Fahrenheit: New Movie

Why are French games often called different in the USA? Fahrenheit is a game by the French studio Quantic Dream. It was released as Indigo Prophecy in the USA. According to Wikipedia it was done to prevent confusion with Fahrenheit 9/11 but wouldn’t this kind of confusion also happen in Europe?

New Movie? I thought I bought a game.

I bought Fahrenheit some time ago and I had just recently the opportunity to finish it. It is a somewhat important title as it is often quoted as being a revolutionary step in the development of the adventure genre. It does raise some interesting questions and I would like to address some of them.

In Fahrenheit you control various characters in a series of short scenes. You see the game from a 3rd person perspective. When you walk up to certain object you can sometimes trigger context specific actions like drinking a cup of coffee or picking up the telephone. The story begins like a Mystery-Thriller movie. A normal guy for no apparent reason commits a murder and tries to avoid detection from the police while searching for an explanation, dealing with his ex-girlfriend and the tense relationship to his brother. Meanwhile, two cops – a smart, young woman and a cool black man are searching for the murderer.

Return of the Author
What I really like about it is how much effort has been put into making it appear more like a movie. The “New Game” option in the menu has been even replaced with “New Movie”. But what I like even more is how the tutorial has been solved. You will find yourself in a empty film studio with a 3D representation of the game designer David Cage talking to you about Fahrenheit and how to play it. I thing it is a very classy and mature solution for a tutorial. It suddenly creates this close relationship between you and David. You get the impression that this is, in fact, a work of a human being (suffering from hair loss apparently) and that he cares about it and you as a recipient.

No way! It’s David Cage? How did you get inside my TV?!

For me Fahrenheit is another example of something, which always has been part of the adventure genre: the Author. In no other genres, the actual PEOPLE were explicitly mentioned as being responsible for the games. You had Al Love, Ken and Roberta Williams, Scott Murphy and Mark Crowe (aka Two guys from Andromeda), Tim Schafer, Ron Gilbert, Brian Moriarty and lots of other guys. Even today, those people are considered as important authorities in the industry. I guess as the budgets got bigger it became too risky to put one individual responsible for the future of a franchise. At some point, the celebrity could have used its power to force his will against the will of the publisher. So today, many games opt for a impersonal company name as the “creator” of games. Of course, this has also to do with the fact that games are often so complex that it is just wrong to point out one person as being responsible.

I still believe that having a real person stand in as the author of a game is a good idea. After all Walt Disney didn’t REALLY draw every cartoon, but he was a symbol for the overall philosophy of the company. The recent resurfacing of adventure games brought new names into play like Benoît Sokal and the mentioned David Cage. This goes hand in hand with the new trend of indie games, where individuals are really responsible. Somewhat famous indies include Jonathan Blow, Ben “Yahtzee” Croshaw, Jonathan Mak, Ron Carmel and Kyle Gabler, Jonatan “Cactus” Soderstrom and others. The interesting thing about indies is that just like Authors, they also do the Marketing for themselves so they will give interviews, speeches and will discuss their games in public. It creates this sense that games are some kind of communication between real people, rather then soulless money-making machines. It also makes discussion about the content of games (like violence) easier as you can make individual people responsible.

“There ought to be limits to Freedom”
Back in the times of the Dreamcast console, the Japanese game designer Yu Suzuki decided that it was time for inventing a new genre: the FREE genre. It would be the next step in the evolution of games. Games would become this deep and rich world where we can live alternate lives and play different roles, which are as detailed and as our everyday life. He ended up spending 20 million dollars creating a complex simulation of vending machines and fork-lift races. It is called Shenmue and I recommend trying it. It is a failure of epic proportion. In fact, it is so epic to the point of being entertaining and enlightening. This famous above quote by everybody’s darling George W. Bush neatly summarizes the lesson (of course talking about game design here – politics is a different thing). Actually, there are two problems:

  1. It is impossible to create a simulation of everything.
  2. Even it it was, it would be pointless.

Shenmue tries so hard to simulate every possible detail of a Japanese teenager in search of the killer of his father. You can open up every drawer in the teenager’s house, go to every shop in the street, use every vending machine and talk to any person. The simulation of all those details is incredibly time-consuming and incredibly irrelevant to the main goal of finding the killer of the boy’s father. The development team got caught up so much in the simulation of all those details, it forgot what it was the game was about in the first place. The tragedy is that it was not even close in creating a complete simulation: you still get into lots of situations where the limits of you “freedom” are obviously apparent.

In Shenmue, you can buy Sodas at every vending machine and can even pick the brand. It is completly pointless. Just imagine how much work went into implementing this feature. And then the simulation isn’t perfect anyway: note how you can’t keep the can for later – you have to drink it on the spot.

