Detroit: Become Human
The History of Quantic Dream: From Omikron to Detroit
Learn about David Cage’s occupation before game development, the emergence of Quantic Dream and why studio’s projects are exclusive for PlayStation
This year, Quantic Dream celebrates its 21st birthday. This is a big term by the game development industry standards, but you can count the projects of this French studio by fingers of one hand: Omikron, Fahrenheit, Heavy Rain, Beyond: Two Souls, and Detroit: Become Human. Due to the latter’s release, we decided to dive into the history of its creators, most notably David Cage, the main ideologist of Quantic Dream.
David De Gruttola (the real name of David Cage) was five years old when he began studying music. The boy learned to play the piano but did not see himself as a musician in the future – he dreamt of becoming an astronaut. The love to music came later when he was about 12-13 years old and David decided that music would be his occupation for the rest of his life. At age 14-15 he started working in the music industry. In the beginning, he searched for clients in his hometown of Mulhouse, close to the borders of Switzerland and Germany. David composed melodies, did arrangements and even recorded his vocals for customers.
A few years later, David relocated to Paris. He began working for a sound recording studio and later was able to open his own one – Totem. He worked with customers, creating music for advertisements, TV series and games – Super Dany, Cheese Cat-Astrophe Starring Speedy Gonzales, Time Cop, and Hardline.
David was an enthusiastic player. At first, he had a home PC Oric-1, which was followed by Amstrad, Atari, Amiga, consoles NES and SNES. As is often the case with gamers, he wanted to create a game of his dreams with a sci-fi setting and a big city where you can go everywhere, enter any building, drive cars and, of course, fight. And all this in full 3D! David wrote a scenario and showed it to his friends from a game development company Cryo. They were very skeptical and told him that it was impossible to realize his ideas in practice. However, this did not stop David. Having assembled a team from Cryo programmers, he started working on an Omikron prototype. Quantic Dream did not exist at that time, and everyone worked for free.
It turned out that monsieur De Gruttola was a big fan of PlayStation so Omikron’s prototype was made for PS One. When he had a demo on his hands, David started searching for the publisher. However, everyone refused to take his game, saying that PlayStation was not promising enough and asking for a PC game.
The new demo would have demanded a lot of time and energy, and David did not want to work at nights and combine the main work and hobby. After thinking carefully about everything, David came to his friends and said something like this: “I have earned some money with my music and I’m ready to pay you. I can support a small team for half a year. If we are successful, we’ll make a prototype and sell it to the publisher. If we fail, we’ll return to previous jobs”. Not everyone was happy with this plan, but some friends stayed with David. This is how Quantic Dream was born.
A reference to quantum physics is in the title of the studio. The founder stated that this section of science is interesting because the more you study, the more you can’t explain. So, Quantic Dream is a mix of science and magic.
Five men started working on the new prototype. The developers worked like mad for 12-15 hours a day, sometimes including weekends. During these six months, they barely got out of the sound recording studio of David Cage (he already took this pseudonym) which has become their office. The room was soundproof with thick walls, so voices were strongly muted, and friends had to shout out to hear each other.
Despite a limited budget, the developers pushed hard on technology. They have written their own 3D engine, adding first video cards support. They rented a motion capture studio and, according to Cage, were the first in the video game industry to use Motion Capture technology to create facial animation. After six months, the new Omikron demo was ready, and all the company had to do was find a publisher.
Back then, developers did not have the Internet. They had to call the information office to get the numbers of companies that interested them. Despite this inconvenience, David believes that it was easier to negotiate at that time. He just called whom he wanted, used his bad English to tell a publisher that he had a demo and that he was ready to show it in a week. That’s it – the meeting was scheduled.
