Tell Me, What Is Your Cage Like?
Things are never quite what they seem. We think we understand the games industry around us, but we really only see the outside. What it seems to be. I used to be just like you: I believed in developers, games magazines, television commercials, rumor mills and strategy guides. One day, a game kicks you in the teeth and you don’t have any choice but to see things the way they really are.
My name is Cassidy. My story is the one where an ordinary gamer has something extraordinary happen to them. Maybe it was supposed to happen. Maybe it was my destiny or my karma or whatever. I know one thing for sure: Nothing’s ever going to be the same again.
It all started right here. Where else could it happen? Quantic Dream; capital of the interactive movie genre, the developer destiny chose for the umpteenth big game. I was just another pawn living my pawn’s life. Until that night when my life descended into chaos. And the man responsible for my torment? None other than David Cage.
Fahrenheit — or, as some parts of the world know it, Indigo Prophecy. A potentially promising noir tale that many say takes a turn for the worse. Loved by some, loathed by others, but leaving most falling somewhere in the middle. Today, I make my personal determination: Does Quantic Dream’s vision of a snowy apocalypse stand the test of time, or did it never really pass the quiz to begin with? To fully understand the events which transpired on the 16th of September, 2005, we must turn the clock back to an earlier time — to a time before things were forever changed.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This article contains embedded links to content that is Not Safe for Work, including animated GIFs depicting computer-generated graphic nudity. The original European release of the game was given a PEGI 18 rating, with some of the more sexually explicit content being cut in order to avoid an Adults Only rating in North America (bringing the game down to a Mature / 17+). As such, I’d ask that you do try to avoid clicking on any links with a “(NSFW)” label if you are not of legal age to view such content.
And Go Buy Yourself a Video Game
To comprehend the impact and context of Fahrenheit / Indigo Prophecy,** we must go back to 1993: The year one David Cage founded a company by the name of Totem Interactive. Before Totem, Cage had lent his musical talent to various television projects and commercials in a freelance capacity, credited to him as his birth name “David De Gruttola.” He would continue to use this name while running Totem Interactive, as he was introduced to the world of composing soundtracks for video games. You may recognize his work from such classic games as Cheese Cat-Astrophe starring Speedy Gonzales, the video game adaptation of Time Cop, and a weird sentimental favorite of mine in the FMV shooter Hardline. I’d love to sit here and tell you David’s music is as bad as his games, but it’s actually mostly competent enough.
But Cage wasn’t content just to write music for games: He wanted to write his own game. So, starting in 1994, David Cage began to write the treatment for what would become the first game he actively helped develop. As he explains it, “Every night I would come back home and just write a script for the game on paper. Just a concept and story; not a line of code.” He decided he was done at around the 200 page mark, and used his industry contacts to help in pitching his game concept. According to Cage, “the feedback was good, but they all said my idea for the game was technically impossible.” Determined to prove them wrong, Cage pooled his resources and gathered a group of five friends together to build a prototype for the game, giving themselves a six month deadline as that was as much time as Cage could afford to pay his employees for.
Finally, Cage was able to find a publisher interested in his concept in Eidos Interactive, who asked him to come to their offices in order to formally present it. Cage tells a story of carrying a giant PC around London, through the subway, and arriving at the Eidos office “sweating profusely.” Fortunately for him, his work was not in vain, as Eidos immediately elected to offer him a contract and accommodate all his creative and financial needs. All that was left now at that moment was to let the rest of his team know the good news — which he did in typical David Cage fashion by cruelly bait-and-switching them, appearing sad and dejected as he stepped off a train and getting them nice and nervous before presenting them the contract. I can’t be too mean to David about this one, since this is exactly the sort of stupid prank I would pull too, truth be told.
What was needed next was a name for their development studio. They settled on Quantic Dream, with David explaining “it was a play on the phrase ‘quantum physics’, which in itself is really interesting because the more you study it the more you can’t explain.” Insert your own joke about the nature of Quantic Dream’s games here. What came next on the checklist was bringing in an established musical artist to compose the game’s soundtrack — presumably to give the game some extra marketing value. Famously, David Bowie would answer the call, agreeing not only to compose the soundtrack but also asking to “inhabit the world” as a non-player character. Quantic Dream were obviously more than happy to oblige, resulting in Bowie portraying not just one but two characters: One of which being a major plot-important character, and the other being a musician made to mimic Bowie’s stage mannerisms and perform in-game.
In November 1999, Omikron: The Nomad Soul was released upon the world, with a following June 2000 release on the Sega Dreamcast. At it’s core, it’s an adventure game with action elements, but there’s so much more to it than that. It’s also part fighting game, part first-person shooter, part stealth game and part role-playing game. In other words; a jack of all trades, and master of none. Even Cage would be forced to admit later in his career that “there were many new ideas, probably too many. […] I wanted to mix different genres but I wouldn’t say we were 100 percent successful.” Critics were certainly sure to hone in on this issue, mixing the game’s reception much as the game attempts to mix genres.
The game puts you in the shoes of the titular “Nomad Soul”: A being who can inhabit other bodies and as such can move from character to character in-game. But the Nomad Soul isn’t just another character that exists within the universe: You, the player, are truly the Nomad Soul, traveling across dimensions by the very act of playing the Omikron: The Nomad Soul video game. Not only that, but you’d better be heavily invested in it, because if you die in the game, you
die for real lose your soul forever. Luckily, you’ll find that your soul is usually able to escape the unfortunate bodies it possesses in favor of other nearby NPCs, allowing you to play the game as any number of characters the game doesn’t even have to worry about developing.
I may end up writing more in depth about Omikron at a later date, so let me just leave it at this for now: It’s certainly a game with some interesting ideas behind it, and there are certain flaws in execution that are at least excusable, but the overall package is just far too tedious and obtuse of a slog to forgive it its issues. On the scale of “flawed genius” games, let’s say it’s less Jurassic Park: Trespasser and more Battlecruiser 3000AD (Yes, we’ll eventually have to get to both of these games as well in the future as well). And yet, the game still has its ardent defenders, willing to overlook the downright frustrating gameplay so they can extol the virtues of its world and its concept and all the other creative elements. I understand the admiration for Omikron more than other Quantic Dream titles, but I still can’t say I share the sentiment myself.
As a whole, most other consumers also did not have the patience or interest for Omikron. The game only went on to sell a combined total of something like 600,000 copies across personal computers and the Sega Dreamcast. Not necessarily an impressive number, and further damning when taken into account that between 400-500 thousand of those sales were in European territories, meaning the game failed to establish almost any presence in the North American market. Cage chalks this up to Eidos’ failure to market the game in the United States, bemoaning that the game was “too arty, too French, too ‘something’ for the American marketing department.” Perhaps for this reason, but more likely to do with the failure of the game financially, Quantic Dream would part ways with Eidos after the release of Omikron, cancelling planned Playstation 1/2 conversions of the game in the process.
