The Dark Sorcerer: A Next-Gen Comedy

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The Dark Sorcerer: A Next-Gen Comedy

We Love Prototypes

In 2005, Quantic Dream started working on a short film in real-time 3D called The Casting, using the PS3 graphic engine we had just developed. Our initial objective was to make a technical prototype to test the limits and performance of this new engine, but Sony, with whom we had not yet started working, quickly encouraged us to present it publicly at its booth at E3 in order to illustrate the graphic potential of the PS3, which was launched that same year.

Everything we learned from making the short, particularly the immense difficulty of creating emotion in real time, but also the importance of the actor’s performance, facial motion capture, the challenge of lip synchronization and especially eye animation, would enable us to develop Heavy Rain.

Ethan Mars

After this somewhat fortuitous first effort (which succeeded in attracting the attention of the press and players, and largely contributed to creating interest in the small French company that is Quantic Dream), the idea of making it a recurrent principle quickly developed.

After all, our prestigious and infinitely more talented big brother, PIXAR, had taken the same path before we did by testing ideas and technologies in short films that later went public, which is, after all, much more fun than making austere technological prototypes.

We therefore decided, with the support of Sony, to work between each two games on a technical prototype that is destined to be shared with the public. Each time, a small crew of ten people maximum would work on a demo lasting a few minutes for a period of four to six months in order to test ideas, technologies and concepts, while using the real-time technology of our next game.

Real-Time Emotion

Our second technical prototype was presented for the first time at the GDC in 2012. This prototype, called Kara after the main character, used our second-gen 3D engine (which would be used to develop our new game, Beyond) and was supposed to enable us to experiment with performance capture for the first time. This movement capture technology can simultaneously capture the actor’s body and facial movements, as well as their voice.

To test our ability to reproduce different emotions in real time, I quickly wrote the story of this young android woman designed to be a multi-functional object, which becomes human before the eyes of the spectator.


This was an immense discovery for me and the team, a demonstration of something we had believed for a long time: it was finally possible to create strong and subtle emotions, to create empathy, to read a look, with game characters. Each time this short is projected, I observe the public as they watch it, hold their breath and share the emotions of the character on the screen. At long last, a new world had opened up before us, the end of the pantomime, the end of exaggeration and over-acting in order to make up for gross technology.

We would finally be able to start using this medium to say something.

The other lesson that Kara taught us was the importance of the actor’s performance. Valorie Curry, the young actress who lent her features and her immense talent to the main character, put in an extraordinary performance that was rich in nuance and subtlety. She succeeded in giving a soul to a character made up of pixels.

Kara confirmed our desire to work with exceptional actors, which played a role in our determination to approach Ellen Page and Willem Dafoe for Beyond. This also made us more confident in our ability to faithfully transcribe the emotions that these actors would create through their performances in the studio.

BEYOND: Two Souls

The other great discovery was that, although we had the feeling that we were setting the bar very high each time in terms of the graphics for these short films, by working several months on a few minutes, the quality improved automatically in the game that followed. Heavy Rain is much more accomplished than The Casting, and Beyond is much more accomplished than Kara, although it presents nearly 300 characters in more than 10 hours of play.

The lessons drawn from the prototype, the experience acquired, and the rationalization of the process enabled us to improve the graphic quality while simultaneously reducing the production time.

BEYOND: Two Souls on PS3

The Dark Sorcerer: An Attempt at a Next-Gen Comedy

The Dark Sorcerer

When we started working on PS4, the question of the next short film arose. What could we do this time? What new field should we explore? Of course we were going to have a new next-gen graphic engine that would significantly improve the graphic quality. Of course we were going to try to push back the limits of performance capture, a technique that we are beginning to master after one year of intensive shooting for Beyond.

For me, the most important question was what kind of new emotion could we test? Kara (then Beyond) had demonstrated, for me, that it was possible to create dramatic emotion. It didn’t seem to be particularly interesting to recount another Kara-style story based on the same emotions and the same mechanisms. We had to test another limit, something radically different.

We had to try comedy.

Making people feel fear is actually fairly simple. Creep up behind someone without a sound and suddenly shout, and you’ll startle them. Moving people by telling a sad story is more difficult, but if you have a moving story and you tell it the right way, you can manage to move your listeners.

