Power of The Mind

how telekine­sis has in­formed con­trol’s world de­sign

Games TM - - CONTROL -

Tele­ki­netic abil­i­ties have been one of those ideas that al­ways seemed like they would be per­fect for games, but have very rarely been utilised to full ef­fect. Con­trol has placed Jesse’s pow­ers at the heart of how it is think­ing about this game. “The first point i made was that this is a game about con­trol; it’s about con­trol­ling the en­vi­ron­ment and con­trol­ling el­e­ments. That’s the main thing of the game. Telekine­sis felt like a re­ally nat­u­ral first step to­wards that, es­tab­lish­ing that as a key game­play pil­lar. Jesse is essen­tially a tele­ki­netic mas­ter and is able to use it to con­trol the en­vi­ron­ment, use it to de­fend her­self and to at­tack en­e­mies and even able to use it to fly,” game di­rec­tor Mikael ka­suri­nen ex­plains. “it opened up a lot of in­ter­est­ing pos­si­bil­i­ties, but still with an el­e­gant core idea, and of course that led to us think­ing very care­fully about how we built the en­vi­ron­ments, and also em­brac­ing new work­flows – we have a more mod­u­lar struc­ture to the world, which al­lows us to add that layer of com­plex­ity and de­tail in the de­struc­tion of ev­ery sin­gle piece in the en­vi­ron­ment.” and so it is that vir­tu­ally ev­ery­thing in the game world can be utilised by Jesse in her fight against the Hiss. “all of the chairs, ta­bles, ev­ery­thing in the en­vi­ron­ment can be used as a weapon,” ka­suri­nen con­tin­ues. “and of course we have el­e­ments that are more com­pli­cated – take a fire ex­tin­guisher and throw it and it will blow and so on; we are now get­ting up to the point where you will be able to pick up en­e­mies as well and throw them against each other. We are go­ing as far as we pos­si­bly can with this kind of power fan­tasy of be­ing this tele­ki­netic mas­ter. The en­vi­ron­ments are a huge part of that.” and while games like the Mass ef­fect tril­ogy and Star Wars: The Force Un­leashed have done some good work with tele­ki­netic pow­ers, ka­suri­nen thinks there’s more that can be un­locked. “To me, per­son­ally, it has been one of these missed op­por­tu­ni­ties,” he tells us. “There has been Psi-ops a while back and there is the star Wars game, where there is this sense of telekine­sis, and they were great games, but to me it feels like a bit of a missed op­por­tu­nity.” But what he dis­liked most was be­ing re­stricted to only pick­ing up cer­tain ob­jects in such ex­am­ples. “We wanted to say, ‘no, you can pick up any­thing’. it’s part of how the world works, and it’s there as a foun­da­tion that we have built into the game.”

we had just been pulled away from only raises more ques­tions than he has time for an­swers. “You may have a pic­ture of what it is now, but once you start scratch­ing at its sur­face you’ll find that there are many lay­ers to it, that there are se­crets that only re­veal them­selves over time and that these may change the way that you look at this world.”

We are in­side of The Old­est House, home to the Fed­eral Bu­reau of Con­trol; a se­cre­tive gov­ern­ment agency that is charged with seek­ing out in­stances of un­ex­plain­able phe­nom­ena. It is their job to cap­ture Al­tered Items, to study them, to con­tain them and at­tempt to con­trol them. The Old­est House is the ope­nended play­ground that Rem­edy has de­cided to un­leash its cre­ativ­ity within, a space wherein it feels like just about any­thing could tran­spire. Even now as we only just be­gin to scratch at the sur­face of the mys­ter­ies con­tained within Con­trol’s shift­ing pre­sen­ta­tion of re­al­ity, it’s clear that we have never seen any­thing quite like this from the stu­dio.

There’s a rea­son for that, Ka­suri­nen tells us, and it all comes back to a new­found sense of free­dom that Rem­edy has em­braced since Con­trol en­tered pre­pro­duc­tion at the tail end of 2016. “We own the cre­ative IP and we are in full con­trol of it,” he says, paus­ing, ask­ing us to ex­cuse the pun; we ea­gerly in­vite him to con­tinue. “Con­trol is a key word through­out the game but, for us, it also has this meta mean­ing. We are very happy to be in full con­trol of this game and, in many ways, it is al­low­ing us to be strange again.”

