Brothers - A Tale of Two Sons

I can tell you exactly what I liked and when I started liking it.

For starters, the whole thing has a very “Norwegian Folktale” feel about it. I’m a sucker for that, and I especially liked the fact that it was rather gruesome at times - because that’s what folktales are like.

The visuals are beautiful - especially the ice sections and the Aurora Borealis, for me at least.

[spoiler]What I found beautiful, though, was the emerging relationship between the brothers. They fight, they disagree, they help each other. Nothing actually changes from the mechanics of the first few “levels”; regardless, by the time I got into the river section, there was a completely different feel to it. I was no longer solving puzzles, I was cooperating. With myself, but still.

The story itself started getting to me when the little brother almost drowned, and that weird dream he had. The exhilaration of using the flying machine, supported by the brothers’ yells of boyish wonder, was palpable. But it was the hippogriff, and the ensuing scene, that finally and totally won me over.

I must say, when the time came to bury Big Brother, I actually stood there for a while. I did not want to push the button. I did not want to drag him to the grave. When a game does that to me, it’s passed the boundaries of simple game mechanics and it’s resonating powerfully within.[/spoiler]

My positive response to this game is 100% emotional. Rationally, I can only say that it’s a Norwegian Folktale given life, and as such it can be raw, gruesome, fantastic, surreal. The relationship between them, in this light, stops being “unrealistic”: on the contrary, it’s perfectly suited to the story its telling.

EDIT - Wait, no I tell a lie, I CAN be rational about it.

[spoiler]The game got me to feel emotionally attached by systematically bringing down barriers between me and it. The first real barrier was demolished in the “little brother almost drowns and has a weird dream” sequence, which finally counteracted what I felt was an exageratedly dramatic intro that did nothing for me whatsoever. The dream sequence was very creepy, and came in the heels of a particular bout of cooperation and dedication on BB’s part to help LB, so that I was genuinely shocked when BB started puching LB.

When that was over I felt closer to them. And shortly after, they happen to rescue a suicidal man and bring some sort of peace back into his life.

And this was optional, I might add. It does not add to the game in any way. Which feels extremely “folktaley” to me, where the protagonist just goes around doing good deeds because. He might get helped later on, but there’s no instant gratification.

From here on, as I say, the barriers started coming down (and they had to, because the underground section felt a bit too “gamey” for my taste). And from here on, the game starts getting raw and gruesome, in that weird matter-of-fact way that folktales have. I loved it that the LB went ballistic when they had to fire an arrow at a dead giant to get him out of the way, and how they react when they get covered in blood. I was actually relieved to wash them soon after.

Of particular note, again, was the flying machine (did look a bit out of place, but hey). It was truly exhilarating. The atmosphere was perfect, so was the sound, the visuals, the controls. I finally felt the same sense of wonder as the two boys.

So you see, by the time I got to the hippogriff (which actually comes before the giants, now that I think about it, but my points stand), which was very effective from the word go (its plaintative cries, and the way we have to navigate the workbench to get to it, even going past a magnifying glass, it all just constructed a perfect visual narrative), I was ready for it. Another exhilarating ride through the air, which ended abruptly. Then right after that, an emotional scene much more effective (again) than the intro.

Do you know, I actually had LB carry the hippogriff’s feather. If the game allowed me, he would have carried it throughout the entire rest of the game.[/spoiler]

For me, the game starts being special when it brings down the barriers between me and it. This isn’t easy. I had just given up in disgust at “Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs” because I had design issues with it that held the barriers fimrly up, until I went “I can’t be bothered with this”. Same with “Deus Ex: Human Revolution”. Whereas “Rayman Legends” brought down the barriers by being so completely fun, quirky and unexpected. “Brothers” brought them down by being faithful to what they were doing, and by systematically forcing me to share in the Brothers’ excitement. Eventually I did, and the game became beautiful.

Only if you want your enjoyment levels to increase dramatically.

I’m actually kind of surprised that, after getting kicked all over the galaxy on Normal, you didn’t drop down to Easy. (I’m assuming that you haven’t won yet, by the way. Please correct me if I’m wrong.)

Radically increased enjoyment levels sound good.

I’m getting a little over half-way through the galaxy on Normal mode. Dropping down to Easy mode hadn’t really occurred to me; I assumed it was kind of a tutorial mode for people who didn’t understand the game yet. Plus, perhaps I like to think of myself as a hardcore roguelike player… well, time to confront my pride issues. :wink:

Oh, pish. I died because I couldn’t see that my max jump distance was limited enough that the bottom half of the map was a dead end. Well, die and learn.

Victor, I feel that as a hardcore roguelike player you shouldn’t expect to be able to win a game on normal mode within a year of starting it.

I don’t expect that! I do expect to enjoy it on normal, though. (I won Brogue one week after starting it. Never won again. Heh.)

Played a game on Easy mode yesterday, and managed to defeat the final boss once. (Which isn’t enough to win.) I’m not sure I enjoyed the game more – now many fights were rather unexciting. Perhaps FTL just wasn’t made for me.

