Remedy is one of the most acclaimed developers working in the video game industry. Their titles have always been known for layered and provocative storytelling, tight gunplay, and deeply characterized protagonists.
Through it all, from Max Payne to Alan Wake and Quantum Break, writer Sam Lake has been the tip of the spear for creating and conveying the worlds developed by Remedy. Lake first joined Remedy to write for 1996's top-down combat racer, Death Rally, but it was Max Payne which truly cemented him as a video game auteur, and established Remedy as a top-tier developer of story-driven, action-packed games for adults.
Remedy's latest game, previously codenamed P7, is Control, which marks something of a departure for the Finnish team, while still maintaining the various core tenets of the studio's philosophy. Featuring fast-paced gunplay, supernatural powers, and a fantasy story rooted in the real world of New York City, Control is Remedy's first multi-console release since Max Payne 2: The Fall of Max Payne, and might just be their most ambitious project to date.
We sat down with Sam Lake to talk about Control, embracing weirdness, remaining an indie studio, and assembling Remedy all-stars like James McCaffrey, Matthew Porretta, and Courtney Hope for the new game. We also discussed Max Payne 2 and the Rockstar-developed Max Payne 3, and went in-depth on some of the new gameplay systems being developed for Control.
Tell us about your new game, Control.
Sure! Control is coming out next year. It's a supernatural, third person, action adventure game with a really deep world. We are a bit more focused towards taking steps into a game that's not just a linear experience, like our previous games have been. We're expanding our world so that the player has more to discover, more to explore, and can go in again and discover new things. World-building has been a big focus in this one.
Slightly different from our previous games, we wanted to try out an approach of "gameplay first." We wanted to create a more sandbox type of action game experience, with these strange supernatural powers that the main character has, to get different upgrades. Jesse, our hero, has this mystical service weapon. Kind of a supernatural version of an agent's service weapon, the Director's Pistol. It's this changing, shifting thing that you can also upgrade and customize, depending on the situation. So we combine these elements to give you more of a sandbox action experience where you can customize, you can try out different things. On the gameplay side, we have been investing a lot in physics.
Max Payne 2 was revolutionary for its realistic and stylized ragdoll physics.
We've gone as far into that as the current-gen tech allows, and dynamic destructibility of the environment is a big thing for us. With the supernatural powers that Jesse has, there's a lot of physics-related things. You can levitate, you can use telekinesis in different forms to break the surroundings and use them as a tool or a weapon. You can throw around dead ragdoll bodies. Early on, we decided what we wanted to achieve in gameplay, and then it became more like, "Okay, now let's create fiction and story that makes this possible and creates a world that elevates these ideas and makes these things possible."
With Quantum Break, the vision we had for that led to a mainstream experience. That was our take on mainstream! (laughs) Yeah it had time travel and it ended up being complicated nonetheless, but here we just decided to, ya know, let's have no stops. Let's go all the way, and if it ends up being weird and strange, we don't worry. We love that stuff. Let's just embrace it and go as far as we can, and trust that the gamers will follow and want to understand this mysterious, trippy world we are creating. That was a requirement for us to serve the gameplay, and be able to do all of these fun and crazy cool gameplay ideas that we had. That was our starting point: let's lean in more on exploration, choosing different missions, what to take and where to go, and maybe, with that, came the idea that it can be challenging and it can be fragmented in some ways that the players can go in and piece it together and do their own interpretations of what this possibly means, and ask a lot of questions. You can chase the mystery, you can try to find answers. Maybe we are not force feeding the answers and holding the player's hand, going "Look, this is the next clue," but it's out there; it's there to be discovered.
What is the story of Control? What is The Bureau?
The idea here is that, at the core of the mystery, is this very secretive clandestine government agency called The Federal Bureau of Control. The game is set in present day Manhattan, and we start, essentially, from a very ordinary New York street with yellow taxis driving by, and our hero, Jesse, has come here because she has these unresolved mysteries in her childhood that she's been trying to understand all her life, and now she's been brought here, to this building that is the headquarters of this secretive bureau, a building called The Oldest House. It's this bleak, brutalist architecture, concrete, windowless skyscraper, kind of hiding in plain sight. Nothing that catches your eye in a way.
Is The Oldest House based on the Titanpointe Building on Thomas Street?
It's part of the inspiration, certainly, yes. She goes in, and it's like, buckle up and liftoff, and it starts to get crazy. The Bureau investigates and tries to contain and use the unexplainable phenomenon it discovers. That's their mission. This building is a mystical, unexplainable place in itself; you can chase and discover bits and pieces of why that is the case, but it is the case. It is this strange place of power, this shifting place that seems to be this skyscraper from the outside, but when you get inside, it turns out to be much bigger than the outside would lead you to believe. Potentially, under the right conditions, it's endless. Like, you could keep on going and if the conditions are right and you make the ritualistic steps and you follow certain rules, then suddenly there is a doorway where there wasn't one and you can get into a totally new area in the building and just keep on going in this hallucinatory, dream-like way, deeper and deeper.
Are the levels crafted or are they procedurally generated?
To create them, we are using a modular approach, but yes, they are crafted. We custom-create the locations for this game, yes.
Among so many other pillars of what Remedy does, one of them is always having the tightest and most advanced shooting mechanics on the market.
I mean, I remember when I played Alan Wake, and I thought it was going to be a slower adventure game, and, though it certainly has elements of that, but you're also blasting baddies like Robocop or John Wayne!
As any writer does! (laughs)
For Control, how are you advancing the shooting, that core mechanic? And is it still a core mechanic?
It is a core mechanic. We kind of see us do double step. In a way, we did a baby step into that direction with Quantum Break, with Jack Joyce's time powers, and certainly, shooting mechanics were there as well, but we are taking it a lot further. For Control, we wanted to create a deeper action game experience with different elements playing together. So we have Jesse's supernatural powers combined with her supernatural service weapon. Shooting mechanics are very much at the heart of it, but she also has these strange, strong superpowers.
What can you tell me about the service weapon, The Director's Pistol?
The idea here is that with this unexplainable phenomenon that the Bureau deals with, one thing is they follow strange events. They call them Altered World Events. Somewhere, something happens where the rules of our known reality are somehow broken, corrupted, and twisted by some sort of unknown outside force. And it changes things, and they go and investigate. Sometimes they find artifacts, essentially. They call them Altered Items. These items have somehow retained some of their strange energy. The most powerful ones are called Objects of Power. This particular weapon is one Object of Power that has been with The Bureau for quite a long time. It's almost like our modern, contemporary take on King Arthur's sword. In The Bureau, there is this rule that whoever wields the service weapon is the Director. Jesse doesn't know anything about this. She comes in, and she finds the previous Director dead. The service weapon is lying there on the floor, and it's a threatening situation because this building has been invaded by this violent, supernatural force called The Hiss. The enemies are corrupted agents of The Bureau; The Hiss has taken over and corrupted, changed them. To defend herself, to protect herself, she just picks up this gun, and ends up going into this very dreamlike, ritualistic challenge that she passes and then, suddenly, she is the Director, and the weapon accepts her as the new director. She doesn't understand what that means, and the player doesn't understand what that means, but there we are, very early on in the game, and you are, now, the Director of the Bureau, and the Bureau is in a horrible crisis and now it's your responsibility to do something about it. That's our starting point. This is the only weapon that the player has. It has many forms, and it changes so you can unlock new forms of the gun and keep on upgrading and customizing it in many ways. And you do have telekinesis, so there are ways of using other tools, but essentially, this is your gun.