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Control - Remedy get weird in a new way

Control – Remedy get weird in a new way

GameCentral talks to Max Payne and Alan Wake creators Remedy about their bold new approach to making video games.

Were going to be honest and say that weve never been huge fans of Remedys games. They have made a lot of highly popular titles in their time, from Max Payne to Alan Wake, but with each one theyve seemed to become more and more distracted with storytelling at the expense of gameplay. To the point where Xbox One exclusive Quantum Break peppered itself with 30 minute long live action cut scenes that made what was an otherwise enjoyable action game a chore to play.

That is only our opinion, of course, and we know they have many loyal fans, but the fascinating thing about talking to game director Mikael Kasurinen at Gamescom is that, to some degree at least, he seems to agree with us.

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Quantum Break was not a major hit but rather than find excuses for that fact Remedy has gone away and taken stock of their entire approach to development, and the end result is Control – a game we already described as one of the hidden gems of E3. Its still a third person actioner but the approach to storytelling, progression, and combat has more in common with a Metroidvania than the linear adventures Remedy is more used to.

The hands-off demo at Gamescom was exactly the same one we saw back in June, but this time we did have the chance to learn more about the game from Remedy themselves. And we came away even more enthusiastic about the game and what seems certain to be one of the most exciting new IPs of 2019.

Formats: Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and PC
Publisher: 505 Games
Developer: Remedy
Release Date: 2019

GC: I already saw it at E3, but the game really does look great. But where did the idea come from? Quantum Break was filled with all these overwhelming, linear cuts scenes but this approach seems completely different. I assume thats purposeful?

MK: Yeah, absolutely purposeful. Its a very deliberate choice from us to go in a different direction regarding storytelling and how we establish a world. And when you ask about where does the idea come from, I think what were seeing with Control is kind of an accumulation of multiple smaller ideas that weve had in the last… lets say almost 10 years.

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Some of the concepts that youre seeing in Control are based on our time working on Alan Wake, for instance. And its not like this one big idea that somehow popped up into existence, it was this kind of way of thinking about the strangeness that we have in many of our games. And then taking that as kind of a core starting point for an entire game, the idea that there are elements in our world that are beyond comprehension and to take that as a strong central theme.

Then we built a world around that fact, that there exists this place and the bureau who investigate strange phenomena – tries to understand them, research them, and so on. And so whats happening at the same time, theres a layer there of mystery and that sense of dealing with things that are beyond human comprehension. And a huge part of the inspiration regarding that is the literary genre we know as new weird.

GC: I hadnt heard of that before E3. Although I had seen, and very much enjoyed, the movie Annihilation and immediately recognised elements of that. But how would you describe the genre? It sounds almost like a modern take on Lovecraftian fiction?

MK: Yeah, theres definitely Lovecraftian elements there. But its more, lets say, restrained and theres more subtext to it. And theres a tonal thing that comes with it, so it is definitely about dealing with phenomena that are almost impenetrable. Like, were not capable of understanding them with our limited brains and senses.

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GC: That sense that some things are just unknowable?

MK: Yeah, but its not just that. Its also about how people behave and how they deal with it. Theres a human aspect but theres also a certain kind of, lets say seriousness about it. People behave realistically and you see their sense of awe and terror. And they each react in this kind of restrained, serious way.

The point is that it feels real. And it doesnt feel like… for instance, people see X-Files in this. But I always get a bit concerned when somebody says that because X-Files is a bit… for lack of a better word, a bit pulpy. Its a bit silly sometimes.

GC: Well, thats the problem with older American shows: they pumped out so many episodes it was almost impossible to maintain a consistent tone or backstory.

MK: Right, right. And with Control we wanted there to be this sense of realism and seriousness around this matter. That were dealing with dangerous, unpredictable things.

Control - the environments are highly destructible

Control – the environments are highly destructible

GC: I know at E3 they said it wasnt a horror game, but there certainly seems to be a science fiction element to it – at least in the way it explores the unknown and how people react to that.

MK: Its unknowable, I guess, is the key word here. New weird is a lot about human nature. Like, if youve seen the movie Stalker [inspired by the same novel as the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. video game series – GC] by Tarkovsky. Its about this strange area and within it is a room where all of your hopes come true, right? Or thats the legend at least. Its about how people behave in that situation. Nobody says out loud what their deepest wish is but you can understand the human desire to get to that place, to get what they hope for within their heart.

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So theres a human element but at the same time its about dealing with alien things, strange things, that we dont fully understand. And people in that world, they know the rules. Like, they have these nuts and bolts they tie a little napkin to and throw them around to check something in the environment – whether something happens before they move on, if you remember from the movie?

And they dont explain it, they dont come up with the reason why theyre doing it, but its part of the rules for you to be able to survive in this environment. And theres this deep seriousness regarding the character. Not to a ridiculous degree but its more like dealing with things that we dont understand and having the appropriate emotional space around it, that people behave as if it is serious. And thats kind of what we want to find within Control as well.

GC: I remember speaking to Sam Lake about Quantum Break and asking him whether it was right to assume all action games need a complex story.

MK: Interesting.

GC: Especially the way it was presented in Quantum Break, it felt like it was diluting what was an otherwise interesting game. I… I always reach for Bayonetta as the counter example to this – where everything is focused on the gameplay – but I always forget it actually has a terrible story that takes up far too much time. I think I must blank it out of my mind.

MK: [laughs] I know where youre coming from though.

GC: Mario would be a better example. But the point is if youve got a good story that you can tell in gameplay, as you seem to, then thats fine but I do think developers are wrong to assume a game needs a complex story as a prerequisite.

