Control Interview — Game Director Talks Remedy’s Multiplatform Transition, Gameplay Focus, and More
Remedy Entertainment's Mikael Kasurinen spoke to us at E3 about Control and the vastly different development decisions the studio has made with the project.
Remedy Entertainment revealed their next game Control last month during Sony’s presentation at E3 and while it looks a bit similar to their past work, it is far different than you’d expect.
During E3, we spoke with Mikael Kasurinen, Game Director of Control, and asked him a bit about how Control compares to their past work. He also talked about why the studio opted to place a newfound emphasis on gameplay and world design ahead of everything else and both the difficulties and success they have found in doing this.
Logan: You guys have talked about Control for a while now when it was still codenamed Project 7 and you were very vocal that this would be your first project in a while that has gone multiplatform. What has that transition back to working on other platforms been like for everyone at Remedy?
Mikael Kasurinen: Multiplatform hasn’t actually been that bad. Its been awhile since Max Payne 1 and Max Payne 2 came out for PlayStation, Xbox, and PC. Then we kind of had this detour with Microsoft which was Xbox and PC only but, you know, we’re back to where we started and it felt like the right direction for us as a studio. We want to expand our fanbase as much as possible and getting games on PlayStation 4 is the right thing for us. As an independent studio, it just makes sense.
L: As you said, you are an independent studio so how did conversations start with 505 Games to have them become the publisher of Control?
MK: The process of creating this concept pretty much started right after Quantum Break with the intent that we wanted to do things a bit differently. I had the passionate idea that instead of us focusing in the next game on the story, we instead focus on the world and then create interesting stories within that world. A different way of building this experience. We worked on that and basically put together a pitch and then talked with 505. We kind of hit the right stride with them right away. It fit what they liked about games and what they’re doing. So yeah, I’m not sure how much I can talk about the actual timeline, to be honest, but let’s say it happened pretty much one to two years ago when things clicked into place with 505. And its been great working with them, they’ve been awesome.
L: How early on after Quantum Break did you guys know that you again wanted to have a character in Control that has supernatural abilities at their disposal?
MK: I think Remedy always wants to create games that are relatable. We all like the idea of not necessarily everyday humans possessing something strange. Something that makes them interesting and different compared to others. The same thing applies to Control as well. It came quite naturally. It’s the kind of thing we do — action adventure, third person — and just continuing on that path felt right.
L: What were the biggest takeaways and lessons that you learned from Quantum Break before diving into development on Control?
MK: Working on Quantum Break was great and we achieved the things we set out to do. There was this healthy discussion afterward about what we could do next and as I said, I wanted to go in a direction where we are more world focused, more gameplay driven. Focus on that second-to-second experience. We did a lot of work in Quantum to make things look great, but having more of a complicated combat experience was important to me.
The other thing I felt passionate about was that instead of being passive in our storytelling and just saying “here’s the story”, we didn’t want to spoon feed our information. We wanted players to participate in that process. Of course, it’s important to give a clear understanding to the player of what’s at stake, what’s going on, and what’s your motivation, but that there’s a lot of background, hidden information. Things that have more meaning than what seems to be the case initially. That’s up to the player to dig in and find out more and it actually reveals another side of the experience if you participate.
When you look at the structure of Control, it’s very different as I said. We’re going for this Metroidvania but with more of a direction. It’s more open-ended and the player can choose what to do. The main story is just one story among others. You can go on side missions, you can explore, and we’re planning on having other game modes as well that you can engage in. Even after the main story is done, the world doesn’t end there. It keeps existing and you can go back to those side missions you might have missed before or explore more. There are a lot of more mysteries to uncover than just the main story itself.
L: You guys have been so well-known for creating pretty linear, narrative experiences in the past so why did you want to shake things up so much in this new format with Control? Were you just getting bored and wanted to drastically mix things up?
MK: [laughs] Well, a bit to be honest, yeah. When you look at all the different games we’ve done — Alan Wake, Max Payne, and Quantum Break — they’re all actually very different types of games. Sure, there are some visual identities that you recognize there as well with Control, but when you actually start playing them they are very, very different. How they are structured, how the story is told, the kind of story we are telling, and so on.
With Control, I think that there are some things that the player when they actually need to participate, that they’re not just passively observing what’s happening. They need to participate and interact with the world. It is more compelling, it is more interesting, it is more engaging. Suddenly, you have a stake in all of this. That’s been one of the core directives that we’ve had with Control is that you need to participate to get the most out of the experience.
We want to challenge the players in that way. There will be elements of the game that are from a gameplay perspective pretty hard. There’s going to be hard-to-find secrets that are optional. There will be some side missions that are super tricky to be able to pull off. We want to challenge the player with these things in the world so that they feel like, “All right, yeah, I want to tackle this challenge.”
We’ve been inspired by, and I don’t want to compare directly, but when you look at Dark Souls, for instance, they have an extremely interesting, complicated world with deep lore and backgrounds — but they don’t really throw that at the player. You have to kind of find that out for yourself. That’s been a huge inspiration.
