Why betting on Unreal Engine 5 paid off for Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons Remastered

Brian Crecente

Avantgarden Games is an Italian studio based in Milan, fully owned by Digital Bros Group.
Lead by creativity and passion and evolving from Ovosonico – creator of critically acclaimed and award-winning titles such as Murasaki Baby and Last Day of June–devoting itself to develop the remake of Josef Fares’ first masterpiece.​
When the relatively small team at Avantgarden set about recreating Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons–a game they view as a masterpiece in game design–the choice to use Unreal Engine 5, despite it being in early access, was an easy one.

They felt the engine was the only route to creating a state of the art, visually stunning game with the time and resources they had. They also bet that Nanite and Lumen–neither of which had launched at the time–would be game changers for their work.

They were right.

The two powerful tools arrived as expected and had an oversized impact on development.

We chatted with Avantgarden Game Director Luca Simonotti and Lead Game Programmer Emanuele Russo about how the Milan-based studio got involved in the remaster, why they view the original as so influential, and how Unreal Engine 5 helped empower their creation.
Can you tell us how Avantgarden came together as a studio and what it hopes to achieve in its creations?

Luca Simonotti, Avantgarden Game Director:
Avantgarden is a game development studio that comprises industry veterans and former members of the Ovosonico team. In 2020, Digital Bros acquired Ovosonico entirely and rebranded it as Avantgarden.
The studio aims to grow by creating high-quality titles, not necessarily long or triple-A categories but with the primary goal of making small distinctive masterpieces both in terms of quality and narrative. We would like to leave a lasting impact on both our generation of gamers and future ones.
 
How did Avantgarden get involved with this remake?

Simonotti:
To begin with, I want to express that undertaking the remake of this enchanting creation has been both a privilege and a significant responsibility for the Avantgarden team. The decision stemmed from the aspiration to commemorate the 10th anniversary of Josef Fares' BAFTA-winning masterpiece and rejuvenate the original encounter through the development of a distinctive, updated version. Despite the years that have elapsed since the launch of the initial game, its uniqueness persists. Revitalizing a game that has made history demanded a nuanced approach, requiring reverence, respect, and a profound connection with the original creators' vision. We consistently questioned the essence of each scene and the intended emotional resonance. Our objective was to accentuate and magnify every emotion envisioned by the creators, ensuring that the game retained its enchantment and impact even in its rejuvenated form.
Courtesy of Avantgarden Games
What sort of lasting impact do you think the original Brothers: A tale of Two Sons had on players?

Simonotti:
Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons has left a lasting impact on players due to its emotional narrative and unique gameplay mechanics. The engaging story of the two brothers, coupled with the innovative way players control both characters simultaneously, has created a memorable gaming experience. The emotional connection with the characters and situations faced throughout the game has made the experience deeply immersive. Furthermore, the exceptional artistic direction, the moving soundtrack, and the game world's design have contributed to creating a unique atmosphere. These elements have helped highlight the game's originality in the gaming landscape, immersing players not only in the plot but also in the overall emotional experience. Finally, Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons has been praised for its ability to communicate emotions without the use of traditional spoken language but rather through the language of gameplay and visuals. This has opened up new narrative possibilities in video games and raised new expectations from players.
 
What drove the decision to remake Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons?

Simonotti:
The main goal was to celebrate and preserve the original experience, overcoming past technological limitations to highlight the original ideas vividly. Despite more than ten years having passed since the original game's launch, the team believes that the emotionally compelling narrative of Brothers deserves to be discovered by new players and revisited by those who already know the game. The improvements made in the remake, ranging from visual details and facial animations to a remastered soundtrack recorded by an orchestra, aim to surpass the expressive limits of the original game, providing a deeper and more engaging overall experience. 
 
What were some of the chief things that you wanted to change with this remake?

