Thomas Puha talks to OPM about Remedy’s return to PlayStation with Control
Remedy’s Thomas Puha discusses the dev’s return to PlayStation with its new title.
Remedy last released a game on PlayStation 15 years ago – the rather excellent Max Payne 2: The Fall Of Max Payne. But during that time the studio’s been far from quiet, working on many other projects, and perfecting its style – not to mention working away on developing and refining its very own Northlight engine. So it was a pleasant surprise when, at E3, the announcement trailer for Control was one of the highlights of Sony’s excellent showcase.
A bit of a departure for Remedy, Control is much more open-ended than its usual offerings. Taking inspiration from the ‘new weird’ genre (think the books of Jeff VanderMeer and China Miéville), it sees lead character Jesse exploring a twisted and surreal New York building, The Oldest House, and facing off against the supernatural using some impressive paranormal skills of her own. We sit down with Remedy’s Thomas Puha to get the latest on the studio’s PlayStation comeback. OPM: Games like Max Payne, and Alan Wake on PC, are all pulpy feeling, clearly based around certain genres. What was the aesthetic idea behind Control? Thomas Puha: We talked a lot about it with Sam [Lake, the game’s creative director] like what a ‘Remedy game’ is, and Remedy games tend to be based in reality. […] In Control it’s set in the present day, and all the styles, the building, the game takes place in is in New
York. We again, like, rule things into reality but then we have that layer of supernatural and a lot of craziness. I mean, the term we use is ‘new weird’ – that’s kind of been used around at the studio quite a lot to describe the atmosphere of the game. It’s definitely a lot darker than our previous games, and there’s a lot less hand-holding for the player – it’s a much more gameplay-driven experience. OPM: So what is the thinking behind making it more contained within The Oldest House versus some of the more sweeping locations of previous Remedy games? TP: The Oldest House is this transforming building. [In the trailers] you’ve seen that the house really is a lot bigger on the inside than what you’re led to believe from the outside. So when you get in there it’s this transforming really kind of open-ended place, and the Federal Bureau Of Control has been there for quite a while and are trying to control The Oldest House. So there’s these control points that were visible in the trailer and in the demo. It’s a very, very unique setting. The kind of core of the building is stable, so let’s say you get out of the elevator and everything kind of looks like an office but still weird, but the deeper you get into the office [part of the] house the crazier it gets. It gets very otherworldly so we want to make sure absolutely that there’s going to be enough variety, especially visual variety and in terms of locations. OPM: Given the shifting world, how does the more open-ended approach used here compare to previous, more strongly structured, Remedy games? TP: Compared to Remedy’s past, which has been super-linear, this is a lot less linear. We throw around the word ‘Metroidvania’, which I think most people are not expecting from a Remedy game. We have a lot of interconnected spaces in The Oldest House – so as you get abilities like Levitate that you’ve seen in the demo you’ll be like “Hmm, maybe a couple of hours ago when I saw those different locations, maybe I can now get there”. There’s a lot of that, a lot of things like that in the game. It’s also a gameplay-driven experience and what that means is players can kind of play at their own pace. So, yes, there is a main storyline and the story missions attached to that, but then there’s a bunch of side-missions as well, and all of that is – this being Remedy – all of those side-missions are very much tied to the lore and they give you a lot more background information on the characters as well. And then on top of that there’s some other really challenging content.
THERE’S A LOT LESS HANDHOLDING FOR THE PLAYERS – IT’S A MUCH MORE GAMEPLAY DRIVEN EXPERIENCE.
