Temperature Conversion

A Brief History of Fahrenheit: Indigo Prophecy Remastered
It’s exceedingly rare that video games attempt to upend traditional approaches to the medium. When it debuted in 2005, however, Fahrenheit (aka Indigo Prophecy) did just that, and represents developer Quantic Dream’s attempt to open players’ eyes to a new way of experiencing the form. The ambitious title was designed by Quantic Dream founder and CEO, David Cage, and served as a statement that games could be about character, and genuine, meaningful emotional connections, and could depict said connections in more powerful ways than the games before it.

“the risk factors were too great”

The project began around the turn of the century. Following the release and ensuing positive reception of his first title, Omikron: The Nomad Soul, Cage started pitching his idea for Fahrenheit to various publishers. He used a PowerPoint presentation that outlined the project’s core concepts and main narrative beats, but the pinnacle of the presentation was a rather unconventional 3D video featuring a reprise of the classic red pill/blue pill sequence from the Wachowski Brothers’ 1999 classic, The Matrix.
The heart of Quantic Dream’s pitch for Fahrenheit, according to co-CEO Guillaume de Fondaumière was this: “We want to create a game in which the player will be able to choose whichever pill they desire. In other words, an interactive experience in which the player’s decisions and actions truly change the way the story unfolds.”
Unsurprisingly, the most difficult hurdle was to convince publishing executives that they actually could create a game in which the story would sit at and define the core of the experience—a game in which the protagonist(s) wouldn’t wield guns or jump from platform to platform, and in which the narrative would not unfold through typical cutscenes, but rather in real time as the player negotiated the world. At the time, this idea had never been effectively demonstrated before in a video game, so the concept remained an abstract and dubious notion for those whose job it was to sign the checks.
But that wasn’t the only obstacle. “The fact that the story was targeted towards a mature audience, contained themes never before seen in a game, and featured a realistic portrayal of people and their environments all added to the confusion about what the player experience was going to be,” explains de Fondaumière. “Due to the uncharted territory we were trying to explore, the risk factors were too great for most publishers and led them to, in their own words, ‘pass on the opportunity.’ Most publishers simply could not grasp what exactly it was that we were trying to make.” In the end, however, two publishers—Vivendi Universal Games and Atari—signed on, and were critical to the production and completion of Fahrenheit.

“Internally we call it an ‘interactive experience…’”

Over the course of the game’s development and up to its eventual release, its primary publisher, Atari, preferred to brand Fahrenheit as “the first truly interactive film.” Admittedly, though, Cage was never fully comfortable with the label. “I know Fahrenheit isn’t an adventure game because it doesn’t use the traditional mechanics of the genre,” Cage says. “But I don’t like to call it an ‘interactive film’ either. It wasn’t a very successful designation in the ’90s, and I don’t think Fahrenheit shares the same vision about interactivity.”
He says he often asked himself (as did some game critics at the time) if Fahrenheit could even be described as a video game because of its refusal to follow the traditional rules of the medium. But if neither a video game nor an interactive film, then what does Cage see Fahrenheit as? “It’s narrative, and it’s fully interactive in its own way, so internally we call it an ‘interactive experience’ or ‘interactive drama’,” he says.
Like many who grew up alongside the emerging medium, video games represented a significant part of the 45-year-old Cage’s upbringing. He says he always loved LucasArts’ point-and-click adventure games (with a special place in his heart for Day of the Tentacle), as well as Cinemaware’s Amiga classics, and the games of French pioneers Lankhor, Delphine and Silmarils. But, he says, these games did not play a conscious role in the writing or creation of Fahrenheit, except perhaps in their desire to tell a story and create interesting characters.
“Conceptually, many conventional adventure games are based on puzzles and inventory management—two ingredients that Fahrenheit doesn’t use,” he explains. “For me, the experience had to be exclusively about interactive storytelling, which meant I had to find ways to make the story playable without using the mechanics traditionally found in adventure games.” Cage says solving this problem was by far the most challenging part of the project: “It took me a while to understand that being in the shoes of the characters could be a game by itself. Making difficult decisions, facing dilemmas, or just living their everyday life could be surprisingly pleasant and entertaining.”

“I wanted my characters to look real, but I needed them to have normal personal lives, too.”

The early 2000s represented something of an “awkward teenage phase” for game aesthetics. While games had evolved past their most rudimentary 3D roots, striking any sort of chord with conventional notions of realism was difficult to say the least. For Cage, however, realism was and remains not merely a matter of graphics, but also a matter of tone and story. “From the beginning, the idea was to have characters who would be grounded in reality even though the story had a supernatural twist,’ he says. “Of course I wanted my characters to look real, but I needed them to have normal personal lives, too. During development, I discovered that this everyday facet of the characters was in fact the most interesting aspect of the game—much more than the supernatural side.”
One of Fahrenheit’s scenes features police officer Tyler Miles waking up in the morning in his apartment, taking a shower, choosing his clothes, and having coffee with his wife before going to work. This scene ended up being a sort of watershed moment for Cage. When he wrote it, Cage remembers saying to himself that it was not a video game scene. There was nothing exciting to play—it merely existed as a mundane slice of life. He questioned whether games should be something extraordinary, e.g. about saving the world, killing enemies. But there was something in the scene that he found intriguing.
“I wondered what it would be like to live a normal life in a video game,” he says. “When the game was finished, I ended up thinking that it was actually the most interesting scene in the game because it achieved something new: it created empathy for a character by sharing his intimate personal life.” Cage did exactly the same thing years later with Ethan Mars in Heavy Rain, a game very much informed by the lessons learned from Fahrenheit.

