Josef Fares has been circling the world of video games his entire life. For more than a decade, the 35-year-old director has drawn from his life growing up in Lebanon, and later Sweden to craft a series of poignant and funny films about family, like his 2005 his award winning film Zozo. But while his hand has always been drawn to the camera, that same steady hand was also raised with a controller in it, playing everything from the 16-bit RPG classics of Squaresoft, to modern adventures like Heavy Rain.
Now Fares is working with Starbreeze, the studio behind the pair of The Chronicles of Riddick games and the recent Syndicate, on his very first game. Digital Trends talked with Fares about the difficulty of writing stories for video games, the troubled relationship between gaming and movies, and dreams of a new Secret of Mana.
Why make a video game now? What made you want to step away from film for this project with Starbreeze?
It has always been a dream for me to make a game and when I got this chance it was impossible to refuse. I haven’t stopped making movies, I’m just taking a break from it. I’d like to do more games in the future.
There has been a struggle with storytelling in video games over the past twenty years regarding how best to use the tools of film. On the one hand, dramatic camera perspectives, acted dialogues, and sweeping scenes are useful for telling a story, but they’re sometimes a detriment to interactivity. You’ve said, “Films are films and games are games.” How do you best tell a story in a video game?
Personally, I appreciate games such as Heavy Rain and The Walking Dead which have a more cinematic feel, but I think they are too close to a movie experience. I love the interactive aspects of games and this is reflected in the character development in Brothers.
How one would best tell a story in games is hard to answer, there is so much to discover within the actual medium itself. I personally think that more attention should be given to the interactive aspect. Movies have, for obvious reasons, more experience as a medium and what they do best is to have total control over the experience, while a game does not.
Most of your films deal with families. Why is family such a potent subject for you as a creator?
I grew up with a big family. I have five siblings so it is natural for me to be affected and inspired by it.
Your films are also heavily informed by your life in two very different cultures, Sweden and Lebanon. How is that perspective reflected in Brothers?
There are no cultural connections in Brothers, however the language that the brothers speak is strongly inspired by Arabic. There is also something extremely personal in Brothers that I have experienced. I can’t go into much detail without spoiling the game
What was the genesis of Brothers? How did you first come up with the idea?
I was asked and given the chance to develop a video game prototype together within one month with a group of students. That same night I sat in my hotel room and figured out the whole foundation of Brothers.
You’re not a fan of motion controllers. What would it take for motion controls to be useful for telling a great story in a game?
They simply don’t work and don’t contribute anything to a game. One redeeming feature is that [motion controls give] people that haven’t played games before a chance to enjoy them too. I feel it’s a shame that so much focus is on how we control games. It is obvious that the games need to be developed, not how we control them.
There’s been a resurgence in nostalgia for the 16-bit RPGs you grew up playing. What distinguished those games from the type of role-playing games you see now? How did they influence your ideas for Brothers?
I think that role-playing games of today have become a bit too complex in their menus and upgrading systems. What I really liked with the 16-bit era was its simplicity. Nowadays, some games need to be played for 4 to 5 hours just to understand how they work. It takes so much energy that I am thrown out of the experience. I find this to be a common problem in games; the player has way too much to think about. However, good examples of games that have variation and simplicity are Half-Life 2 and Final Fantasy VII. And regarding their influence, I feel that the whole top-down idea has been a base for Brothers since I do like 16-bit games so much.
Brothers is a breath of fresh air because it’s the rare game on the horizon with no guns. Shooting games are great, but there are just so many of them. It’s just so easy to make them. Shooting is an easy to understand and fun mechanic, and people eat them up. How do you wean the game industry and game players off of their gun obsession?
The first thing I want to say is that games aren’t easy to develop, even if one does a simple shooter. Yet I agree that it is an easier concept to approach since it’s been done so many times before. Personally, I am convinced that those who love games won’t want to play the same type of game over and over again. Hopefully, when they see a game like Brothers it will be a natural transition for them to want to try something new.
After work on Brothers is finished what’s the next game you want to make?
I have plenty of ideas and it would be extremely fun to make more games. Yet I wouldn’t do it if I wasn’t working with a publisher that would trust me and was giving me and the team freedom to work alone.
If the opportunity fell in your lap to remake an old game with complete creative control, what would you want to remake?
Since I have a great love for 16-bit role-playing games I would love to do a remake of Secrets of Mana. Imagine that in HD graphics.