David Cage Looks Back at Indigo Prophecy
By Jeremy Parish
The name Quantic Dream has become synonymous with a specific style of game: Elaborate, story-driven experiences that draw upon the “interactive movie” concept of the ’90s, but which build their worlds and characters through gorgeous, big-budget 3D graphics rather than chintzy-looking full-motion video. While Quantic Dream has been around for more than two decades, the studio properly kicked off what would become its trademark approach to game design with 2005’s Indigo Prophecy (also known as Fahrenheit) for PlayStation 2 and Xbox. In light of Limited Run Games’s deluxe PlayStation 4 Collector’s Edition reissue of Indigo Prophecy, Quantic Dreams founder and creative lead David Cage has looked back to share his memories and insights on this landmark title.
Limited Run Games: Creatively speaking, what was your main objective with Indigo Prophecy, especially in terms of its design?
David Cage: After the development of Omikron: The Nomad Soul, I had mixed feelings. On the one hand, I was very proud of the game, which was one of the very first to feature a full city in real-time 3D and motion capture, with many new concepts like virtual reincarnation and live concerts with David Bowie. But at the same time, I felt frustrated with the narrative part. I had an open world, but I had no control over the pacing, and I felt I could provide a better experience to players if I could have a little bit more control over the experience—to curate the story and make sure that every second of the game was thrilling and interesting.
At the same time, I had the intuition that video games would soon become appealing to a wider audience, and not only to gamers, so I wanted to create an experience that anyone could enjoy. I knew that everybody likes storytelling, and TV series had started to become incredibly popular, so I thought, “What’s better than a story in which you can control the characters and make the decisions for them?”
These were really the foundation stones of Indigo Prophecy: Creating a narrative experience that would be accessible to all.
Of course, it was simple to say, but challenging to implement. It forced us to reconsider many aspects of game design and to come up with different answers. I wanted to break with many video game conventions regarding the interface, to try something different with controls, and with cameras; even interacting with the environment needed to be different. It was a very creative phase for our studio where we tried many different directions.
Looking back at Indigo 15 years later, it was a very daring and ambitious project in many ways. I remember that the development was very painful, with a brutal change of publisher in the middle of the development (Vivendi was confronted with an internal crisis at the time, until Atari finally published the title worldwide), and a lot of skepticism around the game before its release. “A game without enemies to shoot? It is not really a game,” said one of the publishers we met at the time. Fortunately, the game ended up being a major success for Quantic Dream and the beginning of a new phase for the studio. Critics and gamers reacted very positively to the novelty brought by the game and its fresh approach to storytelling.
From a personal point of view, Indigo Prophecy was definitely a turning point in my vision of video games. It allowed me to develop most of the principles and conceptual tools to tell an interactive story, which I continued to use and develop to this day. It showed me that it was possible to tell a story through gameplay, that it was possible to interact with a narrative, and that it could be fun and emotionally engaging. Most of all, it proved to me that there was an audience for this type of experience.
Heavy Rain, Beyond: Two Souls, and today Detroit: Become Human were all built on what we learnt from Indigo Prophecy. For these reasons and many others, it will always be a very special game to me.
LRG: In what ways was Indigo Prophecy meant to build on the concepts and mechanics established by Omikron? In what ways did you try to diverge from what had come before?
DC: Omikron was a classic video game, featuring an open world and a mix of action and adventure. With Indigo Prophecy, I wanted to experiment with the idea of an experience that would be only based on interactive storytelling. Many adventure games or RPGs had told a story before, but the story always felt like an added layer on top of mechanics. On Indigo, I wanted the story to be more than a layer to justify mechanics—I wanted it to be the experience itself.
I wanted the game to be based on very simple mechanics, so I could move the challenge from the controller to the mind of the player. What mattered was the decisions they made, more than their skills. In that sense, it was quite a significant step away from Omikron.
Where Omikron featured mechanics that allowed exploration and combat, a narrative game needed different gameplay ideas in almost every scene. It was a massive challenge, but it made me experiment with different ideas, like Multiview, mental health mechanics, and many others. It also let me write scenes that I thought would be impossible in a video game. There is this scene, for example, where detective Tyler Miles wakes up in the morning, takes a shower, choses his clothes for the day, drinks a coffee, and kisses his wife goodbye before going to work. The scene was just a morning in a normal life: No one to kill, no monster to fight, just a day like all the others in anybody’s life. When I wrote it, I thought it would be a disaster, that it would be very boring to play, but it became my favorite scene in the game, one that would inform my writing for years to come. An interactive scene could be as simple as that: A way to become intimate with a character, to get to know him or her better and create a real bond with the player. There was something sincere and emotional in this very simple moment that made it very unique to me, and this scene changed my vision of video games forever.
LRG: As you mentioned, Indigo Prophecy played down the concept of violent confrontation, replacing the need to tend to characters’ physical stamina (as seen in most games) with a focus instead on mental health. What was the inspiration there?
DC: My goal in designing games is to emulate life. I try to find ways to make players feel emotions that they would feel in real life, using interactivity, controls, mechanics, soundtracks, cinematography, lighting, and all the tools I have.