But this would not mean the end of Quantic Dream as a studio, of course. Following the “success” of Omikron, Quantic Dream would announce three more games, none of which would ever see release: Quark, (b)Last, and a proposed sequel to Omikron. This provides us with an interesting insight into how the developer approaches picking their next projects: Basically, they start development on a number of different games all at once, and end up dropping the others / tossing out their wasted work when their publisher tells them which one they are most interested in publishing. No, really; that is almost exactly how David Cage explains the creative process:
“We usually start several projects at the same time. Over the last years, one of them get so much interest from publishers that we had to cancel or at least postpone the others. Each Quantic Dream’s project requires up to 80 people and all our attention. It is difficult to start several original project with the same ambition in matter of quality…” ~ David Cage
It is also before or around this time [in 2000] that Quantic Dream would open the doors to their motion capture studio to third parties in the film and video game industries. This continues to provide them the dual benefit of an extra revenue stream, as well as giving them the facilities in which to easily record motion capture for their own game projects. It was clear that their next game was going to make heavy use of mo-cap technology, if not all future endeavors by the company.
News of what was being referred to as Fahrenheit began to surface as early as 2001. One of the earlier stories comes courtesy of GameSpot, who reported on the launch of the now-defunct FahrenheitGame.com on October 31st of 2001. Some interesting tidbits from this article reflect on early development ideas for the game, including the idea to release the game in episodic installments on a monthly basis — predating the full-fledged trend of episodic games popularized by Telltale Games by some number of years. Laughably, the article also claims that “the game’s first episode is scheduled for release in the second quarter of 2002.” Naturally, neither of these promises would come to fruition, though you may still be able to see where the game would’ve divided itself into its “episodes” in the final product.
In actuality, the game would remain in development well past 2002, and as late as into 2005. To their credit, Quantic Dream seemed to remain open and informative about the status of development, providing many screenshots and releasing several trailers which help document the development of the game. Much of this is collected on Unseen64, where you can see how much changed over the course of development and how much actually managed to stay the same. Despite moving away from the episodic format and seeming to restart the approach to art direction several times, the core premise of the game and the primary characters seem to have remained intact from the very beginning of development. It doesn’t seem too often that a game in development for as long as Indigo Prophecy retains so much of its early-stage identity as the released game goes to show for it. Whether this is necessarily a good or bad thing is up for debate.***
Reportedly, a major source of inspiration on the game was the American television program 24. Specifically, the way it incorporated multiple camera angles into the frame at the same time; a trick Indigo Prophecy would utilize on a frequent extent, and which would certainly lend the game a unique feel even as it came years after the show began airing. The game alludes to and draws inspiration from a number of other films as well, including such cited titles as “Snake Eyes, Seven, Fight Club, Dune, Jacob’s Ladder and Angel Heart.”**** You can go ahead and also add The Matrix to that list, since it’s arguably the most blatantly homaged film over the course of the game.
An E3 trailer launched in 2004 would tease the game as “Coming Soon,” as well as naming Sierra as the game’s publisher. Between E3 and the eventual release, this duty would transfer over to Atari, Inc., who would ultimately be the ones to actually publish the game. Before they did however, they made one major change to the game: In the American markets, the game would be known as Indigo Prophecy, to avoid confusion with the 2004 Michael Moore film Fahrenheit 9/11. The title would remain as Fahrenheit in the European / international market. Furthermore, changes would also be made to the “sexual content” of the game in order to keep the North American release within the “M for Mature” ESRB rating, while still content to release the game being rated as PEGI 18 outside of the USA.
Finally, after years of anticipation, Indigo Prophecy would see console release on the PS2 and Xbox in September of 2005. PC players would have to wait until October to experience the game on their platform of choice. But the question remained: Would the game live up to its years of hype, or end up spreading itself too thin and under-delivering like Omikron before it?
** For the purposes of this review, we’re going to refer to the game henceforth as just “Indigo Prophecy,” since David Cage apparently absolutely despises that name (going so far as calling it a “Fucking stupid name”), in spite of it being a far more distinct title
*** It certainly didn’t help Duke Nukem Forever that it had to shoehorn in all the set pieces from the years of proof-of-concept trailers in order to maintain consistency / “keep its promises.”
**** These films were apparently cited by a developer on the game in an interview featured in a 1up.com article, but as the site is no longer archived on Archive.org’s Wayback Machine, I’m unable to confirm this using that specific source.
I’m a Bit Lost Here. This Whole Story Is Just So Bizarre
Indigo Prophecy is ostensibly the story of one Lucas Kane: A seemingly ordinary guy unfortunate enough to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. While using the bathroom at a diner on a snowy Winter’s day, he is seemingly possessed, proceeding to carve a set of symbols into his arms and forced to murder another patron. Upon completing the ritual, he regains control of his senses, and the player is immediately given control of the confused killer. You must make a quick decision: Do you immediately flee the scene, or try to hide the evidence of your crime before making a more discreet escape? Opting for the latter can involve Lucas hiding the corpse in a stall, cleaning up as much of the blood as he can, and remembering to pay his bill on the way out — each of these actions helping to restore his all-important “Mental Health” meter, which cannot be allowed to deplete for fear of a Game Over screen.**
After making your escape, you’ll assume control of two of the other main characters of the game: Detectives Carla Valenti and Tyler Miles, arriving at the diner to investigate that same crime scene you just left. You are faced with a new dilemma now: Do you complete a thorough investigation, pointing you toward the path of Lucas Kane, or do you half-ass the whole job in order to protect your other playable character? Let me be clear about this right up-front: I think this is a brilliant game design concept… in theory. We’ll get to how Cage manages to muck things up in short time. But for now, know that Carla and Tyler have their own individual mental health to consider as well, and a more thorough investigation will result in better moods all-around.
From this point forward, the story will allow you to tackle the series of story chapters in something like your own choice of order: You’ll be given your pick of the three main characters between each scene, play through their scenario, and be brought back to that select screen to finish up the remaining characters tasks. It should be noted that the order you choose to complete these chapters / which characters you pick in which order have no impact whatsoever on the narrative. Rather, your choice of character isn’t an impactful choice, despite being presented as if it might be. We’re going to be using the term “illusion of choice” a lot in this article, and we can go ahead and chalk up this bit of design as the first of it.
