Swedish-based Starbreeze Studios, known for its gritty titles Syndicate and Payday, brings to PC, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 a delightful palate-cleanser in the form of Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons.
The Nordic fairy tale-inspired game, published by 505 Games and co-developed by Swedish-Lebanese director Josef Fares, presents a mysterious and unexplained world. Wildly beautiful environments, from idyllic country villages to rugged snow-capped mountain passes, beg the player to pause and drink in the captivating scenery.
Campaign gameplay, which involves controlling two characters simultaneously, revolves around the adventures and interactions between a set of young brothers as they traverse the storybook landscape in search of a mystical cure for their dying father. As the game progresses, it becomes increasingly important for the player to guide both brothers to work in tandem in order to overcome obstacles and puzzles.
Each brother is controlled by separate analog sticks, with the older brother controlled by the left stick and the younger brother controlled by the right. It’s this unique control scheme that Starbreeze feels is crucial to the player experience and narrative.
“The controls are part of the storytelling. We really want the player to feel that the left hand is the big brother and the right hand is the little brother,” says Fares. “Most of the puzzles are created to make the player feel an emotional connection between the brothers.”
When searching for a third-party engine, Starbreeze quickly realized Unreal Engine technology was the necessary solution to bring their vision to life.
“As a small team working on such a game, it was essential to have tools that allowed for rapid iteration of levels,” says art director Claes Engdal. “Brothers would simply not have been the same experience if we didn’t constantly introduce unique environments to the player. The Unreal Engine tools helped us quickly build large environments from modular assets. Throughout the project we could easily iterate on materials, composition, lighting, atmosphere, and post-processing in order to give each area its own look and mood.”
Engdal credits the tight integration between all of the tools in the Unreal Engine toolset for helping the team stay efficient throughout production. “Editing a particle effect is just one double-click away in the Content Browser. This helps us be a lot more cross-disciplinary, so if the effects artist is busy, a 3D artist can easily jump in and tweak the particle effect without any hassle.”
In fact, it’s the strength of the cross-disciplinary approach afforded by Unreal Engine 3, says lead level designer Filip Coulianos, that simplified the development pipeline and enabled the studio to focus on making an unforgettable game.
“The level creation, level streaming and art pipeline are very neatly fused together. Getting assets into the engine and preparing them to be put out in the level is very quick and effortless. Thanks to the streaming, the whole art and level design team can work together on a single level at the same time without interfering with each other. This flexibility enables us to keep the art and level design team super slim and super agile throughout the entire development process, which in Brothers' case proved to be extremely important.”
Offering reassurance to other studios who might be trying Unreal Engine technology for the first time, lead programmer Carl Granberg addresses one of the engine’s strongest attributes. “It’s easy to access and easy to understand right out of the box.”
Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons was recently crowned “Best Xbox Game” at the VGX 2013 award show and “Downloadable Game of the Year” at the 17th Annual D.I.C.E. Awards. PlayStation Plus members can currently download and play the game for free from the Instant Game Collection. For more information, visit www.starbreeze.com and follow @StarbreezeAB on Twitter.