The Free-Genre is a fallacy, is historically linked to the adventure genre. It lies it its genes. I remember well being introduced to my first adventure – Leisure Suit Larry 1. It went something like this: “Look at this! This is so awesome! You are this guy in this bar and you can do everything! Even go to the toilet, you can pick up women…” In reality, going to the toilet and picking up women was pretty much the only thing you could do but as the range of possibilities were neatly hidden (by a text-interface) you at least got the impression that everything was possible. This impression is what kept you going.

Fahrenheit continues that tradition. You can do dozens of mundane things – lots of them irrelevant to the story. You can use every sink, go to the toilet, look in every mirror, open every fridge, use computers, telephones etc. It is clearly apparent how Quantic Dream simply lacked the resources to keep up this level of detail up to the end of the game. In later levels, the simulation is less complete. Of course I’m assuming that the the beginning was created first.

Well, atfer almost 20 years we are not out of the toilet yet but at least the dirt looks more realistic.

The Free-Genre is a dangerous thing. You might think you could get away with just allowing players to do SOME things. However, you give them the small finger and they will grab the whole hand and eat you alive. Being able to go to the toilet means you have to be consequent and allow to use EVERY toilet in the game. Then you have to simulate the other end of the process by allowing eating and drinking. Before you know it you will run digestive simulations with nutrition models, cantina menu generators, bed wetting events as punishment for not going to the toilet and implement various brands of toilet papers purchasable in shops.

Scene It
But then, Quantic Dream skillfully dodged the Free-Genre Bullet by introducing limits to freedom. The story is divided into individual scenes. Each scene is limited in time and space. The first scene takes place in a bar and lasts a couple of minutes. It is an ingenious way to put restrictions on the simulation. It eliminates the need to create job-simulations where the player would drive forklifts to earn money to be able to eventually pay for a meal at the bar where something interesting happens. All that is just cut away and only the story-relevant moment at the bar is being simulated. The scene is over as soon as the story-relevant event happens. No need to go buy toilet paper on your way back home.

Scene selection, just like on a DVD.

Dividing the story into Scenes has also other advantages. It creates a structure for the players to help them understand the story better and to help them organize their playing schedule. The game is too long to play it in one go but you can sit down for an hour and play two or three scenes – just like you watch an episode of you TV Series. It also allows you also to go back to a specific moment in the story to try to solve that scene differently. Here again, the game is reminiscent of a DVD where there is also a scene-selection menu.

Dividing the story into scenes makes it theoretically possible to create a game with an interactive story. The game could rearrange the scenes, leave scenes out or introduce optionals scenes, which only appear when the player does something specific. In the end, this is also what happens in the cutting room of a real movie. It is amazing how our brain is able to construct coherent stories out of loosely cut material. Interestingly, this was not implemented in Fahrenheit. Contrary to what you might think, there is basically only one way the story unfolds. You can’t change anything significant, at least not on the large scale. I can understand why but it feels like a missed chance.

Last but not least, having scenes is easier for the developer. You can have different teams working in parallel on different scenes, you can leave scenes out if you run out of time and money, you can add new scenes to clarify the plot. All this is much more difficult if you have one, coherent world like in Shenmue.

Bringing back the “Game” in “Adventure Game”
If you consider the Scenes as being levels, you will realize that Quantic Dream did a very smart trick here. In spite of presenting it like a movie, what they really did is the opposite: to bring back more game-specific elements into the adventure genre. They are not alone. The recent game Zack & Wiki did exactly the same thing and it seems like this could be a source of future innovation. In Fahrenheit, you not only have levels. There are also various health-bars. For example, each of the characters has a mental health meter. Various action improve or deteriorate your mental health. If a character gets to depressed, he commits suicide or quits his job which leads to a Game Over. The mental health meter does two important jobs. First, it introduces a reason for all those little actions like going to the toilet or drinking a cup of coffee. You get immediate feedback that even those little actions actually did something. The second thing is that it gives the player some additional insight into the psyche of the characters. It is unrealistic but very effective. Every time the mental health of your character drops, you feel concerned and alarmed. It creates a sense of responsibility, which as I already discussed, is vital to producing emotions in games. The mental health meter is related to similar devices from games like The Sims.

Alcohol – it’s is good for your mental health!

Some scenes also involve as suspicion meter. You have to prevent you character from being recognized as a criminal by avoiding suspicious actions and statements. Although it means something different then the mental health meter, the effects are similar. Immediate feedback and more emotional involvement.

Although great, the meters do have their weaknesses. The main problem is that they are pretty much irrelevant to the story. Whether you complete the game happy or depressed doesn’t really change the plot. They are also introduce a unnecessary and confusing reward/punishment scheme. For example, when your character looks at a picture of his dead parents, he gets a little depressed and looses mental health. Going to the toilet on the other hand raises mental health. So what does it teach the players? To use the toilet frequently and ignore their parents? Seems a bit odd. There are also some random events in the game where characters looses a lot of mental health without players being able to do anything about it. Random punishment is bad for the mental health of the players.