In the case of Lucas Kane, he is in a very desperate situation, and one of his challenges is to find the courage to fight and prove he is innocent. His situation is so desperate that he considers suicide. When we realized this, we thought that we should put his destiny in the hands of players. They should be able to support him, to help him to face his difficulties and find the courage to keep fighting, which turned out to become a narrative mechanic.
Playing with something as abstract as mental health was definitely a challenge, but it worked pretty well in the context of the game.
I remember a message that a player sent me. He wrote that he was seriously depressed at the time, and he took the decision to commit suicide. On his way back home, he walked by the window of a video game shop where Indigo Prophecy was playing on a loop. The advertisement of the game said, “Will you be able to increase his mental health or will you commit suicide?” He was intrigued by the tag line, which echoed his own situation, so he entered the store and bought the game.
Once at home, he started playing and finished the game in one walkthrough. Once he was done, his desire to kill himself was gone.
He wrote to me years later telling me that Indigo Prophecy saved his life.
I love this story, because it shows how games in general can play a role in people’s lives, how game designers have more impact than they sometimes think. We can entertain people, but we can also change their mindset or even perspective on things.
LRG: Indigo Prophecy used an unconventional control scheme, too—it makes use of the controller in unique ways. And while players have little agency over their actions on a macro scale, the story’s outcome hinges on their moment-to-moment choices. What were the challenges involved in creating a game like that? Were there other works you were able to look toward for guidance?
DC: The design of Indigo Prophecy is a mix of many different ideas and influences. The design for interactions was based on the desire to create a sense of mimicry, to make the controller a significant tool for immersion rather than just a remote control for the character. I wanted the player to do the movements at the same time as the character, to feel exhausted when the character is exhausted, etc.
We also wanted to invent an interface that would allow the player to play guitar, to play basketball or to fight creatures, to talk with other characters or to investigate a crime scene. We were looking for an interface that allowed us to do anything in the context of a story, with the objective of freeing the narrative from any mechanics.
So we developed a different approach to interface, based on mimicry, contextual interactions, timing and movement. This interface allowed us to tell any kind of story and to play any situation, from dialogues to action scenes, which is exactly what we wanted.
The multiple windows were really inspired by the TV show 24, which was using a similar system to show different scenes happening at the same time. I felt that the idea would work very well in a video game by allowing the player to see what happens somewhere else while keeping the control of the main character.
The story itself was a mix of different thrillers, from The Matrix to Hitchcock films, and other influences I had at the time.
For me, the most important thing was to put players in the shoes of the protagonists, and to let them tell their own stories through their decisions. There were many challenges involved, the main one being the necessity to write all possible versions of a story and to plan for all the things that players may want to do. It was a different approach to writing based on the idea that the final story is not just the work of the writer, but the result of a collaboration between a writer and the player.
LRG: What would you like for new players to take away from Indigo Prophecy?
DC: I hope that they will have a good time accompanying Lucas Kane, Carla Valenti, and Tyler Miles. What matters the most when you play is what you feel, so I hope that they will feel different emotions during this journey and enjoy the ride!
Players who are familiar with our games may also be interested to see how our design ideas evolved through time, from Indigo to Detroit: Become Human, and how we have developed the ideas that appeared initially in Indigo.
LRG: Can you talk about the soundtrack—the inspiration behind the score, and how you made these particular licensed music selections?
DC: The soundtrack was written by Angelo Badalamenti, the composer who worked on many of David Lynch’s movies including Twin Peaks, Mulholland Drive, and others. I am a big fan of Lynch, so I was very familiar with Angelo’s work and I thought his style would fit very well with the story we were telling.
Indigo was also an opportunity to work with Normand Corbeil, a Canadian composer, who orchestrated Angelo’s main theme and composed all other soundtracks. We enjoyed working with Normand so much that we decided to keep working together on my following game, Heavy Rain, where he did an amazing job.
Angelo and Normand are two very talented composers, and their music significantly contributed to the atmosphere of Indigo Prophecy.
LRG: Looking back at Indigo Prophecy, what do you see as its legacy? How do you view it within the continuum of Quantic Dream works?
DC: Indigo Prophecy was a very important game for me, it is the foundation stone of everything I have done until today. This idea of putting players in the heroes’ shoes, to create an emotional connection with the protagonists, to offer the player a varied palette of emotions, each these ideas has informed all my work since then.
It allowed me to create a specific grammar dedicated to interactive storytelling that is not based on puzzles or action, but purely on storytelling. It was also the first game shot in Quantic Dream’s motion capture studio, and probably one of the very few games at the time that was entirely shot in motion capture.
As a writer, a designer, and a director, I learnt almost everything I know today from this game. From directing actors in motion capture (I played Lucas Kane myself to learn what it is like to act in motion capture) to working with amazing composers like Badalamenti and Corbeil, it has been a wonderful journey for my team and myself, and I hope that people who played the game at the time will enjoy the experience again, and that people discovering Indigo for the first time will see all the love and passion we put into it.