Interview with Remedy Entertainment’s Thomas Puha on Control, Quantum Break, Alan Wake and more
When Reboot Develop Blue 2019 came to Dubrovnik this year we knew we had to attend. The growing European game dev conference attracted talent from dozens of game developers from all over the glove, who spent time talking with their peers about all of their new innovations, technologies, and games.
Remedy Entertainment, currently working on Control and Crossfire, was there to talk about their latest games and we managed to chat to Thomas Puha about the studio, their next big game, Control, and much more.
Despite his busy schedule Thomas made time to speak with us outside of the conference and enlightened us about Control, why the game is launching on Epic Games Store, the future of Alan Wake, and the challenges the team faced with making a brand new, Metroidvania-inspired adventure. Read below for the full interview, and keep reading Wccftech in the coming months for even more coverage on Control, Remedy's new game due on August 27th.
Can you tell us about the origins of Control? We noticed the similarities to Quantum Break...
Thomas Puha: Yeah, we get that a lot. The origins, I mean, it's interesting when we were close to shipping Quantum Break and we talk a lot about the ideas, many of which were kind of in the air. Yeah, it is going to be a third person action game because that's kind of what we do, and building new tech. With Control, one of the original things we talked about with Mikael Kasurinen, the game director, was that Quantum Break was the game where we think everything worked together really well, it had great stories, great characters, great action, replay value, and with Control we really tried to do all that and also it was very obvious early on that we're going to make it very gameplay driven, a little bit more systems-based much more open-ended, and why? It's like, well, we like making different kinds of games, we enjoy playing different kinds of games, in some ways Quantum Break was the ultimate linear story-driven experience that we can. We want to do different types of games and with Control it was more or less just be weird, let's just go left field, and then we had a really good reception at E3 which really meant a lot to us, like okay this is the right way to go, let's double down on the game. And it definitely has like some Dark Souls, which a lot of games now say that of course but we do have a bit of that but then the whole Metroidvania structure of the game, when that came we were like oh yeah, this is going to be a much more of an adventure action kind of thing with not a lot of hand-holding. So I guess the gist of it is that the games are also reactions to the previous game, so with Quantum Break it was very mainstream and for a more casual audience, and we might have had some sort of identity crisis, almost, with Control. We said okay, let's make a game that people who love video games will enjoy.
With Control you have a similar sort of physics mechanic, like in Quantum Break. How has that evolved? Why is the team so drawn to this sort of style of gameplay?
TP: It's an interesting thing because first of all, the physics system in Control is completely new compared to Quantum Break, the animation system was built from scratch. The AI system was built from scratch. The thing early on that we talked about when we latched on to the supernatural abilities was that the big challenge was we know how to make the gunplay feel good. We know how to do that. How do we do the same thing with when you're grabbing objects and throw them, how do you achieve that same satisfaction, that same impact? And we worked a lot on that, I think we have achieved that. It's fun to use telekinesis to grab objects and throw them, and all that. You can get pretty creative. And we realized oh, we do have this fun sandbox and we went all in with that.
Tell us about the protagonist in Control.
TP: Yeah. So Jesse Faden is the protagonist in Control and when Sam Lake and the writing team were figuring out the story with Mikael we decided we really liked working with Courtney Hope was Beth in Quantum Break. I mean, Courtney is just really a kick-ass woman and has a great attitude, and when the story started coming together we're like well, this seems like tailor-made for Courtney. And that's how we ended up getting her and Jesse as a character definitely has that interesting mystique, things that happened to her in her past, and that definitely will be explored in the game. And that's kind of where we're getting into the tricky bit because like, you know us for our story and characters, and it's hard to talk about it without giving much away. But when she comes to the Oldest House where the game takes place and starts dealing with the Federal Bureau of Control, the Bureau is this sort of old boys club, they're used to controlling things. When Hiss invades the Oldest House and robs it the Bureau appear like they're losing control and having a hard time dealing with that. Then Jesse gets into the situation and challenges things, so I think it makes for a pretty interesting setup that people will experience when they play the finished product.
On the subject of being known for your stories, there's a lot of fans out there who want Alan Wake back...
TP: Yeah, and every time when we say something about Alan Wake it becomes a headline. So I hope this doesn't sound bad, but look, we've been saying the same thing for so long. We like Alan Wake, we're fully moved and it's not like we don't want to make more, we just got to find the right opportunity, but it's really humbling how much love there is. Any time we put out some communique or trailer, there's always going to be people saying Alan Wake 2 please, so we hear you, but it's the same thing as we've been saying for years, we've got to find the right opportunity.
Like you said it's really nice that fans still so have so much love for the character and the franchise.
TP: Absolutely. I mean, it resonated really, really well, especially sort of in the long run, which is amazing to see.
As a complete outsider looking at the studio, I notice that the studio can't really get mentioned about Alan Wake being mentioned somewhere which I guess is both a detriment and a plus.
TP: It is, it is. I mean it's nice that wherever you go wearing a Remedy shirt people come up to you. 'Oh, I love Max Payne.' It is amazing. But yeah, I mean, let it is what it is.
Back to talking about Control, what's it been like developing for like PlayStation 4 Pro and Xbox One X?
