Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons is due for release across digital marketplaces later this Spring and, following our hands-on with the game (read our Brothers preview here), we sat down with the Swedish film-maker and game director Josef Fares to talk about making the transition from films to games, why he co-op would ruin his game, how publishers are holding the industry back, and why he's not a fan of the Ouya.
Josef Fares: I like your hair, man.
Matt Gardner (Dealspwn): Thanks very much. I liked your presentation.
Josef Fares: (Laughs) Thank you.
Dealspwn: You've had no small amount of success as a movie director, especially in Sweden. Why make the transition to games now?
Josef Fares: Because I have a strong passion for games. This is a dream come true for me. I try to play every game out there, I own every console; I'm a hardcore gamer. I really wanted to make a game some day, so this really is a dream come true for me – an opportunity I couldn't say no to. I'll make less money from doing this, but I don't care. This isn't about money, it's about following your passion.
And you know, I think I have something to contribute to gaming, if I get the chance to make further games, I mean.
Dealspwn: Do you think that there are inherent benefits when it comes to storytelling in a more interactive medium? That the manner by which the player interacts directly with what's happening onscreen can be more powerful than the connection one might have with a movie?
Josef Fares: I think that, first of all, we need to stop comparing those – they are two different things. For me, as I've said before, when I came into this industry people thought I'd maybe try to put out a game like Heavy Rain or The Walking Dead. But whilst I appreciate those games, I found myself putting Heavy Rain on 'Easy' because I didn't want to just keep pushing different arbitrary buttons. In The Walking Dead you can pretty much just put the controller on a table and push a button. I wouldn't personally have given either of those games a Game of the Year award because, for me, interaction is key. That's why, in Brothers, you can interact with pretty much everything, that's the fun part.
But you can certainly be inspired by films. The evolution of a character, as they evolve over time, that's something we try to explore a little in Brothers, but it happens in a very interactive way. We try not to have too many cutscenes and let you play through as much as possible. So you can take broad things like that from films, but otherwise they are two very separate things. The two can look across at one another, but that's it. We shouldn't compare the two, we should be saying 'Ok, what are games? What does that term mean? What can we do? What can we discover?' We have discovered so little, there's so much still to come. I like what studios such as Naughty Dog are doing, in terms of really good storytelling; there are plenty of good games that I like out there. But we need more of them.
Dealspwn: Something you mentioned in the presentation, and indeed it's evident when you play the game, is that Brothers takes a very clean approach to user interface – both in terms of controller setup, and also onscreen too. How important is that to the game?
Josef Fares: Oh it's very important, because the idea of the game is to keep it simple. Less is more has been taken to a new level. From the language to the game mechanics, there should be no moment where you feel frustrated. It's ore about players feeling comfortable. I'd love players to take one sitting to play through the game, that would be ideal. It should only be three or four hours long, so that's not a problem, and I feel they'll get the most of the game that way.
Dealspwn: That brings me rather nicely onto another point you touched on in your presentation, one that I agree wholeheartedly with. You said 'a game should be as long as it needs to be'. Do you think that there's too much pressure to live up to a content expectation in terms of how long a game should be?
Josef Fares: I think everyone agrees with me. It's just that someone said it, and no-one's stopped to question it. I think the press, the critics, even the community need to understand that it isn't important. Stop complaining about the length of time it takes to play a game. Why are we so focused on how long a game is? It's about the experience. You never question how long a movie is. It's a case of how good or bad it was, and that's it. The time it takes to play a game shouldn't matter in a review. Who's dictated how long or short a game should be? It's all about the experience.
With that in mind, I've played a number of games that I've felt have been too long. Ten hour games that could have used cutting down by several hours to make it all a quality experience. And this is the thing – it's really about how you value your time and money. If you want a fifty hour experience for £40-50, go buy Call of Duty. But if I pay £40 for a fifteen hour game that's not very good, I feel like I've wasted my money. I'd much rather pay that money for a three or four hour game that's excellent.