We have to ad­mit, the mere sug­ges­tion that it is Con­trol that is al­low­ing Rem­edy to be strange again made us chuckle. This is a stu­dio that has, after all, be­come no­to­ri­ous for be­ing some­thing of an out­lier in the third-per­son ac­tion-ad­ven­ture genre. When has Rem­edy not dealt ex­clu­sively in the weird and the won­der­ful?

The stu­dio made a name for it­self with the bul­let­dodg­ing ac­tion an­tics of Max Payne and its se­quel, The Fall Of Max Payne, be­fore part­ing ways with the se­ries in 2003. It would then en­ter into an ex­clu­sive part­ner­ship with Mi­crosoft, one that re­sulted in two ex­clu­sives that could hardly be called tra­di­tional en­tries to the ac­tion genre. The first was Alan Wake, a su­per­nat­u­ral thriller in which a laboured writer is ter­rorised by his own creations through­out a shift­ing dream­scape. The sec­ond was Quan­tum Break, a time-am­pli­fied ac­tion ex­pe­ri­ence that lever­aged a live-ac­tion show to help show­case its time­line-bend­ing nar­ra­tive. If Rem­edy truly be­lieves that it is only now free to get a lit­tle strange, then what that says about Con­trol is a lit­tle dizzy­ing to com­pre­hend.

Still, re­gard­less of how much Rem­edy wants to stretch it­self, Con­trol couldn’t be in bet­ter hands. This is a vet­eran team of de­vel­op­ers, and game di­rec­tor Ka­suri­nen – who served as a game­play de­signer on Max Payne 2, lead game­play de­signer on Alan

Wake and game di­rec­tor of Quan­tum Break – has a clear un­der­stand­ing of what fans are ex­pect­ing and which of those ex­pec­ta­tions Rem­edy will be able to clev­erly sub­vert. “You could say that Con­trol has been brought through in a way that al­lows all of the dif­fer­ent ex­pe­ri­ences that Rem­edy has cre­ated in the past to come to­gether in one mas­sive game. In a way our past is a foun­da­tion for many of the things you will ex­pe­ri­ence in Con­trol.”

The stu­dio has demon­strated time and time again that it is eager to defy ex­pec­ta­tion – un­will­ing to

con­form to trends in the mar­ket. Per­haps that’s what makes the prospect of this game so ap­peal­ing to us. While on the sur­face it may look like it’s all busi­ness as usual for Rem­edy that sim­ply couldn’t be fur­ther from the truth. “Con­trol is a more open-ended and more ac­tion-ori­ented ex­pe­ri­ence when com­pared to our pre­vi­ous work,” he con­tin­ues. “We do think of Con­trol as a more di­rect and en­er­gised take on a Rem­edy game.”

How that works in prac­tice, Ka­suri­nen ex­plains, will likely be a lit­tle bit of a shock to the sys­tem for fans of the stu­dio’s work. “At Rem­edy we have al­ways ap­proached games in a lin­ear fash­ion. We start with a screen­play, we fig­ure out the story and then we set out to build this one big ex­pe­ri­ence. But Con­trol was a very dif­fer­ent process for us,” he con­tin­ues. “Back at the con­cept­ing stage we started with the cre­ation of the world, and then we looked into the dif­fer­ent ways that we could in­te­grate sto­ries into it.”

That world the stu­dio spent so many months cre­at­ing is one bound by dream logic, by an­cient rit­u­als that gov­ern pro­gres­sion, tem­per the de­liv­ery of the nar­ra­tive and gate the way in which we will ac­quire new abil­i­ties and pow­ers that are tied in­trin­si­cally to both com­bat and tra­ver­sal of this labyrinth space. I short, an en­tire world within a sin­gle lo­ca­tion.

Rem­edy’s de­ci­sion to cre­ate what it calls a “more open-ended ex­pe­ri­ence” is untested ground. Max Payne, Alan Wake and Quan­tum Break, these were games that were lin­ear by de­sign. The story dic­tated the flow of play; rarely could you dou­ble back on your­self or re­turn to ar­eas that you had left be­hind. That isn’t the case here. “There is the main cam­paign, which is all about Jesse as­sum­ing the role of di­rec­tor of The Fed­eral Bu­reau of Con­trol – of her earn­ing that role and deal­ing with the Hiss, the strange force that has taken over The Old­est House,” he tells us. “But as she tries to fig­ure that out and fol­low the main cam­paign she will be pre­sented with a lot of dif­fer­ent op­tions that she can tackle if she wants.”