The first roughly two-thirds of the game play out as a game of cat and mouse; with Lucas doing his best to evade arrest while trying to discover what exactly happened to him, while Carla and Tyler attempt to sniff out his trail. But not every chapter deals strictly with the murder and the investigation thereof: Characters also have their personal lives to live and consider. Lucas has an office job he still needs to show up for lest he arouse suspicion, and is also dealing with a recent break-up that you can help him mend back together through the power of electric guitar. Tyler has a girlfriend who wants him to leave the police force and live a “normal life” with her, while Carla… Well, Carla actually has pretty much no social life to speak of. In fact, she’s clearly the most underdeveloped of the protagonists, and the only glimpse you have into her life outside of her work is a brief chapter where she interacts with a neighbor. Naturally, this chapter opens with a gratuitous shower scene (NSFW), because David Cage can’t help himself.
These first two-thirds of the game are largely considered the strongest part of Indigo Prophecy, as the game gradually moves further away from “psychological crime thriller” into “mysticism and homage to The Matrix.” Then, at a certain point, the gradual transition sort of abruptly ends and the game just fully detaches itself from any semblance of reality or narrative sense. We’ll get into more specific spoiler territory later in this article, but it’s hard to discuss the game without pointing out nice and early that Lucas’ possession is revealed to be due to an ancient Mayan ritual, committed in order to help an antagonist known as The Oracle locate a child tied to what is known as the “Indigo Prophecy.” Oh, also, the world is run by an Illuminati-esque organization known as the Orange Clan, who is unknowingly being undermined by a competing Purple Clan consisting of human-hating artificial intelligence. Also also, Lucas being the one chosen to commit that murder may not actually be an unfortunate / unplanned happening after all, as he happens to be an individual exposed to a power source known as Chroma that gives him latent magical powers.
You got all that?
To say that the plot of Indigo Prophecy eventually “falls off the rails” is something of an understatement. The game tries to cram too many different concepts and influences into too small a package, resulting in a story that eventually seems to lose focus completely — or at the very least, transforms into a story unrelated to the one that you as the player are initially meant to be drawn in by. The progression of the narrative itself is eventually hobbled by the direction the story turns towards, where you will eventually reach a point where you realize none of your decisions in the first two-thirds of the game actually mattered at all. As a matter of fact, there is only one “choice” in the game that actually has a major impact on the ending, and it is only presented in the literal last minutes of the game. More on that later, of course.
So, with that fact in mind, let’s rewind back to the opening of the game. What happens if Lucas leaves plenty of evidence for Carla and Tyler to track him down with? Well, Carla and Tyler will eventually track him down, as it turns out — regardless of how thorough their investigations actually are [or aren’t]. And if Lucas does his absolute best to cover up his tracks? Carla and Tyler will still eventually find him anyway, because there’s always some amount of evidence that you can’t hide as Lucas and which Carla and Tyler will eventually discover. Again, you aren’t really being presented with choices as a player here: You’re simply being presented the illusion of choice, with all roads leading to the same eventual destination. So, what’s even the point in bothering to set your characters minds at ease / complete your tasks in the first place? Why, to keep that mental health meter up, of course!
Keeping your mental health in check is one of the only things preventing a player from rushing through the game as quickly as possible / absorbing as little of the content of the game as they might wish they could. At set points in the story, you are forced to deal with scenes and encounters that inevitably drain away at your sanity. To avoid getting a premature Game Over, you’ll have to interact with your environments to some degree in order to find ways of improving your mood: Drinking and eating, using the bathroom, covering up a crime — you know, the usual stuff. And so, scenes and decisions that may appear to be impactful – like whether or not Lucas chooses to risk revealing himself to a police officer by saving a young boy from drowning – are ultimately more a matter of improving morale than anything else. Let a character become too miserable and self-loathing, and you’re stuck having to restart a chapter from a checkpoint. Once you recognize this pattern, it’s hard to get invested in much of anything that happens in the story.
A couple of other ways to encounter Game Overs are to fail certain quick-time events / “suspicion” scenarios that are vital to the progression. These are the sort of life and death situations where the protagonists are attacked by murderous characters and entities, or where Lucas is in immediate danger of being arrested. On the subject of suspicion scenarios: In a small handful of conversations with law enforcement characters, it is possible for Lucas to act so oddly that the police will run out of patience with him and decide to bring him in. Luckily, Lucas has the convenient power of being able to hear people’s thoughts, which he only ever seems to employ in these specific interactions. The insight you gain from passing the accompanying QTEs / reading minds should help you in picking the best dialogue choices, and telling people what they want to hear.
More often though, these potentially game-ending events will manifest as visions Lucas has of supernatural forces conspiring to kill him, which he must evade or otherwise thwart. Later, these progress into actual fights and chases, which feature Lucas doing his best impression of Neo as he defies gravity and seems to slow down time. Of course, rather than put you in direct control of your character for any of these, you’re simply made to play something like the world’s worst rhythm game, where two Simon Says-esque four-button panels appear on either side of the screen, and prompt you to press your corresponding buttons / arrow keys as the buttons light up. There are also alternative QTEs that involve building a meter by pressing a pair of keys as quickly as possible, or maintaining balance by tapping left and right to keep a sliding scale as close to center as possible. Missing more than a couple of any of these prompts will result in you succumbing to whatever hazard may be headed your way – often in hilarious fashion – which can either force you to repeat the failed sequence or simply fumble on through to the next. In either scenario, you will lose one of your “Lives,” which you can hoard a total of five of by collecting cross necklaces hidden across the game.
These styles of QTE prompt are also used for a number of non-life-threatening situations, often as a means of performing less intensive actions. For example, you will see these prompts appear when playing guitar in Lucas’ apartment, or practice sparring in a gym as Carla / Tyler. However, regardless of the stakes, there is a very easy way of guaranteeing you pass any of these given tests of skill: Simply mash all of the buttons all of the time during the Simon Says QTEs, as your incorrect inputs won’t actually count against you. So long as one of your potentially hundreds of button presses happens to correspond to what is currently being prompted on-screen, you will be counted as having pressed the right button at the right time. That being said, most of these scenes are so simple to begin with that the spam technique is hardly necessary.
Luckily, not all actions are handled in QTE format. There are a number of other “minigames” that actually shift the perspective of the game – occasionally into first-person – and allow you to perform more complex actions. In the case of Carla, this can involve a bit of first-person shooting at a target range, or attempting to conquer her claustrophobia by navigating some tight, dark spaces through a combination of the sliding scale QTE and first-person movement. Neither of these examples are particularly “fun,” but they at least demonstrate an attempt to provide variety and to make you feel as if you have more control over the characters than simply pressing random buttons while they perform death-defying acrobatics.
