Power of The Mind
how telekinesis has informed control’s world design
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.