Entertainment & Arts

David Cage's Top 10 Tips for being a game designer

David Cage Image copyright Promo

David Cage began his career as a professional musician for film, television and games, before founding the French games studio Quantic Dream in 1997.

Over the past 15 years, he has written and directed a range of innovative and influential games, including the Bafta award-winning Heavy Rain, and the hugely successful Beyond: Two Souls.

He has collaborated with actors like Ellen Page and Willem Dafoe and the composer Hans Zimmer to create interactive and innovative games with a focus on storytelling.

He is currently working on a new project for Playstation 4 - about which he is clearly very excited, but nonetheless sworn to secrecy.

Here are his top 10 tips for becoming a game writer and designer.

1. If you want to design games, play them

I got started in the business 17 years ago. First of all, I was a gamer. I've been playing video games since I was 10 years old and I think it's important to play games if you want to design them yourself.

I was an avid gamer when I was a kid and a teenager, but I never thought it would become my job. I became a composer and then I started composing music for video games.

I started writing a game that I was dreaming of playing, hired a bunch of friends to make a prototype and that was how Quantic Dream was born 17 years ago.

2. Trust your instincts

We worked on that prototype (later released as Omikron: The Nomad Soul) for six months. The story took place in a city in real time 3D, which was really a premiere from the technical point of view.

I invested pretty much all of the money I had made as a musician into the project because I thought it could work. But there has never really been any business thinking behind any decision that I've made.

I think you have to just trust your instincts and follow what you want to do with your life, this is really what has led to all of my decisions up to today.

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Image caption David Cage with actors Ellen Page and Willem Dafoe on the set of Beyond: Two Souls

3. Be patient

A game like Beyond: Two Souls is definitely a big game. It's about 200 people working for three years. It is hard work and you need to be patient.

It's a year in the writing, it's a year in the shooting and it's a year in post-production. We create games that would usually be qualified as indie games, because they are not in one of the classic genres.

We don't make shooting or sports games, our games are about allowing a player to play a story. If you want to do something like this you need a lot of luck and you need to find a publisher that will trust you.

4. Get a proper education

If this is what you want to do, you need to go to school for as long as possible, that's the first rule. Sometimes kids come to us and say: "I want to work in games, I love games and I play so many."

That's great and you do need to be passionate, but if you don't have the right diplomas, it's a waste of your time, this is a competitive industry.

So go to school, be passionate, be creative, be crazy! You are the future, so don't try to recreate the past. You are supposed to have new ideas and lead this industry forward.

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Image caption Quantic's games have been praised for their near-photorealistic graphics
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Image caption This is how Ellen Page appeared after her performance was captured on Beyond: Two Souls

5. Reassess what you think you know

When you watch a film, you just want to watch something and be passive. When you play a game you want to be the actor, you want to be in the shoes of the guy making the decisions so it's a very different type of experience.

You always need to reassess what you know, or what you think you know, because the technology and the concepts are always changing.

You also need to imagine what is going to work tomorrow, not just what worked yesterday. You have to be enthusiastic and you have to have passion.

6. Choose the right actors

It was my idea to have Hollywood actors in Beyond: Two Souls, it was not a marketing decision.

So we met with Ellen Page and Willem Dafoe because we felt they were the best possible actors for the parts that I had written.

I'm so happy with the performance that they delivered. I really got what I was looking for, which was talent. It was important to me and I really think that the game is better with them.

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Image caption Beyond: Two Souls took a year to film

7. Understand the importance of music

The music is also very, very important for a game. It can be very challenging because we are not talking about 90 minutes of film, we are talking about ten or twelve hours of music. It's a lot of work.

When we met with the composer Hans Zimmer and his team, their first reaction was that they weren't very interested in video games because they're all pretty much the same.

We explained that this one would be different, we sent them the script and talked about the characters.

The music was incredibly important because of the emotional dimension of the game and the intentions that we had. They said "yes" and they really helped to make the game better.

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Image caption Hans Zimmer, one of Hollywood's most prolific composers, created the score for Beyond: Two Souls

8. Learn the rules before you break them

You have to know the rules before you can break them. It's something that has a special meaning in games because we are a very young industry and I don't think the rules are clearly established yet.

I played games myself for years and my gut feeling was that we had reached the limit of what the rules allowed us to do. If you want to go further you have to do something different.

It is always challenging to invent new rules and new ways of doing things because you need to convince other people that it is time to leave the old paradigms and find new ones.

9. Really think about story and emotion

To me, story and emotion are very important. I always felt that when you watch a film, what you love isn't so much what you see, it's what you feel.

For me it's the same thing in a game. When you play a game it shouldn't matter so much which button you are supposed to press, it should be about what the game makes you feel.

I try to make the player feel things they don't normally associate with video games, like feeling sad or uncomfortable.

I try to explore these grey emotions, there is no black and white, it's not about laughing or crying, it's about all the different shades of grey in between.

For me, a game should be an emotional journey. You want ups and you want downs and what is interesting is what you feel between the two, that's what I'm really looking for.

10. Decide what you want out of life and go for it

If your goal with your life is to just have a job, have some money at the end of the month and not have too many problems, then there are jobs out there for you.

If you want to be someone who will try to be creative, try to have ideas, try to shape things and take all the risks attached with that, then you will take a different approach.

You need to think what people are going to like two years or five years from now, then try to work on that, even if it means that nobody will understand you today.

Trying to do things differently can be really exhausting and extremely risky. I'm really happy with what I do and the position I'm in, but if I had maybe been a little more pragmatic, it might have made my life easier.

I don't have any regrets, I always did my best based on what I knew at the time. I love what I do, I like to explore new ideas and that is a reward in itself.

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