Simonotti:
For us, Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons Remake is more than just a game; it is an emotional journey for the player. That's why our main focus has been on elevating the game's presentation, refining controls, and completely overhauling all animations. Regarding additions to the presentation, we have spent time redoing all scenes, introducing new sequences, making subtle changes to mechanics and puzzles, and adding interactions in all levels. The Avantgarden team has rebuilt every stage of the brothers' journey from scratch, fully leveraging the capabilities of Unreal Engine 5. The original experience has evolved distinctly thanks to modern technology, allowing for expressiveness that was previously impossible to achieve. While retaining the distinctive "single-player cooperative" controls of the original game, we have added the option for friends to control the two brothers separately, making the gameplay even more engaging.
Courtesy of Avantgarden Games
Why did you decide to use Unreal Engine 5 for the remake?

Emanuele Russo, Avantgarden Lead Game Programmer:
We chose UE5 for several reasons. The first reason is related to the mission of the project. This remake aimed to reach a state-of-the-art visual quality, it had to be "triple-I". With the given time and resources, UE5 was the only option.

Another reason is that the team was already skilled on Unreal technology, many of us had already shipped games or worked with UE for several years. The last reason is that the original Brothers was made in Unreal 3, that added another bit of motivation to choose it. 
 
How big was your team on this project and how did using Unreal Engine 5 help you deliver what you were hoping to achieve with your size team?

Russo:
The internal team is made up of about 20 people, with six programmers. UE5 supports the development with so many tools and frameworks, that we could focus entirely on gameplay and visual quality, without the need to reinvent the wheel. Given the important role of animations and cutscenes in Brothers experience, the animation framework and Level Sequencer were vital for this game. Finally, leveraging its rich scalability system, we were able to achieve good performances on a wide range of hardware, consoles included. 
 
How did Lumen's real time global illumination impact your work on this remake and the end result?

Russo:
The impact of Lumen was huge. We had a long internal debate about it; the most important questions were ‘Will it be mature when we ship?’ ‘Can we afford it in terms of performance?’ ‘Does it fit with the art direction of the game?’

We started the development when UE5 was in early access, we chose to put our trust in Epic’s roadmap and now we can say that the intuition was right, we could ship the game with Lumen and hit the performance requirements. From the art direction perspective, even if the look of this game has shifted towards realism a lot, we didn’t want to completely lose the fairytale atmosphere of the original game. This is not easy to obtain with Lumen; the effort we put into the cutscenes to obtain the stunning look they have, is the sum of a lot of in-engine experiments and experience in cinematography.
Courtesy of Avantgarden Games
How did you make use of Nanite technology in working on the remake and what were the end results?

Russo:
Nanite gave us a big hand, especially considering the team size. Even if artists must still pay attention to the asset’s complexity, Nanite is an accelerator in the production and integration pipeline. The result is richer, and the overall level of detail looks very homogenous from the background to the foreground.
 
How important was technology to your work on this remake?

Russo:
Tech is always important when making a game, it’s a piece of software, after all. For Brothers, we could leverage the fact that it was made in Unreal 3, and we had the source code of the game and the engine. We implemented tools in UE3 and UE5 to create a bridge between the two that helped us to migrate most of the original assets and scripts into UE5. That was a solid technical foundation and visual block-out that helped artists and animators to remain true to the original game in terms of level design and animations, and to increase the quality.
 
How do you think the use of Lumen and Nanite will impact how players perceive this remake?

Russo:
I can’t tell precisely what will impact players’ perception. I think Lumen and Nanite, combined with the assets and tuning we used, will increase the feeling of realism and visual complexity.
Courtesy of Avantgarden Games
Is there anything else you'd like to tell us about the use of Unreal Engine 5 in the creation of this remake?

Russo:
Unreal Engine 5 has a lot to offer to a small team, in terms of tools and technology, to reduce time to market and give the possibility to reach high quality standards. But it's a very deep and complex tool as well, which rewards skill, experience, and the effort required to achieve your goals. We are proud of the result we obtained.
 
Thanks for taking the time to chat with us. Where can readers find out more about Avantgarden and Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons Remake?

Simonotti:
Certainly, to see our future titles and stay close to Brothers, you can find us on the game’s website, our website, and linkedIn.

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