Inspired by a college syllabus, we ask developers what players should read, watch, and play to get a better understanding of their game.
Remedy Entertainment is currently working on Control, a new action game set in the headquarters of the fictional U.S. Federal Bureau of Control. If previous Remedy games like Alan Wake and Max Payne channeled specific niche genres, Control is modeled after the Weird Fiction movement.
The setting is somewhere called The Oldest House, the Brutalist headquarters of the FBC. Inside the new FBC director, Jesse Faden, tries to uncover the mysteries of what exactly happened at the Oldest House which turned its inhabitants into supernatural entities. Using Jesse's own supernatural abilities, players must explore The Oldest House for answers.
But what is Weird Fiction, and how does it feed into Control? To answer that we asked Control director Mikael Kasurinen to create a syllabus of what players should read, watch, and play in order to understand Control's tone and atmosphere.
What to Watch: Stalker (dir. Andrei Tarkovsky, 1979)
"There's the movie Stalker by [Andrei] Tarkovsky that he did in the 70s. It's a fantastic movie and it's very psychological as well," says Kasurinen. "The kind of core premise is there's this strange zone in the middle of Russia. Within this zone there is a legend that there's this room, and if you get to that room you can wish for anything you want and you can get it." Because of the nature of this zone there is a military blockade guarding it, but the hero gains access with the help of smugglers and guides called Stalkers.
Kasurinen cites one specific scene in Stalker where a Stalker must do a specific procedure when inside the zone that's never really explained by the film. "[The Stalker] had these [lugs] tied to a rope, and he threw them just to check something. But he had to throw one and then check that everything's okay and then they could walk. But they never explained it."
"Everything feels perfectly natural [in Stalker], it just adds a creepy dimension to that experience. And all that stuff is what inspires us when we look at Control," explains Kasurinen. "You see all this different phenomenon that are beyond your understanding, but you're trying to – you want to understand."
What to Read: "Annihilation" by Jeff VanderMeer
"There is also a new book that came out [five] years ago by Jeff VanderMeer called 'Annihilation.' The book is a great example of New Weird and I think those two [Stalker, "Annihilation"] together are kind of a good starting point," Kasurinen says.
Annihilation is a 2014 weird fiction novel about a team of four women who venture into a mysterious zone called Area X. The nature of Area X is never fully explained in the novel. Instead descriptions of Area X depend on an unreliable narrator who describes physical objects differently than they are defined (for example calling a tunnel a "tower").
Annihilation was recently adapted into a film starring Natalie Portman and directed by Alex Garland (Ex Machina). Note that the movie is great on its own, but diverges wildly from the book, so no cheating and watching the movie in place of the book (maybe check them both out).
What to Play: Dark Souls (From Software)
"When we look at games, you know, I always hesitate to say because I don't want people to start thinking in the wrong way about Control, but Dark Souls is a big influence as well," Say Kasurinen. The director cited the "amazing level design they did in Dark Souls 1 with the shortcuts and different areas with their own strong identity," as a major influence to Control's Oldest House setting, as well as the restrained storytelling which built the world through item descriptions and locations.
Dark Souls is From Software's ultra popular dark fantasy RPG. Dark Souls is known for its immense difficulty, intricate level design, and deep character customization. In this case Remedy seems to be referring exclusively to the puzzle-like level design the Dark Souls games are known for, which feed levels and stages into one another in one giant, inter-connected world. Expect The Oldest House to function in a similar way, with hidden pathways, side areas, and inter-connected locations.
Control is set to release on August 27 on PS4, Xbox One, and PC through the Epic Games Store. That's plenty of time to visit Kasurinen's multi-media syllabus and get a good feel for what to expect when Remedy delivers its own take on the weird fiction genre.