The lights are on
What were some of the unanticipated challenges that you ran into when you were making the game?
It was insane. Because not many have tried this mechanic before, we were in uncharted territory. The way of designing the puzzles; how would we do that? What speed should the characters walk? But the most insane part was the camera, because when you control two characters with one stick and you have the camera, how would you solve it? I mean, now I’m happy that everybody seems to like Brothers’ camera, but in the beginning it was crazy. We tried so many different things. If you look closely, if you separate the brothers a lot and go around with them, the camera would always try to put the right brother on the right side, but if you’re close it doesn’t do that anymore. In the beginning, we tried to have the camera always put the right brother but then the camera was spinning around all the time. The code behind the camera is insane. It’s really crazy. That was the most challenging part.
That’s kind of a surprise to hear. I wouldn’t have guessed it was the camera.
Yeah, but that’s the good thing, because people are not reacting to it, which is proof that we actually succeeded somehow. We have a guy who was specifically working on the camera all the time because that was extremely challenging. And also the amount of content we had in the game. There’s a huge amount of animation and variety in the mechanics. With so many different mechanics, the game tends to break down a lot easier than if you had one mechanic that you repeat all the time. But just to make it clear, the team that made Brothers is kind of a fresh team. It is new guys at Starbreeze, so it wasn’t a very experienced team. So [when you] see it from that perspective, it’s even more impressive from what we have done with this game. This was my first time and many, like half the team, it was their first game.
The game sort of seems like it is built for cooperative play. Was that ever a consideration?
Not at all. There were many voices in and outside that were saying, “You should do a co-op game,” but I would rather cut my hands than do that. The whole foundation of the idea is that you connect with your left hand to the bigger brother and right hand to the little brother. The idea – now that you’ve played it through – that you actually lose one physical hand and stop using it, that feeling that you’re missing something. There’s also that point where the little brother is on the right stick, because normally you control a character with the left stick, so once you lose the left stick, it’s even more odd that that hand is gone. Also, with the ending that you get the strength from the big brother to go on with your life, that’s also part of it.
It was extremely important to always let the player play themselves. That’s why I say sometimes it’s a single-player co-op game. From a puzzle and challenge perspective, some of them we did first were too hard. It was very important to me to keep the pace going. Every puzzle and challenge needed to be quite soft and not too hard, but they were also designed to be more comfortable when controlling two rather than one. As much as possible, we tried to make it more comfortable for one player to control two brothers rather than two players controlling them. A good example, for instance, is with the rope sequence or when you carry a log. Another example, when you tie your shoe [by] yourself you feel comfortable. If you do it with someone else, it’s going to feel a bit weird. That was how we approached this game. For me it was very, very important that the player controls two characters. We did some early tests because many people told me that this hasn’t really been tried out before. There are some games that have tried it a little bit, but not as far as we were doing it in Brothers.
We did some early tests with new gamers, and we gave them Brothers and an FPS and they were totally lost playing the FPS, but Brothers at least they could control them and could see what was going on. You know how people are when they don’t play FPS – they look up and down and everything is crazy. It’s kind of a learning curve. I can understand that some players are feeling a bit frustrated by controlling them, but I think in the end when you play it through you'll understand why it was important that you control them simultaneously.
I’ve heard of some people sharing a controller. Is that something you would discourage?
Definitely. That’s like almost putting a different soundtrack on a movie I’ve made. It’s like destroying the game, actually. Maybe you can do it after you play it once just for fun, but I, the man behind the game, haven’t played it with someone else like this. I really believe that you destroy – well, not destroy, but you don’t get the full effect of the experience if you don’t play it alone.
You were tweeting recently, trying to make sure people play the PC version with a controller, do you think part of the game is lost if you use a mouse and keyboard?
Oh, definitely. It’s like ruining the experience even more if you don’t play with a controller. We have a big sign on PC that says “This game is designed for controllers.” I really hope that people see that clearly and understand it has to have a controller. It’s so important for the experience itself and how the puzzles and challenges are designed, what happens in the end. I really hope people are getting that.
I’m curious what the play testing was like. Were people disappointed that there wasn’t co-op? They were trying to push you towards it?
Definitely, publishers were pushing it. But I was like, “That would never happen.” As I told you, when I decide something it needs to happen. Our publisher was great, they didn’t fear anything. We talked to Microsoft and of course they were like, “co-op, co-op! Co-op sells! Co-op is good!” they have kind of a checklist. When I try to explain to them why, some people understood, some didn’t. That would never happen though. I would never change it to a co-op game. That would never happen.
Did you have to argue? Was it difficult? Or did they just back off?
They both backed off, and they understood. The good thing is my team and our CEO believed in the game, so that was the most important stuff. Once you explain the things I’ve told you now, the connection between the player, the left hand and the right hand, and what was going to happen in the end, most of them actually got it. Especially those who actually like games and enjoy playing games. There are some people, publishers – you probably know it better than me I guess – you know how many games out there have been destroyed by people who really don’t know anything about games making these weird decisions. It’s really sad, actually. I understand that for publishers it’s all about the money somehow, but we’re not making boxes of wood or something. We’re working with art here. The economy and the art have to meet in the middle somehow. It just can’t be about the money.
I’ve done six film features in Sweden, which have become very, very big. I’m used to working and delivering with big budgets. There has to be a mutual respect there somehow.
That’s encouraging to hear.
It looks very promising to me to do more games. If I make more games, I have many more really cool ideas – I know that when people play them people will go, “Wow, I haven’t thought of this before.” For me, from a creative perspective, there are so many things to discover [with] how to tell a story. Many thought because of my background as a filmmaker – I really appreciate Heavy Rain and The Walking Dead, but for me they are too close to a film experience. I remember putting the controller on the table most of the time and looking, and looking, and looking. I am a big fan of the Kojima games, but when a cutscene is twenty minutes, I think that is a bit too much. I believe there are other ways of telling stories in games. I came up with an idea when I was playing Walking Dead, just from a perspective of how I felt. I still appreciate the game, don’t get me wrong, it’s just not the future of gaming if you ask me.
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