The problem with comedy is that you need a good story, pacing, and talented actors in order to get even a smile from your audience.

The other challenge is cultural: although we can frighten or move a Japanese person, an American or a German with more or less the same things, laughter is eminently cultural. People in different countries don’t laugh at the same things. What is hilarious in one country may be considered to be sinister or vulgar in another.

My first task thus consisted in trying to find a subject that would amuse any kind of public of any nationality. The idea of a film shoot that backfires is a fairly well-known subject, and talking about a video game shoot particularly in an environment that is familiar to all players should guarantee us a universal subject. I also wanted to work with several actors in the studio (which we greatly enjoyed doing for Beyond), because comedy is essentially a question of pacing between the actors.
I also wanted to test a character that, morphologically, would be not quite human in order to see how facial motion capture would adapt to a different morphology.

Lastly, and most important of all, I wanted to know if it was possible to make people smile with a real-time technology. I was certain my colleagues in the industry would vie to surpass each other with warriors, zombies, soldiers, aliens and next-gen orcs to great effect. Better not to compete and try something radically different.

And that’s how I ended up in the studio with David Gant, a wonderful 70-year-old Scottish actor (in a kilt) as a Sorcerer, Carl Payne, who used to be in The Cosby Show in the role of Maurice (the first black Goblin in the history of Heroic Fantasy), and the hilarious Christian Eriksen (who has been in all my games since Omikron) as a demon, not forgetting David Gasman (another oldie, Paco in Heavy Rain and the policeman who questions Jodie in Beyond) as the Voice Off Director.

PlayStation 4: Let the Hardware Shine

After a particularly trying shoot (it’s hard work making people laugh…), the implementation period began and it was time to start playing with version 1.0 of our new PS4 engine.

Then came the first surprise: the graphic quality obtained with relatively little effort was a spectacular improvement on PS3. We obviously expected this, going from the tech specs, but it’s one thing comparing the number of polygons per second, and it’s quite another seeing it on the screen.

The Dark Sorcerer

What surprised us first off was the global quality of the images. We are so used to seeing games in 720p (the standard on PS3) that we had forgotten how much full HD (1080p) changes life. If we add an anti-aliasing HD, HD textures, a real 3D depth of field and of course an avalanche of polygons and lights, we get an idea of the emotion that PS4 can produce in any normally constituted computer graphics artist.

On PS4, everything looks great, because the machine offers power that was totally inaccessible up until now. We can feel that we are closing in little by little on the kind of graphic quality we find in CG films.

(NB: And now a very boring technical part, except if you’re a developer for the competition. Skip this paragraph if you’re like me and you find technical parts boring.)

In the current demo, there are about a million polygons in the set, and a little less than a million per character on the screen (i.e. a total of 4 million when the three characters are on the screen). Each character has about 350 MB of textures and about forty different shaders. It’s all managed with Physically Based Shaders, volumetric lights, full HDR, Color Grading, Physical Lenses (particularly useful for chromatic aberrations and 3D depth of field), and translucence for more realistic rendering of the skin. The change of set and all the lighting (and the behavior of the shaders) between the dramatic version of the set and the “studio” version is done in real time. The same holds true for all pyrotechnical particle effects.

(End of technical details; you can now continue to read normally.)

The Dark Sorcerer

Creating interactive images on PlayStation 4 is fascinating, but to maintain the same level of quality throughout a game, all the studios in the world would have to reinvent themselves from the bottom up. New skills will appear (Director of 3D Photography, for example), the size of server infrastructures will have to be seriously reviewed in order to be able to deal with the size of the new full HD data and, most of all, we are going to have to rethink this medium and the games we create, because the technology now allows us to achieve a level of quality that was previously available only in the cinema.

The PS4 engine used for Dark Sorcerer is only in its first iteration, and most of the features scheduled for the final version of the engine haven’t yet been implemented. This demo is only a first test that is well below the visual quality we hope to achieve in our next game. The next game will not be based on this demo, obviously (I know, we’re a bit weird), but on an idea that is completely different from what we’ve done to date. It’s incredibly exciting, and I wish I could tell you more… but I can’t.

