Interview – Brooke Maggs, Narrative Designer, Remedy for Control

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Remedy has a proven track record of games which are more or less influenced by paranormal or supernatural elements. I think there is a bit of »Twink Peaks« in it, but I see also influences from the books »House of Leaves« by Mark Z. Danielewski and »Slade House« by David Mitchell. Surely you must also dig the collaborative efforts of the »SCP Foundation« as well. Is that so and if so how and in which ways did all of these elements influence »Control«? Which other paranormal influenced media inspired you?

We were inspired by »Twin Peaks«, »X-Files« and »House of Leaves« for the unsettling otherworldliness in their stories and worlds which are grounded in the mundane and the modern. They don’t over explain their narratives, they let their strange worlds gather under their audiences’ skins. They raise questions and don’t always answer them. We were inspired by that kind of mysterious storytelling.

Which games or other media over the last couple years had the biggest influence in terms of gameplay and storytelling at Remedy and why?

The Southern Reach Trilogy by Jeff Vandermeer was a huge inspiration in terms of storytelling. We investigated TV series like »Legion« and »Mr Robot« for the interesting ways they handle perspective and narration. »Control« has a Metroidvania style of gameplay where the world opens up over time. Players can find new areas of the Oldest House that were previously inaccessible thanks to other characters, different keycards, or to Jesse’s newfound abilities.

The plot of »Control« is very simple at its core, but if you start looking left and right beside it there are lots of mysteries to uncover. Unlike other games all the collectables whether it be documents, audio logs or videos, have actually a meaning instead of being dull fillers. This way action-oriented players can just scramble through the main quest while others have lots to unravel while at the same time the world, stories and characters get fleshed out a whole lot more. Was that your approach in terms of game design? Since there went a lot of effort into the writing of optional stuff how do you feel about players potentially missing out or upright ignoring it?

So glad to hear, thank you! The narrative team brainstormed all the curious and weird things we wanted to cover in the optional content and what creative ways we could address them. »Control« is a vast, complex narrative world and we were able to communicate the important parts in the main and side missions. The players who are wondering about the Altered Items in the Panopticon for example, they can go deeper! There will always be those who prefer not to seek out the optional narrative content, and that’s totally fine. We’ve been so happy to see players have been exploring the Oldest House and finding even the hardest-to-reach narrative content.

The main character of »Control«, Jesse Faden, is a strong female character and in this context, Remedy has a proven history of such characters in its games whether it be Mona Sax in »Max Payne 2« or Beth Wilder in »Quantum Break« who even shares the same actor as for Jesse Faden, the lovely Courtney Hope. I think especially nowadays it’s important to have strong female characters, whether it be as a supporting role or as main character. Were these conscious decisions or just natural results of the world building, story writing and game design? Is diversity important at Remedy not only in terms of game design, but also in the company itself?

They are conscious decisions. The Director of the Federal Bureau of Control has always been a man. The Bureau tries to control and understand the unexplained, and it leads to disastrous results. Having Jesse as an active female protagonist is first about her being a breath of fresh air the Bureau badly needs. We see her as a part of the new guard, along with others like Emily Pope, who will bring about change. I think it’s great that Marshall and Underhill are also in the mix, proving this isn’t merely one woman in a world of men. We also loved working with Courtney Hope on »Quantum Break« and Sam Lake and Mikael Kasurinen were keen to work with her again, and it is about time we have a female lead in our line-up. All of these things aligned. 

Brooke has worked on award-winning games titles such as »The Gardens Between«, »Paperbark and Florence«. Courtesy of 505 Games / Remedy Entertainment.

Jesse made a very contemplated impression to me. She didn’t seem too upset about all the strange events which unfold around her while she is traversing through the Federal Bureau of Control. I think most other people would potentially freak out once they experience all the quirkiness of the events at the FBC in persona. What was the thinking behind her behavior?

Jesse is no stranger to the unexplained. She spent a long time trying to figure out what happened to her brother and her home town. Very few people would believe her. We figured there was an element of relief for her when she entered this strange world where a whole government organization is studying otherworldly forces. Jesse reacts to these freaky things, but she is also no stranger to them. She has allies in the FBC who help her understand what’s going on and, more importantly, understand herself and her past. 

There are direct references to »Alan Wake« in the game and I think it isn’t too far stretched out to think that all your games spanning from »Max Payne« up until »Control« share the same universe. Is that a thing? Do you plan to expand on this or was the reference to »Alan Wake« just fan service?