David came to London to show his prototype to a few publishers. He had to take a full-sized PC with him and carry it around Great Britain’s capital. During this journey, Cage accidentally stumbled upon an Eidos employee. Due to Tomb Raider’s success, this company was feeling good and was trying to get talented developers. Hardly having looked at the demo, the guy from Eidos said: “We are signing you!”. Cage did not expect that everything will be done so fast, but Eidos did not give him a chance to refuse. Right after the meeting, David was taken to a five-star hotel (he has never been to such locations before). In the evening, he was invited to watch Arsenal’s game and the next morning he received a fully translated contract.
Omikron was released in 1999. It was not an ideal game, but it was still a breakthrough. Cage turned fantasy into reality and created a 3D city where you could enter any building, drive a car and take control of almost any character, two years before GTA 3! Also, the game mixed several genres, including quest, fighting, third-person action and first-person shooter.
Omikron’s sales were weak, 300,000 – 350,000 copies. Partly, the publisher was to blame as it focused on the success of the new Tomb Raider and did not give enough marketing support to an unknown French team. Nevertheless, Cage’s team was enthusiastic and wanted to develop three projects at once: Omikron’s sequel, Quark, a game about parallel universes, and (b)LAST, a mix of Resident Evil and The Matrix. None of these games has been released yet.
Cage had a new idea. He wanted to tell interesting stories, provoke emotions and make those who don’t play videogames interested in playing. For this, he decided to use an unusual format, a series. Nowadays, projects like Telltale and games like Life is Strange are ordinary, but this idea was new at the beginning of the 21st century.
Fahrenheit was announced in 2001, but development was slow, and the project was frozen a couple of times. As per Cage’s words, it was difficult to find money for a game “without platform jumps, guns and car theft” – publishers did not get the idea and avoided risks.
Gradually, employees started leaving the company. Staff decreased, the company was close to bankruptcy, but Cage found money to buy his own Motion Capture studio. He was sure that this technology was the future of animation: gamers will see movements of real actors, making games more realistic and cinematic.
Fahrenheit publisher was found in 2003. It was Vivendi. However, the publisher’s bosses told David that the market was not ready for a series format. There was no digital distribution, and it was expensive to ship episodes on discs. Even though Cage had to change the concept, he initially loved to cooperate with Vivendi as people from the company understood and supported him.
At some point, the publisher stopped responding to emails and the developers’ calls. Vivendi was close to bankruptcy and was going through personnel reshuffles and mass dismissals. The new management did not see good perspectives for Fahrenheit, so after a few weeks of silence Vivendi contacted Quantic Dream and terminated the contract. The project was already in the beta, so it was not hard to find a new publisher for the game. A week after the contract termination from Vivendi, the studio signed a contract with Atari.
Just before the release, Cage suddenly lost his faith in Fahrenheit. He thought that such an unusual project would not be interesting to anyone, and he will have to make a classical game with shooting and guns to keep his studio afloat. However, Fahrenheit was a success. The game sold two times better than Omikron and received good reviews from the press and players. Quantic Dream started getting new offers from different companies.
First exclusive for PlayStation
David was surprised with reviews like “I played Fahrenheit together with my wife”. He understood that he reached his goal and was able to provoke interest in games in non-players. That’s why all future Quantum Dream projects may be characterized as games for gamers and their wives – a carefully thought-out policy to expand the audience.
One of these “I played with my wife” people was a man from Sony. He called the studio and asked Cage for a meeting. David told him that his new project would be called Heavy Rain and that he wanted to make a tech demo called “The Casting” to test the new 3D engine and look at the facial animation. Sony representatives told that PlayStation 3 will be presented at E3 2006 and that they want Quantic Dream to release a demo to show the abilities of the new console. David was in no hurry to agree. Only four months were left before the show, and the studio lacked even a PlayStation 3 devkit. The next morning Sony sent 10 devkits to Quantic Dream, and the studio started working.
The demo was made in time and shown at E3. It made a lot of fuss – the press was positively surprised by the quality of facial animation and the game’s photorealism. People from Sony were happy with the results and the reviews. After the show, they asked David what he’d like to do, and he told about Heavy Rain.
