I’m super excited for Control. I got to see the game at E3, I got to talk to its director, and when I went to New York Comic Con 2018 I knew I needed to absorb every bit of info about the game there. Thankfully, opportunity knocked. I was able to get into an interview with two important people behind the game. Sam Lake is the game’s writer, and was also the writer for Max Payne, Alan Wake, and Quantum Break. I also got to talk with Courtney Hope, who voices Control‘s main character Jesse Faden. The two were more than happy to tell me everything I could want to know about Jesse’s iPod, Uno the Mocap Dog, and what to do with superpowers.
TechRaptor: Hello Sam, hello Courtney.
Sam Lake: Hello!
TechRaptor: I hope– I really really hope you didn’t watch the last interview I did about Control, with Mikael, were I forgot your name and called you “The Guy With the Face”.
Sam: [Laughter]. Thank you. Everybody knew what you were talking about.
TechRaptor: Oh yeah, everyone knew immediately. They were like “Oh yeah, Sam, Max Payne.”
Courtney Hope: The guy with the face?
TechRaptor: The guy with the face. Alright, well… Thank you for taking the time to talk with me. I’m really excited for Control, I got to see it at E3…
TechRaptor: I got to… well I didn’t get to play it, but I got to watch someone play it. It looks really cool. Sam, why don’t I start with you? How did the idea for Control come about?
Sam: I mean it’s… all of these kind of form piece by piece, and, you know… here we just wanted to approach it slightly differently maybe than before. You’ve talked with Mikael and together we kind of came up with the concept overall. We wanted to, first off, figure out what kind of a game we want to make. Which might sound obvious for a game developer, but for us sometimes we come up with a story and characters first, but here we definitely wanted to nail down what the core experience is and what the sandbox-like deep action experience with supernatural abilities and this strange weapon that Jesse has and we wanted to create a less linear experience, you know? A world you can go in to explore and experience and keep coming back to. Those were kind of the, you know… this kind of a thing.
A lot of fun ideas already for our supernatural powers. So from there, on my part kind of… you know, coming up with a fiction and a story to support all of this and elevate it and… it got weird really fast. I mean, I love weird. I love David Lynch, I love Twin Peaks, the new one was awesome, I love experimental things on writing. I love post-modern writing, I love New Weird as a literary genre, and that was a big inspiration here. New Weird like Jeff VanderMeer’s Annihilation for example. Both Mikael and I were reading that early on. So, you know, all of these elements coming together and forming this world and fiction that, you know… giving ourselves a license to be weird.
In many– in some ways in Quantum Break we were aiming to create this kind of a blockbusterey mainstream experience. Now we’re saying we don’t worry about any of that we’ll just… go and make it as weird as it ends up being. As long as we are excited and having fun, and even if it’s a big mystery with a lot of questions, we trust that a lot of gamers like that as well and will come along for the ride to discover these things.
TechRaptor: Okay so, Courtney. You’re playing the main character Jesse. How is it like playing this character? What goes into acting as her and making her as a character?
Courtney: Yeah, you know, playing Jesse has been fun so far. We’re still in the midst of shooting, so there’s always new bits and pieces that are being thrown into the mix, when new things in the story arise. Where she faces new things. But its been fun. Jesse is different than when I played Beth, and she’s a character all of her own. She’s, you know, she’s got a lot of attributes that I really like and that I really respect. Its just been fun. It’s fun to play with her past and see how it’s relevant to the present and how it’s going to serve her, or not, in the future, and kind of grow with her as she’s growing throughout the story. Because she becomes this Director and it’s this, like… She’s never really been that type of leader. So it’s kinda fun to play that. It is fun, it’s not kinda fun, it’s very fun. [Laughter.]
TechRaptor: Since this is usual for Remedy games, are you guys doing both live action and voice acting, or just…?