There are connections between the games, we know Remedy fans will get a kick out of references to the previous games and worlds we’ve created. We have two upcoming DLCs, Foundation and AWE, for »Control« that will have more story and involve more exploration of the world. AWE itself is a term we have used in previous games as well. 

All your games since »Max Payne« followed the same structure in terms of game design and gameplay. They’re all a combination of linearity, action adventure and third person shooter. »Control« for the first time breaks that mantra and I think with great success. The new approach of mixing »Metroidvania« elements into the pot works out great. How did that decision come? Do you plan to continue the proven Remedy formula or do you want to make games of a completely other genre at some point? Maybe something like a RPG or heavily story driven like »Life is Strange« maybe?

»Control« is a brand-new IP for Remedy. There is always an advantage to pushing forward and trying something new. »Control« advances the »Remedy formula« by breaking out of the mold and experimenting. What stays the same are our iconic characters, interesting gameplay mechanics and deep, complex storyworlds. As for other genres, one of our current projects is Vanguard, a small team working on prototyping multiplayer experiences. 

Remedy is one of the oldest developers in the industry, but in comparison released rather few games which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. How do you manage as a company to survive the time in between the last and the next game?

I’d venture to say it’s because Remedy has established a good reputation for interesting games that experiment with gameplay and storytelling. We are working with Smilegate to develop the story mode of CrossFire X and we have partnered with 505 Games for »Control«. It took us three years to develop »Control«, which is considerably less time than »Quantum Break«, so we are improving our development and business practices all the time. 

»Alan Wake« and even more so »Quantum Break« show great production values, were generally favored by critics and yet still didn’t find the commercial success they deserve. This in hindsight hampered the continuation of both series even though there clearly are cliffhangers present and a lot of fans clamoring to finally get some answers. How does that feel for you as creators? Do you at some point want to revisit those IPs?

It’s tough in some ways. Our games have ended by providing some answers and raising questions which leaves the storyworld open. We would love to revisit »Alan Wake« when the time is right, but now we’re focused on other projects like CrossFire X, Vanguard and the two DLCs for »Control«, The Foundation and AWE. We love »Quantum Break«, however, Microsoft owns the IP so future games are up to them. 

Jesse is no stranger to the unexplained.

You had a strong relationship with Microsoft over the last decade. Did that come to an end with »Quantum Break« since »Control« got published by 505 Games? How was the collaboration with 505 Games and is your relationship with Microsoft still going strong?

We began »Control« with the idea that we would like to own the IP for this game. So, we investigated publishers who were open to that arrangement, and 505 Games fit the bill. We’re continuing to work with them on the launch and promotion of »Control« and the expansions. Our relationship with Microsoft remains friendly. 

Crunch times were and still are a serious topic in the gaming industry during the recent years. Is that a thing at Remedy? Do you still have crunch times? How do you treat this topic and more importantly your employees during crunch time, but also in general?

Finland in general has a wonderful attitude to work-life balance and Remedy has excellent employee benefits. At Remedy, we do post-mortems in an effort to improve scoping and time management for all projects, so we are constantly working on how best to utilize our time and minimize the amount of overtime hours. Overtime isn’t mandatory, and it is rewarded appropriately when it does occur.

While »Control« this time won’t let players suffer with a cliffhanger it yet still leaves a lot of questions unanswered. You’ve already mentioned DLC. Will it focus just on pure gameplay like »Alan Wake’s American Nightmare« or will it continue the story to answer at least some of those open questions? If »Control« proves to be a commercial success will you continue pursuing Jesse’s path as new director of the Federal Bureau of Control?

We’re focused on making the DLC the best it can be by cooking up cool things for both story and gameplay. Jesse’s character will be developed further and we’ll get to see her continue down the path of being the new director. More story and world always mean more questions, but it also means answers. 

We think »Control« is one of, if not the, best Remedy game to date whether it be in terms of world building, storytelling, its characters, gameplay and especially the spectacular choreography of the action. Thanks for taking the time to answer our questions!

Thank you very much! It means a lot. We’re so thankful to everyone who’s taken the time to play the game, enjoy the story and explore the world. Thanks for the great questions!

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Alessandro

Gamer. Geek. Minimalist. Seine größte Leidenschaft wurde auf 8-Bit-Konsolen entfacht und ist bis heute ungebrochen. Liebt unkonventionelle Titel abseits des Mainstreams ebenso wie AAA-Blockbuster.

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