Certainly possible. I’ve guiltily disliked more than one game that someone else considered “perfect for me”. (Dungeons of Dredmore and Torchlight are coming promptly to mind.)

I sort of liked Torchlight, though it is of course an absolutely empty experience. It is empty in a charming way, I guess.

That was an interesting reply, Peter. And sorry for my belated reply; I’ve had three too many essays to write over the last few days.

Oh I completely agree with you here. This part of the game I really did enjoy for its gorgeous visual design.

When you discussed folktales before this, it occurred to me that my thoughts might be more subjective than I initially thought – I’ve never particularly liked such stories, and that might be why I denigrate aspects like character believability and the general plot.

[spoiler]For example, when it came time for me to bury the BB I experienced no emotional response. Sounds quite cold, I know. I was blaming this on inadequate character design – I just didn’t feel any sympathy for the LB, and didn’t develop a strong enough liking for the BB to warrant mourning over him. But perhaps my reaction is just indicative of my genre tastes (I really don’t want to be one of those people who treat opinion like fact).

One thing you said that I’m struggling to understand is the description of the scene as having ‘passed the boundaries of simple game mechanics’. For me, perhaps a bigger problem than character empathy was the fact that this scene was painfully mechanical, and they were simple mechanics at best. ‘Press RT to shove dirt’ kind of thing. If you mean to say the gameplay had complexity because of your reluctance to execute necessary commands (which I think is what you’re saying), I can certainly appreciate your reaction . However, this is nothing new and has been employed as a gameplay device far more successfully in other game’s scenes (there’s a certain scene in City of Secrets, dealing with the chip in your arm; I suppose the endings of Slouching Towards Bedlam might count too, to name some familiar ones).[/spoiler]

So basically, I think the gameplay hardly serves the narrative. And if that is the case, what value does it have in being a game?

I mean that it passed the boundaries of game mechanics in the sense that I knew what to achieve, mechanically, but it was no longer as easy as pressing a button. It carried weight, a weight which was not quantifiable in the least by the game itself - it did not matter how quickly or slowly or how many times I pressed it, as long as it was pressed, and until I did so I could not progress.

Regardless, I still hesitated. And this happened because the game had actually won me some scenes ago, before it actually got to this bit we’re discussing. It might not be new, but I’m not always seeking innovation. In fact, rarely ever. I’m most often seeking pleasurable/intense gaming experiences. In fact, if we’re to speak mechanically, the interactions that occur after the event we’re discussing are a lot more interesting.

Something I’d meant to say, I didn’t think the relationship between the brothers was too perfect. They bickered a lot. :slight_smile:

I also disagree with your last statement (and am, therefore, more than glad to discuss it :slight_smile: ). For starters, a game doesn’t necessarily need for the gameplay to serve the narrative in order to be a game - it is, after all, a game. The game will be the richer for it if it does; but Pacman is still a game with a lot of value.

In this case, though, I definitely think it served, because it was all about teamwork, teamwork, teamwork. For me, an emergent relationship of trust and cooperation created a bond between the brothers far more than any single cutscene could. The narrative is about the journey of these two brothers (in relationship to their father, of course: “A tale of two sons”, rather than “two siblings”), and the gameplay supports that entirely.

I wonder if this is a “Normal” mode thing. In Easy mode, the choice I was presented with was more like “The space station sends a distress beacon telling you that there’s a disease and they need help. Do you send a crew member down to help?” In which case you know the risk.

Or I sent my robotic crewmember down to take care of things, which was signposted as the best choice.

This seems like it might be a case where if you’ve played through several times on Easy mode, you know more or less what the risks are on Normal. Which is another case for playing through on Easy first – making it more of a bad design decision to call it “easy” mode, and to have the game start on “normal” by default.

I feel as though roguelikes do sometimes spring this sort of “You can do something you don’t realize will destroy you” trap. NetHack has drinking from fountains, Brogue has those trapped quest rooms (you should know something funny is going to happen, but you might not know what), and even in DCSS it’s a rare to survive your first meeting with Sigmund. But FTL isn’t a roguelike in that it doesn’t have room for unexpected reactions to these situations. Since roguelikes do (almost all of) their action in-engine, as it were, when you encounter one of these situations you have all the resources that you’d have to deal with any combat situation. FTL just doesn’t have the world model that would let you try a solution to one of these situations that the designer hadn’t already thought of.

I’ll address what I feel I can dispute reasonably objectively.

I agree with the principle, but A Tale of Two Sons seems to strive for narrative excellence, and, as you allude to later, it does attempt to make it ‘richer’ through its gameplay. As you also stated, this gameplay follows the theme of teamwork, which I admit is perfectly suited to the characters, but it feels very mechanical, very game-like. I don’t find that the most effective character bonds are made by climbing walls together, over and over again.

Not all the mechanics were unsuccessful though, I do concede that the flying machine was a great inclusion. It was fun to fly, the mutual enjoyment was clear and affecting; it felt like a bonding experience (well, it was until I managed to crash it… ). But somehow the other parts of the games felt obviously set up for puzzles and obstacles, and therefore lacked the effectiveness that gliding freely in a flying machine had – there were no blatant obstacles while flying, and the game gave the illusion of control as well as feeling like it had emanated from the world, rather than being planted in it. And, by that token, I don’t agree with you that it seemed out of place.

