How Starbreeze weaved an epic story with its critically-acclaimed title

Unreal Diaries – Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons

Starbreeze Studios, known for its gritty titles Syndicate and Payday, brought a delightful palate-cleanser to PC, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 last year in the form of Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons.

The Nordic fairy tale-inspired game, published by 505 Games and co-developed by director Josef Fares, presents a mysterious and unexplained world. Wildly beautiful environments, from idyllic country villages to rugged snow-capped mountain passes, beg the player to pause and drink in the scenery.

Campaign gameplay, which involves controlling two characters simultaneously, revolves around the adventures and interactions between a set of young brothers as they traverse the storybook landscape in search of a mystical cure for their dying father. As the game progresses, it becomes increasingly important for the player to guide both brothers to work together in order to overcome obstacles and puzzles.

Each brother is controlled by separate analogue sticks, with the older brother controlled by the left and the younger brother controlled by the right. It’s this unique control scheme that is crucial to the player experience and narrative.

“The controls are part of the storytelling. We really want the player to feel that the left hand is the big brother and the right hand is the little brother,” says Fares. “Most of the puzzles are created to make the player feel an emotional connection between the brothers.”

When evaluating engine tech, Starbreeze quickly realised Unreal Engine was the necessary solution to bring their vision to life.

“As a small team working on such a game, it was essential to have tools that allowed for rapid iteration of levels,” says art director Claes Engdal. “Brothers would simply not have been the same experience if we didn’t constantly introduce unique environments to the player. The Unreal Engine tools helped us quickly build large environments from modular assets. Throughout the project we could easily iterate on materials, composition, lighting, atmosphere and post-processing in order to give each area its own, specific look and mood.”

Engdal credits the tight integration between all systems in the Unreal Engine toolset for helping the team stay efficient throughout production. “Editing a particle effect is just one double-click away in the Content Browser. This helps us be a lot more cross-disciplinary, so if the effects artist is busy, a 3D artist can easily jump in and tweak the particle effect without any hassle.”


In fact it’s the strength of the all-purpose approach afforded by Unreal Engine, says lead level designer Filip Coulianos, that simplified the development pipeline and enabled the studio to focus on making an unforgettable game.

“The level creation, level streaming and art pipeline are very neatly fused together. Getting assets into the engine and preparing them to be put out in the level is very quick and effortless. Thanks to the streaming, the whole art and level design team can work together on a single level at the same time without interfering with each other. This flexibility enables us to keep the art and level design team super-slim and super-agile throughout the entire development process, which in Brothers’ case proved to be extremely important.”

Offering reassurance to other studios that might be trying Unreal Engine technology for the first time, lead programmer Carl Granberg addresses one of the engine’s strongest attributes: “It’s easy to access and easy to understand right out of the box.”

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