'Beyond: Two Souls' Game for PS3 Proof That Games Shouldn't Try to be Films

Beyond: Two Souls, a Playstation 3 game developed by French studio Quantic Dream and published by Sony Entertainment (NYSE: SNE  ) , is a big step in the wrong direction for the video game industry. The game, which showcased its first 35 minutes at the Tribeca Film Festival, is more an interactive film than an actual game.

Beyond: Two Souls should be considered the Transformers 3 of the video game industry -- whereas Michael Bay attempted to make movie audiences watch a two-and-a-half-hour video game cutscene, Beyond: Two Souls director David Cage attempted to make video game players sit through a ten-hour movie.

Beyond: Two Souls. Source: Arcstecnica.com

To understand why I believe Beyond: Two Souls represents a serious wrong turn for modern video games, let's take a trip back in time through video game history to see just why David Cage's vision is symptomatic of the industry's creative problems today.

Sony mainstream dreams of full-motion video

In 1994, Sony introduced the world to the PlayStation, the first successful CD-based home gaming console. With the increased capacity of CDs, game developers felt obligated to add FMVs (full motion videos) to their games. Prior to the Playstation, FMVs were seen as a novelty, previously seen in the LaserDisc title Dragon's Lair in 1983, CD-based titles for the PC Engine (TurboGrafx-16) CD-ROM in 1988-1990, and the Sega CD in 1991-1993 -- none of which achieved the worldwide popularity of the PlayStation.

However, Japanese game developer Square (now known as Square Enix) was determined that the integration of CGI (computer generated imagery) with FMVs would become the future of all games. With the release of its seminal 1997 sci-fi RPG hit, Final Fantasy VII, Square made CGI FMVs a standard for PlayStation titles, and actual gameplay started to take a backseat to fancy CGI cutscenes.

Square's CGI obsessions turn gaming into a linear corridor

Square's obsession with CGI FMVs hit its apex in 2001 with an ill-advised attempt to make a full CGI feature film, Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within -- which bombed at the box office with a worldwide gross of $85 million on a production budget of $137 million.

Although that disaster caused Square to refrain from making another feature film, it didn't slow the modernization of its Final Fantasy franchise, which underwent a dramatic transformation with the release of Final Fantasy X that same year. Final Fantasy X turned the venerable role-playing franchise, which was once known for its wide-open explorable worlds, into a single corridor in which the gamer kept walking forward and pushing a single button to advance the story.

For better or worse, Final Fantasy X popularized cinematic and linear gameplay. Source: Siliconera.com

That's when a major divide between Japanese and Western games appeared. After Final Fantasy X set a new standard of linear gameplay, Japanese role-playing games waned in popularity with Western audiences, who were increasingly drawn toward new open-ended sandbox games from Bethesda Softworks like Fallout 3, Morrowind, Oblivion, and Skyrim, and Bioware's morality-driven role playing games with multiple endings -- such as Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, Jade Empire, Mass Effect, and Dragon Age.

In other words, Western games became associated with the freedom of exploration, whereas Japanese games became known as hand-holding cinematic eye-candy. It's a fact that Obsidian Studios poked fun at with this Japanese advertisement for Fallout: New Vegas, in which "protesters" held up signs asking, "When did games become something that you watch?" and "A game where you just follow the scenario is like living life on rails."

Fallout: New Vegas Japanese ad. Source: Destructoid.com

Quantic Dream wants gamers to live their lives on rails

That's where Quantic Dream comes in. The French developer has been around since 1997, and has developed four games -- Omikron: The Nomad Soul (1997), Indigo Prophecy (2005), Heavy Rain (2010), and Beyond: Two Souls (2013).

Each project was extremely ambitious, if not pretentious. Omikron was a massive project, combining elements of 3D fighting games with first-person shooting sequences and sandbox-style exploration. It was, in retrospect, probably Quantic Dream's most focused effort on creating an enjoyable video game that put the gamer first.

Yet it followed that up with Indigo Prophecy, which abandoned the freedom that its predecessor allowed, in favor of forcing players to sit through long cinematic sequences with minimal interactions. Most of the interactions the player had with the character were a series of QTEs (quick-time events) in which players had to press the keys shown onscreen in a timely manner or fail the scenario -- much like what Dragon's Lair did all the way back in 1983. It's an attempt to make the player feel involved with a scripted cinematic sequence, but it hardly qualifies as gameplay.

One of Indigo Prophecy's tedious quick-time events.

Its successor, Heavy Rain, was built on the same foundation, progressing through a sequence of scenarios featuring QTEs. However, Heavy Rain was different in that if the scenario was "failed," the character didn't start over. Instead, the story would continue, with the consequences piling up toward the end. That change was favorably received by critics, and Heavy Rain received Game of the Year awards from both GameSpy and IGN.

