, I feel like it's still an evolution of that same idea. What would that be?
Dan Weissenberger: Free roaming eyes entertainment.
Trent Fingland Yeah. One of the big reasons I thought that is because way, way, back, Walter Kim who used to post on [the] GameCritics [forums] was fascinated with how in Shenmue, you could walk in one direction and look in another if you could do some finger-gymnastics on the controller. He was impressed they'd even include that in a game. Hesvy Rain does that same thing. There's no doubt in my mind that they probably got that [from Shenmue.] It has a better implementation here and a more useful one. That and the feel of it, the "realism." I would put it in the same genre as Shenmue. Indigo Prophecy's much closer to Shenmue than this, but even so, it's all one arc of the same genre to me.
Richard Naik: Trent, you say they did something unique in that you're able to walk in one direction and look in another one?
Trent Fingland Not just aim the camera, but you control Ryo's head—his actual head on his neck. He looks around; you can't look behind him, but he can look up and he will look where you're looking. It was definitely something I noticed, as well, and it was totally useless. I'm sure many people didn't even notice, but it was something that added a little bit of realism if you ever bothered to mess with it. When Heavy Rain had that, two separate controls for the body and the head, I immediately remembered Shenmue.
Dan Weissenberger: When Shenmue happened, I really hoped that that would be the direction that adventure games were gonna head in. They profoundly didn't; we just kept making point-and-click games, and then every now and then, David Cage completely missed the point.
Honestly, I would like it, but with one caveat. Personally, I set all of the Quick Time Events to Easy because it's a story: I don't wanna have my clumsiness with the controller ruining the story. They were still pretty hard, even set at Easy, so I don't even wanna know what the rest of that game is like.
But the thing that really got me about Heavy Rain was that in addition to this situation with the Quick Time Events, there's the fact that [David Cage is] obsessed with doing something that I don't know should be the way adventure games are going. What he wants to do is provide a completely interactive story where you can try 50 different things and see how each of them affects the storyline, which is great. But I think it draws attention away from more of the traditional elements of adventure gaming such as puzzle design, which I felt was weak here, an of course writing, which was incredibly weak here.
His fixation on doing a story that you control— there's always gonna be limitations to your control over the story. There's always gonna be guidelines. I think one of Heavy Rain's biggest mistakes was focusing too much on the different ways you can play around in the scenes and play the second time, and not enough on the concrete "What are the puzzles like? What is the plot like?" I think a lot of other classic adventure games are much better at [those things,] even though they're far more linear than Heavy Rain.
Tim Spaeth If there were s puzzle where you had to make a fake moustache out of cat hair—?
Dan Weissenberger: Yes, yes. We all remember Gabriel Knight's moustache hair. [Laughter]
Tim Spaeth That would've improve the game experience for you?
Dan Weissenberger: You know what I mean; it wasn't that.
Tim Spaeth [Laughter] I know. I just love to mention Gabriel Knight 3—happy memories. Not so happy, though; I much prefer the first game. The second game, of course, featuring Conan O'Brien as the lead actor.
I had asked readers to chime in about [whether] Heavy Rain is an evolution of the adventure genre or something new. RandomRob, he's a funny guy. He writes:
"It's a misery simulator."
And there's so many ways to interpret that, but I love that. We also had a response from coyls3. He said:
"I guess it could be called the console adaptation of the point and click adventure genre, but personally I think it has more in common with action/adventure games. Adventure games (the ones I've played anyway) are usually slower paced and place emphasis on exploration. Yes, at times Heavy Rain's pacing is quite slow and players can explore their environment to a certain extent, but once the game starts running on all cylinders, it delivers an action packed experience that's closer to games like Metal Gear Solid than games like Monkey Island."
And then seth writes:
"It's neither [an evolution of the adventure genre or something new]. There are countless more adventure games that exceed Heavy Rain's storytelling abilities. Even Shenmue, terrible voice acting and all, succeeded more at what it was trying to do. Heavy Rain though, is more about emulation than simulation. It's a glorified Quick Time Event and emotional manipulator."
Dan Weissenberger: [Laughter] I like that one.
Richard Naik: Yeah. It was good.
