The lights are on
Josef Fares never made a video game before Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, but you wouldn’t know that by playing the game. It feels like the veteran effort from a designer with a story that he is determined to tell. Fares’ history is in filmmaking, but he has always been fascinated by interactive storytelling and video games.
In our interview below, Fares talks about pushing past the skeptics to create the game, how he hopes to one day meet with the creator of Ico and Shadow of the Colossus, and how his childhood tragedy lead to one of the game’s most emotional moments. It may go without saying, but just in case, there are spoilers below.
You can also check out some highlights from our recorded interview by listening to the audio below, or by clicking here.
Where did the idea for the game come from? Did it start from the innovative control scheme? Or did the game build around the story?
No, no, no. The first thing that happened… just a little bit of my background. I normally work as a film director. This is actually my first game that I directed. In Sweden I am kind of well-known as a director, but in every interview I've talked about games and how much I love games, because I am a hardcore gamer. I’ve owned everything.
It just happened that one of the guys I knew had a school where he had some students, and he asked me, “Do you want to do something during the summer, like a prototype?” And then I got so pumped up for it and thought, “Wow! This is a dream come true.” This has always been a dream of mine to make a game. So I came up with pretty much the foundation of Brothers, like controlling with two sticks and how it was going to end. That was actually the first thing I came up with.
I didn’t realize you were a filmmaker. I thought you worked for Starbreeze.
There were many skeptical voices when I came in. And I didn’t have any experience in gaming at all. I think as soon as people spoke with me, they realize how passionate I am, how much I know about games, how many games I’ve played, and I think they changed their minds in the first ten minutes. But I have been having a lot of skepticism both in-house and outside, as well. I am even more happy now that this game is getting this great reception. It makes it a lot easier to make a second game.
How long was Brothers in development? When did you start coming up with the ideas for it?
The ideas [began] like three years ago, but I started at Starbreeze and I met the CEO there and told him, “I have a great idea that I think you should love,” and I think at that time they were changing studios and they were tired of doing others’ IP. They wanted to do their own IPs. I paused everything and I went to Starbreeze and I started to work there two years ago. This was a full-time job. I was there 24-hours a day. This is a really passionate project for me. This really meant so much to me, and I really, really believed in the game, as well. You could say two years.
If I had not known Brothers was a Starbreeze game up front, I never would have guessed that it was the developer.
That’s what many say. They’re really happy with the game and how the reactions are. Of course many people – because I came in as a creative and game director with no experience at all – it’s kind of a leap so I understand that some people maybe have felt like, “Okay, what’s he doing here?” That’s understandable.
How realized is the world of Brothers? Obviously, a lot of it is left intentionally ambiguous to great effect, but I was curious if you had backstories for the tribesmen and the giants, etc.
I love the interactivity of gaming, and that goes for everything. Both visually and… that’s also one of the reasons why the language is not understandable because I want the player to start to figure things out themselves. I don’t like to talk about what’s going on exactly. In my mind I have all the details pretty much, but it’s better left up to the player to kind of figure out, “Okay, what’s happening.” I like to play with these curious things so the player is involved all the time. That’s part of the reason.
What I can tell you is, like that path of the giants, there is a theme about death and life throughout the whole game. I don’t know if you saw that, but they are part of that theme. The particular history of why they’re there and what happened is nothing I want to talk about.
I didn’t expect you to go into detail. I don’t think I would want to know, honestly.
I think you need to have those things to get a logical idea of what’s going on in your head, but it was also important to not give too many details. I’m sure if you look closely you will see. There are many stops in the game that unveil or reveal some stuff here and there.
Did you create a language or is it mostly gibberish? And do you think Brothers would have worked as a silent story with no dialogue whatsoever?
Actually, the language is inspired from my own language. I am originally from Lebanon, so I took my Arabic language just to get a base. Creating a gibberish language from the ground up is very hard. When you take a language that is there and you have all the accents – it feels right. I told the actors, “This is what you are saying,” and I wrote to them this and that and it sounds like a language. It wasn’t totally made up. It was made up in many senses, but it is also very inspired by my own language.
I think the game would have been hard to tell if they didn’t speak because I think it would have felt a little bit off, because the emotions they go through are emotions that many people can relate to today. If they were too silent the player would not connect to them as many seem to do, actually. So, no, I don’t think silence would be better. But that’s part of the interactivity that I like about games, the player can read the body language and figure out what they could say. Funnily enough, people are understanding the game and the story quite well so, it seems like we’ve succeeded there.
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