Playing with age in Starbreeze's 'Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons'

Experimenting with Starbreeze's 'Brothers A Tale of Two Sons' with director Josef Fares

"Nobody knows how to make a game yet," says film director Josef Fares, quickly clarifying his statement isn't an attack on the industry but a suggestion that game creation shouldn't be a set science. "It's still a time where we're open to experimentation," the international director adds.

Born in Lebanon, Fares grew up in Sweden where he became a director, but his next project pairs him with developer Starbreeze Games to create a game called Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons (formerly referred to as "P13" in Starbreeze's internal "project" numbering system). Brothers has been in development for a number of years, with Fares even working on a few of the game's prototypes before the team at Starbreeze locked down the Unreal-developed downloadable title for a 2013 release.

The core feature of Brothers is, of course, the game's siblings. But Fares says he's fought off all suggestions by his fellow game makers that the characters should each be controlled by a separate player. Instead, he says, Brothers is designed to have both characters controlled by a single player in a very specifically designed campaign experience.

During my hands-off press demo, Fares refers to the two unnamed characters as "Big Brother" and "Little Brother." The elder brother wears a blue shirt and appears to be about 8 or 9, while the orange-clad younger brother appears to trail his sibling by a few years. In the 3D, overhead perspective world, each brother is controlled by a separate analog stick on a controller: Big Brother on the left and Little Brother on the right. Each brother can step up to any interactive object or person in the world, and then interact with it using either the left or right trigger.

Early on the game, for example, the two brothers come across a woman sweeping with a broom. When you walk up with Little Brother and pull the trigger, he'll grab the broom and use it as part of a balancing act performance, causing the woman to laugh and clap. When Big Brother interacts, however, he'll take the broom and sweep with it, responsibly attempting to help the woman tidy the area.

In this way, the relationship between the two brothers is defined, as the player gets to see a series of moments showing off their different personalities. Later, the two brothers come across a man gardening: Big Brother walks up and talks to the man in the game's nonsensical, wordless language, and the man grumpily shoos him away. Little Brother, however, will have none of that: When you interact, the little brother kicks the man in the pants and jump away laughing. "It's extremely important that it's simple," Fares says of the game's controls, and the simple series of interactive moments does make a lot of action possible with just the two joysticks and triggers. The story in many artistic games is told or written out for the player, says Fares, but "here, you'll play it as an interactive experience."

Experimenting with Starbreeze's 'Brothers A Tale of Two Sons' with director Josef Fares

The setting in Brothers is quite fantastical. Not only are there amazing mountain views and forestscapes that ooze with gorgeous light, but at one point, the brothers come across a real mountain troll. Brothers' story begins with the two carting their sick father to a priest, who gives the pair a map sending them on a journey for a cure. Fares says there will be an arc to follow, both with the brothers and their relationship to each other, and the world they explore. "It becomes more and more odd," he teases. "It's a weird fantasy world."

In between the interactions, there will be puzzles, and Fares says he's working closely with Starbreeze to get them balanced just right. One puzzle shown off during the demo has the two brothers moving across a series of platforms trying to dodge an angry dog. When one distracts the mean pooch, the other can move forward to the next platform. Other puzzles, Fares says, will have the brothers taking different paths on screen, performing co-op style gameplay all from one controller.

"When you tie your shoes, you don't need anyone else's help," says Fares about what he's trying to accomplish here: Two different hands, working together for the same motions. The other goal, he says, is to not replicate gameplay at all. Each interaction with each brother will be different, and each puzzle throughout the game will have its own mechanics and rules. In most modern games, says Fares, "they reuse everything. But in this game, everything is unique."

There's a cost there, of course. It takes a lot of work to make sure a game is both completely unique and made of quality content, and Fares says that as hard as he's working on the game with Starbreeze, the core storyline itself may only run for about three or four hours. Does he worry that maybe he should make a more traditional game, that maybe he should accept some lessons that modern gaming has taught, and back off on the experimentation?

"If I worry too much," answers Fares, "then I won't create anything." With that statement as his guide, Brothers might make for an interesting journey indeed.