Sam: Yeah, I mean… not really focusing on live action in this project, especially compared to Quantum Break, where we had a lot of live action obviously. Uh… you know… I… But there are some, you know, almost like in a spice-like way, some small elements where we are doing new things with live action and trying out experimental things. Yeah, that’s probably the right way of weird experimental things with live action material in this as well. But for the most part it’s almost like I wanted to, you know in all of our different games we played around with different mediums like graphic novels and pages of a novel and TV shows. Here I felt that from the beginning the idea was that, you know, with this world-building how can we use the world as a storytelling tool? Have fragmented discovers to be found and pieced together in the world. So that was part of it.
Certainly, we are using familiar elements like cutscenes, but we are doing that tonally and stylistically. Very stylized, almost like this hallucinatory vision-like way using cutscenes in there, and then, you know, the way that we’ve done in our previous games. We do have Jesse as the narrator of sorts in this experience. Like we’ve used voice-over narrations in our previous games as well. We wanted to re-invent it for this. So it’s more, in some ways, stream of consciousness-type of hearing her thoughts. Yeah.
TechRaptor: So Courtney, you usually do TV shows or movies, in fact as far as I can tell the only other game you’ve done is Quantum Break—
Sam: Ah, there’s been… Star Wars?
Courtney: Yeah! I did Star Wars too. I was in the expansion pack online.
TechRaptor: Oh, you did Star Wars too? Okay. So, for doing a game, how different would you say it is from doing, say, The Beautiful and the Bold. Er, The Bold and the Beautiful.
Courtney: The Bold– yeah. Same thing. It’s the same thing. Bold, beautiful. Beautiful, bold. It’s the same thing.
Well, I mean, a soap opera is very different from normal TV in general. We shoot ten episodes a week as opposed to a span of one over a week and a half. You know, I think the biggest thing is… As far as me, as an actress, the preparation goes very similar. I create the world that I’m living in as whatever character it is, and then I just push forward into that world. With the other characters or crew. But with a game… my experience with Quantum Break I didn’t know what I was coming into because that was my first game to jump into. It was interesting because there are so many different elements. In one particular scene, you could do the mocap and the facialcap and then the voice over for it. Then at one point we were just doing eyes. So each scene is almost… you know, we shot it in multiple different ways. In fact, one was like a year apart. I remember doing stuff on a stage in Santa Monica, and then coming to Finland a year and a half later and doing the same thing. I think the biggest thing I learned, which was interesting, was that so much is developed in-between that time.
So I remember doing it on the soundstage and then doing it a year and a half later, and there was so much more I learned about Beth that it almost became… I mean, it was something different and it was something deeper. So I think that’s one of the biggest things, between any other project, because something you don’t get that opportunity unless you go back for reshoots or something, to go back and shoot a similar moment, just because there are different elements to it. I know technology changes all the time and now it’s kind of a little bit more– everything is more in-sync and combined and compressed together so with this game, it’s a similar thing. It’s a longer process of development from other projects. Especially The Bold and the Beautiful. It’s like sometimes we get a script and the next day we shoot it and they’re like “You know what? Never mind. Give me those scenes, here’s that, and go. Go tape it.” You know, right that second. Yeah, everything’s different, but as far as my process goes I want to flesh out the character and really bring to life that character as best as I possibly can because they’re a human being.
TechRaptor: So why did you end up choosing to go on Control?
Courtney: Well I love working with Sam and with Remedy. I had a great time in Quantum Break, I had a great time with the crew and the cast and I had a great time in Finland, and it was just this all around really great experience. I learned a lot, I grew a lot as an actress, as an artist, and as a person. So whenever Sam called me and asked if I could be… He’s like “I have this idea…”, just throwing it out there, and it was like maybe four words came out of his mouth and I was like “Yep!” He was like “I didn’t ask you…”
But, I mean, that was a huge part of it. It’s a testament to who they are as game developers and as people. I wanted to collaborate again and create something. Especially too since I loved playing Beth and I wish I could have done more as Beth. Because, you know, there was so much. I loved her so much and she was real fun to play and so, when he said there was an opportunity to dive into something new and dive into something more, I was like “Yeah, I’m in.”