Tim Spaeth So I jsut wanted to thank seth and coyls3 and RandomRob for jumping in there and offering their thoughts. Thanks very much for that.
Let's move on, and Trent, I'm gonna direct the next question to you. As we were preparing the show, you mentioned a bit the idea of game structure, and what Heavy Rain has to say about game structure. This is not a game with a fail state. Did you find that it was satisfying without the risk of failure? Did you feel that there was enough reward?
Trent Fingland I think all of you touched on this when you were talking about the Quick Time Events an how it put pressure on you an whether or not you felt like you were gonna fail something because you didn't react in time. I actually had situations like that, where the QTEs would come up and I would just blow it. Then the scene would play out in a totally different direction that I did not necessarily want it to go in.
But I liked that in Heavy Rain it didn't feel like: "Oh, I gotta restart. Oh, I messed up." I did literally mess up, but it didn't feel like I did. It just felt like things just moved differently. For instance, when I was trapped int he car under the water as Scott Shelby with Lauren in the passenger seat an I was trying to get out, the QTEs were a little vague. I wanted to rescue Lauren and myself, and I accidentally just exited the car by myself and she sank to the bottom of the water, dead. I kind of liked that. I liked that it was vague, because I felt like in a real situation [like that,] you're not necessarily in your right mind. You're not gonna make the most logical, most rational decisions. I totally made the wrong one, and I didn't know which one was the right one based on the QTEs. But I liked that, and I liked that failing in Heavy Rain isn't necessarily a bad thing. It's just a thing.
A lot of people complained about the sex scene, too: how unrealistic it felt and how forced it was. But I didn't even see that, because when I got to the point where you could kiss Madison I said "no," because that felt inappropriate. In the end, they didn't get together, either, which as far as happy endings go, that's not the happiest ending. That's not the "best" ending, but I was satisfied with that. I felt that was more realistic, as far as you can get realistic with Heavy Rain.
I liked that it's not about the Game Over; it's not about the "Oh, I messed up;" it's not about doing things right. It's just about doing things. I thought that was very interesting. I feel a lot more games could benefit from that, where you're not strictly rewarded or punished. It's just what you see is different or what you experience is different, more like real life, I guess.
Tim Spaeth That's what I was gonna say. It's just life, man. That's life. Sometimes it's good, sometimes it's bad and sometimes it just is.
Trent Fingland Sometimes it's Heavy Rain.
Richard Naik: It's funny that you mention the scene in the sinking car, 'cause I did the exact same thing. I accidentally bailed out and let Lauren drown. I got out: "Oh, crap. Didn't mean to do that."
Trent Fingland Yeah, that's how I felt. I was like: "Oops."
Dan Weissenberger: You guys are completely right about it being incredibly vague. I was trying desperately to save her, and then I couldn't tell whether I had succeeded in saving her or not. So then I finally kick out the window and I watch a little video, and he's dragging her out of the car. I'm like: "What did I do that made him drag her out of the car?" I could not make any association between the controls I had done, the choices I had made, and saving her versus not.
Richard Naik: That's one of the places where the looking mechanic got frustrating instead of unique or innovative. It was difficult for me to see all the stuff that I could do. The reason that I didn't let her out is because I couldn't see that she was tied to the car, so I didn't untie her first.
Trent Fingland I might be giving David Cage a little too much credit here, but would you say that that frustration might be intentional? When you're sinking in a car with someone you care about, and you want to save them and yourself, but time is extremely limited, I imagine you would feel frustrated in that situation. I have a hard time holding that particular thing against the game. It was frustrating and I didn't like that she died because she was one of the few characters I liked. But I have a hard time saying that's a bad thing, that I was frustrated by my inability to rescue her. I'm not saying that it couldn't have been done better.
Richard Naik: But it felt frustrating for the wrong reasons. It was frustrating because I didn't know what I had to do in order to get her out of the car. Had it been: "You only have so much time to figure it out"—
Dan Weissenberger: Yeah, that would've been a fine kind of frustrating. But the controls failed you in a way that they probably shouldn't have.