Believe it or not though, the most immersive actions are the most mundane; opening cabinets, sitting in chairs, rolling out of bed, et cetera. Simple interactions and tasks are performed by moving your mouse / analog stick in specific motions as indicated at the top of the screen, rather than the standard “Press A to do this or B to do this” that the average video game might employ. Climbing, for example, might have you click and drag up and then in a circular motion to the left or right, as if moving your arm and hand to reach and grab each rung of a ladder. Unfortunately, some of these actions can be rather finicky, resulting in inputs that are lost mid-motion and sequences that may need to be restarted. At some point, you might just wish for a simple button prompt and immediate response from the game.
What may be worse though are the time-sensitive / stealth sequences that occasionally rear their ugly heads, and force you to use the basic movement controls for precision purposes that they are clearly not conducive towards. The time-sensitive scenes are usually forgiving enough, actually, giving you enough time to account for at least several input errors or wrong turns you might make. The prolonged stealth sequences, on the other hand, are among the worst in games history. The two worst offenders here take place in a pair of flashbacks Lucas has to his youth, getting up to hijinks on the military base where he and his brother were raised. Life as a child on a military base seems like it might get pretty dull, and so making your own fun might involve a bit of breaking and entering. These excursions will see you attempting to scurry past passing patrols and staying out of sight as you venture deeper into the base to make mischief in the hangars.
Unfortunately, Indigo Prophecy takes place in a universe where our American Army are not only constantly vigilant, but also boast average eyesight and depth of vision. Which is to say, they don’t have the standard stealth game “cones of vision” so much as they can see everything happening in front of them as far as the nearest obstruction. Not only will you have to make frequent use of fleeting cover and tie your movements to which direction the guards are facing, but you’ll also have incredibly specific paths you are forced to take in order to complete these sequences, as stationary guards cover all the other exits and routes you may be tempted to try. There is only ever one way to navigate through a given stealth zone, and it is typically the longest possible route with the most potential chances for detection. I found myself continuing from my checkpoints quite frequently in these two sections, despite considering myself something of a stealth genre enthusiast.
A number of people point to that aforementioned two-thirds mark as the point where not only the story comes completely loose, but the game as a whole falls apart as well. I would argue that it all begins to crumble as early as the first of these awful stealth sequences. It’s not only that the gameplay in it is awful, but it also reveals the character-changing secret of Lucas that he has always had mystical powers to some extent. Being able to see into the future as early as his pre-teen years – before, unfortunately, repressing his powers until his adulthood – is one of the first signs that David Cage doesn’t really understand how to write compelling characters or how to develop them. Lucas shouldn’t be a wünderkind whose incredible powers re-awaken when it’s convenient for him later in life: These flashback sequences should’ve been cut entirely, and his powers should’ve manifested as a result of the inciting incident / possession that begins the game.
Which brings us to the part where we discuss the finer points of the game’s cast of characters. First off, I feel like I should inform all y’all that Lucas Kane is a white guy. When I first played / started the game, I was honestly under the impression he was of Asian descent based on his facial details. But looking at his clearly Caucasian brother, and at Lucas himself as a child – plus, using pre-release screenshots as reference (handily collected as part of Unseen64’s aforementioned article on the game) – it becomes increasingly obvious that Lucas is and was always intended to be Caucasian. I feel obligated to mention this as I know I am not the only person to make this mistake. Not to make too fine a point of it, but given the racial ambiguity of Carla and the mostly positive-if-not-stereotypical portrayal of Tyler as a black man, positioning Lucas as the indisputable main character plays directly into tiresome “white savior” tropes. If this is an angle / criticism you’d be interested in reading more into, I can recommend an article by Pat Miller titled “On Indigo Prophecy, Part 2: So Bad, It’s Racist.”
The only other matter of race I’m going to take the time to address here is the character of Takeo: A complete and total caricature of an Asian character. Despite bearing a name that would indicate Japanese descent, he dresses in traditional Chinese garb and initially speaks in a “comical” accent that is so over-the-top it cannot even be placed as hailing from any single dialect. When questioned by Tyler (who remarks in a bit of internal monologue upon meeting him; “If he offers me a little box with a monster in it, I’m gone”), he immediately goes on the defensive and randomly asserts that his immigration papers are in order. And just in case all of this wasn’t enough, there’s also an unlockable bonus cutscene titled “Fist of Takeo” wherein Takeo is positioned as a martial arts master to combat Tyler. Of course, the punchline here is that Takeo’s accent and appearance is all an elaborate charade, as his normal speaking voice is actually a thick Bronx accent. This is where the player is supposed to forgive the white, French writer of the game for any perceived racial stereotyping, and laugh along with the characters.
Lazy ethnicity-based characterization aside, there’s still not a character who stands out as being particularly well-written or developed. We’re made to spend the most time with Lucas in-game, but he’s not really an “expressive” sort of guy for starters, and by the two-thirds mark where he is killed and shortly thereafter brought back from the dead, he is literally made to be a zombie-esque character who somehow displays even less emotion than before. This still doesn’t stop him from entering into an inexplicable, completely unearned / underdeveloped romance with Carla, seemingly simply as an excuse to toss another awkward sex scene into the game (NSFW). This relationship, by the way, blossoms whether you might want it to or not, and in spite of Lucas’ previous ex-girlfriend (who you may or may not have rekindled your relationship with earlier in the game) just recently being killed at the same time as Lucas — again, regardless of whatever other choices you may make in the game.
We already touched on how underdeveloped Carla is earlier, and how her role in the story is more or less to be won over by Lucas’ complete lack of personality. To give a bit of insight into how Mr. Cage thinks about and writes for female characters, his character description for Carla taken from a developer diary posted on Gamasutra is quite illuminating: “A tough young police officer but discreetly sexy, totally immersed in her work to compensate for the lack of any emotional life.” How convenient that he doesn’t have to concern himself with matters of her personal / emotional life, huh? Makes it all the easier to focus on her sex appeal, I reckon, and toss her into sexual situations completely at random even when she isn’t the one getting naked (NSFW). I guess it also helped him justify allowing Playboy to run a pictorial of her sitting completely naked in her NYPD office to help promote the game (NSFW). Cage wouldn’t know the meaning of the word “discreet” if it bit him in the junk.
