What Quantic Dream’s Star Wars Game Means for the Controversial Studio

Quantic Dream, a studio plagued by criticisms and allegations of a toxic workplace, seems like a very odd fit for Star Wars.

Star Wars Quantic Dream Game
Photo: Lucasfilm

A not so long time ago, on a website not so far away, Video Games Chronicle picked up the rumor that French studio Quantic Dream might be working on a Star Wars video game. This was later corroborated by Kotaku. If the rumors are true, it would be surprising to say the least.

Quantic Dream, of course, is the developer behind celebrated interactive adventure titles like Heavy Rain and Fahrenheit, but also the controversial company that just lost a libel lawsuit against French outlet Mediapart (while winning another against the publication Le Monde) after reports and claims of an unsafe, toxic workplace were lodged at the studio in 2018. Not that a studio’s skeletons have stopped Disney and Lucasfilm from working with companies like Electronic Arts and Ubisoft in the past, but Quantic Dream seems like an odd choice even from a gameplay perspective. The studio isn’t really known for the types of high action titles usually associated with the Star Wars brand. That said, if these rumors are true, Quantic Dream and Disney are poised to enter a symbiotic business relationship with benefits that go beyond monetary gain.

When the Star Wars video game landscape sat under the thumb of EA, it resembled an inhospitable desert. The studio published a bunch of mobile games and two lackluster shooters, one of which erupted in a loot box scandal that angered government officials. EA eventually produced the action and flight simulator titles audiences wanted, but only after it was forced to stop using the Star Wars license as a gambling den. The damage already seemed to have been, though. EA found its 10-year exclusivity license axed after only eight, maybe less since Quantic Dream purportedly has 18 months of Star Wars game progress under its belt. And if the studio is indeed working on a Star Wars title, it could begin a revitalization effort – just like Ubisoft, which is also creating a Star Wars game, no doubt about it – to return Star Wars video games back to their glory days.

Before EA’s Star Wars game empire, LucasArts cultivated a verdant garden of titles. Audiences enjoyed hack-n-slash, shooter, racing, and flight simulator Star Wars games, and the selection was varied because it was developed by different teams. While some were produced in-house, others were collaborative works between LucasArts and third-party studios, such as Star Wars Galaxies (Sony Online Entertainment) and the legendary Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic (BioWare). These games demonstrated that diversification breeds variety – but the gulf between Quantic Dream and EA is a particularly big one.

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Quantic Dream is probably best known for its cinematic, story-heavy titles that its founder/CEO, David Cage, dubs “interactive dramas” – they are essentially linear Choose Your Own Adventure books in video game form that let gamers “tell their own stories.” While some question whether the studio meets that goal (more on that later), nobody can deny Quantic Dream is the antitheses of EA. After all, EA infamously canceled a Star Wars title and liquidated Visceral Games because it thought “people don’t like [linear games].” Sure, Quantic Dream likes to sell its games on their multiple endings, but each conclusion is the product of a linear string of choices. With the exception of Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order, every Star Wars game by EA has focused on multiplayer. Quantic Dream’s polar opposite approach to game design would most likely result in a game unlike anything EA could ever produce.

Of course, Quantic Dream’s rumored project isn’t just an opportunity for Disney to back a Star Wars game without fear of loot boxes. According to Kotaku, the game will play differently from most of the studio’s library. If true, it might also fix recurring problems that are seemingly coded into Cage’s interactive drama formula.

For all of Quantic Dream’s nominations and awards, its games are divisive. Outlet critics heap praise on them, but independent critics are a lot more…critical. Moreover, they tend to complain about the same problems in each game. For instance (spoiler alert), Heavy Rain’s plot twist where one of the main characters serves double duty as the main antagonist may sound intriguing, but its execution and reveal is best described as a retcon. Likewise, the Detroit: Become Human’s plot twist reveals that the “child” Alice is an android and only works by ignoring previously established in-universe rules.

But, problems with Quantic Dream titles don’t end with plot twists. In each game, Cage tries to weave hundreds of potential player choices into a malleable narrative, which only ties up plot threads and character motivations in a gordian knot of plot holes and forced conflict. In Detroit: Become Human, androids are supposed to have perfect memories, which is conveniently forgotten to create an unnecessary “spot the imposter” moment. But, that’s not all. Virtually every Quantic Dream game save the first one, Omikron: The Nomad Soul, has a control scheme Achilles heel that leans heavily on quick time events. Most actions, from throwing punches to brushing teeth, require a QTE input. In many cases, you can just put the controller down and watch these events unfold as cutscenes, and the result will be the same.

If the reports are true, Quantic Dream’s upcoming game might feature “more traditional action gameplay.” Not only would this fix control scheme oversights and shortcomings synonymous with the present Quantic Dream, but it would end the company’s biggest irony. You see, during a 2013 keynote speech, Cage claimed that the gaming landscape was stagnating. He proposed that companies were suffering from “Peter Pan Syndrome” since the market was rife with Super Mario platformers and Call of Duty shooters. Cage’s focus on QTE-heavy replayability was meant to differentiate Quantic Dream from the rest of the industry, but instead it made the studio stumble into the stagnation he derided. 

Ever since Fahrenheit, each Quantic Dream product has been story-focused and favored QTEs and multiple endings to the company’s detriment. While the game industry was a very different beast when Quantic Dream started down this path, it has grown up while Quantic Dream hasn’t. Companies have mastered the art of multiple endings without using QTEs as a crutch. Just look at Fallout: New Vegas, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, and Undertale. And, not even Quantic Dream can claim it is the only home for beloved replayable games with a QTE focus thanks to Supermassive Games’ Until Dawn.

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If Quantic Dream is indeed creating an action-based Star Wars game, then the company might join the rest of the industry, and as Cage put it, “grow up.” Depending on the veracity of rumors, Quantic Dream could use this Star Wars project to fix problems seemingly built into its game design principles. But, that potential is currently just a quantum dream; it’s up to the company to turn possibility into reality. The alleged problems within the studio’s culture itself are a whole other story that won’t be fixed with one video game.