Here are two solutions for this problems. First, remove the reward/punishment. Characters shouldn’t commit suicide when they are desperate. Instead, being desperate should lock some possibilities and actions and unlock others. Desperate characters could have more options to react violently while happy characters could have more options to be social and diplomatic. Loosing mental health wouldn’t feel like a punishment then, it would just CHANGE the experience of the game.

The second solution would be to implement more dimensions to the meter. How about a 2D matrix with happy/depressed on one axis and calm/excited on the other. It would give an even better insight into the psyche of the character and allow actions to affect the player without having a clearly negative or positive connotation.

A suggestion for an improved mental health meter. Avoids linear values, focuses on defining quality instead of quantitative measurement.

There are also other game elements like extra lives and secret bonus pickups. The extra lives seem to make little sense since it is hardy more difficult to simply restart the recent scene. The secret bonus pickups are nice but feel a but out of place. In the end, you get so much bonus points for completing the game that collecting them is pointless as well.

The Fahrenheit Syndrome
The review wouldn’t be complete without addressing the so-called “Fahrenheit Syndrome” (also mentioned by Ben “Yahtzee” Croshaw in his recent review of Condemned 2). Seriously, I believe we should remember the game forever by cultivating that expression. It refers to a situation where a story in a game beings well but deteriorates as the games proceed and then suddenly goes COMPLETELY INSANE at the end. I mean it. I was referring to the Fahrenheit Syndrome in my Experience 112 review. When I wrote that review, I thought I’ve seen enough of Fahrenheit to know what I was talking about. Little did I knew. Let me spoil it to you: At the end of the game, your character basically turns into Son Goku from Dragonball Z. He gets blond hair, dies and returns from the dead, gains superpowers and flies around shooting Kamehamehas. The smart inquisitive female cop suddenly becomes your girlfriend and submissive sex-puppy. An old blind psychic grandma dies, also returns from the dead but THEN turns out to be a ghostly energy being and an incarnation of some random evil computer A.I. Oh yeah and you also fight against some ancient Mayan Cult which secretly controls humanity in a worldwide conspiracy. And the world ends. And you have to save it by bringing some random girl to Area 51 with the help of a rebel underground army of rasta-hobos. Madness? THIS. IS. THE. FAHRENHEIT SYNDROME!!

The real packshot of Fahrenheit.

For now, in spite of the Fahrenheit Syndrome, at least the first few scenes contain enough innovative and interesting solutions. Fahrenheit in many way delivers a good outlook on a possible future genre. Here is how I would fix it: Cut the Sci-Fi crap, we have enough of that in games already. Make a standard, solid thriller about an innocent guy feeling from the police and trying to prove his innocence (more of less: like in Experience 112). Make it shorter, cut scenes like the basketball game. Portal has shown that short games can be good! Instead, put some more effort into polishing the few remaining scenes, make them count. Focus on replaybility. Link the actions of the player to the order and number of the scenes. Introduce interesting and meaningful endings. Not just fail/win situation but endings, that really make an statement and inspire you to go back and try to make thing end differently. If the stories get good enough, I could imagine myself getting used myself to that kind of genre – in the far future maybe even as an alternative to movies (!!). What do you think?

So I really recommend taking a closer look at it – at least at the demo since the beginning is the best. And I really hope that Quantic Dream will get rid of the Fahrenheit Syndrome in their next title, Heavy Rain.

P.S.: There are also some other things worth mentioning like the random and irrelevant Simon Says Quick Time Events and how you get to control a sex scene but thrusting your character’s pelvis into his ex-girlfriend with the analogue stick but I might save that for another article. ;-)

Krystian Majewski

Krystian Majewski was born in Warsaw and studied design at Köln International School of Design. Before, he was working on a mid-size console project for NEON Studios in Frankfurt. He helped establish a Master course in Game Design and Research at the Cologne Game Lab. Today he teaches Game Design at various institutions and develops independent games.

3 responses to “Fahrenheit: New Movie”

  1. Artheval_Pe

    “According to Wikipedia it was done to prevent confusion with Fahrenheit 9/11 but wouldn’t this kind of confusion also happen in Europe ?”

    No, because it is also the name of a book by Ray Bradbury, of a film bu François Truffaut that are just as famous as the film from Michael Moore. Most people think to the word as a temperature scale. So it carries mostly the idea of temperature than Anything else. At least, that’s the case in France.

  2. Krystian Majewski

    I don’t quite understand what you are getting at. The book “Fahrenheit 451″ is also known in America. In fact, “Fahrenheit 9/11″ is a tribute to that. Why doing a different Title for America?

  3. Anonymous

    USA, Hollywood at least, has a long tradition in denying foreign work by remaking and/or rebranding. About many American movies I later had to say: oops, there was a French (or other) original? (E.g. Nikita vs Point of No Return)


Game Design Reviews is a Blog used by a group of game designers from Germany to publish and discuss their thoughts on various games. The blog consists entirely of reviews of games. Each review focuses on the important game design ideas and concepts of that particular game. We also run a second, more informal Blog called Game Design Scrapbook.


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