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A Tale of One Game

The creative director of Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons explains why he stopped directing films to help create one of this year's most powerful stories.

Warning: This interview contains spoilers.

Have you played Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons? You should play Brothers. Right now. Seriously!

One, we’re probably going to be talking about Brothers in a few short months, as the way Starbreeze melded the game’s storytelling with gameplay is unparalleled. Even games with strong stories often struggle to do more than show the interesting bits in the cutscenes, while Brothers feels like an experience modeled from top to bottom with telling a story exactly this way.

Two, there are spoilers in this interview. I had the chance to email creative director Josef Fares, and we specifically talk about That Moment at the end. How could I pass it up? Fares isn’t a Starbreeze employee but a Swedish film director that decided to collaborate on this year's biggest surprise with the studio known for Syndicate and The Chronicles of Riddick.

I tend to pass on email interviews, since the answers aren’t usually very good. That wasn’t the case with Fares, and rather than chop everything up, I wanted to present our digital conversation in full. Hopefully, as the end of this interview teases, we’ll see more from Fares in the future. Make sure to stick around to the end, too.

Giant Bomb: How long was Brothers in development for, and can you provide a little insight as to what the original concept was? How much did it change over development?

Josef Fares: I came up with the concept of Brothers about three years ago and I knew, from day one, what the control scheme would be and how the game would end. In the beginning of development there was more combat in the game but, of course, things changes during development, we focused instead on the emotional aspect of the game.

GB: Can you talk a little bit about what originally influenced the game, games or otherwise? It has no problem switching from the deadly serious to the amazingly fantastic on a whim.

Fares: I am a big fan of the Super Nintendo 16-bit RPG era--The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, Secret of Mana, Chrono Trigger, and many more. Those games inspired Brothers to be a top-down game.Another thing that inspired this game was simply that I wanted to do something new and different. My background is as a filmmaker and I truly love games, especially because they are an interactive medium, and I feel there are many things we have yet to discover about how to tell stories in games.

Josef Fares (Balls, Leo, Zozo) hopes to continue making games in the future.

GB: Was it always the plan to have the brothers controlled by separate analog sticks? It's a bit like rubbing your head and stomach at the same time.

Fares: Yes, it was the plan from day one. Many people were asking me if co-op was possible but that was out of the question. The idea of Brothers is that the controller is part of the story.

GB: What kind of iteration did the control scheme go through? What changed as you started to watch people trying it out?

Fares: In the beginning, we had more buttons, but we decided early to only use one button for each brother in order to simplify as much as possible for the player, since the puzzles and challenges in the game were designed to be fun but not too challenging. One major challenge we had was how the camera should work. Controlling two characters at the same time made it very hard to figure out--we had one guy working on the camera throughout the game to make sure that every situation felt comfortable. I would say that the camera work was one of the most challenging [aspects] in creating Brothers.

GB: Can you talk about your collaboration with Starbreeze?

Fares: This is my little baby. I lived and breathed this game for two years. My normal profession is as a film director, but I put that on hold to create this game. This is really a dream come true project for me.

GB: Brothers feels just long enough. It tells the story it wants to tell, then moves on. Did you ever have ambitions of a much bigger, lengthier tale?

Fares: I think that most games today are too long and repetitive. Brothers is as long as it needs to be. I know that many people focus on how long a game is but for me how the experience feels is more important. It does not matter if the game is one hour or 50 hours.

GB: The characters don't speak a real language. Did you want to create a certain amount of distance between the player and the world?

Fares: I love the interactivity of gaming, and in Brothers we tried to make everything as interactive as possible. When you have a language that you don´t understand then the player needs to be more focused, and therefore a little more interactive, with trying to figure out on what is going on.

GB: The game climaxes during the moments when the brother dies. Everything builds to this. The controls come together, and it's impossible to imagine this scene being built any other way. Can you walk us through what it was like to write, script, and execute this moment?

Fares: This was the most important thing in the game. The challenging part was to make it as interactive as possible and make sure that the player felt something. I don´t want to talk about the ending too much but I am extremely proud that players around the world are understanding and feeling the importance of pushing LT in the end.

GB: From your perspective, as the developer and storyteller, why did the brother have to die?