TP: Well, of course, it's a challenge because it ships on multiple platforms. But I dare say that from a technological standpoint, Remedy's always been pretty damn good. I know there's a lot of unhappy people on Quantum Break's PC version for various reasons, we should have done better. There were some mitigating factors, but we know that on the PC side that we've definitely got to correct. But we've got great engineers. And at the end of the day yes, there's a pretty big gap between like a regular PS4 and like an Xbox One X. But I mean, we've been a PC developer since day one. So our engine does scale pretty well with these things and our guys and gals take a lot of pride in making the game as polished and make sure it runs as smooth as possible. With all the destruction going on in the game it's not going to be easy.
Has the team ever tried to put these kinds of mechanics into like a multiplayer scenario? Obviously, as you said, you're more known for the story of the single player...
TP: Yeah, I mean, there is another team called Vanguard that's doing multiplayer experimentation on Unreal Engine 4. There's a lot of people at Remedy who love multiplayer, who love first-person shooters as well because we're doing one. But we have to figure out what's the right way of doing a Remedy multiplayer game, like, how do we have the rich universal characters in that environment? And a lot of us love multiplayer and it's like, let's just get on the bandwagon. Let's just figure out like, what's the right way for us. And I mean, we've had small teams dabble in multiplayer for years and years. There is technology and experiments and all sorts of stuff. It's just not public. I mean, there's been plenty of things that we've looked at and tried. So I mean, definitely in the future, yes.
So you're using Unreal Engine 4. And the game is launching on Epic Games Store, I believe?
TP: Well, Control is using our own Northlight Engine, and Crossfire too. So we use our in house engine, but for Vanguard, we're using UE4. For many reasons.
Is there anything you can tell us about what led to being published on Epic Games Store? Is that more down to the publisher?
TP: You'd have to talk to the publisher about that. There's been a long relationship between Epic and Remedy, and whenever these disruptive kinds of things happen, some people are upset. From our perspective, I mean, we're consumers as well. So I mean, we get some of the frustration, but at least from Remedy's perspective, we're still multiplatform. You know, you can still play the game on PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One. I think the main concern for us is; let's just make Control as good as it can be. Right? That's the main thing. We are worried about making the game as good as it can be.
Some news came out about some timed missions that were platform specific. Do you have any information on how long were they might be exclusive for?
TP: So there's one exclusive mission in the digital deluxe PS4 version, and then the expansion pass is kind of tied to that. But outside of that, one costume, the side mission, and the digital themes, the game is the same on all platforms, and all the expansion pass will be available on all platforms, but I can't say what the exclusivity window is, except it's not very long. So, again, we're consumers as well at Remedy and the core game is the same for everybody. Again, many publisher and business reasons for doing certain things.
So you said the game has some Metroidvania-style inspirations, is that reflected in the level design?
TP: Yeah, absolutely. So the Oldest House is really kind of like a large, interconnected space. There are several different sectors and the deeper you go into the building, the stranger it gets because there are other dimensions that seep into this place of power, which the Oldest House is. And as you unlock the abilities, throughout the main campaign, you might early on be in a certain location and see there's doors and areas that it looks like you should be able to grow but you just can't yet. Later, you'll get something, and you'll say; 'maybe I should go back,' and a whole new area opens up and you explore. That is at the heart of Metroidvania, and there's all the gear that you can find. You can equip mods on weapons, and character abilities, you're going to really have to go and explore and fight some of the toughest enemies around, to get the best mods and resources. So there is a lot of exploration in the game.
So I'm guessing you'll be finding like different keys or different techniques to open new pathways? Can we expect some secrets hidden away for more explorative players?
TP: Absolutely, I think that brings a smile to my face. You have to understand we come them from making games where we set everything, we always know where the player comes from, what the player will be equipped with, we placed all the enemies in it, right? But now we don't, we really don't. So it's fun to play the finished levels now. And like, wait a minute, is there like an item box up there? Can I get to that space? We can actually build those levels that have these hidden sections with a lot of exploration, which is pretty awesome. It's our first time at it, so the bar is set high. And it's not like other games haven't done that. That's the thing that I want. A lot of the things in Control are very new for Remedy, not necessarily new in games. For us, it's been a big challenge. There were so many new things. And hopefully, all of that will be combined by that Remedy secret sauce that makes it feel more unique.
Has the change to level design changed the workflow or the design process, much?
TP: It has, I mean, first building interconnected levels. I mean, we have to get streaming technology in place, and all the technological things have to come in place before we can even do the work. And then there's a lot of new people on board. At every point in the game it will get tough at some point, or many times. And then what we tried to avoid is falling back into the old habits of; 'well, we're just going to control the camera here and what the player does,' no, that's not what the game is. The game is about players expressing themselves and more player choice, and all that. And that's something that you have to keep reminding the team of all the time. Yeah, all the time. Well, let's see how well we can pull it off.
Is there anything you feel people should know about Remedy and Control?
TP: I think that Remedy's trying really hard. I mean, with Control especially, there are so many things that we haven't done before, there's a lot of new technology in place and everything that you mentioned, like the level design, the flow of the game, and how we integrate the story, because that's still so important to us, and the characters, how is all of that integrated? I think if people look at it 'Oh, it looks like more Quantum Break,' trust me it's a lot more than that. It's a lot more challenging, it's a lot more open-ended. And I'd say, in my opinion, it probably has the best cast of characters. We got some really unique quirky characters in this game that I think people will really like. The bar was set pretty high with Alan Wake, my personal favorite is Barry, with his Christmas lights and his red puffer jacket. So we have created many memorable characters, and I think with Control we'll do that again. So yeah, just give it a chance when it comes out.
Absolutely. Thank you so much. I really appreciate it.