It took David a year to write the script. He worked 10-12 hours per day, barely getting out of his computer. His main inspiration source were his children. Cage wanted the game to share his own emotions connected to fatherhood. Finally, he had a massive 2000-page document and a story about what a parent can do for a child.
The other important inspiration source was a city of Philadelphia. Having read that one of his favorite film directors, M. Night Shyamalan, filmed movies there, David went to this city together with a team of several people. The city was shocking: barbed wire in the city center, overgrown railway tracks, abandoned factories, crumbled carcasses on the streets, drug addicts on the sidewalks. Poverty was everywhere; people aimlessly walked around the streets. Seeing this, David decided that Philadelphia will become the scene of his new game.
Back in 2005, David invented the interactive movie genre as we know it. In 2010, he made it popular. Heavy Rain showed developers and publishers that the genre had potential, had its audience, and that they could make money on it. Anyway, Cage’s interactive drama influenced Telltale games as well as projects like Until Dawn, Life is Strange and others.
Cage had the idea of Infraworld (the working title of Beyond) even before Heavy Rain. After the death of a close person, David wanted to tell a story about life and death, but he failed to find a publisher for a game with an unusual concept. In 2006 the project was shelved.
Sony was encouraged by the success of Heavy Rain. The Japanese corporation gave the game designer money for a new project, provided full creative freedom and began waiting for another promising exclusive game for its platform – Beyond: Two Souls.
This was a very ambitious project. Cage invited Hollywood stars Ellen Page and Willem Dafoe; the music was made by Lorne Balfe and Hans Zimmer. For Beyond, 70 images of the main character were created; 360 non-player characters were played by 160 actors. The graphics team also did a great job: Beyond was the most graphically technological game on PlayStation 3 with a maximally realistic image.
David had it all, including Hollywood stars, talented developers and marketing support, but the game was not a success. Beyond was released in 2013 and received a cold welcome from the audience. Its sales were 2.5 times lower than those of Heavy Rain.
The next project of the company, Detroit: Come Human, was announced in 2015. Initially, the studio created a tech demo “Kara”, to present a new engine and PlayStation 3 abilities. However, the story of an emotional female android resonated with players who started asking questions about her future endeavors. With the new game, David decided to continue her story.
Detroit cost $37 million and has been in development for four years. It took two years to write the script, which was two times bigger than those of the previous games – 4000 pages. Cage did not work alone and was consulted by a team of four that often defeated his ideas, so he had to rewrite them. Filming of the game took another year. Before, Cage was the only director of his projects, but now a significant part of the material was filmed by another person.
Two scandals surfaced during the development of Detroit. The first one happened in fall 2017 after the release of the game’s trailer, where a drug-addicted father beats and later kills his daughter. Human rights activists and moralists accused the studio of promoting domestic violence and demanded to ban or at least censor the project. Cage replied that he was not promoting violence, but that his game was for the adult audience, so such topics were relevant.
In January 2018, the newspaper Le Monde and the site Mediapart published information about the “unhealthy atmosphere” in Quantic Dream’s office. According to their knowledge, Cage was acting like a tyrant, did not listen to anyone and did everything as he wanted just because he was the boss. The media also stated that he was forcing employees to work 15 hours per day, made bawdy jokes in presence of women and did not shy away from racist statements. Quantic Dream’s management refuted all statements and sued Le Monde and Mediapart for defamation. According to Kotaku, this is the first time in the game industry when a developer sues media for their reports. The first hearing of this case will be held in June, after the release of Detroit.
Quantic Dream has come a long way with both ups and downs. The company always followed its unique path and put creativity ahead of income. Cage has many times stated that he could have made Heavy Rain 2 to make a lot of money. Instead, he decided to take risks with Beyond. Detroit: Become Human is his new experiment and we hope that it will be a success, while Quantic Dream will continue to make unique games.