Which leaves us with three… Eh, let’s stretch it and make it four — other prominent characters we can attempt to read further into. First, there’s Lucas’ brother Marcus, whose entire character centers around his Catholic faith and the fraternal instinct to protect his younger brother. Depending on a decision you make, he can either live or die, though this only impacts whether you meet him again for a completely inessential conversation right before the end of the game.*** Next, we have our antagonist The Oracle, whose sole defining trait is that he is a mean Mayan man on a mission, unconcerned with what he has to do to accomplish it though also seeming to revel in the occasional killing of an innocent. Then there’s the Indigo Child herself, Jade, who I had to think twice about whether to even mention as a character since she is more of a prop than anything. She displays absolutely no traits or defining quirks whatsoever, has only one [inaudible] line of dialogue in the whole game, and basically just stands and waits to be carried around by Lucas. Press releases indicate that the supposed reason for her complete lack of personality is that she is “medically diagnosed as autistic.” Again, I am unqualified to critique this kind of writing with any sort of authority, but this characterization – along with a prolonged scene in a mental asylum where every patient is made out to be a murderous killer – doesn’t come across as particularly understanding or compassionate on the part of Cage.
Which leaves us with Tyler, who may very well be the most likeable character in the game, largely on the merit that he is the only character with a definable personality. He’s a 70’s-obsessed dork with a passion for video games (including an obscure little release by the name of Omikron: The Nomad Soul), who has a bad habit of making bets and promises he is lousy about keeping. That being said, he’s also a compassionate man who demonstrates a honestly adorable love for his fiancée Samantha, and a genuine concern for his partner Carla. Tyler is the most dynamic character in the game, whose personality and goals feel as if they genuinely shift depending on how you choose to play him. In fact, Tyler is so dynamic, he eventually disappears from the story completely after having no real major bearing on the plot. At a certain point, Samantha forces him to choose either his job or their relationship, and regardless of which option you choose, he doesn’t appear in any future scenes. Illusion of choice, y’all.
Honestly, I was kind of furious at the game when I realized that it had effectively written off one of the three supposed protagonists before he even had a chance to impact the story in a meaningful way. Not only that, but this occurs at just around that magic two-thirds point in the game, and shortly after Tyler’s exit, Carla’s already-minimal role also immediately evaporates as she becomes Lucas’ largely ineffective sidekick. It’s almost as if Quantic Dream developed the game chronologically, only realized at around this point in the story that it was hard to write for more than one primary protagonist at a time, and just decided to give up on the endeavor with one-third of the game left to develop. Now, I’m not claiming that’s what actually happened, but wouldn’t it be really funny if it was?
I’ve already mentioned a number of points on the game’s plot, but it’s high time we really got to criticizing it as a whole. Again, I feel obligated to admit that the opening to the game is incredibly promising and immediately engaging, doing a fantastic job of dropping you into the middle of a disaster and leaving you to clean up the literal mess as best [or as worst] you can. Between the “fugitive on the run” and “police procedural” scenes, there’s genuinely a lot to love about the story and its presentation to the player. Granted, it’s not all great: Navigating a police basement as a claustrophobic having to solve puzzles while simultaneously maintaining a minutes-long QTE minigame is certainly tedious, and not in a way that made me feel like I was actually fighting a fear. But for the most part, conversations between characters in this portion of the game feel natural and flow sensibly (save for an awkward few), and the plot remains mostly straightforward while operating on several different layers.
Even as the game begins to incorporate elements of conspiracy theory and Mayan mysticism into the narrative, it doesn’t immediately go to hell. Granted, these elements aren’t given much detail, are pulled from pre-existing theories and history, and the player is more or less left to “just accept things.” But that’s all fine, and the story could’ve been fine if it left it at that. Where the story truly falls off the rails is when Cage begins to incorporate his own original elements of magic and science: Namely, the concept of “Chroma,” which becomes an all-encompassing MacGuffin used to explain away every remaining question and solution in the story. How did Lucas and the Oracle get their seemingly magic powers? They were exposed to Chroma at a young age. Why’s the temperature constantly dropping in the world? Something to do with Chroma. What gives the Indigo Child their power? Chompin’ down on some of that tasty Chroma! Chroma is what gives a character their power. It’s an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us and penetrates us; it binds the galaxy together.
There’s also the matter of plot holes, which Cage’s writing has always been lousy with. For example: If the Orange Clan already has pretty much complete control of the world as they seem to, what do they really even need the Indigo Child and their “secret message” for? How come the Indigo Child doesn’t have any magic powers of her own to defend herself with if she is one with the Chroma / knows the secret of the universe? Isn’t it convenient that the exact moment Lucas turns a television on, a news channel is choosing to cover a story on an expert on Mayan civilization rather than the impending Ice Age? If the Oracle isn’t allowed to use his own hands to kill for fear that he will lose his powers, how come he’s allowed to kill Lucas and his [ex-]girlfriend without repercussion? How exactly did the Purple Clan – a group of sentient AI – gain the power to reverse death, and why would they revive Lucas without putting something like a time limit on how long he’s allowed to live for? How is Carla able to immediately overcome her claustrophobia when it comes time to hang out with the Invisibles in the dark, cramped, abandoned subway station? Why in the hell does a skeptic detective like Carla not only believe the word of a presumed murderer when it comes time to talk to him, but also ends up falling in love with him?
Let’s talk about sex, baby.[♬] Because this is, after all, a David Cage game, and so of course it has to have at least one gratuitous and awkward sex scene. But Indigo Prophecy doesn’t just provide you with one or two; it contains no less than four potential sex scenes for viewers to “enjoy,” with two that are mandatory that players experience in the story. Mind you, I’m not counting gratuitous nudity and strip teases in this number, which also helps drive the count up some. The worst offender in this lot, in my opinion, is an optional scene between Lucas and ex-turned-reunited girlfriend Tiffany, where the game goes as far as to have you control the sex as a minigame (NSFW). This, mere months in the wake of the “Hot Coffee” debacle surrounding Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. But that won’t stop David Cage from getting his rocks off, no siree bob.
I mentioned earlier that Tyler and Samantha make for an adorable couple. What’s not so adorable [in the context of the game] is a strip-tease scene that the developers include as a bonus feature, which ends in full-frontal nudity on the part of Sam (NSFW). Or how about Tyler making himself later for work by having prolonged — potentially unending sex with her? Granted, that latter sex scene is less graphic than watching Lucas’ re-animated corpse grind into Carla’s naked character model, which now that I think about it, is that not technically necrophilia? I mean, the game goes into some detail explaining how Lucas’ body is ice cold like a neglected corpse, and his skin is beginning to go pale white. Do you think the motion capture actor for Lucas took that into account for the scene? Do you think he asked David “can my character even still get an erection if the blood is no longer circulating through his body?”
I’m asexual, so I don’t get much out of sex scenes in the best / most tasteful of scenarios, and usually just nervously laugh my way through prolonged scenes of it in video games. When it comes to Indigo Prophecy though, it’s hard for me to not be outright repulsed by their presence, knowing full well David Cage’s motivation for including them is purely for his own personal fulfillment. There’s no narrative necessity for these scenes that a kiss or embrace couldn’t convey more quickly, tastefully, and easily: They are included because David Cage has issues with his perspective on and portrayal of women. He doesn’t understand how to write for them, and so he falls back on involving them in romances [completely lacking in chemistry] in order to relegate them to supporting roles as quickly as he can.