Fares: I wanted the player to connect with the brothers, left hand big brother and right hand little brother. I really like the idea that you physically feel that you are not using your left hand anymore in the end. There is a reason that big brother, who you control with the left stick, dies--because people normally use the left stick to control the character. That creates an even more odd feeling when you are not using it in the end.

I'd often set the controller down and just stare at the world, one that feels vast, empty, and full at the same time.

GB: It's been a pretty common refrain to hear that people cry while playing the game. How does that make you feel?

Fares: I am very proud of the reactions the game has elicited. It makes me and my team very happy. Many people have asked the question, “When will a video game make me cry?” It is a huge accomplishment for me that people cry at the ending of Brothers.

GB: Was is it possible to judge the game's emotional resonance during development, or does one eventually lose track after so many months of work?

Fares: Yes, it is hard to feel those emotions when you are creating the game. However, at the end of the project when we saw how things came together we knew that we had something special.

GB: Is it draining to work on a game that deals with such serious subject matter? Did you ever have to step away from the game and catch your breath?

Fares: No, not really. All the focus was on creating the best experience. But playing it today takes my breath away because of the game’s personal inspiration from my own life.

GB: More and more games are prompting emotional reactions from players. Journey and Gone Home are two recent examples. What do you make of this trend?

Fares: I love it and I hope that more games can do this. I am very happy that both Microsoft and Sony are supporting the indie community. At the end of the day, I think those games are the ones that will change the industry from a creative perspective.

"I think that most games today are too long and repetitive. Brothers is as long as it needs to be."

GB: Brothers just came out, but it's already beloved. Can we expect more projects like Brothers from Starbreeze in the future?

Fares: Hopefully. I will be able to collaborate with Starbreeze in the future on similar projects.

GB: Did you draw on any personal experiences to inform developing the game, especially in regards to the story?

Fares: This game is in many ways very personal to me. I have big brothers of my own, and a lot of the things in the game are inspired by our relationship. Another thing is that when I was young, and lived in Lebanon, I buried my newborn little brother. It was not a proper burial. Me and my sister went alone and buried him in a special place.

Patrick Klepek on Google+
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Posted by muffinsaka

I hope they get more projects. This game was unbelievably unique. Will always be remembered in my mind along the likes of Bioshock, Portal, etc...

Posted by Sunjammer

Holy cow is that a way to wrap up an interview. Jeez.

Posted by shinboy630

I personally didn't think the "big climax moment that everything builds to" hit nearly as hard as advertised. However, the part where the owl griffon dies was fucking heartbreaking.

Edited by conmulligan

Great interview about a great game. I hope more people play Brothers.

Edited by Batalskar

Normally I don't have a problem with reading spoilers on a game I haven't played, and probably will not. But even reading the plot twist has me emotionally upset. To hear that it comes from a real life experience, resonates for me even further. I almost had an older brother, and to this day I dream of how my life would have been with one.

Posted by RonneyFan05

Wow I just got goose bumps reading this. Great game, amazing story. Good stuff Patrick.

Edited by biggiedubs

@shinboy630 said:

I personally didn't think the "big climax moment that everything builds to" hit nearly as hard as advertised. However, the part where the owl griffon dies was fucking heartbreaking.

I agree, to a certain extent. The idea was a correct one, but it could have been dramatic.

Especially when you consider some of the stuff earlier in the game, such as him hugging the mother's ghost, and the dream sequences. I guess they wanted a more somber moment, but because it's so somber, it ends up feeling a bit downplayed. I would have made it longer, with perhaps his brother and his mother showing up in spirit on the opposite bank.

Also, did the Owl Griffin die, or what is it a different Owl Griffin that shows up at the end to fly him back home? Just a nit-pick, but they could have handled that a bit more subtle, if he didn't die, because it really looked like he died. Could have had him fall in a cavern, a la Shadow of the Colossus.

This interview could probably use a more prominent spoiler warning, by the way Patrick. I know you want people to read the copy at the top, but chances are they won't.

Edited by Nardak
Edited by alwaysbebombing

Heavy hitting in the end, Scoops.

Posted by Atwa

I love Brothers so much, Kopps is also great.

Edited by CommodoreJenkins

I had a great time playing Brothers, and I definitely appreciated that it was as long as it needed to be.

