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Experience Points: Caroline Marchal

 Experience Points illustration
Experience Points illustration

Experience Points is a fortnightly chat with people in and around the games industry to talk about the most important games in their lives, whether that’s working on them, being inspired by them, or just playing them.

Caroline Marchal is no stranger to making fantastic games after leading the design team on the iconic psychological thrillers Heavy Rain and Beyond: Two Souls. After these successes, Marchal decided to embark on a new adventure and founded Interior Night, an award-winning games studio based in London. The result was As Dusk Falls, which has blazed a trail through the awards circuit for the last 12 months.

“First thing we do when we begin to write and design [a game], is to ensure we've got multiple points of view so that everyone is represented and we don’t just have one perspective on the world and on the characters”, Marchal says. “On the design side, it's much the same; we think about every type of player, whether you're a hardcore gamer with 300 hours per month, or you're someone who never played a game before”.

To Caroline Marchal and Interior Night, every player is just as valuable as the next, no matter how much time or money you’ve dedicated to the hobby. “I played As Dusk Falls with my mom, three months ago; she's 73, never played a game before. She was so into the story,” Marchal remembers. “She would say, ‘Oh, the grandpa is dodgy’ or ‘Oh, the police are here, I know what to do, now give it to me,’ which I thought was really funny”.

For someone who has dedicated much of their life to creating wonderful games for all to enjoy, you’d think it’d be pretty hard to narrow down the four that mattered most. Luckily Marchal easily managed to summarize what has been most significant to her career so far.

Shadow of the Colossus

shadow of the colossus screenshot
shadow of the colossus screenshot

“When I think about what my first masterpiece, Shadow of the Colossus is what comes to mind”, Marchal says. “It was an aesthetic experience for me, I played it on a really small TV, but it was beautiful, and the design was super elegant, especially when finding the puzzles on these living beautiful creatures”.

Shadow of the Colossus presented players with a unique perspective with a strong central voice, something that is rare for triple-A games nowadays. It’s harder to see a definitive voice in games like Assassin’s Creed, which has hundreds of people developing it. While teamwork is still crucial at Interior Nights, everyone follows and helps to shape a vision; without this, you can sometimes end with a less distinctive game.

Despite this action-adventure title being almost 20 years old, it still holds its own against newer, shiner titles that have the luxury of state-of-the-art graphics. Even with a remake launching in 2018, Marchal stands by the original.

“I don't need to replay it. It's with me. I very rarely replay games”, Marchal says. “The only one I did replay was Okami, which I loved at the time. And then I played it again, with my kids over several years. I actually started with my daughter when she was five, and when we finished, she was seven. Initially, I was doing all the combat, because she was too young and worried about it, and she was doing all the puzzles. However, by the time she was seven, she played it all by herself.”

Wordle

Wordle answer 812 on a yellow background
Wordle answer 812 on a yellow background

In a slight change of pace, Marchal’s second choice turns out to be the sensational guessing game, Wordle. While she first watched the trendy title take off from the sidelines of Twitter, it wasn’t long until Marchal decided to get involved herself after watching an outstanding talk from the game’s founder. Wordle’s creator Josh Wardle, developed this word-guessing game for his girlfriend, which inspired Marchal to give it a go.

While Wordle can’t hold a candle to the stunning design of Shadow of the Colossus, it brings its own kind of joy to players' lives. “It's just a little experience that you can repeat every day with a different challenge”, Marchal says. “I'm playing with my partner, but we're parents as well. So sometimes all we have is two minutes, sometimes it's 20. But no matter what, we play almost every day, and we look at our performance over time.”

Marchal points out that the simple game is actually a welcome change from hectic day-to-day life and even some more demanding titles such as Diablo 4. Instead of having a game that demands more and more of you, Wordle exists for a limited time every day and “leaves a memory of a social and aesthetic experience of play with people”.

Quake 3 Arena

Quake III Arena
Quake III Arena

Next up is the classic first-person shooter Quake 3 Arena, the 1999 arena shooter that took the Strogg-blasting of Quake and Quake 2 and chucked it into a cupboard only to be replaced with PvP multiplayer that would make your palms sweat and your nerves fray.

“When I was much younger, I played every lunchtime with my co-workers and friends at Quantic Dream,” said Marchal. “There were maybe 20 of us playing every single lunchtime, so I've played hundreds of hours.”

“I’m not very good,” laughs Marchal. “I've never been very good, but I enjoyed it so much”,

Marchal says. “It’s the father of all multiplayer shooter experiences; it’s slick, super elegant, masterful audio feedback, with a superb design”.

Half the fun wasn’t just air-tight design but watching how co-workers and friends reacted to the stresses and strains of multiplayer shooters. Marchal reflects on how people she had known for years suddenly let their mask slip showing off a window into their personalities. Some would predictably get angry, while others would strategize to their heart's content; Marchal would often pick a rocket launcher and hang back in defense.

“It's really cool to create a social fabric with people you work with or people you're friends with”, Marchal says. “It’s a unique bonding experience; a lot of people got upset, and we could hear everyone shout at each other in the open space, but that is great bonding. Then when you work with them afterward, you kind of know what type of people they are.”

Heavy Rain

Heavy Rain
Heavy Rain

Last but certainly not least, there’s Heavy Rain; after spending the better part of eight years working on this psychological thriller title at Quantic Dream. This is where Marchal took the lead on gameplay design, working non-stop to fine-tune everything from quick time events to story navigation.

It was this dedication from Marchal and her team that led to Heavy Rain becoming so iconic. For the first time, the developers decided to prioritize narrative development above all else. Instead of being an adventure point-and-click, Heavy Rain had a more cinematic approach. Despite it being so much harder to design thanks to the almost endless outcomes, it’s infinitely more rewarding, in Marchal’s opinion, as the stakes are much higher.

“It’s gonna sound arrogant, but I truly believe it like there wouldn't have been The Walking Dead or Until Dawn without Heavy Rain”, Marchal says.

Luckily this hard work more than paid off. At the time of development, the team was in a kind of bubble, as no one was thinking about outside perception. However, only after everything was over and Marchal had taken some much-needed time off, did she finally see the overwhelming positive reaction to Heavy Rain. In the first week, the thriller sold over half a million copies, which was apparently unexpected.

While Heavy Rain was inspirational at the time, what sticks in the mind now is the often-memed scene in the mall when your character repeatedly calls out for his missing son. There’s a song.

This scene is kind of Marchal’s fault. When I asked her if she’d heard the song she laughed and admitted it was kind of her fault. “I was lead gameplay, and you know, this scene was super hard to put together and have a crowd that looks believable and we worked on it for a really long time. The team said, should we disable the button? No, I say, because when you’re a dad and you’re worried you should be able to call for your son at any point.” Marchal explained.

“And then of course people got silly.” Marchal says, with a slight eyeroll.

If you’re a fan of Heavy Rain’s story, then be sure to check out our best story games list for 2023 as well as our best FPS games (where, unfortunately, you won’t see Quake).