To Be Funny or Not…

The Dark Sorcerer

As I write these lines, I have absolutely no idea what the reactions to Dark Sorcerer will be. What I can say is that it is certainly the script that gave me the hardest time. The idea came very quickly, but then I had to fight with doubts up until it was too late to change my mind. I was ready to rewrite something completely different, something serious and dramatic like Kara, rather than run the stupid risk of writing something that wasn’t funny.

And at the end of the day, I stuck with it. Life is too short to waste time doing boring stuff. Better to take risks and do something you believe in. Both the team and I had enormous fun developing these eleven minutes and transcribing as well as we could the performances of these four totally wacky actors.

In a few months, we experienced something between Monty Python and Terry Pratchett (obviously without claiming to match their talent), and we laughed at each projection of the Goblin’s antics and the growing annoyance of the Sorcerer. We learned how attempting to produce beautiful images with such computing power is painstaking, how each second has to be worked out in minute detail, how light and shade became essential, how difficult it is to raise a smile.

And there was also, somewhere in all this, a desire to distance ourselves from the clichés of video games with their stereotyped themes where the bad guys are really evil, where sorcerers summon up demons, where heroes have big muscles and girls have big boobs. We wanted to gain a little distance from our tendency to take ourselves seriously and believe that we are saying something original or important, whereas the stories and universes of many video games are no more than the echoes of things that have been done better a thousand times before us. Howard created Conan the Barbarian in 1932, and Tolkein wrote The Lord of the Rings in 1954, and nothing our industry has created so far can even hold a candle to the genius of Frazetta or the visionary talent of someone like Peter Jackson.

Dark Sorcerer is also about what video games are like today, an extraordinary and fantastic world where anything is possible, but also a world where everything remains to be invented.

Famous Last Words…

The Dark Sorcerer

To conclude, the whole team and I hope you like Dark Sorcerer. We put our hearts and souls into it, and we are happy to share the result with all those who keep track of and appreciate our progress. I hope you enjoy those eleven minutes as much as we enjoyed creating them.

If you smiled even once while watching this short film, our work has been worthwhile.

One last word: if you liked Dark Sorcerer, don’t forget to have a look at our next game, Beyond. Although it’s a totally different genre, the game was made by the same team, with the same passion and unreasonable enthusiasm for trying to do something different. I hope that, like me, you will be bowled over by the performances of Ellen Page and Willem Dafoe.

And lastly, a big thank you to all those who have stayed with us, write to us, come to meet us at conferences and fairs, to all those who buy our games. It’s your support that enables us to continue to create and experiment.

Comments are closed.


  • Sorry there was a lot here to read so I just wanted to ask straight up is Dark Sorcerer actually gonna be a full game?

  • It was both hilarious and gorgeous, I’m hoping this is the beginning of a new game just like the Heavy Rain: The Casting before it. Also, where’s Omikron 2!?

  • I can see this being taken in a Montey Python-esq kind of way if it were to be made a game. That would actually be pretty interesting and fun if you were to try it. :)

  • I never post here but had to say, well done guys, I was pretty impressed and I wished it was a game, we really could use something different like that. Looking foward to beyond, looks interesting.

  • It was so cheesy and painfully unfunny. When I first saw it, it looked amazing. Thought it was going to be an RPG where you play as an evil dark sorcerer. So let down it looks like it will not be.

    I do not even know if this is a game or a tech demo. What I do know is that this corny crap was not funny in the least.

  • @Lucent85 It was just a tech demo.

  • To the people wondering if this is going to be a game, if you read it (i know its a lot) he mentions how its just a short film showing off their new tech on the PS4. If there is a game to come from it I would be surprised, just how Beyond is based on the tech they showed off with Kara a few years ago. Their new game will be using a better version of this engine, which already looks amazing. And its why i love QD because they are willing and able to make these fantastic vids and please the fans and push themselves forward.

    Did i think it was super troopers level funny? no. But i did chuckle. It was humorous. He explains the problems with making something funny given cultural contexts, how something can be scary to everyone but only funny to a a few. Then again everyone has a different form of humor that they find funny, and if you didn’t laugh because of it… oh well i guess.

