Brothers - A Tale of Two Sons

I know there are a few traditional video gamers among the IF community; maybe more than a few. I want to recommend a game I recently played, called “Brothers - A Tale of Two Sons”. It was the first game in this year’s XBox Live Summer of Arcade, but I believe it’s also out on PS3 and PC now.

The whole experience feels like graphical interactive fiction. Not just because it has puzzles – that’s not uncommon – but because of the way it’s presented and the story it tells. Anyway, it’s around $15 and runs about 3 to 5 hours. But I recommend it.

Anybody already played it?

I bought it as soon as I heard about it (i.e. last week), but I haven’t played it yet. I have high expectations.

On the topic of “sort of like IF”, there’s an awesome Humble Indie Bundle going on this week and next that includes FTL (as in Faster Than Light). . FTL was not on my radar, but it’s been my surprise favorite. (All the bundle games work on PC, Mac and Linux.)

FTL is essentially a roguelike set in space that has elements of Tradewars and Star Trek. You have a ship and a crew, and upgrade/arrange your ship in RPG fashion, assigning crew to stations where they improve abilities (you can acquire alien species so you have a “Worf”). Then the game plays like a graphical CYOA. When you encounter an enemy ship, you have to manage your ship’s crew, systems, weaponry, shields, airlock doors and O2 (you get hostilely boarded and can put out fires by venting them into space) in real-time. You can pause whenever you want to plan strategy.

Overall it’s a fascinating game that gives you just enough plot that you can make up your own emergent stories in your mind. (My rock alien and mantis alien, normally hostile, came to an uneasy peace after they had to assist each other in the medical bay). I’m sure I’m late to the party on this, but it’s an awesome deal for this and other games, and a portion of the money that you allocate goes to charity.

I’ve played FTL a bit, but it feels extremely random to me – much more about pure luck than about strategy or tactics. With the worst offender being the “do you investigate?” -> “yes” -> “one of your crew members dies” events.

How does your experience compare? Does the game become less about luck if you get to know it better?

I have FTL but haven’t played it yet. These days I don’t do much PC gaming, but when GOG or Steam or Amazon Digital has sales, I usually give them a look.

Victor, I felt the same way about FTL. I wanted to like it (and I do like the soundtrack), but the game seemed to be mostly about grinding to unlock new things so that your future games could be more interesting, while way too many of your interactions were random, and repetitive. A much more effective use of the game-punctuated-by-CYOA model is King of Dragon Pass. Which is not at all a roguelike, more a resource management sim with lots of hidden information.

That’s how I think of roguelikes. Part of learning the game is learning the risk-reward ratios on those encounters. Deciding how to handle them is the strategy.

I’m not a huge fan of roguelikes, but I played through FTL to one victory, and then one more with a thing unlocked.

(Currently I’m playing Fez, which just hit MacOS.)

Fez is in the humble bundle! You just have to beat the average price. I started it and it looks like a LOT of work.

I just started with FTL so haven’t had enough iterations to encounter repetition. I recently also began playing some card games where the “interactivity” is about this coarse-grained. Hopefully it won’t make me angry. The focus does seem to be on battle-management, but in the back of my mind was “Someone really good with Vorple and/or Glimmr could do something this cool.”

To a certain extent that is true. But a good roguelike is one in which you have difference ways to handle encounters, whereas FTL seems to be full of events where there is no handling possible – there is just some random number generator that tells you whether you win or lose. I started up the game just now to try it once more. I had several fights, which were nice. Then I cam across an abandoned space station. The game asks me: “Do you want to investigate?”


Then the game tells me: “There’s a disease in the space station, and one of your crew members dies.”

And that just reminds me of the worst of CYOA design: “Enter the room?” “Yes.” “You die!” I don’t mind the random number generator creating tough situations for me that I have to get out of – that is standard roguelike fare, and is what makes the genre exciting. But I do mind the random number generator dishing out defeats without me getting the chance to avoid those defeats by skilful playing.

I think I had the “investigate the space station” node also, finding no survivors but we collected drone parts.

I understand the frustration, but to me it seemed like rolling dice on a loot table where one of the chances is “a trap explodes killing the party member who opened the chest.”

