'The Art & Making of Control' Is a Gaming Coffee Table Book You Actually Want

A fascinating and gorgeous tour of a singular shooter.

Feb 26 2021, 2:00pm

Among people who like Control, I feel like there aren't many whose relationship with the game lands somewhere between "it's fine, I like it" and "this is one of the most charming and perfect games I've ever played; the Oldest House is my home now." People either run a bit lukewarm on it, or they're prepared to die for their faith in Remedy's satirical supernatural horror shooter.

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I'm in the latter camp myself, and I only mention this because it'll help you know what do with my declaration that The Art & Making of Control is one of the greatest art books I've ever seen and pretty much a must-have item for either fans of Remedy or anyone interested in the creative process of making 3D action games.

My partner got me the book as a gift, and if it had just been a picture book jammed with concept art and sketches from the game's development with a few annotations, I'd probably have been happy. Instead, The Art and Making of Control is a beautifully presented object of power in its own right that feels like it's escaped the game's reality and broken into ours. The hardened protective case with The Board's Black Pyramid carries the matte-black hardcover, but even before you open it you'll notice the neat touch of bloody red Hiss corruption on  the edges of the pages.

The thematic consistency extends to the contents themselves, with lovely gags like the page layout for the section on the level design of the Synchronicity Lab. There are times it goes a bit far, like the fact it blacks out parts of some of the developers' quotes as if they had been redacted by a censor, which get annoying if you're just trying to read and not solve a contextual puzzle. But overall the volume feels like it's part of the game itself, a bonus expansion after the game reached its end with AWE last year.

Setting aside the cool presentation, the collection forms a walk-through of the game's life in development. It starts with a very good introductory chapter on Remedy's situation following Quantum Break and how many of Control's ideas had been kicking around the studio since 2010's Alan Wake, and along the way we meet a lot of the people who contributed comments and notes to this volume and learn what they did on the game. A lot of these folks provide commentary and insight in later sections of the book dealing with the game elements they worked on, so it's useful to meet so much of the team right at the start.

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A notable absence is Anna Megill, Control's lead writer who departed the project prior to its expansions, and a resultant centering of longtime Remedy creative director Sam Lake as the creative wellspring of the game's story and ideas. Doubtless part of this is an artifact of who was available at the studio when this book was being put together and who has worked on the game since it launched, but it does feel like there's a bit of a gap between the conceptual stages of Control and the story we ended up playing. It's all well and good to have Lake talk about his love of David Lynch, but that's well-trod territory in his career and doesn't really tell us a lot that's unique about Control. There's a gap between the general influences and ideas that run through Lake's and Remedy's work, and the specific visions we see brought to life in Control, and it doesn't get completely filled-in here.

As you'd expect from an art book, a huge amount of the focus is on the art design for each aspect of the game, starting with the Control's signature Brutalist aesthetics. World Design Director Stuart Macdonald provides a terrific walkthrough of the architectural "rules" of Brutalism and how they inform the spaces of Control, as well as how those rules get broken or corrupted by the Hiss invasion.

There's also some frank discussion of places where Remedy had to pare back their vision for the game. One of the criticisms you could level against Control was that it implied a lot more weird chaos than it actually depicted, and that was especially true of the Oldest House itself. We're told about the way the building re-arranges itself, and how entire departments can find themselves whisked to terra incognita at a moment's notice, but all this mostly just exists as part of the game's thematic backdrop. For players, the map is the map.

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Game director Mikael Kasurinen talks about how early prototyping did at least take a stab at creating a "living" version of the Oldest House, but none of it was really workable from a technical standpoint. The idea lives on around the way "control points" rewrite areas to banish Hiss corruption, but as Kasurinen admits, "There are still some deeper, lore-based ideas and concepts that hint how the shifting could theoretically be more massive in this Place of Power, but we never really get to see them play out within the game."

Another example of a cool idea that couldn't make the cut was of a rotating room, but apparently the effect was actually nauseating to experience and the idea was scrapped, according to level designer Joonas Kruus. But the concept art that we see of it in this book is familiar enough that I feel like I know where the idea's grave is located within the game, and I can kind of imagine exactly how that idea might have played out (and yeah, it probably would have been horribly disorienting).

Character costuming and enemy design gets similarly detailed treatment, and I think this is what really makes this book such a fascinating read. It is easy to read the intention behind the big features of a game: the plot beats, the showpiece levels like Control's Ashtray Maze, or the overall aesthetic of the setting. But The Art & Making of Control reveals just how thoughtful every aspect of the game really was, and how little details you noticed were absolutely put there to make a point about a character or a place. It helps you appreciate how much consideration and forethought goes into a game, and how honest its creators are about the places they had to accept limits on their vision, and the trade-offs they incurred along the way.

But most of all, it highlights the way the story of Control isn't just the one about Jesse Fayden taking on hostile, cosmic forces inside a haunted government building. It's a story that's told through geography, graphic design, textures, character models, and even graphical effects. The Art & Making of Control didn't just teach me about a game I love, but it also taught me a lot about why I loved it.

Tagged:

Remedy, Control, concept art, Sam Lake

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