  • I liked the goblin saying “hehe welcome to hell”

    I’d really love a game based on this though. They’ve already done serious/deep games with Heavy Rain and Beyond. Something like this would be great.

  • lol the goblin started doing the dougie XD I cannot wait to get my hands on a PS4!

  • I was really hoping to play as a dark sorcerer…. it looked awesome… i wished it was a dark story of a sorcerer trying to achieve maximun power and its journey through that and what sacrifices would require for him to make, Like rejection of general public, Hate from other sorcerers, and the battle of superiority with evil and good spirits from other realm…. hmmmm….

  • Ah well, I didn’t realize it was a company that made interactive movies instead of video games.

    I am a REAL video gamer, so you can take your generic crappy interactive movies with horrible stories (Heavy Rain had one of the most fraking terrible stories and bad acting ever), and you can shove that interactive movie crap where the sun don’t shine.

  • I was really hoping that they had bought the IP rights to Dungeon Keeper and someone was finally going to make DK3.

    In the end, very impressive work. Bravo!

  • @neuropunk Woah there friend, you don’t want to cut yourself with all that edginess.

  • Amazing Tech Demo, I just hope you pursue the Kara storyline someday…

  • The tech stuff is way over my head, but the demo was gorgeous and funny (especially if you’re like me and have read far too many bad fantasy novels).

    I loved Heavy Rain. It wasn’t perfect it was different and the context sensitive actions allowed me to do a lot of stuff I’ve never done before in a game (and I’ve been gaming for over three and a half decades). I’m trying to avoid Beyond footage because I don’t want to spoil the game for myself, but I also thought highly of the Kara demo.

  • Hilarious, and amazing! Thank you!

    I would love to see this and Kara and downloadable on the PS4, with the ability to pause and move the camera a bit — like Linger In Shadows.

    I hope the next game from Quantic Dream properly tackled GLBT characters and stories. If anyone can finally bring this kind of thematic innovation into games, it’s you guys and Sony.

    In the meantime, I would really like to see PS4-native versions of previous Quantic Dream games. I wouldn’t mind paying a small “upgrade” fee to have a PS4-native version, like I did for higher-resolution iPhone/iPad games I already owned. The availability of PSP games on Vita helped make that an easy transition for me, and I hope the same strategy is taken for PS4.

    If there was a pre-order bundle with the camera, an extra controller, and a PS4-native version of Beyond: Two Souls, I would pre-order it NOW. Make it happen, please :)

  • PS4 still has time to implement retrocompatibility with PS3 games, PS2 games and PSX digital games and decline Plus being mandatory to play online maintaining online playing free for everyone. If they don’t, I will give the thumbs down to PS4, use my PS Plus account to “buy” free PS4 games and only buy it after it has dropped it’s price dramatically or they add compatibility with PS3 in any way they want to. I encourage everyone that bought over 190 digital PS3 games supporting this company to do the same. RESPECT TO MY PS3 GAMES COLLECTION!

  • You guys and gals are awesome! I picked up Indigo Prophecy on a whim back in the day and was just amazed how you actually put enough feeling to reach out and touch people; I’ve been a fan ever since.

    This was interesting, beautiful, well thought out, and above all a great laugh! Keep it fresh and keep it coming, Quantic Dream does things no one can touch right and I’m feverishly looking forward to Beyond: Two Souls!

  • Not even thinking about PS4 until I get my hands on BEYOND. One thing at a time. But will definitely keep my eye out for the first Quantic Dream project for PS4.

  • Awesome, thanks for the read mister Cage!
    Can’t wait to play BEYOND and hear about your next project on PS4!
    Please continue what you are doing, it’s an important part of today’s gaming!

  • @13, valhellis, you should post more often. You’re witty.

  • Truly amazing. Loved Heavy Rain and looking forward to Beyond. I cannot possibly imagine what your team is creating for the Playstation 4. Preparing to be amazed. Thanks for your contributions to the industry and to Playstation fans in particular.