You see it with the character of Telis in Omikron, who exists to worry about her husband Kay’l and have sex with him despite his clearly not being of a sound state of mind when he returns to her.**** You see it with Madison in Heavy Rain, who is almost constantly in danger or distress but has time to fall in love with a deadbeat dad who cuts one of his fingers off because an iPhone told him to. And here, you see it with Carla Valenti: A no-nonsense cop with no time for relationships, until she decides on a whim to enter a romance with a walking corpse who didn’t really have much going for him to begin with. This only gets more frustrating when you hear David Cage expound on his philosophy for writing women:
“Strangely enough, [working with female characters is] easier for me. I really realized that. I feel really close to these characters. And working for male characters, I often end up with, I think, less interesting things. More standard things, ones you would expect from a male hero. What I love with females is that they can fight, they can be very angry, they can be upset, they can cry. They have a palette. They [females] have a range of emotions that is actually larger than male characters.” ~ David Cage
So, David Cage doesn’t know how to write a cohesive narrative or for female characters. Can he at least write a decently satisfying conclusion to his mystical thriller-turned-action shlock? Well, in Indigo Prophecy, he doesn’t just give it the ol’ college try: He provides three possible endings for players, which is determined in – you guessed it – the last minutes of the game, based on your ability to complete QTEs. Because remember: Nothing you’ve said or done over the course of the game really counted for anything. This is a video game, and the ending you get is only to be determined by your skill at mashing buttons quickly.
To get the best ending, you need to push all the buttons in all of the final minigames, and successfully beat up the Oracle and an evil AI polygon creature, in order for Lucas to be the one to lay the Indigo Child to rest and hear the answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe, and everything. Naturally, the game doesn’t actually let you hear this secret, for fear that players might use that knowledge to take over the world for themselves in real life. Keeping the answer to himself for the time being, Lucas is content to live in a world that is no longer freezing cold, with a now-pregnant Carla carrying a child affected by the Chroma in much the the same as him. No word on what becomes of the Orange or Purple Clans, if the criminal charges against Lucas get dropped, whether Carla stays on the police force or not, or how Tyler and Samantha are doing. Just gotta fill those holes on your own, I reckon.
But what if you don’t push all the buttons in all the minigames? Depending on which of the buttons you fail to press and when, you get one of two “bad” endings. The first of which involves the Oracle and the Orange Clan prevailing, taking the knowledge for themselves… and not doing much with it immediately, as it turns out? They let Lucas and Carla (and their unborn child) live, despite knowing the threat they may pose, and things seem to return to the status quo. Lucas laments that their evil plan will one day reveal itself, and that he still occasionally sees through the eyes of the Oracle (not often enough to get a sense for his plans though, I guess). This ending also shows Lucas and Carla living in Lucas’ old apartment, which honestly raises more questions than any other detail in this ending? I guess the charges against Lucas all get dropped after all, or Carla falsifies police evidence or something to get him off.
The last ending assumes the Purple Clan have taken control of the world, leaving the remnants of humanity to live underground in order to avoid the freezing cold and the killing machines. Again, both Lucas and Carla are left to live, with the hope that their unborn child may very well be the next Indigo Child and a savior for mankind. This ending plays out like a take on the post-Judgment Day world of The Terminator, if it weren’t interesting at all and also had some magic elements forced into it for no good reason. I like to imagine that in David Cage’s mind, he thinks he would somehow survive this apocalyptic scenario, and be kept around to have sex with all the lady computers.
But for as hackneyed or unsatisfying as these endings might be, the major problem for me is the fact that none of them really reflect your actions in the previous hours worth of gameplay. Games providing multiple endings in this fashion are what I like to call “‘Choose a Door’ Endings,” for the fact that you’re given a choice of them at the ass end of a game, and you can’t really predict how they’ll play out since they aren’t changed or impacted at all by the way you have decided to build your character. You see this style of endings in the much-maligned Mass Effect 3, or in the overrated Spec Ops: The Line, and even in the veritable classic Deus Ex. What these games and Indigo Prophecy clearly lead players to expect is that the decisions they make and the way they choose to play their character are what will determine the ending. What if depending on the way you played the game, Lucas chose “on his own” to use the wisdom of the Indigo Child to either make the world a better place, use it for his own selfish gain, or to keep it to himself to maintain the status quo? But no, nothing you’ve done up to this point actually mattered, and those choices you made were nothing but an illusion to make you think you were shaping your own story. Sucker.
Wow, we’ve sure spent a lot of time on the game’s narrative failings, huh? Let me just say I’m not super used to being that critical of video game stories, but I believe Indigo Prophecy certainly warrants thorough dissection. Of course, there’s more to a game than just its story. In fact, most video games are more interested in every other detail other than their stories! And when it comes to a game promising filmic presentation and production quality, we definitely need to get into some of those facets of the end product as well.
Graphics-wise, the game is certainly up to or above par for 2005, featuring a variety of uniquely designed and well-detailed characters and a wide assortment of locations to visit. I’ll admit that I’m an absolute sucker for snowy / rainy environments, and Indigo Prophecy certainly delivers on the heavy weather. It also demonstrates some respectable understandings of lighting and shadow, even if a few scenes border on unnecessarily / un-fittingly dark. There’s also something like an over reliance on post-processing / filter effects, including gratuitous motion blur and slow-motion that is too much for my tastes. It was definitely the style of the time though, and I guess I can’t fault Quantic Dream for falling in line with trends.
Of course, where the game most stands out is in its character animations, as made possible by the power of exhaustive motion capture. Movement almost entirely across the board is natural and transitions well between different animations, giving a sense of weight to every action. It’s not all perfect: Spinning on a dime while wheeling around an elderly woman will never not be hilarious, and some of the fisticuffs fight scenes appear downright silly when you’re able to look away from the QTE minigames and really focus on them. That being said, the fact that interactions involving characters physically interacting with each other or objects in the environment are generally smooth is a major accomplishment in itself. I’ve heard it said that the most difficult thing to animate in 3D is character models picking up and putting down other models, and I can say that nothing [I can recall] stands out as looking particularly heinous in this department.