MK: I think there are many layers to it. Whats different from Control compared to Quantum Break is that we chose not to start with the story. We made that deliberate choice. Lets not write a story and then design a game around that, instead what we wanted to start off with was the world.

GC: So previously you always started with the story?

MK: Yeah, previously we always started with the story and then everything was kind of drawn from that screenplay or screen outline. But this time what we wanted to do is like, Lets establish a compelling, mysterious, interesting world. Something that you want to explore; you want to look into, you want to understand it, you want to map it out and so on. And thats where we started off.

And then we started to ask questions, Okay, what kind of stories can we tell within this word? And its not just about one big story. We still have that kind of a main campaign, that you go through and is all about Jesse learning to be the director of the bureau, dealing with the Hiss, taking control back – all of that stuff. But still there are off-shoot experiences where you can stray from the path and deal with things that have nothing to do with that main element.

And were choosing a very different way of telling a story as well. Instead of having this, lets say, massive lump of exposition where we handhold the player and explain everything we chose not to do that. Were gonna be restrained and be a little more disciplined with that. And instead we invite the player to investigate… they have to participate in that experience. So were challenging the player, a bit, but I hope in a good way to kind of learn more from the world.

Of course were gonna set up basic motivation to who you are, what is the situation and what is your main goal. But how to go about it and what to focus on, thats up to the player. And its up to them to learn more about the world or figure out whats the right way to go about it… what missions to tackle and so on. So its very different in that sense, its gonna be less passive and instead we want to tell the story through the world, through gameplay, through what you see and feel and so on.

GC: Well, this all sounds very encouraging. I was also interested when you were comparing it to a Metroidvania. That seems like it would be a very useful structure for you to experiment with, because Remedy games tend to be very linear not only in terms of story but also progression…

MK: Absolutely!

GC: Alan Wake in particular, the gameplay didnt change or evolve one iota from the beginning of the game to the end. It was an enjoyable a game but…

MK: I agree.

GC: Its fascinating to find youve come to the same conclusions and this new game is the result.

MK: Yes, exactly! [laughs] Many of the things were doing in Control is a reaction. Its a genuine desire to evolve as a developer. To go further with gameplay and complexity, richness and depth. And more agency for the player. They are in charge, they need to take back control and its up to them.

We draw inspiration from many Metroidvania games, of course, but then there are games like Dark Souls which I enjoyed a lot personally. Its a very extreme example of a game that is very disciplined in how you could almost say there is no story, in a way. But there is a story there, if you pay attention, and its a beautiful story in those games. Its just whats different is how the storys told.

And thats what were changing, were changing the way were telling stories. I mean well still have, of course, believable, immersive characters. But while Dark Souls is an extreme example you cant help but be intrigued by that and their bold take. And we want to find a way to make it work as a package, that there is that sense of respect to Remedys past as well. We want to make sure it looks and feels like a Remedy game.

Control - seriously weird

Control – seriously weird

GC: The most Remedy moment was the bit with the TV thats reminiscent of The Twilight Zone. I forget what your pastiche was called in Alan Wake… I want to say Spooky Door but thats not right.

MK: [laughs] Im drawing a blank myself.

GC: You know what Im talking about at least. [laughs]

MK: [laughs] But there is something about TVs that we like, theyre mirrors.

GC: Although I wondered if younger people realise thats what a TV used to look like.

MK: [laughs] Thats a good point!

GC: So in terms of gameplay, if youve realigned how you tell a story does that put more emphasis on gameplay? Theres a boss battle in the demo, which is not something Remedy have much experience with.

MK: Thats a new thing were doing, yeah. And everything you saw in the demo is based on systematic behaviour. Nothing is scripted. And the same thing with the environment as well. Almost everything is destructible. You can use almost anything as a weapon, with your telekinetic abilities. We have created an entirely new AI system for enemies that allows them to operate in this kind of complex environment. Its sandbox-y kind of combat almost.

Its been very important to me that we have combat that feels like something that has a skill curve, and you need to learn to master it. Like, when do you use the right ability, when to use your weapon the right way, how to build your character to complement your own gameplay goals.

And then we have a destructible environment that can get destroyed but you can also use it as a weapon or to protect yourself. All of this creates, I think, a very different type of combat experience that we have never had in our previous games. Theyve been more scripted, more direct, more staged… if you will. This time were not doing that at all.

GC: While watching the demo I couldnt help thinking of games like Second Sight and Psi-Ops…

MK: Yeah!

GC: Were they influences at all?

MK: Well, of course you cant help… Those are great games. But theres a thing that I think that I didnt want to do, that those games did. Those games were great but they had a kind of limited take on telekinesis. There were very specific things that you could pick up and then use as a weapon. In this game we didnt want it to feel like that. Everything is a weapon. The entire game has been built around that fact. And so it feels more natural, it feels more immersive, it feels more streamlined in a way. You dont even need to ask yourself, Do I pick up a chair or a table?

I wanted to focus on more interesting decisions and thats the decision that they want to use telekinetic ability at all. And then it doesnt matter if its the table or chair, its just that something will be ripped out and then you can use it as a weapon. So theres this streamlined thinking and obviously more on the end result than the way you get there.

So we actually build controls for the game that feel really fluid, fun to play, and, of course, theres a bit of a learning curve when you start flying and start using telekinetic attacks and doing all of these things at the same time. It takes a bit of time to learn all that but once you do you feel like a superhero that does amazing things.

GC: I like having to learn new skills in games, it happens too rarely nowadays.

MK: Exactly, thats good! Thats part of it, right?

GC: Well, Ive always thought so. Okay, well I know youve got a plane to catch but its been great to talk to you.

MK: You too, nice to meet you.

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