Ingmar: You mentioned how passion-driven you are. I wasn’t surprised when I heard that you couldn’t sleep the night you came up with the ending for Brothers.
Josef: Definitely! It was a crazy moment. I remember I couldn’t sleep at all, and went to the team the next day. That’s also one of the most defining moments of Brothers. I think that’s mainly one of the major successes of Brothers as well – I mean, with everything else obviously, but that was a big moment.
Ingmar: That aspect is probably going to stick with a lot of players for a long time.
Josef: I still – until this day – get fan mail from people who have played Brothers for the first time, and it has kind of become almost a classic. There are a lot of developers which I admire, and we pretty much have this contact now. It’s great when you truly believe in something, and people get it and feel it.
Ingmar: What has the experience of working on Brothers taught you about the game industry as well as game design?
Josef: Well, I never read books on how to design a game. In general, when people tell me, “this is how you make a game,” I see it as a warning sign in a sense. Obviously, there are some rules to follow here and there, but when someone tells me, “ok, here’s this typical design thing,” “I’ll teach you a mechanic,” “this or that feels better,” etc., I’m like, “thank you and goodbye.” It’s definitely too early to say, “this is the way you make games”!
Something I miss in the industry is more innovation. I don’t mean innovation in the sense that everything has to be super-unique, super-weird indie projects. I mean innovation from a AAA perspective as well. I would call a game like The Last of Us innovative from a perspective of what they did with the emotional aspect of the characters and how they grow. I’d also say that Uncharted 2 was innovative with its cinematic gameplay experience that was very different and new at the time. You know, as long as there is something different, something that is appealing, something that makes me care, and makes me want to play the game. I sense today that it’s not so often I get surprised by games, sadly. Obviously, it’s also because there is a lot of money involved, but I don’t think that money should be a problem because you could still make unique and cool games, but with a lot of financial success as well.
Ingmar: What we know so far about A Way Out is that it’s the story of two strangers, Leo and Vincent, who meet in jail and must learn to cooperate in order to first escape and then survive on the outside. The game will also include a variety of different gameplay elements, such as car chases, fistfights, stealth sections and more. And perhaps most importantly, it’s been designed from the ground up as a story-driven co-operative game. That doesn’t sound much like Brothers, and yet you stated a few months back that “although the two games are very different, they have the same values at heart. A Way Out is – at its core – an emotional journey.” Please tell us more about your upcoming game.
Josef: Everything started very simple. As always it was like, “what do I want to play?” One thing that me and a friend were trying to find was a co-op game that wasn’t just “drop in, drop out.” It’s not that I have something against it – sometimes I enjoy drop in, drop out – but I think that experiencing a story together is underestimated. Just because it’s co-op, that doesn’t mean that you can’t experience a story together. When you watch a movie together, you experience it together, so my initial thought was, “how do I make a co-op story that makes my characters be unique?” Not unique from a perspective that I have different levels, different weapons and so on, but unique from a perspective of personality; that I control one, and my friend controls another, and what does that mean for our journey? How is my character, how is your character? You know, it’s not just that you have different colors or different hair styles, you have totally different personalities.
That’s pretty much how the idea came up, and the reason why I chose it to be in a prison was that, first of all, it’s an environment that you don’t see too often in games, and the times you do see it, it’s very simple to get out of there. It’s also an environment that makes it very appealing for co-op. The game almost starts like a single-player experience for both players. The characters don’t know each other at first, and they’re very different. The easiest way to describe it is that one of them is very aggressive and emotional and short-sighted, where the other one is very relaxed, laid-back, and more of a thoughtful character. So the characters and their approach are very different. And also, all the NPCs [non-playable characters] in the game are unique; everyone has unique animations, and unique stuff they say to the players. I hope people interact with them because that’s also a way to get to know your characters. It’s not like a generic system that we generate different animations; everyone is motion-captured uniquely – the amount of content that we have in A Way Out is quite insane. That’s all to get you on your journey, and make your character believable, but it’s also up to you pretty much; the more you interact with stuff in the world and with people, the more you’ll get to know what kind of character you really are.
Ingmar: How do you manage to tell two different stories on screen at the same time without it getting confusing for both players?
Josef: The split-screen becomes an integral part of the storytelling. For example, the cut-scene for one player may be playable for the other. Sometimes there will even be three screens visible, and at other times only one. It’s still a co-op game at all times, just done in a different way. It’s hard to be more specific than that, because the approach depends entirely on the circumstances of a particular level.
Ingmar: How important are choices that players can make within the story, and what kind of impact can players have on how their characters change/develop throughout the game?
Josef: Player choice does not impact the story, but it can have an effect on the gameplay, and it’s intended mainly to get players talking to each other about how to approach new obstacles. For example, there is a scene where Leo and Vincent are robbing a gas station but they only have one gun. The players have to decide who will carry the gun. As a result of that decision, one player is able to be more aggressive while the other will have to be calmer with no weapon to protect himself.
Ingmar: Based on what I have seen, I’m under the impression that there is kind of a co-op puzzle element involved. Something like, you want to progress to a certain room or area, but there is an obstacle in the way, so one player distracts certain NPCs, while the other character is performing another action in the background. How much of a role does this type of element play?
Josef: I would more describe it as “challenges” than puzzles because there are not really any traditional puzzles. Every challenge is made so that you and the other player have to talk. We want you to co-operate all of the time, and that’s why I urge people to play it on the couch. I mean, you will be able to play it online, but the actual dialogue between players is important. It’s almost like it’s part of the design that they talk and communicate, and stuff like that. You cannot progress forward if you don’t co-operate with your partner – you have to; you’re dependent on your partner. That’s what I mean by saying it’s not a “drop in, drop out” game. You have to be with your partner, otherwise you can’t continue the game, and that’s why it doesn’t have a single-player mode.Continued on the next page...