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In 2006, Quantic Dream floored geeks and gamers with The Casting. A tech demo that featured a digital actress auditioning for a movie role. The entire scene played out with the actress' performance conveying a full range of emotions for the camera. The realism and emotion conveyed in the performance was unlike anything seen before in game engines. Heavy Rain was eventually born out of this technology and was extremely impressive. The game was critically acclaimed and pushed many boundaries in how video games were played. Building on what they learned from their previous game Indigo Prophecy, Heavy Rain provided an expertly executed, fluid storytelling mechanic that featured branching paths. Heavy Rain kept the story advancing regardless of player performance. In fact there was no incorrect way to play, as the death of a main character simply altered the story and ultimately its ending.
This year at GDC, Quantic Dream put The Casting to shame when they showcased Kara. The seven minute short film, that is rendered in real time with the Playstation 3 hardware, is not a trailer for a new game but simply a technological demo that highlights the achievements possible on the PS3 hardware. Impressive strides have been made with subtle facial expressions and skin textures in close up shots. In Heavy Rain, the performances were segmented where different parts of the performance were captured individually. With Kara, the performance was captured in one clean take (just like the Uncharted series) and there is a more consistent performance congruent with the action taking place. Quantic Dream is pushing what is possible in terms of player empathy. The realistic recreation of human emotions allows a level of empathy to develop with players like never before. Heavy Rain was one of the most engaging gaming experiences I've ever had. I had never gone through a more agonizing moment than I had cutting off my finger and then cauterizing the wound in a desperate attempt to save my son as Ethan Mars in Heavy Rain.
Where Heavy Rain challenged popular methods of storytelling and gameplay, the engine powering Kara is challenging the idea that we even need a new console generation. It is challenging the level of immersion and empathy that can be achieved between the characters on screen and the audience in digital mediums. In a recent interview with IGN.com, David Cage, founder of Quantic Dream said, "We just wanted to take more risks, have new challenges and try new things. What you need to know about Kara is that this demo is a year old." When asked if the industry needed a new console generations Cage replied, "We had thought we had done a pretty decent job on Heavy Rain, and we just realized we didn't do anything with the hardware. We could do much more than that, and this is what we intend to do in the near future. There's still a lot to do with the PlayStation 3 I'm telling you." Considering all the horsepower that is contained in the SPE's making up the "cell processor" it isn't surprising. The gripe most developers have lately with the current generation consoles is the lack of system memory. The PS3 has 256mb of system RAM and 256mb of vRAM, however the RSX is able to allocate the entire 512mb of memory to itself if needed. While this can be a major bottle-neck, it seems Quantic Dream have found clever of ways of extracting even more performance out of the system.
While Kara doesn't give us much insight into Quantic Dream's next project, I think it's safe to expect another riveting interactive drama with an engaging story with an even more realistic and believable cast of characters. As a big fan of Heavy Rain, I can tell you that I'm really excited to find out more about their next project. Check out the full video here: Kara - Quantic Dream GDC