Sam: That goes kind of both ways. We were really happy working with Courtney on Quantum Break. Beth was, you know, many people’s favorite character in it and she did a really good job. So when we came up with Jesse as a hero I immediately started thinking Courtney would be brilliant in this role. It’s just when you already have the established working relationship and you know that– I mean there is trust and understanding as well. We know this will work out.
TechRaptor: So before you mentioned you were inspired by New Weird books.
TechRaptor: Can you give me a short list of which New Weird books I should read?
Sam: Well, definitely Jeff VanderMeer’s Annihilation, I mean the whole Southern Reach trilogy, but especially the first book. That was really interesting and a great example of the genre. There are definitely other books as well. On the TV show side, like, you know… for story-telling, for this kind of stylized fragmented slightly experimental way of telling stories that we are looking into with Control… you know, Mr. Robot, Legion, definitely Twin Peaks. Great examples of that kind of story-telling.
TechRaptor: Courtney. What would you do with any of the superpowers from Control?
Courtney: In real life?
TechRaptor: Yeah. What would you do with them?
Courtney: Oh my gosh, well if I could levitate that would just be amazing, you know? I’ve always wanted to fly, so that would target that. Um… and… man, I don’t know, I’d be living a totally different life right now with all these powers, you know? I’d be saving the world in ways, if I could, and I would be traveling and I would be… I mean, I don’t know. I can’t go over all the powers I’d have. Let’s just say I’d be living a totally different life.
TechRaptor: Now I told Mikael, when I met him at E3, that a big reason I wanted to see Control was because you guys were mocapping a dog.
[Sam and Courtney both start laughing.]
TechRaptor: I want to be friends with this dog, but also he told me you guys were going to put Uno the Mocap Dog into the game.
Sam: He said that!?
TechRaptor: That’s what he said.
Sam: Damn that guy!
TechRaptor: Uh-oh. Have you not actually planned that?
Sam: We’ll see. We’ll see. I mean, I’m sure that Uno will end up being somewhere in our game.
Courtney: Is that the first time you guys have done that?
Courtney: Is that the first time you guys have done that? Mocapped a dog?
Courtney: Haha, I saw that too. I meant to ask. I know it’s not my interview.
Sam: I agree, it would be brilliant.
Courtney: It would be great.
TechRaptor: I just, you know, had to ask.
Sam: And, this is not what we’re doing, just, but wouldn’t it be awesome if Jesse had a pet?
Sam: And there would be a dog that, when she levitates, there would be a dog that levitates with her like… [At this point Sam does his best ‘doggie paddling’ impression.]
Courtney: Just be like ‘boop’!
TechRaptor: There you go.
Sam: Yeah. That’s not the actual plan though.
Courtney: Now I’m going to be sad if it doesn’t happen.
Sam: It’s not the plan.
TechRaptor: Alright, well I had to hold Mikael’s feet to the fire. I had to make sure this one… [Laughter.]
Sam: Okay. There is a promise. He must… yes. Okay.
Courtney: You’re like “He’s fired.” [Laughter.]
TechRaptor: So, um… now I know that the game takes place in The Oldest House, which is basically this really weird constantly shifting place…
Sam: Here in Manhattan, yes.
TechRaptor: In Manhattan. Can I actually visit it here, is it like…?
Sam: There is the old AT&T building. I think it’s the NSA building these days. That is, yes, part of the inspiration.
TechRaptor: I’m going to have to look at that later. What else can you tell me about The Oldest House? Like what went into its design?
Sam: Well, I mean, on the architecture side, certainly the brutalist architecture. Kind of this very… honest in a way. But very kind of rough, big, shapes of concrete and steel and glass, was kind of the approach for the environments. There are multiple reasons for that, I mean, first of all we wanted to capture the ideology of the bureau as it has been kind of, you know, ultimate control and order in a way. But it’s also very honest architecture in a sense that all the materials are what they look like, and then for the idea of dynamic destructibility of the environments you kind of, what you see is what you get, and that understanding coming from there. So that was a big part of it.
