Quantum Break narrative designer discusses Junction points, time powers, and episodic gaming

Quantum Break is a month away from release and Shacknews recently had an opportunity to sit down with Senior Narrative Designer Greg Louden to discuss the game's years in the developmental oven, the evolution of Jack's time powers, the changes in episodic gaming since Quantum Break first started development, and what Paul's Junction points will do for the game's replay value.

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Microsoft and Remedy have been working on Quantum Break for several years, but the game is now just one more month away. This will mark Remedy's first gaming effort since the Alan Wake series and it's a fascinating turn for the studio, as it seeks to blend together a third-person action game with a live action TV mini-series. It's a very different take on the episodic format, since it's a full game where the game's "acts" are separated by 30-minute live-action episodes. However, it's interesting to note that Quantum Break will be stepping into a world where episodic gaming has proven itself as a viable format throughout the years that Remedy has had the game in development.

Shacknews recently had the opportunity to speak to Remedy senior narrative designer Greg Louden about Quantum Break's story, as well as its unique presentation.

Shacknews: It's been a couple of years since Quantum Break was shown in any capacity in the United States. How much about the game has changed since then?

Greg Louden, Senior Narrative Designer: The game's evolved quite a bit. In general, we've always had the same core philosophy that we wanted to say, which is that we always wanted to do a superhero origin story. We always wanted to do a science-fiction time travel experience and we always wanted to have this live action show. Basically what you're going to be seeing is a result from this evolution. We have this great cast that we have now, we have Shawn Ashmore, we have Aidan Gillan playing Paul Serrene, we have Lance Reddick and Dominic Monaghan, so this great Hollywood cast that has brought so much to the characters. And a lot of the stuff that you have seen, actually, is still in the game, but just evolved in different ways. The demo that you saw, you actually still have that in the game, so everything's still there, it's just been coming for a long time.

Shacknews: Has the story seen any significant changes over the last couple of years or has the story remained a consistent, singular vision over the course of development?

Louden: I think there's always been a singular vision for the story. We've always wanted to tell this particular tale of Jack Joyce and his friend, Paul Serrene, and how they've evolved to become enemies and all the time travel stuff in there, as well. I think the other core thing we've always wanted to explore that you'll find are Stutters, which are essentially this moment where time breaks and kind of our signal of the apocalypse. So you're fighting to stop this. As a narrative designer, I can't tell you how many screenplays we've read and how many things we've re-written, but the overall vision of what we've wanted to do has been the same.

And the live action show, as well, we've always had this overall goal of connecting the two experiences and making them one and the same. When you play, you'll see it's not a separate thing. If anything, the show blends into the game and the game blends into the show, where we have crossover characters, crossover locations, and then we have the Junction stuff, as well, which changes the story. It's exciting to be here and I can't wait for players to play the game.

Shacknews: Have any of Quantum Break's major gameplay mechanics changed?

Louden: Basically, like any game, we play for what's fun. The time powers you'll play have been played hundreds of time and tweaked and gone through, but the key thing for us, always, as we're a Remedy, is that the mechanics should reflect the story. In Alan Wake, you fought with light. In Quantum Break, you fight with time powers.

We have Time Stop, which essentially allows you to throw a sphere of time energy that freezes time and that is really cool, because you can catch three guys at once, they're all frozen. Basically shoot into this bubble and when it pops, they're all going to get dropped at the same time, which feels really empowering. Another core power we have is Time Dodge, which you've probably seen in other games like Bayonetta, it's essentially our dodge, which keeps our game very fluid. If a guy throws a grenade, you can bump out of the way or actually, if you bump into the guy, it's a bit like a melee. Another cool power we have is Time Shield, which allows Jack Joyce to create a sphere that blocks bullets and gives you a bit of safe time. The AI have been programmed to be very aggressive, because we're not a cover shooter. If anything, we're almost like an anti-cover shooter. It's very fluid and you'll find that when you play. Another really cool thing we have is Time Rush, where you can essentially run like The Flash, and when you get there, you can press B and you can perform this really cool takedown. Last, but not least, we have Time Blast, which is the ability to throw this unstable time thing, which is essentially like a grenade. When you see a lot of guys, you can hold RB and it creates this big explosion. When it happens, time goes unstable, so they'll fly back to where they were.

You can combine these Time Powers with dynamic props and destruction, it's really exciting. And actually, the final power we have, which Paul Serrene, the villain, has is the Junction power, which allows him to see into the future. In most games, they ask you to make a decision and you don't really know what the ramifications. But in Quantum Break, we do better in that we actually show you. You'll see when you play that you have a Junction power and you'll see two clear paths, so you'll make an informed choice. And your informed choice will change both the live action show and it will change the game. We have four of these Junction points, where the complexity expands.