  • Wow, that was incredible,I can imagine, like ery possible to have one of this pieces of art in a big screen on Cinemas worldwide, will definitly be a success for sure :)

  • I’ll admit, I was snickeringly scoffing at the B-movie-grade monologue at the start of this, the Jimquisition’s mockings about “polygons are realism” mumbo jumbo echoing in my thoughts. Then the green screens showed up, and I realized this was very well-played.

    But, eh, I could do with one less wise-crackin’, sassy sidekick to a character (or cast of characters) who are very much not. Donkey of his knockoffs aren’t much my comedic bag.

  • Great article. This was the most realistic thing I have ever seen, the first time in my life I haven’t been able to tell the difference from live action and a video game.

  • PS4 still has time to implement retrocompatibility with PS3 games, PS2 games and PSX digital games through software emulation and decline Plus being mandatory to play online maintaining online playing free for everyone. If they don’t, I will give the thumbs down to PS4, use my PS Plus account to “buy” free PS4 games and only buy it after it has dropped it’s price dramatically or they add compatibility with PS3 in any way they want to. I encourage everyone that bought over 190 digital PS3 games supporting this company to do the same. RESPECT TO MY PS3 GAMES COLLECTION!

  • Your work is amazing, that old man looked like he was real! And i never expected it to be a comedy, until i heard cut xD

    Great job!!

  • Hmm that sounds awesome and the video did give me the creeps but it was bit funny. I love to see great comedy video game on PS4. If the video was that good i think the final product might be worth buying then; i love good comedy.

    How does the game work and play out?

  • Great tech demo.

    Looking forward to seeing what you guys do for PS4 in the future.

  • QD you guys are amazing. I’m so happy you aren’t doing mainstream stuff. Every dude-bro loves him some Halo, but you make interesting games.

    I LOVED Heavy Rain, especially the move version. Can’t wait for Beyond Two Souls. It will be a day 1 purchase.

    Kara was awesome, but this was even better. My girlfriend thought they were all real actors in make-up!!! Way to hit it out of the park!

    Best wishes,


  • I thought it was pretty cool, ill have to watch it in its entirety though..
    but as you all know, you cant please everyone… just ask neuropunk, who needed 2 posts to slam the trailer and the fine work from Quantic Dream… to each, their own… hope there’s some humor in your next title…

  • @11, You’ve got to be kidding me!

    I appreciate you posting this DC. It was a lot of fun to watch too. ” This demo is only a first test that is well below the visual quality we hope to achieve in our next game. ” I read this comment and laugh about the cliche I’ve heard countless times, graphics will not be that much better in next-gen.

    Dark Sorcerer was a leap over the tech on the current gen.

    If I had to gripe about PS3 games, it is playing them in 720p.

    I hope that all PS4 games will be running in 1080p.

  • David, first off, this demo was FANTASTIC!! Beautifully done! Secondly, I disagree with your assessment that nothing the game industry has created can compare to Peter Jackson. Peter Jackson is brilliant but you guys are as well. Heavy Rain is an absolute masterpiece and I have no doubt that Beyond will be as well. Thirdly, I will be buying Beyond the day it releases! As great as Heavy Rain was and as much as we all wanted a sequel or more dlc or something along the lines of another Heavy Rain, I’ve been unbelievably excited for Beyond ever since I first saw it. And finally, I will support you all every single time you release a game. You and Naughty Dog are the two best in the business. You have both mastered making beautiful games with outstanding storylines. The rest of the industry could take notes from you both. I look forward to supporting you with Beyond and for all future games for many years to come and getting as many people as I can to do the same! Keep up the great work you guys!

  • I know this is just a tech demo but this looks amazing. Want to see more so hope you think about making it a game. I know it wont happen but can only hope. lol

  • this… I NEVER saw something like this on a game (I know it isnt a game, but…)
    the reality of movements, the facial expressions..
    man, its PERFECT!!!!

    also, the video is awesome! Laughed.. A LOT!

  • It was absolutely stunning, and funny to boot. Fantastic job. The hard work was evident and if you guys keep it up, I’m sure the fans will keep supporting you.

  • Really thanks for these eleven minutes! :) I laugh a lot!

  • ThreeLeggedFreak

    I don’t understand why Sony hasn’t bought QD yet.