Concept and Controversy

Fahrenheit‘s novel concept was a tough sell for publishers, and its deliberate depiction of the ordinary was jarring for others. But what drove controversy to the game were two ill-timed events in both the film and games industries. The first revolved around the release of Michael Moore’s Palme d’Or-winning documentary, Fahrenheit 9/11. Under the urging of Atari’s US marking director, Fahrenheit‘s name was changed to Indigo Prophecy in North America and Canada to avoid confusion and/or association despite Quantic Dream’s protests.
“While we could genuinely evaluate that Michael Moore’s movie wouldn’t have had any impact on the game in Europe, it was more difficult for us to have an opinion on the US market,” de Fondaumière recalls. “Our opinion was that people around the world wouldn’t be confused, and that Fahrenheit was the best title for our game.” Quantic Dream ultimately lost the argument for the North American release, but was able to retain the original title for all other territories.

Sex and Censorship

The other event that had a significant impact on the game was Rockstar’s infamous “Hot Coffee” incident, whereby a sexually suggestive mini-game in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas was uncovered and made accessible to players. Quantic Dream had wrapped up development on Fahrenheit a few weeks prior to the Rockstar scandal breaking, and was implementing the localization of the Japanese version when de Fondaumière got the call from his producer at Atari. “He said, ‘Guillaume, you aren’t going to like this, but there’s a major scandal over here in the US with Grand Theft Auto, and the ESRB is asking us to revise our standards on all games which have been recently rated but not yet released.’”
This began a painful process of negotiations and modifications, and eventually led to several scenes being edited and censored from Fahrenheit. To earn a “Mature” rating rather than “Adults Only” from the ESRB—and thereby be allowed to publish the game on Sony’s PlayStation 2 and Microsoft’s Xbox—most of the scenes depicting sex, along with any other risqué content, was removed from the North American version of the game. It all happened behind closed doors and in a matter of a few days. “The Hot Coffee incident had a tremendous impact on us,” de Fondaumière says.
Since both the uncensored European version and the censored North American version of Fahrenheit released less than two weeks apart, many American gamers decided to buy the uncensored version online. De Fondaumière believes the censoring had a substantial negative impact on how the game sold in North America, but in the end their hands were tied. “Hot Coffee was really a big deal when it happened,” he says. “GTA got banned almost immediately from some major retailers such as Walmart. We were just a small French developer. We were very upset, but there was very little we could do. We fought back and argued with the ESRB through Atari on virtually every point of contention, but ended up losing on almost all fronts. It was horrible and culturally shocking for us. Our creation was being censored, and there was nothing we could do about it.”

“Feelings of love and lust are a part of life, and I can’t see any reason not to use them in a video game …”

“Censorship varies a lot based on countries and time,” Cage says of the experience. “It was quite challenging when Fahrenheit was released, much more so than today.” He recalls a scene in the game set inside a hotel in which the player can open doors and briefly glimpse prostitutes at work inside the rooms. This scene had to be heavily edited in some countries despite the fact that there was absolutely nothing graphic or shocking about it.
“I always considered videogames as a valid medium capable of evoking any mature themes or emotions,” Cage continues. “Feelings of love and lust are a part of life, and I can’t see any reason not to use them in a video game as long as it’s a natural and necessary component of the story. In Fahrenheit, maybe I pushed the envelope a little bit too far with the playable sex scene, but I was curious to see what the result would be for the overall experience.”
Cage says he often hears fans telling him about the romantic scene before the climactic interactive sex scene—how they were nervous on how to behave with their ex-girlfriend, how they felt pressure to play the guitar correctly in order to seduce her, how much they generally tried to be as nice as possible nice towards her. “But no one ever mentioned the sex scene to me, which was very interesting,” he says. “Players cared much more about the emotional aspect of the relationship than about its sexual conclusion.”

Will we look back on Fahrenheit as the experience that started a new movement of interactive entertainment?

Today, Quantic Dream is still based inside the same studio on the same beautiful, hidden promenade in Paris, France, where it developed Fahrenheit between the years of 2000 and 2005. At the start of production, the team was comprised of roughly 35 people; today, the studio approaches 200. Perhaps this growth as a studio is a reflection of our growing acceptance—and thirst—for Cage and Co.’s unique approach to storytelling.
Whatever the case may be, Quantic Dream has firmly established itself as one of the most original and groundbreaking developers working in the medium. As technology evolves, and the distinction between games, films, and everything in-between blurs, will we look back on Fahrenheit as the experience that started a new movement of interactive entertainment? Any definitive claim here would be irresponsible. But for fans of great storytelling and emotional drama we can say this: in a vast landscape of the tried and true, Fahrenheit isn’t just recommended, it’s necessary.