Side-quests are a huge part of the world this time around. It’s an op­por­tu­nity for Rem­edy to tell smaller sto­ries, ones that lean on the writ­ers’ di­vin­ity for the strange and un­nerv­ing. “We wanted each one to feel rel­e­vant or to at least be an in­ter­est­ing thing for you to do. We want to avoid busy­work and mean­ing­less fetch quests in Con­trol, which [side-quests] can so eas­ily be­come.”

In­stead, these quests will give you the means to bet­ter un­der­stand the world that you in­habit. The re­frig­er­a­tor in Unit 75 that we men­tioned be­fore, for ex­am­ple, has an em­ployee of the FCB – one of your agents – sta­tioned in front of it. He can­not tear his eyes from the item in ques­tion else it will de­vi­ate, caus­ing un­told harm to this re­al­ity. He has been star­ing at it for 24 hours and he’s eager for a shift change – “Wait! Don’t leave me here!” he sobs, des­per­ately. Whether you choose to step in and help is en­tirely up to you. “It’s part of our ef­fort to cre­ate this ex­pe­ri­ence that makes this world feel more com­pli­cated, like there is more go­ing on than the main story,” says Ka­suri­nen. “What was im­por­tant to me per­son­ally was that the player doesn’t feel as if we are keep­ing them on a rail­road track – like this is what you need to do to pro­ceed through an area. We want the player to have this agency to de­cide what they want to do and to take a hold of any op­por­tu­ni­ties as they find them at any given time.

“Our ap­proach has been very much like that of a Metroid­va­nia. While we may limit the player ini­tially, they will quickly come to un­der­stand that there are op­por­tu­ni­ties be­yond what they might be able to do right away,” says Ka­suri­nen. This mind­set is weaved all through­out the spa­ces that Rem­edy has cre­ated. To that end, ev­ery­thing you can see in The Old­est House is us­able in one way or an­other. If you can reach a door it can be opened, maybe not im­me­di­ately, but even­tu­ally. That’s the mantra Rem­edy has adopted here, al­though the how and when is largely de­pen­dent on the abil­i­ties you have ac­quired and the rit­u­als that you come to un­der­stand. “As you progress through this jour­ney, Jesse will ac­quire new abil­i­ties and find new items that will help you,” Ka­suri­nen tells us. “They will al­low you to ac­cess more ar­eas in The Old­est House and give you a rea­son to re­turn to some of the lo­ca­tions that you have al­ready vis­ited be­fore as well.”

As Jesse ex­plores and deep­ens her search within the bow­els of the FCB, she will be­gin to en­counter Al­tered Items. While a typ­i­cal ad­ven­ture game cut from the Metroid­va­nia-cloth may use coloured key cards, new weapons or gad­gets as a way of gat­ing pro­gres­sion, Con­trol is, well, some­thing else en­tirely.

It is some­thing very Rem­edy in­deed. “The idea is that there are these Ob­jects of Power in the world and

The Fed­eral Bu­reau of Con­trol goes after them; they in­ves­ti­gate them, con­tain them and bring them back to their head­quar­ters to try and un­der­stand them.

“These ob­jects have a power em­bed­ded into them,” Ka­suri­nen con­tin­ues. “A power they have some­how ac­quired over time – each one has a unique his­tory to it, and many of them are still not fully un­der­stood. But what Jesse can do is bind these ob­jects to her­self; she as­sim­i­lates the power, al­low­ing her to do all of these crazy things.”

These pow­ers ex­tend into ev­ery­thing Con­trol has to of­fer. They give Jesse the means to nav­i­gate and sur­vive The Old­est House. We see, for ex­am­ple, her lev­i­tate across huge gaps in the ar­chi­tec­ture to new, pre­vi­ously un­reach­able spa­ces – we catch but

The Old­est House is home to the Fed­eral Bu­reau of Con­trol, a strange gov­ern­ment en­tity ded­i­cated to cap­tur­ing, re­search­ing and con­trol­ling mys­te­ri­ous Ob­jects of Power.

Rem­edy is lean­ing on its ex­pe­ri­ence with Max Payne, Alan Wake and Quan­tumBreak to cre­ate a slick ac­tion ex­pe­ri­ence that blends stylish gun­play with the su­per­nat­u­ral.

Jesse Faden quickly as­sumes the role of di­rec­tor of the FCB. It’s a way for her to get an­swers about her past, a child­hood shrouded in heart­break and mys­te­ri­ous cir­cum­stances.

Noth­ing is quite as it seems in Con­trol. It oc­cu­pies a strange space, with the real world over­lap­ping with other dis­parate re­al­i­ties.

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