As mentioned earlier, the presence of the camera in the game is a stylistic and powerful force, driving direction and setting the tone for every scene and shot in the game. Unfortunately, this does not necessarily mean that every camera angle is what’s best for gameplay purposes, and I sometimes found myself losing my sense of direction as the camera shifted and moved from angle to angle. The tank controls ensure that you don’t get spun around in a circle with every camera move, but this control scheme leads to its own problems in terms of navigation and maneuvering. Mix the controls with constantly-shifting camera in some time-sensitive scenes in the game, and you’re sometimes left with sequences that are more frustrating than they ought to be. The game is usually forgiving in its checkpointing, so your screw-ups won’t set you back too far in most situations, but it wouldn’t have to be this way in the first place if some extra consideration was given to the camera in these scenarios.
That being said, the points where the game incorporates multiple different cameras and frames-within-frame are both visually and technically impressive. Let’s me make one thing perfectly clear: Quantic Dream absolutely knows what they’re doing when it comes to cinematic shot composition and framing, and you can’t take that away from them. They’re also good at developing game engines, which you reckon they’d have to be at this point considering they build new engines for every new game they make. The engine for Indigo Prophecy goes by the name “ICE,” fittingly enough, and does a fine job shifting between different presentations of gameplay on the fly (even if none of them really ever feel super great) and handling as many as four different cameras simultaneously. Say what you will about David Cage’s creative vision, but there’s no denying that the team at Quantic Dream do a commendable job at bringing those visions to life.
Another important element of the engine is its ability to utilize Quantic Dream’s “Movie Maker Module”: A workbench they developed internally for use in their games. As Cage describes it: “The user can not only place cameras but he can also play with the animation or position sounds in order to have real control of the whole scene. The result is a binary file that can then be used by the script at any time.” From the handful of screenshots I’ve seen of this tool in action, the comparisons made to AVID / Adobe Premiere seem apt, and it it really does appear as if it’s probably quite intuitive. That positional sound feature is put to good use as well, by the way.
Of course, as a musician himself, Cage is very particular when it comes to the soundtracks and overall sound design of his games. He could occasionally benefit from being a bit more discerning about the performances of his English-speaking voice actors (Does any character actually pronounce the word “origami” correctly over the course of Heavy Rain?), but that’s a whole other category unto itself. As an avid fan of film score, Cage settled on no less than a genuine film composer to contribute to the project, and eventually found one in David Lynch collaborator Angelo Badalamenti. He quickly sets about establishing a musical motif for the soundtrack, with several of the songs referencing and re-arranging the game’s main theme in emotive and intriguing ways. There’s a consistent quality to the original soundtrack, and it matches the tone of the game to a T.
The same cannot always be said of the use of licensed music in the game, which often feels at ends with the original score. The use of soul / R&B tracks in Tyler’s scenes are clearly meant to add some level of levity to the proceedings, but it really only serves to make these scenes feel out of place with the game as a whole. Even though Carla has her own piece of original music serving as her theme, I’m more quick to associate Martina Topley-Bird’s “Sandpaper Kisses” with her character due to the fact she apparently leaves it blaring full blast on loop in her apartment at all times. There are also a selection of tracks by Canadian rock group Theory of a Deadman, who I personally cannot stand,***** whose music is occasionally used in place of far more appropriate fare to accompany everything from sex scenes to the game’s end credits.
If you happen to be a big Deadman fan though, you may be pleased to know that all of the music in the game is available to listen to at any time… as unlockable content in the “Bonus” section of the main menu. Yeah, I haven’t mentioned it yet because it’s almost totally pointless, but there are hidden cards for you to collect hidden around the game that you can use to “buy” access to some special features. You get your standard concept art galleries and jukebox, but you also get a handful of bonus cutscenes and minigames. This is where the infamous clip of a David Cage character model grinding on an underwear-clad Carla comes from, as well as Samantha’s strip tease. These are almost like having special features on a film’s DVD… if they somehow cost something to unlock and the director was a sex pervert.
The thing of it is, all this film-quality production value and presentation is in service of an entirely middling game and convoluted plot. And much like in the movies, all the production and cutting-edge tech in the world can’t mask a boring flick. The repetitive gameplay mechanics would be excusable if they were in service of a more engaging or more player-steered plot, and vice versa; if the gameplay were more entertaining and your inputs felt more consequential to the action, the weak story might be forgivable. But in combination, it’s inexcusable.
Bear in mind: They had at least four years to develop this game, and to recognize potential faults in their product. Playtesting the game was clearly not as high a priority to them as perfecting the presentation. With that in mind, here are just a handful of what I will ignorantly call “quick fixes” that Quantic Dream could’ve ““easily”” implemented to make their game better, in my “““expert””” opinion:
- Do a better job writing characters. Maybe not make Lucas a milquetoast secret superman, and force him to rely on his wits and wily to get himself out of his mess. Keep Tyler around for longer and have him impact the plot in some way, and maybe even give Carla something to do in that third act of the game too while you’re at it (maybe have one of them go rogue to help Lucas and force the other to make a tough call between their buddy and the badge). Instead of making Jade a mute prop, have her be the one to provide the plot’s necessary exposition at the end instead of introducing new characters and a secret faction in the literal last minutes of the game to do so.
- Instead of having prolonged QTEs that overstay their welcomes, why not chop up those excessive set pieces into a “choose your action” style set-up for the player? Instead of dodging every single solitary piece of furniture in Lucas’ living room during the “apartment poltergeist” scene, why not have the player pick one direction to run in and have them just dodge the obstacles on that side of the room? This would also create the illusion of action scenes being dynamic, and maybe even incentivize a little bit of replay value for players who wanna see every possible action in the game.
- Have those player choices actually mean something in the end. Maybe make whether or not Lucas and Carla fall in love dependent on the small handful of interactions they have together before that point, or on whether or not Lucas still has feelings for Tiffany? Maybe have endings where Lucas decides he would rather side with the Orange / Purple clans (rather than simply get beaten by then) depending on how you chose to play him? Give us something to make us feel like we had any impact at all on the outcome.
- Get rid of those awful flashback stealth sections, okay thanks good talk
As it stands, Indigo Prophecy falls under that sad category of “wasted potential.” Sure, it has its fair share of comedy value between some of the QTE failure animations, and the most fun way to play the game might honestly be trying to bumble your way through it as rudely and incompetently as possible while still somehow progressing. But for the most part, it’s either kind of sad seeing good ideas go to waste, bewildering seeing the plot fall apart in front of you, or boring suffering through repetitive gameplay. It’s obviously not a game completely without merit, and there’s no denying it’s ambition, but the execution just falls so short in so many different departments of design. But David Cage makes the games David Cage wants to make, the way he wants to make him, and nobody can make him do any differently.
** Indigo Prophecy does not implement the same “the story can continue with dead characters” mechanic as Heavy Rain would later incorporate.