Is Beyond: Two Souls a step forward or two steps back?

Just like Indigo Prophecy and Heavy Rain, Beyond: Two Souls is not a game -- it is a mildly interactive movie. David Cage wants the gamer to experience his artistic vision to a letter so badly that he holds the player's hand throughout the experience.

Graphically speaking, Beyond: Two Souls is a technological marvel. The game uses motion and performance-capturing technology to digitally clone its two headlining stars, Ellen Page and Willem Dafoe, straight into the game. Although small touches like controlling the main character, Jodie, as she makes dinner lends a sense of intimacy that other games don't provide, the player is still extremely limited in exploration, interactions, or possible decisions -- technically and narratively speaking, it's a game on rails.

However, that's not say that there isn't room for this niche genre of interactive storybook games. Other similar games, like Telltale Games' The Walking Dead, also fall into this category, in which gamers simply watch a tale unfold and make choices. Some people might consider these kind of games the successors to old point-and-click adventure games such as King's Quest, The Curse of Monkey Island, and Grim Fandango, but those classic games never aspired to be Hollywood blockbusters.

Some final thoughts

However, keeping gamers on rails and in the confines of the director's imagination can be much cheaper than producing a wide open world in which anything is possible. Games like Grand Theft Auto, Bethesda's Elder Scrolls games, and Bioware's Mass Effect and Dragon Age games all require large production budgets due to the sheer amount of decision-based branching possibilities in each playthrough. Simply look at how much cheaper Beyond: Two Souls actually is despite its impressive technical polish.

Game

Release date

Publisher

Production/Marketing Budget

Beyond: Two Souls

2013

Sony Entertainment

$27 million

Crysis 3

2012

Electronic Arts (NASDAQ: EA  )

$60 million

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

2011

Bethesda Softworks

$85 million

Final Fantasy VII

1997

Square

$218 million

Grand Theft Auto V

2013

Take-Two Interactive (NASDAQ: TTWO  )

$265 million

Source: Various websites.

This raises two interesting questions.

Out of consideration for production budgets, will game developers who pride themselves on creating fully realized virtual worlds take a backseat to director-driven visions like Beyond: Two Souls? More importantly, does this represent a serious step backwards for Western role-playing video games, which have a long history of presenting gamers with freedom of choices and exploration?

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Read/Post Comments (3) | Recommend This Article (0)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On October 15, 2013, at 2:00 PM, TelsaRowe wrote:

    The author has grossly over thought this. Storybook games are a new niche thats all. I remember reading a similar article in WSJ long ago when fighting games (SF, MK et al) came into vogue.

    2 steps in the wrong direction? Ignorant statement with zero ability to see the future. Again, I remember reading a WSJ article about how touch screen phones would never catch on because of humans need for physical buttons. LOL. There is no telling what the next gen consoles with their hyper advanced cameras (kinect, ps eye) will be able to do with these storybook games. D4 alone looks to turn this entire article upside down when it releases next year.

    The author almost foolishly assumes that Beyond2S IS the future of gaming. Its a very stupid assumption. Its like saying COD Ghosts is the future of gaming. Its a senseless statement because gaming has several genre's, sub genre's and gaming platforms. Some gamers love rpg's, some only play fps, mobile puzzle games, racing, fighting etc...

    My point is that there is plenty of room for a new genre or blend. People ran around laughing at Hotline Miami when it first debuted with statements on how terrible the graphics were to how weird the gameplay was. Its a best selling cult classic now.

    Conclusion. The author has zero ability to see the future and came into this article carrying an incredible amount of bias and ignorance. No one game is representative of the future of gaming at all not Candy Crush Saga or Beyond2S.

  • Report this Comment On October 18, 2013, at 4:22 PM, gaucho420 wrote:

    Ridiculous column. Heavy Rain isn't a game?

    Funny, it fooled this hard core gamer into beating it twice. I've been gaming since the 2600 and I own all consoles and I disagree fully. Heavy Rain was exactly what gaming needs, which is a different approach to gaming. When you're 37 and have been gaming since you we're 5...a little change is quite nice!

    As someone who's currently playing GTAV on a PS3, Zelda WW HD on the Wii U and have some games waiting on a 360, I can say without a doubt many hard core gamers fully disagree.

    Variety is the spice of life and the last thing we need is the repetitive crap most other publishers put out.

    This column is truly bizarre.

  • Report this Comment On October 18, 2013, at 4:23 PM, gaucho420 wrote:

    I'd hate to hear what you thought of Journey!!!!

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