Richard Naik: Correct. Throughout most of the game, that whole looking at things that you aren't necessarily facing to interact with them, that did not work for me at all. I hated that. I walked past so many interaction points. Every single time it happened, I was like: "Why do I have to hold this button to move?" That drove me nuts.
Tim Spaeth Richard, David Cage has gone on record saying he's done with Heavy Rain, but he would be eager to see other developers pick up the concept, the type of gameplay, the structure, and carry it into different types of games. I guess my question for you is: After the Heavy Rain experience, are you interested in playing a similar game? If so, how would you like the experience improved?
Richard Naik: Absolutely I'd be interested in playing a similar type of game. People should play it just to see the kind of potential that's here, and then discard it and sell it while it's still worth something at GameStop. I'd say it's absolutely something that's worth exploring by other developers. Indigo Prophecy came out in 2005 and nobody picked up on that type of game. When I played Indigo Prophecy, I was like: "Man, this is some new evolution of the genre. I wonder where this is gonna go." Nobody really did anything similar. Nobody really seemed to have taken that concept and ran with it, and I would love to see somebody run with the concept that was in Heavy Rain.
Trent Fingland Yeah. Obviously, I liked Heavy Rain a lot. One thing I hear that was interesting is that David Cage said he would love to make a Shakespeare game. He's a terrible writer, but I think he's actually a pretty decent game director. I don't even think he thinks of that a his strength, because he's totally obsessed with his own writing, but I think he's actually pretty good at that. The idea of him directing someone else's story, taking an established story like Hamlet and putting it in a Heavy Rain framework, that might actually be pretty good. I'd like to see other developers mess around with it, too, but I don't hold out any hope for that. I would love to see more games like this.
Richard Naik: Sort of like if M. Night Shyamalan stopped wasting time with his own scripts and started directing other people's scripts.
Trent Fingland Yeah, yeah. Something like that—although I don't know if I think that highly of M. Night Shyamalan.
Tim Spaeth Dan, I'm gonna tweak the question slightly for you. You are a writer of things. My question for you is this: If you were tasked with writing a game within the Heavy Rain framework, how would you dp it? First of all, would you want to? And secondly, how might you approach it?
Dan Weissenberger: Of course I would embrace it. This has been probably my favorite game genre since Shenmue. You talk about being excited since Indigo Prophecy. I read an interview with Yu Suzuki back in 2001, where he's like: "Just imagine all the things you could do with this genre! You could have a mystery game; you could have an action game where Quick Time Events are making big die-hard style things happen." I was salivating more than I've ever been for the promise of games to come. The only one that ever did was Indigo Prophecy. So you can imagine my feelings there. [Laughter]
But seriously, though, I think that were I to approach writing one of these, the thing that excites me most about it is the various ways you can play around with the situation—though I think he goes too far into it. I don't think enough people look at this, but because it's a video game, I think they're still assuming that if you put cool video game things into it, the rest will take care of itself. What I would do is first come up with a story that needs to be told in any [medium.] A story that you would love to read if it were a book; a story that you would love to watch if it were a movie. Come up with a story that is completely bulletproof, and only then start developing it into a game.
The genius of David Cage's, Yu Suzuki's free interactive fiction genre is that you can take almost any story whether you're adapting an existing one or writing one of your own and adapt it into this without actually too much trouble. It's very simple to put your own story into this. Honestly, what I would do if I were working on it myself is make sure it was the best story I could possibly produce. The rest of it would almost take care of itself, because this is the easiest way to tell a story since actual interactive fiction (and by that I mean text adventures).
I guess that's what pisses me off most about Heavy Rain. There is no genre more conducive to storytelling than this interactive fiction genre. That's why it's such a tragedy that of the four games that exist in it, two are unbelievably bad stories.
Trent Fingland Has anyone here played Omikron for the Dreamcast?
Dan Weissenberger: No.
Tim Spaeth No.
Trent Fingland I haven't, either. That was Quantic Dream's first game. I just thought it might be interesting to talk about, but I guess none of us have. [Laughter] But I hear that was even closer to Shenmue than Indigo Prophecy.
Dan Weissenberger: So there are actually three games in the genre.
Trent Fingland Yeah; that's also a David Cage game, but it's set in the future, so who knows? It's got David Bowie in it. I researched it and never played it.
