Heavy Rain and Plausibility Illusion

Heavy Rain is not your usual game. It’s dark, it’s emotionnal and to me it feels very real.

Heavy Rain is the story of a father whose kid has been kidnapped and his endeavour to get him back.


The game uses several tricks to create immersion.

The first and most simple one is that you are almost always playing. There are numerous cut-scenes which look like a video, but suddenly you have to perform an action. If you don’t have the gamepad in hand at this moment, you’ll fail the action. This forces you to always be alert and ready.

Then if you want to perform an action (you have the choice not to), you’ll have to do precise movements with your joystick, moreover at a correct speed; for example if you want to reach out to an object to your right, simply push the joystick to the right. If you want to open a door, you’ll have to do an half circle, mimicking the rotation of the door. Remember, gesture gives you more immersion. I can’t help but thinking how this would be much more natural in VR !!

Then the game happens in realtime which means you sometimes have to think and act fast : do I have to shoot this guy before he kills my partner (that I don’t like) ? But he might be useful to my investigation ! But I need my partner even more ? Will I be able to reason with him ?  Damn he might pull the trigger any second now !! *BAM* … Damn I shot him .. did I make the correct choice? Could I save him ? As in real life, you’ll never know.

That’s one beauty of the game: each of your action has consequences on the story. David Cage, creator of the game and head of the french game studio Quantic Dreams, has written more than 2000 pages for this game which has 23 different endings. If you don’t have your kid do his homework, he will be angry at you the next day because his teacher didn’t like that. If you don’t kill the guy you’ve been ordered to kill, you won’t have clues to find your son. What if you die ? The game goes on with the other 3 characters.

It is also very realistic because you have to use your brain realistically. No puzzles or crazy wayfinding. You’re in a rush and have to phone a room in a motel. Damn, can you remember the room number that you’ve seen several times ? Or your on a crime scene (but you don’t know that) before the cops arrive and you’ve touched several objects. Will you remember which ones to be able to clean them all and erase all your traces ? As in real life, you’re left on your own with your aging memory. Same for human interactions, will you have empathy? Will you be cold? Use your heart intelligence.

If you remember Mel Slater’s latest paper about presence, it talks about a concept called Plausibility Illusion :

Plausibility Illusion is the illusion that what is apparently happening is really happening. This results from a sense that your actions have effects on the VE, that other events of the VE affect your sensations, and that these events are credible.

This is exactly what is happening in Heavy Rain; through all the points mentionned above, they have managed to achieve Plausibility Illusion, more or less cognitive immersion.

Imagine if on top of that you had Place Illusion, more or less perceptive immersion. This would be Presence, with a capital ‘P’, the graal of immersive VR (iVR).

In a previous article, I also talked about how the game Mirror’s Edge feels quite real to me : when I play it, I can feel the wind on my face and the void beneath my feet as I jump from one building to another.

Mirror’s Edge is the first game to hack your proprioception. (…) When you feel like you’re truly inside your character, speed suddenly means something. The opposite is also true. Without a sense of physicality, speed feels lifeless.

So who will be creating Mirror’s Rain ? Or Heavy Edge ? Mixing this proprioception hacking with plausibility illusion.

A first person VR game like that would feel very intense.


How could VR Geeks not like this game ? At some points in Heavy Rain you use a VR desktop :

I like the idea of extending the real desk.

Ok there are some negatives sides to the game. Athough everything looks very real, you’re often right in the uncanny valley; the faces of the characters are great but their movements are a bit stiff. And I’m not at ease with the phases that require quick actions on the gamepad buttons.

But appart from that, it’s really a milestone for games, and for me a major step towards VR games.

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