My biggest complaint is that everyone praises the game for having its most powerful moments done in gameplay rather than cut-scenes, except that the part where your brother dies, arguably the most powerful moment in the game, is shown in a cut-scene. As a result, that part of the game did not hit me as hard as it was probably intended. Maybe if you actually controlled that brother right before he dies it would have had a bigger impact on me. The part where you bury your brother, however, was extremely well done.

Posted by Flavbot

@nardak: I whould say it has a similar feeling to Brothers Lionheart. Both tackle pretty heavy subjects regarding life and death, and the bond between brothers. And both have this cozy Grimm-esque fantasy feeling. Though I'd say there is where the similarities end. In regards to the story the only similarities is that they both depict an adventure of two borthers.

Posted by BiggNife

@nardak said:

I would bet that the game follows the plot of the following book a by swedish author (betting because I havent played the game so I didnt read the article either):

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Brothers_Lionheart

The movie is pretty old but for a childrens movie its a pretty good one:

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0075790/?ref_=fn_al_tt_1

Uh, not really.

Reading the Wikipedia article it defintiely wouldn't surprise me if parts of Brothers were inspired by The Brothers Lionheart but the plots are far from identical.

Edited by HerbieBug

Might want to put a spoiler warning at the top of the article instead of a couple paragraphs down.

Posted by VargasPrime

I waited for the PC release to play Brothers, and I almost didn't wait because of all the praise it was getting from Brad and other games writers that I follow.

And I know the guys gave Brad a good knocking for calling it as one of his top 10 so quickly, but dammit... he was absolutely right. The game was amazing from start to finish. I completed it in two sittings, and only stopped that first outing short because of real-world obligations, otherwise I would have done it all in one go.

But man, even with all the glowing words people were throwing around before I actually played it, I was absolutely not prepared for how hard the end of the game hit me. The death scene aside, the player controlled moments that follow are just heart-wrenching. The moment that you have to step into the water without your big brother, and realize what you need to do to proceed, I was slackjawed. It was so simple and yet so amazing, and that is when I actually felt the strongest emotional tug. Easily one of the best game experiences I've had in recent memory, and maybe ever.

Obviously it's not going to hit everyone the same way, but I honestly did not expect to be floored so hard by the end of the game, even with how good it had been up until that point.

Edited by fisk0

Those of you who knows some Swedish should probably check out the radio show and podcast P3 Spel which Josef Fares used to host during it's first season, he came off as a guy with a pretty annoying attitude early on, but as the season went on he did talk a bit more about his experiences growing up in Lebanon, and did an pretty interesting interview with someone from DICE about war games from the perspective of a survivor of the civil war there, and he did an interview with Peter Molyneux in 2011 where he first started hinting about getting into game development, and there was plenty of discussion about the control methods for games in there (the entire Interview, mostly in English is available at http://sverigesradio.se/sida/artikel.aspx?programid=4090&artikel=4677844).

Posted by shonuff

@fisk0: thanks for the link man

Posted by MormonWarrior

I just bought this last night. I'll get to playing through it soon! Haven't heard that it's very long so that's good I guess.

Posted by Veovisjohn

And I know the guys gave Brad a good knocking for calling it as one of his top 10 so quickly, but dammit... he was absolutely right.

I'll second that. Vinny was cracking me up making fun of Brad on the podcast, but then I played the game and it turns out the joke was on me. Brad was beyond right. Can't wait to hear discussion about the game during the end of year awards.

Posted by Blitzer

Is this another game like Braid that everyone said was a must buy and amazing experience that I ended up getting and finding to be "meh"?

Edited by radoman

I'm gonna play this tonight or tomorrow. I heard a certain reviewer say its the best game hes ever played in his life. Fairly short game so I can make time for it.

Posted by VargasPrime

@blitzer said:

Is this another game like Braid that everyone said was a must buy and amazing experience that I ended up getting and finding to be "meh"?

It's obviously going to be a very personal thing, but I can say that, at least for myself, Brothers definitely struck me in a way that Braid didn't. If you've got $15 and a few spare hours, it's totally worth playing.

Posted by Miyuki

Great interview. This game is on my list, and it just got pushed up a few spots!

Posted by Abendlaender

I really, really loved that game. Also it needs to be said, that the game looks just gorgeous.

Posted by johnbakosh

Thanks Patrick!