But yeah, as I said, it’s a place of power, it’s an active altered world event in progress that the bureau is looking into. You know, in some cases there is the open question of “Am I still in the building? Is this still inside the building or somewhere else altogether?” It does– the idea of, you know, going further and further in, in some ways you are leaving our known reality behind step-by-step and ending up in really weird places.
TechRaptor: So when you do the voice for Jesse, and when you’re acting for Control, do you work with the other actors there, or are they doing voices elsewhere? Do you get to banter with them and figure out what you want to do?
Courtney: I haven’t worked with any of the actors on this yet.
Sam: That’s up ahead.
Courtney: Yeah. But I will for sure. I’m excited for that. You know, it’s fun to go in and have, you know, my time. Having the opportunity to talk with you guys and Remedy about Jesse. But when, during Quantum Break I got to work with Shawn and we were in the room and we got to, like in a normal scene where we’re bantering back and forth as the characters. So I’m excited for that.
Sam: Yeah. It’s important.
Courtney: Because I feel like, you know, we’re all creating the game together. A group effort. So I’m definitely excited to work with them and to get to know them, to collaborate with them. I feel like, you know, the scenes and reacting off of what they’re giving too because, you know, I don’t know them entirely so sometimes it’s fun to see– I can create in my mind what I think the reaction for Trench might be to something I’m saying, but then when I actually get there with him he may have a totally different interpretation. So that’s always fun too. To kind of, to make it more…
Sam: To play off?
TechRaptor: So when writing Remedy– rather when writing Control… writing Remedy.
Sam: It’s true, yeah.
TechRaptor: You probably wrote Remedy too.
Sam: Not quite, but yeah. Yeah.
TechRaptor: When writing Control have you… in Alan Wake basically, there’s a bunch of scenes set to music. Like there’s, you guys had The Old Gods of Asgard, or you had the whole thing with Space Odyssey in it. Have you guys planned any of that for Control yet?
Sam: [After looking shifty for a moment.] Yes?
TechRaptor: Okay I guess…?
Sam: So music, to me, is really interesting and I look at it from a storytelling perspective. On a soundtrack level, you know, it’s really an important of mood building and atmosphere. I would say especially in Control in some ways. So we are doing new things with the soundtrack, definitely, you know, audioscape, all-in-all. But yes, we’ll have, you know, music there in other forms as well. Yeah, definitely. It is part of the story telling and there will be certain key scenes that where music plays a big role. Maybe even some singing.
TechRaptor: I guess as long as I’m on the subject of music, what songs would you say is on Jesse’s iPod? If she owns an iPod at all.
Courtney: You know I thought about this because I am one too, whenever I play a role, to… like if I’m going to an audition I always put on the music I think my character would play. Music moves me and it’s something that’s really powerful for me. So you know it’s so funny because I thought about this before. You know, I think The Killers at one point was something that came up for me. I think it’s interesting to Jesse because I think that… like at one point Marilyn Manson came in, in a sense of something that’s a little more raw and… like even like he says, the brutalist world. Something that’s a little bit more different and weird and…
Sam: Disturbing. More disturbing.
Courtney: Yeah, that’s exactly. That’s kind of what came into my mind when I thought about this before. But that’s definitely something I want to dive more into. But I definitely think Marilyn Manson, The Killers. Something that’s just very rock, but also very in-depth with the lyrics, because Jesse is a deep character. She’s got a very eccentric mind.
TechRaptor: Okay. Last question. Even though I promised my editor that I wouldn’t ask this, I have to ask anyway because it annoys him.
Courtney: Oh no.
TechRaptor: Would you guys say the real Control is the friends we made along the way?
TechRaptor: This is why it annoys him.
Sam: Um… yeeesss?
Courtney: The real Control is the friends you made along the way. You said yes?
Sam: I said yes. Yes. Yes.
Courtney: Yeah. Okay, yes.
Sam: Let’s go with that. Yes.
TechRaptor: Alright. So when can I play Control?
Sam: Next year.
TechRaptor: Alright. Well thank you for talking to me, both of you.
Sam: Thank you.
Courtney: Yeah, thank you.
We’d like to once again thank Sam Lake and Courtney Hope for taking the time to talk with us.More About This Game