Gamers no doubt know the name Heavy Rain. Film fans, perhaps not so much. So here's Heavy Rain 101:
It's a PlayStation 3 exclusive title from a French game developer called Quantic Dream that made big waves in 2010 for the innovative ways it redefined gameplay and combined it with an intensely cinematic presentation in an attempt to make the player feel more investment for its characters and story about three men (a father, a private detective and an FBI agent) looking for a child kidnapped by a serial killer who drowns his victims by trapping them in tight places during rainstorms.
The decidedly non-traditional gameplay ended up being rather divisive within the gaming community, but the reaction to the game's story and how it was told was rather unanimous praise. New Line Cinema even bought the rights to a film adaptation and hired Deadwood creator David Milch to write it.
All of this is preamble to Kara, the latest project from Quantic Dream, that was unveiled yesterday at the Game Developer's Conference in San Francisco. It's not a Heavy Rain sequel, nor is it a new game, but a short film that packs a remarkable range of emotions into its scant seven-minute runtime. Quantic Dream created it as part proof of concept, part humble brag about how game developers should properly utilize their digital actors. In the case of Kara, IGN relays that QD auditioned 69 actresses for the role, which required full-body performance capture, before hiring a one Valorie Curry to pull it all off.
Of course, motion capture isn't a new innovation in game development. Studios have been using it for several decades now. However, what QD is trying to do - and we think they pull it off flawlessly - is prove that partial mocap isn't nearly as effective or immersive as having one actor put her entire self into the role, and that you can't rely on celebrity voice talent for one part and a team of CGI animators working from scratch on the rest of it. When that happens, you get the stilted, robotic motions we all know too well from gaming cut scenes. What Kara proves is that if you go back to using humans in your art, even robots can be brought realistically to life. And we think that's kind of brilliant.
Of course, a lot of that has to do with the smart and gripping script, but there's a lot of subtlety to Curry's performance that really brings Kara to life. There's disbelief in her movements and hesitation to her thoughts that really sells an inhuman character reconciling human thoughts that we just love. We think you'll agree.