It's the same for replayability. Why is that such a big consideration? I saw some figures that said for Half-Life 2 – and that is a really great game – only 50% of players actually finished it. For something like Assassin's Creed it was more like 20% [It's actually up around 35-40% - via Joystiq]. What's the point of focusing so much on replayability if most of your consumer base isn't even going to play it through once?! It's fine, of course, for a multiplayer game, but if it's not a multiplayer game, don't make it a selling point.
You look at Journey, that's a two-hour game, but it stays with you so much. You don't care about the money you put down for that game because it's so good. But I'm not saying 'don't make ten, twenty hour games', just that if you're going to, make sure it's interesting throughout.
And when it comes to the reviews, yeah you can state the length of time it takes to play the game so people can plan their weekends or something, but it shouldn't be a mark in the negative points column.
Dealspwn: Getting back to Brothers itself, it feels very much as though it's a contradiction in terms – a singleplayer co-op experience. Was there ever the temptation to allow for a friend to join in?
Josef Fares: Over my dead body! (Laughs) No, we never wanted that. It would have taken away the uniqueness completely, especially when it comes to the way that you control the brothers. The game mechanics that you build on this idea of simultaneous control is so fresh and fun that it would be utterly ruined if you introduced a second player. I want the player to feel an emotional connection – big brother, little brother – that's the most important thing.
Many people have asked me about this, but it's a singleplayer game. You'll feel comfortable in control of the brothers quickly, and the nature of the puzzles and the interaction that's in the game would be lost if it wasn't a singleplayer game. If there was a second player controlling the other brother you'd still want to take control of them both at times, and that's something we wanted to explore and give to the player.
Dealspwn: You mentioned that you think this is quite a risky game, but that the digital distribution setup is finally at a stage where developers and publishers can afford to be more experimental in terms of development, new IP and price points. Do you think, with releases like Journey and Papa & Yo and Limbo that this level of innovation is only going to increase and we're set for a more developer and community-led future?
Josef Fares: I really hope so, but we're not there yet. There are some people holding that back. Some publishers out there interfere too much, and there have been a few great games made worse thanks to this interference. I think it's great that games like Journey get attention, but don't get me wrong, we need all kinds of games – from big blockbusters like Call of Duty down to smaller games – but this is a risk for Starbreeze in a number of ways because the production values are high. And you have to remember for a downloadable game that might cost around 1200 Microsoft Points, and that's just a general figure as an example, you have to sell a lot of units to get your money back. It's very admirable that they want to take this chance, especially on a guy who's not made a game before, so it's very risky. But I'm so confident that they'll get their money back. Or at least, because I can't really speak towards sales, I'm confident that it'll be a worthwhile game, one that's appreciated.
Dealspwn: Do you think that the next-generation will help to allow for more risk-taking, especially with PCs entering the living room space, and consoles like Steam Box and Ouya?
Josef Fares: Definitely. But I'm not so keen on the Ouya. It's not interesting at all – you're playing mobile games on a television. Yes, they've made a big deal of it being open, but Steam kind of works in that way too. There's a filter of sorts with Steam, but I think that you need that to a certain extent. I jut don't see the appeal of playing Android and iOS games on a bigger screen.
Dealspwn: But do you think that the bigger consoles need to fundamentally change and become more open?
Josef Fares: Oh absolutely. They're too cocky at the moment, Microsoft and Sony. I'm happy for Valve, and I'm looking forward to what they do with the Steam Box, because I think that the other two console manufacturers are underestimating the hardcore audience.
Dealspwn: Well Microsoft recently shut down their XNA developer scheme, and they've been far more focused on promoting Kinect and multimedia opportunities...
Josef Fares: Exactly. Looking at next-gen, I'm most excited for the Steam Box because I love games, and it's as simple as that. So for me, that's the console to go for, even though I know very little about the actual hardware itself. It feels like Valve care about games, their community, and that they're open to new developers and new ideas. Things like Greenlight and Kickstarter are creating more and more opportunities for developers to take risks and make the games that they want to make, which is really cool.
Dealspwn: Thank you so much for your time.
Josef Fares: Thanks man, and I hope you enjoy the game.