L: So you’re saying that Control is the Dark Souls of Remedy games?
MK: [laughs] I guess you could say that, but I want to be a bit careful that nobody thinks about this game in the wrong way.
L: Don’t worry, I’m only kidding. Everything you’ve said though is really interesting to me because one of the things I’ve always loved about Remedy games is the worlds but we as the players are often only exposed to such a small slice of it. Knowing that Control will give me a bit more freedom to dig around and explore rather than being so linear is really exciting.
MK: You don’t even want to know how much time we spent on Quantum Break just designing one single room. All of the different things like why this chair is here, why is this pen here — we spent a lot of time thinking about that stuff. Then the player comes in and just runs straight through the room in five seconds. We want to have the opportunity for the player to dive into this world with Control and see what’s going on.
L: How has the game engine in Control changed since Quantum Break? I noticed in my demo it definitely looked better visually than I remember Quantum Break looking.
MK: It’s the same game engine, still Northlight that we’re using. It’s the same engine we’ve been using since Max Payne. Of course, a lot of things have changed but it’s the same basic engine.
I think there’s a different look mostly because we have chosen a very straightforward and strong art direction. With the brutalist architectural style which relies on the simplicity of form and there’s a certain kind of brutal simplicity and honesty in the materials that you see. For instance, there’s concrete, steel, wood, glass — you understand what these materials are and you understand how they behave. That’s a crucial part of the active environments and how they connect with your telekinetic abilities. You can destroy a concrete pillar, all of the pieces will fall off, and you can use these as weapons against the enemies. All of this is actually connected. There’s a very specific reason as to why we chose brutalism as the architectural direction.
With brutalism also comes a certain style of lighting as well that is sharp and very powerful. Intense lights that divide shadows and bright areas. It’s a very specific thing that we’re doing and it creates a pretty unique look for the world.
L: Going back to the beginning of the project when first deciding what you would be working on next, were there any thoughts of just creating a sequel to one of your past games? You’ve kind of left the door open to return to something like Alan Wake and I imagine that creating a wholly new IP with Control is almost a more daunting task. Did you ever have any thoughts of returning to an older property instead?
MK: So we own the Alan Wake IP, yes. I just want to say right away that it’s very dear to us and close to our hearts. We all love Alan Wake at Remedy and I think all of us want to see a new Alan Wake game. I just want to say that out loud. Unfortunately, I can’t speak to it any more than that. We’ll see what happens with Alan Wake next but we all want to see it happen, absolutely.
When it comes to Control, you think about the studio and what kind of games we want to create. Alan Wake was a very specific type of game about the writer and encountering strange forces and suddenly acquiring the ability to re-write reality. Thinking about our desire to go in a more gameplay driven direction and a more open-ended world, I guess you could argue that there’s a certain kind of freedom that you get when you create a new IP. You can really tackle certain elements that you feel are right. That was also a huge part of why Control exists. It represents our thinking with a Metroidvania, more open-ended, a more gameplay driven experience. All of these things kind of came together in an interesting way that felt like it’s this all-new IP.
L: You’ve mentioned it a couple times already but you’ve focused primarily on gameplay first with Control, which is very different considering your studio’s past focus on narrative first. What have been the challenges for you to instead prioritize gameplay and world design first while focusing on narrative second?
MK: So in the past, we spent a lot of time crafting the experience and making sure every single second is thought through. It was almost like a movie we were creating with very specific events. With Control, we had to take a step back and ask questions. If we really want to give the player control of the situation, we had to re-think how we tell stories in that kind of environment. Suddenly, we don’t have the freedoms we had before. We can’t dictate every single second.
It was interesting. We are creating, in a way, a different way to tell stories. I think the core ideas of what we do with interesting, compelling worlds and unique characters and fun action, all of those things are still there, they’re just structured in a different way. Taking that step back and asking those questions on how we handle this was an important part of the process and was necessary. We really want the player to feel like this is a world they want to be in.
L: So right now, there’s noticeably no Switch version of Control in the pipeline. Would you like to eventually get it on that platform down the road?
MK: All I can say is that it is definitely coming out for Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and PC in 2019. Having said that, of course, we would love to have as large of a fanbase as we possibly can but we have no announcements or anything related to Switch at this point.
L: What’s the one thing you’d want our readers to know about Control if you could emphasize any one thing about the game?
MK: I guess on a high level I just want to say that when you look at all of the games out there — excellent, fine-looking games — I think Control is something interesting and unique. I think it is different and it stands apart from the rest. We’re doing things that I don’t think many other studios are doing. It’s a strange, weird world that demands exploration. It’s fun to play, it’s unexpected, it’s surprising, and it challenges you in all the right ways. It’s something that I’m extremely proud of and I’m happy that we are in a position to do something like this because I think it’s absolutely the right thing for us to do as a studio.
As Mikael said, Control is due out at some point in 2019 on PS4, Xbox One, and PC. To help tide you over until that time, be sure to read about our thoughts on the hands-off demo we saw of Control at E3.