Sam Lake discusses bringing the “new weird” genre to life in a video game.
Some of the best works of storytelling in any medium provoke their audience by dangling questions in front of them that seem like they may have answers—but never actually answering them. Why does Mona Lisa smile? What happened to Dave Bowman at the end of 2001? Was Hercule Poirot morally justified in not revealing the true solution to the murder on the Orient Express with the authorities?
Games, too, have started to adapt this kind of storytelling more and more in recent years. Memorable experiences such as Shadow of the Colossus, The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask, and The Last of Us all captivate imaginations because they tell very resonant stories—but they let the player fill in a lot of the gaps themselves.
That kind of storytelling is what Remedy were going for with Control, their science fiction third person shooter that launched earlier this year, and which is currently one of the front runners at The Game Awards. Speaking to GamesBeat, Sam Lake of Remedy talked about how the developer approached two simultaneous challenges at once, both related to each other: of creating a “new weird” setting for the player, and of asking a lot of questions without providing the answers, while not trivializing the questions or the setting.
“What was really interesting to me as an idea for Control — we were taking the genre of the “new weird,” this literary genre, which takes this approach that we’re dealing with things we don’t understand fully. It can’t be explained satisfactorily and handed to you like, “Here’s the answer and this is what it’s all about.”
“Balancing that, you still have a very strong idea yourself that it’s about these things. But then having that constraint of never spelling things out. Walking that tightrope so everybody has enough to piece together and form a theory, but not so much that we take away the opportunity to do that and just hand the explanation to you. That, in some ways, excites me in the genre of new weird, reading these stories. I find my interest sparked when something is well-made and it feels to me like I’m not quite smart enough to understand everything.”
Lake continued that the balance they had to strike was to not make it seem as though there aren’t any answers.
“I almost come to a point where I don’t even need to figure out the exact meaning,” he said. “I have this safe feeling. Life confuses us, confuses me, many times. There aren’t always ready right answers in life. I feel that in art, you don’t need everything spelled out to you, as long as it’s well-made. The badly-made version is that it pulls you out of it and you start to doubt that it means anything. There are enough mistakes that it doesn’t add up. Then it collapses and it’s ruined. It’s a careful balancing act. That’s very much what we were trying to do in Control, to create a feeling like that.“
In a lot of ways, they ended up achieving what they set out to do, which probably explains why the game ended up resonating with, well, so many critics if not players (it sadly appears to have underperformed at retail. But then again, all Remedy games do that).