Shacknews: I remember when you first revealed Quantum Break, you spoke to the episodic nature of it and there was some skepticism in regards to that format. Since then, we've seen episodic gaming work and we've even seen AAA franchises adopt the idea. Has the success of episodic gaming in recent years helped influence the design decisions in Quantum Break in any way?

Louden: I think, if anything, it's been a confirmation. I think back on Alan Wake, we had this episodic nature, inspired by Sam [Lake] and the Remedy team, just getting your favorite DVD box and binging through them. I think I kind of agree, games are similar to television series than they are a movie. If you look at games that way, they'd all be sequels, but it's not, it's one contained experience. Seeing Telltale Games rocking it and seeing Life is Strange and all these great episodic games, it has been confirmation, but we've always really believed in them. And once again, we're innovating and it wouldn't surprise me in the years to come if we see more live action show blending with stuff, two different mediums blending together. There's always been this concept of convergence that one day, film and games are going to converge, but I really feel like with Quantum Break, we're kind of there, if you think about it. We've got these great Hollywood actors acting in a game, we've got a live action that literally changes based on your experience, we have Hollywood star visual effects, brilliant sound design. I think we're really getting there.

Shacknews: Can you provide an example of how the game's Junction Points will work?

Louden: A great example is the first one. Essentially, you play Paul Serrene and it starts off and you're asked about an incident at Riverport University. You'll see the incident when you play. You're asked if you want to take the hard line, which is eliminate all witnesses, or do you want to take the PR-friendly approach and manipulate the people there to say that it was Jack Joyce who caused this incident. Based on this decision, the opening shot of the live action show will be different. We'll have Lance Reddick sitting there, look at his pocket watch, look up and see Amy, who is basically one of the victims of this choice.

She'll either:
A) Get shot in the head
-or-
B) She'll be sat in front of a camera and lie into the TV

Once you go through there, when you play the game, this choice goes farther again. One of the NPCs you have will either be Amy, who, if she survives, will help your cause, or will actually be Nick and you'll see who Nick is. Both provide different insight into the story. Nick will provide insight into the Joyce family. William Joyce is your brother and a famous quantum physics professor, while Amy will provide you insight into Monarch. These choices keep spiraling. Another thing I'm really proud of is that we have a radio show in the game with a radio host and based on your Junction, if you choose the PR-friendly approach, Monarch Solutions will replace the radio host with someone else and the music and what they say will change. And if you choose the hard line, the radio host at the start is going to get really aggresive and anti-Monarch. So you'll get two different ambiances. You'll see more and more optional storytelling changes, we even have combat setups that change. The Gamescom demo that we had with the bridge crash, that actually changes that combat setup based on your decision. In one version, there's a riot on the bridge if you take the hard line. If you take the PR, there's no riot. It's calm. So we've tried to put a lot of player choice in there, so you feel the story being shaped by you as Paul Serrene, the head of Monarch and also to get replayability.


Quantum Break is set to release on Xbox One on April 5 with a Windows 10 PC version set to come soon after. For more, check out our hands-on preview. While this interview with Louden was conducted in San Francisco, our own Andrew Zucosky was over in New York talking to Remedy creative director Sam Lake. That interview can be seen below.

Senior Editor

Ozzie has been playing video games since picking up his first NES controller at age 5. He has been into games ever since, only briefly stepping away during his college years. But he was pulled back in after spending years in QA circles for both THQ and Activision, mostly spending time helping to push forward the Guitar Hero series at its peak. Ozzie has become a big fan of platformers, puzzle games, shooters, and RPGs, just to name a few genres, but he’s also a huge sucker for anything with a good, compelling narrative behind it. Because what are video games if you can't enjoy a good story with a fresh Cherry Coke?

From The Chatty

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      March 8, 2016 4:45 PM

      Very cool, am really looking forward to Quantum Break.

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      March 9, 2016 3:55 AM

      WOW Look at this guy Sam Lake..

      His face IS the dude from Max Payne 1 !!!!!!

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        March 9, 2016 4:07 AM

        Hehe. I expected him to slowmo the hell out of that interview. Guns blazing...

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      March 9, 2016 4:06 AM

      The game seems to be quite interesting - but some of those animations... ugh. Kinda distracting (to put it mildly). I really hope it gets tweaked by launch. For the lack of better words -smoothness is simply missing. The player character often seems to have that 'tank' like movement (known from the GTA series). A shame - because does take a bit away from the other (well animated) stuff.