Dan Weissenberger: Oh, yeah! I remember hearing about that.
Trent Fingland Like I said, I can't say anything about its quality. That might be worth looking into.
Tim Spaeth I think that is gonna bring us to a close here. I'm gonna give each of you one more chance to say something about Heavy Rain or just something about anything you like before we wrap up here. Any final thoughts?
Dan Weissenberger: I do have one final thought. In another distant, anonymous podcast I talked a lot about how Jigsaw from the Saw movies is a dick. I wanted to call out Heavy Rain, not just because of its similarities to the Saw franchise, which have been well-documented. The tagline, the basis of the story seems to be: "How far would you go to save someone you love?" Here's why the character of Scott is just such a dick: Ethan already jumped in front of a car. What more do you want from the guy?
Trent Fingland I don't know if I could sum up my thoughts on Heavy Rain in a soundbyte, but I just downloaded and played the taxidermist thing. I'm not sure if any of you are interested in continuing the Heavy Rain experience. But for those who thought Madison was a totally pointless character—I count myself among them—that taxidermist thing should've been in the main game. If anybody's interested in checking that out and wanna give Madison some meat, they should do that. It does definitely give her a personality and a justification that just doesn't exist in the main game.
Dan Weissenberger: Does she meet yet another serial killer?
Trent Fingland She does, in fact. What a surprise.
Dan Weissenberger: Apparently there are a lot of serial killers hanging around Philadelphia.
Richard Naik: She's apparently a serial killer magnet, or something.
Trent Fingland It implies that she goes after them, but she has a nose for it.
Richard Naik: Does it explain the whole "journalist looking for a story" thing?
Trent Fingland Yeah. That's pretty much what she does. She's actually looking for the Origami Killer specifically.
Dan Weissenberger: And she keeps accidentally finding other serial killers? [Laughter]
Trent Fingland Yeah; he's just another serial killer, guys. It's easy to get them mixed up. They're all middle-aged white males, you know.
Tim Spaeth Richard, as the man who initially proposed this gathering, I will offer you the last word.
Richard Naik: I really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really hope that other developers pick up on this concept and make something absolutely fantastic out of it.
Tim Spaeth When I edit this, I'm going to edit a bunch of "reallys" into that. It'a gonna be like 17 more reallys.
Richard Naik: That'll be awesome.
Trent Fingland You should have the ending music play with him still saying "really" over the entire thing, and then finish his statement when the music is over.
Tim Spaeth Oh, that's a great idea. I love that.
Richard Naik: The Really Remix.
Dan Weissenberger: I love that.
Tim Spaeth [Laughter] Well, gentlemen, my thanks to you for this very special podcast. We haven't done one show devoted to a game before. Hopefully, the fact that I hadn't played the game didn't make this too difficult. Will I ever play Heavy Rain? At this point, probably not. I feel like I've lived through the experience vicariously through your words tonight. But if something comes of this, if another game happens—whether it's authored by Mr. Weissenberger or not—I hope to be able to check that out.
I wanna also thank our audience for listening. Hopefully you enjoyed this. If you want us to do more shows like this, do let us know at GameCritics.com, either in the comments thread or on the message board. We love to get your feedback. For all of us—Trend, Dan, Richard—we thank you. Stay tuned for my a capella rendition of the Heavy Rain theme song. Until next time, good night, and bonne chance.
But then a friend introduced her to the seedy underworld of the Mario brothers and she spent her saved-up birthday and Christmas money to buy a Nintendo Entertainment System (NES). Her mom didn't like the Nintendo at first, but The Legend of Zelda changed her mind. (When Tera got Zelda II: The Adventure of Link one Christmas, she suspected it was as much for her mother as for her).
Though she graduated from Agnes Scott College in 2002 and recently learned how to find the movie theater restroom by herself, Tera still loves video games. Far from being a brain-rotting waste of time, they've helped her practice spatial skills and discover new passions. Her love of games like Kid Icarus and The Battle of Olympus led to a degree in Classical Languages and Literatures. She thinks games have a place in discussions on disability and other cultural issues, and is excited to work with the like-minded staff at GameCritics.com.