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What Could Have Inspired Detroit: Become Human? August 30, 2018

Posted by Maniac in Editorials.
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In 2012, developer Quantic Dream, hot off the heels of releasing the PS3 classic Heavy Rain, released a tech demo their next game engine using PS3 hardware. It was called KARA and was never intended to be made into a full game. If you haven’t seen the KARA demo, you can watch it below.

After it released, the public would not stop talking about the KARA demo. Something about Kara’s brief story just clicked with mass audiences. When I was a kid I was fascinated by classic science-fiction stories, and it’s clear that KARA‘s Director, David Cage, was also inspired by them. However, by 2010, not too many people were talking about robots in popular culture. They had a good run with fantastic films like Blade Runner, but there just wasn’t much going on with robots in fiction after the terrible Will Smith movie bombed. In fact, one of the only other Robot-related pieces of media I remember at the time was a review Noah Antwiler did of a Robots game from the 1980s. It was based on Issac Asimov’s novels and was played in your VCR.

While the Robots game was old and required obsolete technology to play, Noah was pretty complementary to the game. After seeing the game for myself, it’s not hard to see why. They hired decent actors to be in the game, the budget was decent, and they were adapting one of the best science-fiction stories ever written.

If there was one thing to take away from Asimov’s books was that all of his robots were covered by three laws:

  1. A robot may not harm a human or through permissive action allow a human being to come to harm.

  2. A robot must obey a human’s orders unless an order conflicts with the first law.

  3. A robot must protect itself at all times except when doing so conflicts with the first two laws.

These laws have since reached a legendary status. Many fictional stories released after I, Robot, such as the James Cameron film Aliens, would feature robotic characters governed by similar principles. The character of Bishop the android (played by Lance Hendrickson, an actor who ironically also appears in Detroit) mentions his newer android components prohibit him from doing harm or through permissive action allow harm to come to a human being. Sure sounded like James Cameron and Asimov were on the same page.

More recently, it seems the HBO series Westworld has made its own impact on popular culture. Based on the film directed by Michael Criton, Westworld told the story of a robot-staffed theme park where guests could live out their fantasies free of risk. Without spoiling anything, the player can come across a pirate-themed amusement park in Detroit staffed entirely by androids. HBO’s current series seems to take place after the events of the first film, and its themes match closely to the themes of the Kara demo. Both works ask the same question, can a robot really be alive?

Quantic Dream would go on to release their final game for the PS3 in 2013, Beyond: Two Souls. It wasn’t as well received by critics as Heavy Rain but I thought it was a great game regardless. Quantic Dream would make a full game based on the Kara short story, and Detroit would go on to be released Summer 2018 for the PS4. Many fans consider it to be the greatest game Quantic Dream has released to date. Its writing parallels the best of the Science-Fiction genre with the issues of the day.

While most people will make immediate parallels to Caves of Steel, you can’t completely discount Westworld’s influence in the game. That combined with the game’s highlight of the world’s ongoing issues with human rights makes for a game that will stand the test of time. If you’re interested in some extra viewing here’s a few nods to some of the great work I came across while researching this essay. If you want to hear specifics about the original book this story was based on I recommend watching SF Debris’s review of The Caves of Steel.

If you haven’t seen the original Westworld film, I recommend seeking it out. Barring that, Oliver Harper has done a fantastic retrospective on the film. While he only briefly talks the HBO series that shares its name, I couldn’t stop thinking about how much it had in common with Detroit as I saw his breakdown of the film.

Detroit: Become Human is out now exclusively for the PlayStation 4.

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