It does seem that the gameplay interaction was lumped on top of the narrative, rather than emerging from the story. (I always dislike such puzzles – in fact, at this point they actually make the defining transition from puzzle to obstacle.) And yes, the gameplay isn’t alien from the narrative, it does after all emphasis the brothers shared relationship through teamwork as you say, but can you really go as far to say that such forced gameplay serves character development well?

I’m trying to think of way to say this all a bit more neatly… Errr… Basically, I think the gameplay and the narrative (and by narrative I’m referring more to the means of storytelling through the characters, not really the overarching plot) are very much separate in the game. This is a problem because a game like this needs the gameplay to serve the narrative, instead of being merely a functional way of moving things forwards. The ideal situation is for an indistinguishable blend of gameplay and narrative, a kind of ‘marble-cake’ game design.

Um, I think this might be an overly verbose and loose reiteration of the discussion surrounding Graham Nelson’s classic ‘narrative at war with a crossword’ quote…

Yeah, that was the message. (Messages don’t differ between Easy and Normal mode.) But you certainly don’t know the risks just from that message, do you? (There’s a very similar event with space spiders, by the way.)

I think you nail the important difference, there. In DCSS or Brogue, I have a chance to escape from any stupid situation I’ve brought myself into through foolish or risky (or just underclued) choices. There’s choice, then resolution, then effect. In FTL, the resolution phase is dispensed with. You’ve just got choice and effect. I don’t find this very enjoyable – in more or less the same way that I found many events in the board game Arkham Horror not very enjoyable. Outside of fights, FTL feels a lot like a board game.

Writing this from my mobile device for a change, so it’ll be brief.

I felt the flying machine was out of place because it seemed more Leonardo Da Vinci than northern folktale. But thinking about it, it was less of a machine and more of a glider, so that’s ok, the inventor was actually more out of place than the actual glider.

I think I know what you mean. You are talking about the times when the puzzles were at their most mechanical. They weren’t always, I dont’t think, but at times they were. I guess I just took those in as being part of the game, something to play through to get to the rest of the game.

These seem to be the bits that you tool as being the meat of the game, where I saw the meat in being the other bits, and maybe that’s why we had such different experiences. Maybe we were looking for different things.

I do agree with you now that I know what you mean, I just focused more on the other aspects. Different strokes et al.

Watchoo talkin’ 'bout, Peter Pears?

Well, I’m talking about the topic that this thread is about. :stuck_out_tongue: All around me, though, people keep discussing a roguelike.

It was a Diff’rent Strokes reference, sorry for the confusion. :smiley:

When I can tear myself away from GTA V for five seconds I’m totally checking Two Sons out, it looks awesome.

No, we’re discussing something that isn’t a roguelike!

A rogueunlike? Really, the genre is terribly named.

For my part, I kind of like FTL. I wish it had more RPG mechanics like ADOM, although that would detract from its value as a casual game. (I don’t know if FTL was meant to be a casual game, but it feels casual to me.) I also kind of wish it had more story and better narrative. I think its narrative element is interesting, but it gets old fast.

A little off-topic, and a little self-promotional:
[rant]I wrote an article about casual roguelikes, in which I mention both FTL and Kerkerkruip.[/rant]

Today, I finished Brothers. With tears rolling down my cheeks. That’s the first time a game has moved me to tears.

I started the game at about the time of the previous activity in this thread, and quickly thought I had the game figured out. It was nice, I liked it. Then I got stuck trying to execute a jump in the cave chapter (after meeting the troll). Today, I picked it up again, and played from that point to the end. And… wow. As I said, this was the most emotional connection I’ve ever had with a computer game.

I’ve now read through the previous discussion in this thread (skipping past the FTL talk), and I agree with Peter…

[spoiler]Where things started changing for me was with the wolves. By that time, I had the controls figured out enough that I mostly didn’t have to think about them. And with the gameplay variation of the big brother protecting the younger one (I kept the younger brother as close as possible during this sequence), that was when it started to become something more. The bond between the brothers - and between me and the game was becoming stronger.

Which it then followed up with the river. Then a bit of joy with first the goats and then the wonderful flying scene. And then it got tense again. The climbing with the rope really worked for me. I had felt that the previous climbing had dragged on for a bit in the troll caves, but this is where that payed off. The slightly tedious (and for me, difficult) part had taught the mechanics so that I could do this part without coming near failing, but I felt it in my stomach. Probably a bit extra because I do have a bit of a problem with heights, and I really felt the height of that tower. And this was where the younger brother was growing. That too had started in the river, and the feeling of - as the older brother - letting go and swing in the rope was quite special. From then on, I was truly hooked.[/spoiler]

I expected it to be good, but this was amazing.

It wasn’t the first time for me, and seeing as we might have similar tastes I wish I could tell you other games that I felt such a great emotional impact, but my memory simply fails.

Other than that, yeah. Your experience was very similar to mine. I’m glad to hear it also struck a chord in you, and that it immersed you in as deeply, and as emotionally, as it did me.