A film director gets video games right in Starbreeze's Brothers

Josef Fares is not your typical video game designer -- he's actually a top Swedish film director by trade. But his film background has led him to create one of the most unique video games of recent times.

"The thing is with Brothers, we had some game designs, and we ended up having arguments, because people said to me 'This is not how you're supposed to do games.' But I was absolutely sure that this was going to be a really great game. No-one could stop me, I felt so confident."

Josef Fares is not your typical video game designer -- he's actually a top Swedish film director by trade. However, back in 2011 Fares brought an idea for a video game concept to Starbreeze Studios, and the studio was well and truly convinced.

Fares' first foray into the world of video games launched earlier this week. Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons is a unique puzzle game, in which players control two boys via each of the separate analogue sticks on their Xbox 360 controller.

The film director turned game director has some rather different and exciting ideas about how games should be made.

"I got the chance to make this prototype, and I think because I have a film background - I think when people have tried to make a game before coming from [my background], they're not interested in games," he tells me. "They don't know what games are about."

"So for me, I was trying to do something different. I feel that games as a media is such an unexplored area. For me, I was coming from a different prespective."

Take the language that the game's inhabitants speak, for example. It's a completely made up mother tongue, and you aren't provided with any subtitles at all. Essentially you have no idea what the people in the game are saying to each other.

"The language was important for me," he notes. "I mean, don't get me wrong, I appreciate games like Heavy Rain and The Walking Dead, but I think they are too close to movie experiences. For me, it was the interactivity that was important, and also how the player interprets the story."

"That's one of the reasons that the language is made up," he continues. "So that you can put in your own thoughts and decide what they say. You can read the body language, how they talk, stuff like that - it's all for the player to be part of everything, even the short cutscenes we have in the game. That's the main reason why it's a made up language."

This concept extends further -- the game contains no text, and no explanations, other than a initial hint about the controls. Throughout play you're forced to work out exactly what is going on, and what you're meant to be doing.

"That's important," says Fares. "It's really up to the player to interact and get a feel for how the brothers are, and what their personalities are."

"Now that the game is out, we're seeing that people are getting the story. You don't really understand anything that the characters say, yet you can kind of feel it. It's more interactive, and you get to know these brothers more, and what's going on with them."

What's really interesting is how this leads to the player creating their own narrative. For example, when I played the game, I found myself moving the older brother in front of the younger brother. There's absolutely no real reason to do this, but rather, it silently became part of my own narrative for the game.

"We have seen some players do that because it comes kind of naturally," Fares offers. "They feel that the big brother is responsible. It's exactly those sorts of reactions that I like, when players input their own sort of idea of what's going on, and even have their own idea of what sort of relationship they have."

"This is all good," he says. It's part of the interactivity, not only to the gameplay, but also to the story. I'm glad that people are doing that."

Not playing by the rules

At one point during our chat, I questioned whether Fares had considered adding a multiplayer co-operative mode to the game, in which two players could take control of each of the brothers and work together. Before I'd even got the question out, Fares was shouting "No no no!"

"That is absolutely out of the question," he says. "It's something that people have been asking me all the time, from the publisher and everything, but I've always said it is impossible. It's never going to happen."

"I remember the first time we brought the game to Microsoft, and they said that to me," he adds. "But the idea is that you actually connect - left hand is big brother, right hand is little brother. Players will understand once they've played all the way through the game why it is important to keep the brothers on each hand."

It's the way in which the puzzles have been designed that stops co-op ever being a possibility for Brothers, too.

"Many of the puzzles are made so that it's actually more comfortable to control with one controller," he says. "It's like tying your shoelaces - if you're going to tie it with someone else, it's going to feel strange, but when you tie it alone, you're more comfortable. That's the idea. I mean, most of the puzzles in Brothers are designed in that way, so you feel more comfortable controlling it yourself."

The variety in the puzzles was also a sticking point for Fares, and something that caused arguments. Coming from a film industry background, Fares found that many modern games extend the playtime by simply repeating the same old mechanics and set pieces over and over again.

"Variety in the game mechanics was extremely important," he tells me. One thing I get tired with in games is when they reuse the same mechanic all the time. The idea with Brothers was to change it all the time."

"Of course, that takes a lot of content to work, with code and animation and everything, but for me it was very important to keep the experience varied, instead of just reusing stuff. I know some people said the game is a bit short, but you know, we could have easily made a game that's 10 hours long, and reused everything. But for me, it's a fairy tale experience, and you should experience something once only, and then not again."

It sounds like this will not be Fares' only video game venture. The director is keen to explore more ideas, and use his background to create even more different game experiences.

"I really felt like, and I still really feel, like I have a lot of ideas for games that I hope I can make in the future," he says.

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