I guess that kind of granularity so far hasn’t bothered me since the entire game is sort of played at a macro-level and that quick summary represents would have been an entire “very special” episode of Star Trek with sad music and the Enterprise zooming away into the distance. Now if that one choice would have wiped your entire ship out and ended the game…that would be like a CYOA kill room. But yeah, it might have been more interesting if that encounter put one of your crew out of commission in the sick bay with constantly dwindling health for a time period, and required attention from another crew member or his health would drop fast enough to kill him.

I suppose the strategy is more along the lines of “I only have two crew members, perhaps we should be hauling ass for a friendly sector rather than traipsing about exploring”?

The strategy, as I remember it, is along the lines of “Going for every encounter is courting disaster. Do I go for crew gains, resource gains, or tech gains to get my ship build where I need it to be?”

Thank you very much for this thread, Merk. It’s been a while since I played something truly beautiful.

I tried the demo of Brothers on the xbox360 and it looks beautiful. It sort of reminds me of Fable but top-down. I kept forgetting which brother was controlled with which joystick, as their positions are not relative. Does this get easier as the game goes on?

Much easier. It’s best if you keep the big brother on the left and the little brother on the right, that helps a lot.

Oh, later on in the game I got seriously confused, but it never lasted and never interfered with the puzzles, such as they were.

I personally love FTL and played it for something like 36 hours (according to Steam) in the weekend after I bought it.

I think one of the strategic keys is that you need to identify with the ship itself, rather than identifying with the crew members. Sure, you can lose a crew member very easily. But it’s like losing hull, or resources, or weapons - they’re replaceable, and unless you lose all of them, your run isn’t over.

After that marathon weekend, I shifted to a Nethack-esque approach where I had the FTL wiki open at all times, which gave me better insight into any given risk/reward situation. Because I’d played so much of the game, I didn’t really feel like the spoilers were damaging.

Experience does make a big difference to success rate, and in my last eight runs or so, I won three times. (Admittedly, I’m still on Easy, but FTL has the hardest “easy mode” that I’ve ever seen.)

I have the FTL wiki open all the time now when I play, because that at least allows me to make decisions based on information rather than on wild guesses. This is presumably a matter of taste, but I don’t really like games that keep important tactical/strategic information from you – which is one of the reasons I prefer DCSS to Nethack. In Nethack, you have to find out which corpses are poisonous by trial and error (which of course means, by reading the wiki), whereas in DCSS you can just freaking see it and the game warns you when you try to eat a poisonous corpse. You can still do it, but at least you know what you’re doing. In FTL, if you’re not using the wiki, you don’t know what you’re doing a lot of the time.

With the wiki, the game certainly becomes more enjoyable. “Do I take the risk of losing a crew member when the potential reward is a new weapon?” is interesting. “Do you enter this space station … we don’t tell you what might happen!!” is not.

Your point about not identifying with the crew members is very true, but I find it hard to play the game that way. I just do identify with the crew. And yes, this makes me quit the game in disgust if one of them is killed in a way that feels unfair to me. :slight_smile:

By the way … easy mode? I’m not playing on easy mode. Should I? It sounds like something for wussies.

I thought it was the Received Game Design Wisdom by this point to never, ever call it easy/beginner/novice mode, for much the same reason that condom sizes don’t start with Small.

Going back to the original topic: Can I ask why people liked the game? I’ve just finished it, and although I enjoyed the cinematography and some of the visual design of the later sections, I thought the story was lousy, and the puzzles dull and repetitive. Also, the brothers relationship is far too perfect – no siblings are that nice to eachother. If their relationship wasn’t made explicitly clear to me in the title, I would have probably assumed it was an idyllic youthful romance, which might actually have been more interesting. Oh, I did like the gibberish language, though. A clever design choice or a convenient means of character writing? Whatever the reason, it somehow managed to aid character development.

Witness the amount of beta feedback you’ve gotten from me saying “Why the hell am I always getting killed in easy mode?”

Condom sizes DO come in “small”, they’re just called “snug fit”. (Not learned from experience, just saying)