Posted by mbr2

@blitzer said:

Is this another game like Braid that everyone said was a must buy and amazing experience that I ended up getting and finding to be "meh"?

How the fuck would anyone know that? That's a really stupid question.

Edited by Redhotchilimist

@fisk0: Nice, thanks.

@vargasprime said:

@blitzer said:

Is this another game like Braid that everyone said was a must buy and amazing experience that I ended up getting and finding to be "meh"?

It's obviously going to be a very personal thing, but I can say that, at least for myself, Brothers definitely struck me in a way that Braid didn't. If you've got $15 and a few spare hours, it's totally worth playing.

Maybe? Can't you tell yourself? Personally I was never bored while it lasted, but thought it went way too quickly to have any lasting effect on me, never stopping to ponder anything and going really fast from different setting to different setting. Not as much the length, To The Moon was very touching in the end, Brothers just paces itself really hurriedly. I certainly never cried during the end, even if pressing LT was neat.

Cool interview, Patrick. That last answer : (

Posted by nutter

Great interview.

I played Brothers with my son. He's young for the game, but he's a very mature and perceptive kid.

Anyhow, we passed the controller back and forth over the course of four or so nights and had a great time playing and discussing it.

I ended up with the controller for the final

stretch and it was quite an experience.

The game did a fantastic job of marrying interactivity with narrative as well as marrying content with length.

Brothers is a unique and entirely wonderful experience.

Posted by MikeLemmer

What gets me is his answer to that very last question: a heart-wrenching event compressed to 3 sentences, almost as an aside.

Posted by bybeach

After the question about Fares collaboration with Star Breeze, I was wondering where this interview was going to go. His end comment was sad, and I understand his focus. Kudos to his creativity, what it was based on, and Star Breeze making it work.

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Edited by Rattle618

Ive cried only once for a game and that was "To the Moon", but this one came really close. It is pretty great.

Edited by Trexoton

Don't forget Kopps!

Edited by StarvingGamer

Man, I dunno. It's a great experience and the way the controls tied in to the emotions at the end was definitely very clever, but I didn't feel any impact. I dunno, the intensity I felt at the end of Gone Home is leagues beyond anything I felt in Brothers. Maybe it was just too storybook for me.

Of course the fact that this weird black shadow griffin corpse was haunting my screen for the entire tree sequence didn't help pull me into the moment. I had to clip through it to drag the older brother into the grave.

EDIT: Oh yeah, cool interview though.

Posted by Xpgamer7

Dang I thought it meant play the game, there will be semi-spoilers. Then I read that and thought...that sounds important and bad.

Posted by dagas

He has been famous in Sweden since 2000's Jalla! Jalla! I'm glad that he managed to apply his skills to games. I remember reading years ago that he wanted to make games.

Posted by xXHesekielXx

Great interview Scoops! Bra svar på frågorna Josef Fares.

Posted by automatontribe

I never would have guessed Josef Fares made this game, it couldn't be any more different from the movies he's directed.

Posted by LiquidPenguins

it's hard to get emotionally attached when you can guess the twist by the name and cover art

Edited by BuzzFrog

Did you now that Josef Fares hade a role in the Movie Zero Dark Thirty. http://www.zerodarkthirty-movie.com/

Posted by jasondesante

I hope Brothers is Giantbomb's GOTY. GTAV is amazing and probably my favorite game ever, but so is Brothers. Can I have two favorite games ever? That I played in the last month? Wow the next couple years are gonna suck!

At certain parts in Brothers after doing something cool or being separated for a bit then reuniting, I tried to make both brothers interact with each other. They can't! I totally thought there would be different celebrations you could do after stuff since they can interact with the world why not each other?

Anyways keep gettin them scoops

Edited by megalowho

Oh wow, that last question. Enjoyed Brothers, especially the final act, but had no idea it was that personal. Looking forward to whatever they come up with next.

Posted by theger

Wow, the end of that interview hit me just as hard as the end of the game. Jesus.

Posted by armaan8014

Loved the game. Beautiful setting and interesting gameplay.

@theger said:

Wow, the end of that interview hit me just as hard as the end of the game. Jesus.

Seriously

Posted by csl316

Loved the game. Beautiful setting and interesting gameplay.

@theger said:

Wow, the end of that interview hit me just as hard as the end of the game. Jesus.

Seriously

Indeed, on all counts.

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