Paul Cuisset on Amy
Paul Cuisset first came to prominence as the creative director of now defunct French studio Delphine Software and is the auteur behind the rotoscoped adventure Flashback, the best selling French game of all time. Now helming Vector Cell, Cuisset's latest project is Amy, a PSN (and eventually XBLA, too) survival horror title in which you must protect the titular Amy, an autistic girl with mysterious powers, from marauding infected townsfolk. We sat down with Cuisset to discuss the excess of combat in today's games, the challenges of portraying autism and what constitutes French style.
Why did you choose to make Amy autistic?
It’s difficult to go very far into this because it’s tied to the story, and we want to keep some information confidential for now. As a player, you will learn and understand why Amy has this condition.
The portrayal of disabilities and disorders in games is uncommon, it seems a brave move.
That’s true. It’s difficult to speak about this because it's very sad, so I guess that’s why people tend to avoid the subject. In our game, Amy is verbally impaired but she’s not completely autistic. You discover in the story why she doesn’t want to speak.
Are you worried about the risks involved?
It’s a big risk, and, of course, also using a second main character which is a girl is a big risk. But the story of Amy and Lana is very important to us, and it justifies the risk we've taken because I think it’s a good one.
How can developers be sensitive to difficult issues such as autism within the context of a game?
It’s a very good question, and a complex one. In games we have more action with the environment and we’re more connected to the story and the characters. In this story we try to build a relationship between two girls, and the use of the child is very new for us because we're experimenting with new ways of interacting. Of course it’s very complicated because each time we try to set up some formal gameplay, the emotional response comes in and we need to think about this and say how can we use that and put more emotion in the relationship. So we try to use the language of movies. People are more used to understanding the emotions that can be conveyed by that kind of language.
Flashback creator Paul Cuisset (above left) and a shot from his latest game, Amy
France has a strong tradition of arthouse cinema – do you think this inspires French developers to experiment away from the mainstream?
I can’t speak for all French developers, but we have a culture in France where we like to tell stories, and games are the way we can tell them now. So this is why French games try to give the kind of emotions that you might experience when you read books, more than when you see a movie. As you play, the emotions that you can have are closer to a book than to a film because of the intimate relationships you develop.
With Limbo, and more recently Superbrothers: Swords & Sworcery, there seems to be a resurgence of the aesthetics and gameplay that characterised Delphine's output.
[Laughs] Of course, the budget is something that counts in development, and a full 3d game is very hard to do – you need to invest a lot of money and technology. PSN makes it possible to produce games which can tell stories but with more realistic budgets!
Fumito Ueda was also inspired by Flashback, and now Amy features two characters who must help each other. Are you repaying the compliment?
It’s like a circle [laughs]! Having two characters is more emotional, and I wanted to tell a story in the game. As I said before, it’s also not very common in games to have a woman and a girl as the main characters – though you can find that type of couple a lot more in movies. That was a good starting point. Of course, I’m also a fan of Ico, but what we're doing is something different; we’re not in the same universe or climate. But I do hope that Amy will be able to deliver emotions in the same way that Ico did.
Why is it important to you to produce an emotionally focused game, as opposed to, say, one more focused on combat?
It’s a new way to explore, and I am quite sick of all the games where you have only combat and nothing else. A good story needs good characters, and good characters need good relations to build something. I think that we tend to forget that we can do something different in games – it needn’t only be shooting and action games, we can also tell stories. I miss the old days of adventure games; it’s quite difficult now to play these types of games that we had before.
Do you see that desire for story telling coming back to games?
In the past we had a lot of different kinds of games – some told stories, some were just action and some were simulators. Now, unfortunately, I think that most games look the same and tell more or less the same story – it’s quite sad. I hope that people are ready to experience something different. But, of coure, the difficulty is that most publishers don’t want to invest money in risky projects: they want safe bets. I hope that PSN will mean that there are more new ideas and products coming out; some that will be good and some that will be… not so good [laughs]. But it’s worth a try, I think!