OPM: What is Jesse Faden’s main goal in exploring The Oldest House? TP: It’s very much Jesse’s journey – the main character’s journey – that’s what the story is very much about. Jesse becomes the director of the Bureau right at the beginning of the game. All of that gets explained, so it’s important to realise that the mission of the game is not to become the director, you become the director very, very early on. But it’s about then accepting the responsibility and figuring out Jesse’s mysterious past and the sorts of things that drive her. OPM: If you start off being the director, does that kind of get you into the plot and action quite quickly then? TP: We had a lot of back-and-forth on Quantum Break’s beginning, which was very slow-paced, and had a lot of setting up. Which was very deliberate. This gets to the point a lot faster. OPM: At one point in the demo we saw someone watching a fridge, which seemed to hint at a side-quest. How do those things tie in to the broader picture of Control? TP:
Suffice to say, even though Control is a very gameplay-driven game, a lot more of a systems-driven game than what we’ve done before – at the end of the day it’s gameplay that keeps people playing, but then the story and how everything connects… we can be confident that we can get that right, yeah. We know how to do that stuff so we can kind of talk about it less, but Anna [Megill, narrative lead], Sam [Lake], and the rest of the writing team… we’re making sure that everything is connected so when you do play the sidemissions they’re not just gonna be random stuff like pick up this and that and it doesn’t tie into the greater theme of things. We definitely want to make sure that everything is connected and that people who want to know more can do it if they want. That whole worldbuilding is something that’s really key, and what we’re trying to do is not take away control, and you’re going to have to stop and listen, but say like “Hey, something interesting is happening here, if you want you can go see it, you can go listen, you go find out more.” It’s more sort of layer-driven. OPM: It’s interesting to see things like side-quests in a Remedy game, especially as you say they’ll tie into the lore! Considering that, what are some of the main themes that all of that will be tying into? TP: There’s the clear sort of… we’re using brutalist architecture. If you look at The Oldest House it’s straight lines, it’s very sparse, very clean. Then you have the Hiss [the enemy] – it’s not like a single person or anything like that. So there’s order and chaos, and that’s the two sorts of conflict in the game. OPM: At one point in the demo Jesse clearly says “I walk between two straight lines”, is this her explaining the world of Control is not as orderly a place it looks? TP: Yes, so it’s very much about order and chaos, and control and losing control. Having an agency that kind of deals in very volatile things that are hidden from the public eye and not really knowing what they’re dealing with. So on a thematic level that’s definitely something that’s deeply, deeply in there. I think fans of Remedy expect that there’s going to be a pretty deep story and there’s a lot more going on. But on a very, very high level it’s like, okay you became the director, and you’ve got to learn, and you’ve got to take on the Hiss. On a very high level that’s what it’s about. But then there is something pretty abstract [too], so yeah it’s a very interesting juxtaposition. OPM: Max Payne introduced the bullet-time dive to the gaming world. Remedy’s always adding new twists to combat in its games. What are some of the unique aspects of fighting in Control? TP: Early on we talked about how the gun is always the easy choice, right? Like, sure it’s not easy to make a headshot feel really good – like in Destiny no matter how many times you shoot a Cabal head, the pop just feels really good. We really wanted to challenge ourselves [with Control’s combat] – let’s make the abilities really impactful, and getting the abilities to feel really good. Like Launch, where you grab objects and throw them – you have to get the physicality right. How does it work when I look at objects, do you have to kind of point at what you pick? – which kind of goes against this being an action-driven game. A lot of work has gone into that. You kind of look around and you see the object that you kind of feel you want, but we should be able to predict that too – and then you grab it and then you get to throw it, and that has to feel right when it impacts the possessed Bureau troops or the Bureau agents you’re gonna fight against, that has to feel really good. People really like shooting guns in games, so we really want to challenge ourselves so that the abilities would give you that same sort of a powerful feeling. We’re still working on it for sure. OPM: We really enjoyed the variety of Hiss. There’s the basic Hiss you can use a shield and fling things at, then you have the Hiss that do pirouettes in the air, and then obviously the boss Hiss at the end of the demo in particular. TP: And that’s like kind of a mini-boss! We’re going to go very crazy with actual bosses. When we built the demo I was like okay, the take away for people will be like “That’s a boss fight.” It is and it’s not. They will be a lot bigger-scale and epic than what you saw there. That was kind of to give you sort of a taste. OPM: To those who loved the look of the Control gameplay demo, what would you highlight for them to expect with the finished game? TP: It’s just great that, you know, Remedy’s company strategy is to be multi-platform, so it’s just great to be out on a PlayStation platform [again]. That especially is great. It was definitely fun to have the trailer in the Sony briefing [back at E3], which was very, very cool. The demo’s a demo – it showcases certain aspects of the game but it’s far from being a finished product. It’s very fun, so once you get to play the final product you’ll probably be surprised at how different it ends up being. And how sort of more open-ended and less linear than what we’ve done in the past.
Thomas Puha’s been in the industry for 20 years, but Remedy’s his home now.
Middle “The Janitor did it” is quickly becoming the new “The Butler did it”. Left Levitation is but one of Jesse’s powers. Right Boo, hiss – it’s the Hiss!