When Square Enix dropped a first look at mystery title The Quiet Man during June’s E3 Expo, people didn’t know what they were looking at. Was it a live-action video game? Was it just photorealistic CGI? Was it horror? Did the villain in the creepy bird mask watch a little too much True Detective? According to producer Kensei Fujinaga, who’s been building on this concept for the past decade, that response was the goal.
“Our intention was to have the audience be like, ‘What’s this?!'” he tells EW. “I would say this is so not Square Enix” — a company known for the Tomb Raider and Kingdom Hearts games. “Just visually, it has Square Enix’s name on it, but it’s so independent, so indie minded.”
With the new trailer, touting a surprise Nov. 1 release date for Playstation and Steam players, we get more answers — though it’s all still very hush hush. The three-hour hybrid of live-action and CGI, set during a single night in New York City, centers around Dane, a deaf man who’s “a survivor just from life in general and moves in underworld circles,” explains The Quiet Man writer Joe Kelly, who forays into gaming from TV shows like Big Hero 6 and Ben 10 through Man of Action Entertainment. When a lounge singer with whom he shares an undisclosed connection is kidnapped by a masked man, Dane investigates the mystery.
“I would say this is a mystery thriller with the noir tone to it and some superhero tone to it too, but it’s not a horror game,” Fujinaga clarifies. Though, as the trailer proves, the game earns its “mature” rating.
There is no HUD in the game — no status bar, health meter, hit point markers, subtitles, tutorials, virtually no dialogue, and few written words — in order to preserve the cinematic experience. There’s also no sound, in a sense. The Quiet Man shifts between live-action cut scenes and CG gameplay as you explore the world through the eyes of Dane. Therein lies the challenge: the players must infer what’s going on from clues they encounter, use their own intuition about how to proceed, and, as Kelly puts it, “go along for the ride to see if you were right.”
“It was really this idea of we [the developers] know everything and the player thinks they know everything and how does that really unfold, which, in a classic noir, you’re doing over the course of time as the scenes unfold,” he says. “Here, it’s like a magic act. You’re doing it in front of somebody’s face and they don’t even realize what you’re doing.”
Technically, the game isn’t completely silent. “We have our version of the sound design,” Fujinaga says.
“There are these beautiful sound elements,” Kelly notes, “that are different for every character that indicate what the vibe is you’re supposed to get from a conversation, but you’re supposed to interpret that vibe.” It’s all about interpreting the “cinematic language.” Lens flares will indicate when Dane’s in jeopardy, and the screen becomes dark and red when he’s about to die.
“Watching the cinematic parts, it’s not a passive experience,” Fujinaga says. “It’s very, very active and you need to pay attention to the story. Because of that nature, we believe that the fighting mechanics need to be very simple and easy to pick up.” In other words, expect a lot of simple combos involving light and heavy attack moves.
Fujinaga and Kelly hoped to be respectful to both the character of Dane and to the deaf community in crafting an authentic experience, including “the use of sign language as it plays in the game,” Kelly says. However, as a new concerted push to get more deaf actors to play deaf roles continues to grow, they admit Canadian actor James Hicks, who plays Dane, isn’t deaf himself.
“We did have a serious internal struggle with does he have to be a deaf person,” Fujinaga says of casting the lead. “We discussed that a lot, but we were always open for that character and we actually did some call-ins for deaf actors. We were so open, but we realized we weren’t looking [solely] for a deaf person, we were looking for Dane. Dane is a character who has his own struggles, psychological trauma with the past, so we were trying to find that in a person.”
When he found his Dane in a fairly “green” actor, Fujinaga says Hicks “showed a very big respect for the deaf culture and he really knew what it means to take this role and the responsibility.” Part of that was working with Danny Gong, an American sign language interpreter. “He was there for us to be sure we were doing the right thing,” Fujinaga says.
The goal was always to blend these live-action movements and CG Dane as to trick the eye. “The visual quality of the video games — the CGI and the photorealistic approach and the 3D scanning [of actors] — it’s getting better and better every day each day,” Fujinaga continues. “It almost feels like it’s there [at the level needed], but I felt like it’s not quite there to do the drama I wanted to deliver.”
“I feel still the real human beings are much better to do all those tiniest emotions and everything,” he adds.
The Quiet Man will be available digitally for $14.99 through Playstation and Steam on Nov. 1.