*** For a better example of a brother who runs the risk of dying mid-game, look to Paul Denton in Deus Ex. You know, if that particular scenario is “your thing,” I guess?
**** Never missing an opportunity to make an awkward sex scene even more awkward, David Cage had this to say in a retrospective interview on the subject of Omikron: “The idea of being in the body of a guy and making love to his wife – when she believes you’re her husband, even though you’re not – was a very strange position to be in. That’s exactly the kind of thing that I try to explore in all my games today. How can we put you in the shoes of someone else?”
***** They did, at some point, do a decent cover of “Deadly Game” — the WWE’s classic theme song for their annual Survivor Series pay-per-view.
In the Toilets… It Was Horrible. It… It Wasn’t Me! I’m Innocent!
The game went away, just like it had come; with a credits roll. As if David Cage had turned the hourglass by delivering his message. Everything was just as it was before. I guess that means the lesser evil, Atari, went back to their place of power in the secret government of the games industry. I should be happy, I guess. I’ve been laughing at Quantic Dream games for twelve years. They’re the funniest thing that’s happened to the games industry in a long time.
Yesterday, they told us that Detroit: Become Human was in development. I don’t know what’s gonna happen now. I’m one of many keepers of the worst secret in the universe. What should I do with all that power? Forget it? Put it in the service of humanity? I’ve never dreamt about being a game reviewer. I just want to live my life, like anybody else, with my computer and my cat. I’m afraid that destiny might have another path in mind for me.
Indigo Prophecy in its original release sold somewhere in the neighborhood of 700,000 copies, managing a slight improvement over Omikron. If you ask David Cage why the game didn’t move more units, he’ll do what he does best and blame the publisher: “We had huge arguments with Atari in New York about Fahrenheit. […] They should have put marketing dollars on the table, and I told them that, but they didn’t want to listen to us.” You may be shocked to hear that Quantic Dream would part ways with Atari shortly after the release of Indigo Prophecy, taking their talents to Sony Computer Entertainment where they have managed to remain since 2010.**
It’d be dishonest of me not to mention that the gaming press largely loved Indigo Prophecy on initial release. Though I’ve discussed it along the same lines as any other “notorious bad game” on this website, the game was actually a critical darling, and opinion such as the likes of mine were the minority for a long while. Noted bad video game expert Alex Navarro, during his time at GameSpot, complimented the game as having “one of the best game stories to come along in quite a while,” awarding the game an 8.4 out of 10.*** Eurogamer’s Kristan Reed was rightfully critical of camera and control issues in the game, as well as “pandering” action sequences that felt out of place in the game to them. In spite of that, they awarded the game a 9 out of 10, feeling that it deserved it “for being probably the most enjoyable, forward-looking and thoughtful piece of videogaming we’ve played in this or in any year.”
In 2005, Indigo Prophecy must’ve felt to reviewers like a breath of fresh air, and looked like the title that would legitimize games as an artform. It appears high concept on the surface, presents well in clips and trailers, and is generally inoffensive on a surface level. It’s the game equivalent of “Oscar bait”; a product designed with the intent of wowing the press first and foremost and hoping the positive reception translates into larger consumer awareness afterward. In this regard, Indigo Prophecy accomplished its mission, and earned Cage the accolades he had been searching for. He himself will be the first to admit that he doesn’t care about breaking sales records or even necessarily appealing to consumers, as much as he does about expressing himself and earning recognition for it:
“Let me be stupid for one second; I’m not in this business to make money. I wrote Heavy Rain because I was excited about it, because there was something to say. Yeah I could make Heavy Rain 2, but I’ve said what I’ve had to say about it. That’s the strength of Quantic Dream, to have the capacity to create new ideas, to make something that breaks ground. […] I still think I’m doing something important. That may sound naïve in this industry, but I still think I’m here to be creative. I just have a company because I need that structure to develop my ideas.” ~ David Cage
You want to believe David Cage. You want to believe that this is a man making video games for the pure passion of it, using the medium as a means of artistic expression above all else. There’s certainly something admirable about that pursuit, and the act of pursuing it whether or not it satisfies the demands of mass consumers. But the problem is, Cage also sees himself as something of a visionary — a man who is steering the direction the industry as a whole is moving in. These games aren’t just about bringing his silly ideas to life: They’re meant to “break ground” and help push video games towards “growing up.”
Yes, the man who gets his giggles from sneaking boobs into every single game he has ever made is also the one who once gave a lecture on how the game industry suffers from a “Peter Pan syndrome” — “Someone who is anxious at the idea of growing up and becoming an adult, and who actually refuses to grow up. And that’s quite a bold statement to make about an entire industry!” This is the same man who once begged of the games industry “Can we create games that have something to say? That have meaning,” before boldly stating in a later interview “I don’t want [Detroit: Become Human] to have something to say, because I don’t see myself delivering a message to people.” It’s quotes and contradictions like this that make following David Cage’s career such a frustrating endeavor.
Heavy Rain’s release in 2010 would be the game to properly put Quantic Dream on the map, and earn them a positive reputation they enjoyed / coasted off of for several years. With its critical and financial success, interest in older Quantic Dream properties was renewed, as these things tend to happen. Capitalizing on this, 2015 saw the release of Fahrenheit: Indigo Prophecy Remastered: A remaster of the game by porting house Aspyr released across PCs, iOs, and PlayStation 4. In addition to providing higher resolution textures, it also adds controller support that was lacking in the original PC release and reintroduces the content censored for the North American release. However, critical reception of the game was not as kind as it was a decade ago, thanks in part to now-sub-par graphical presentation and a litany of glitches. It currently sits at a 61% on Metacritic, indicating perhaps that critics have since soured on David Cage as “gaming’s next golden boy.”
When it comes to Indigo Prophecy, it is impossible to separate the content from its creator in Cage. It’s arguably his most “market-friendly” attempt at designing a game, even if the sales never quite reflected it. At the same time, it’s also one of the purest expressions of David Cage as an artist: A confused mess that over-promises, under-delivers, and finds creative ways to be “unintentionally” disrespectful to minorities. But most importantly, it also exemplifies the David Cage philosophy of trying to take the traditional elements of “games” out of video games, and trying to make them as much like movies as possible without straight-up just making movies. Because you see, David Cage loves the games industry so much, he deliberately eschews and criticizes the elements of the medium that make it unique, while constantly comparing it in a negative light against film and television. And so, I will conclude this article with one final quote from the visionary himself — the man who understands the games industry better than any of us sorry plebs could ever hope to:
“For most people out there, mastering a system is not something exciting, it’s boring. […] I don’t want to feel the strange experience of getting my ass kicked by a 10 year old.” ~ David Cage