Video game developer Quantic Dream, and its lead auteur David Cage, has definitely produced some divisive and even derided games, but it’s hard to deny that the studio has a unique vision. With an emphasis on (occasionally very weird) interactive storytelling and cutting-edge motion capture, Quantic Dream’s previous titles include mystery drama games like Heavy Rain and Indigo Prophecy, and 2013’s supernatural/sci-fi game Beyond: Two Souls, which featured Ellen Page and Willem Dafoe in mo-cap roles.
Now Quantic Dream has revealed its latest project at E3 2016 with a trailer that might be enough to gauge the interest of even the studio’s harshest critics. Detroit: Become Human appears to be another title in the traditional Quantic Dream framework – that is to say, a somewhat weird, sci-fi-oriented, storytelling-focused thriller/drama with lots of indulgent close-ups of characters’ faces to show off the animation. However, it also demonstrates a bold focus on branching narrative paths, something that the studio has flirted with quite a lot in the past.
The gameplay trailer casts players in the role of Connor, an android negotiator charged with talking down another android, who has gone rogue and taken a little girl hostage. As the footage demonstrates, the player can choose to either charge right in, or stop and investigate the crime scene for clues and tools that might help them. They can also choose to try to overpower the hostage-taker using force, or talk him down. Whatever approach you take, it seems that there is a good outcome, a very bad outcome, and a few outcomes in between.
Choice-and-consequence gameplay is simultaneously one of the most interesting avenues that developers are pursuing right now, and one of the most challenging. Though titles such as survival horror game Until Dawn and Telltale Games’ collection of episodic narrative-based games have been praised for their recent efforts in the genre, the fact remains that it’s notoriously difficult to make a player feel like their choices in a game actually matter. After all, for each varied outcome that the studio puts effort into designing, the percentage of players who will actually see that outcome becomes smaller. In a medium like video games, where the developer’s time and resources are always restricted, designing branching narrative paths is an exercise in thriftiness.
Detroit: Become Human is based on a tech demo from 2012 called “Kara”, later updated in 2015 with a new trailer that showed the eponymous android emerging into the world (complete with PlayStation 4 graphics), and revealed the game’s new title. While some interested gamers may be surprised or even alarmed to see Kara absent from this trailer, it’s worth noting that Quantic Dream has a history of making games with multiple playable characters.
Speculation about the future of artificial intelligence isn’t exactly new ground in science fiction, but it is fertile ground, and we’re interested to find out more about Quantic Dream’s take on it.
We’ll keep you updated on Detroit: Become Human as more information becomes available.