While it’s often left to smaller independent developers to take risks, every once in a while we see a major publisher step into uncertain territory. For Square Enix, they’re doing so with The Quiet Man and its blend of FMV and action gameplay. Of course, we all know what FMV can offer games, whether it’s in renowned follies like Night Trap, used as a vehicle for much of the storytelling as in Quantum Break, or more deeply integrated to make the game a more interactive movie, as in The Bunker or The Infectious Madness of Doctor Dekker. The Quiet Man’s real risk comes in shooting for a seamless blend between story and photorealistic game graphics.
Trying to get that shift between video and game has been a key part of the global effort to create this game, with Producer Kensei Fujinaga’s team at Square Enix joined not just by a video team, but also Human Head and Free Lateral Studios in the US. As the game’s creation was explained to us, it took on many elements of planning and filming for cinema.
Film Director Shuichiro Hamada, who has worked with Fujinaga on several occasions in the past explained that it was more than just shipping the final footage across to the other teams. “No, it’s not that simple! For example, this scene [from the trailer], we share some environment with live action and game, so before we shoot that scene, we did a location scout for this environment and then when we decided to shoot, we did the initial scanning for the environment. We ship the data to them and then they made a pre-vis thing. Then when we actually shoot that scene, the live action team assistant says, ‘Game team! Go, go, go!’ and these guys come in to capture the lights and all the stuff.”
But to try and really sell this as a contiguous experience, they’ve tried to do away with much of the visual noise that video games introduce. “We really wanted the entire experience to be very cinematic, so the first thing we decided was that we are not using HP bars or hit points, all the stuff that makes an action game work, so we decided to remove all that stuff and we decided to use cinematic things like double exposure and lens flare. That was just so challenging to make an action elements to actually work right without those elements.”
When you do get to the action (though sadly we weren’t afforded hands on time back at Gamescom), it’s somewhat reminiscent of the fluid brawling found in Uncharted 3 and 4, but with a Japanese action game twist that plays with the visual feel of momentum and impact. Certain moves can see Dane slam an enemy into walls and interact with scenery, but there’s always a rapidity to his movement and how hits land. Dane is a very accomplished brawler it seems, as he tears through the gangs of New York one fateful night.
However, the FMV isn’t the only unusual thing that The Quiet Man is doing. Dane, the game’s main protagonist, is deaf and everything that means is passed along to the play. “Dane doesn’t hear a thing, so the game doesn’t provide any subtitles or dialogue,” explained Fujinaga. “You don’t get to know what exactly it is, but it is designed for you to be able to understand what’s basically going on.”
He continued, “The very essential theme of our game is that you can communicate beyond words and you can be beyond words,” explained Producer Kensei Fujinaga. “So we needed a character who is beyond words, who has no limitations, boundaries, [who can be whoever they want to be].”
Because of that, the sound design has changed dramatically compared to a typical video game. In fact, a sound producer was one of the very first people that Fujinaga spoke to when he decided he wanted to try and make this game. Instead of hearing sounds, the game tries instead to relay to you what Dane feels through his body, similar to how sounds might be muted when you’re underwater or wearing closed headphones and how vibrations are channelled through your body.
Perhaps more importantly when starring a character that can’t hear, the game has to be representative for the deaf and hearing impaired. “It is supposed to be very fair to everybody,” Fukinaga told us. “When I decided to remove all the dialogue, I believed the game could be very universal, because it doesn’t have words and interactions in there. What you see is what you get. Even with sign language, we don’t use it a lot, because it’s not supposed to be something you need to be able to tell what’s happening.”
And so Dane’s journey is primarily told through the visuals as he tries to find out who kidnapped the Songstress that he was meant to be acting as a bodyguard for. It’s a classic set up that has naturally fed into the way New York feels within the game. As Fujinaga said, “The story of the game pretty much has this gang Noir feel to it, so the environments, the lighting, everything we have is to fit that theme.” It also carries over to the way some of the visuals are blended, with an old cinema staple of double exposure used to relay thoughts and story. Art Director Ashley Welch added, “We tend to use [double exposure] a lot as our mechanic for going without words. How can we direct the player and get more narrative in without interrupting and taking control away? It’s another tool with which we can reinforce ‘This is what it’s about. This is what you’re doing.'”
Striking that balance between the time spent playing is naturally going to be important, with double exposure helping to keep the moments where you’re in control flowing. Fujinaga explained that “the combat part is not the major part. It’s not like an ‘action game action game’, it’s actually a story experience with the combat mixed into it.”
In fact, it’s going to be cinematic in length, as well, respecting that a lot of people just don’t have bags of free time. “We do not have a lot of time,” Fujinaga reasoned. “Recently we have a lot of TV drama, we have a lot of games that are like 50-100 hours, and we just don’t have time. We gamers buy a lot of game, but we rarely finish them. So the first thing was, what if we just made a very compact game, so you can play just like you’re watching a movie in one sitting?”
That’s something that’s fed into the game’s development as a whole, letting it fly as a smaller experimental game for Square Enix to publish. The length has helped determine the price under $15 and £12, which has helped determine the budget and, despite having four teams working on the game, Fujinaga’s assertion that it’s like an indie game. “We needed to be very creative and make a lot of decisions because this is a very small team that’s not AAA,” he claimed. “We had to think what we want to have, what we do not want to have, and this process and all this limitation is very indie.”
Whether or not this latest experiment with FMV and video games pans out, we’ll find out when it releases in a few weeks on 1st November.