  • another great looking tech demo, but i have lost hope in Quantum Dreams making fun games and not interactive bad movies.

  • This was really great in the conference…I never expected to be a funny thing….and it was funny…and Jesus Christ man..those are some beyond impressive graphics…I dunno how but I would really like to see this turn into a game.The small green guy is funny.I wonder what ND and St.Monica will do with PS4’s power,that will decide if I buy or not a PS4.

  • I knew I recognized the goblin’s voice. Carl Anthony Payne II is a funny dude. I wish I knew the person/people responsible for the writing. Nice work QD!

  • Tech demo is gorgeous, graphically it’s obviously amazing, but their methods of capturing vivid movement, emotions, and facial expressions is astounding. As for the “comedy” of the demo itself, I didn’t like it.

  • The part where the book hits him in the face is just priceless!
    Well done Quantic Dream. Start talking with Sony about making this a game!

  • I really enjoyed this tech demo. Was it funny? Well, to me it was HILARIOUS!

    I was a bit … shocked, during the press conference when this started and went to the green screen, but it was awesome once that sunk in.

    I was anxious to see the full tech demo, and have only watched it twice, but really love it. The emotion on the goblin’s face and his movements, really cool. The sorcerer’s face was tremendous and so well done, it was the emotions in his face and the goblins, the voice acting made it work well, but the visuals put it over the top.

    The goblin was over-funny, he went too far, but that was what was charmingly hilarious about it.

  • Hi:
    I really enjoyed the Tech Demo and it was funny to watch. If you are trying to do a Comedy Game, this is a good start.
    In a technical part, I want to know something about the “Poly Count”… In the article it says:
    “In the current demo, there are about a million polygons in the set, and a little less than a million per character on the screen (i.e. a total of 4 million when the three characters are on the screen). Each character has about 350 MB of textures and about forty different shaders. It’s all managed with Physically Based Shaders, volumetric lights, full HDR, Color Grading, Physical Lenses (particularly useful for chromatic aberrations and 3D depth of field), and translucence for more realistic rendering of the skin. The change of set and all the lighting (and the behavior of the shaders) between the dramatic version of the set and the “studio” version is done in real time. The same holds true for all pyrotechnical particle effects.” What about the part when a LOT of Trolls (hehehe, sorry), Excuse Me, a LOT of Goblins appear on the Screen? ALL of them has the same assets and so on?
    I really appreciate if you answer Me. Thanks.
    Red 5.

  • I know it’s been a few days since the video was shown, but I just wanted to express my delight with the Dark Sorcerer tech demo.

    I was totally surprised by the video – first by the graphical quality and realism, and then by the great switch to comedy. I thought it was funny and a breath of fresh air in a world where we have so many dark and dreary games. I actually would have been a bit disappointed if this were another dark and serious demo.

    I was still disappointed to learn that this isn’t going to be an actual video game, but I think you guys still did a great job with the demo. I would totally look forward to playing a game with this kind of humor and quality, if you made one.

    It’s great to see a developer taking that risk and doing something original like that. And I’m sorry that you had to put up with a rude comment or two up above. Some people don’t know a good thing when they see it.

    Looking forward to Beyond: Two Souls, and without question whatever game you’re planning on developing next!

  • I love QD ideas and games. You guys are incredibly talented and I’m glad you’re in a 2nd party relationship with Sony as it allows you to solely focus on a single piece of hardware per game taking full advantage of its strengths.

    Merci beaucoup, monsieur Cage =)

  • For me this was definitely the best demo of the E3 presentation! I think an actual game based on this demo would be very cool, you don’t see a lot of games in the comedy genre anymore unfortunately… I also really wish you would make a game based on the Kara demo, which I think actually looks more interesting than Beyond (which I’ll still get of course!)

  • I had some good laughs at the Dark Sorcerer tech demo; so mission accomplished :D

    I would really love if you guys at Quantic Dream, make a full game based on Kara. It is a very unique concept that has a lot of potential as a game.

    Keep up the great work :)

  • Good Job QD I laughed my as off and it made me smiled! Nice work keep it up! ;) Oh and by the way I will be getting Beyond when it releases :)

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