The Bradwell Conspiracy has definitely piqued my curiosity. Maybe it’s the fact it’s set in Britain, specifically near the ruins of Stonehenge; there’s an inherent beauty of the Wiltshire countryside after all, with Stonehenge itself excreting intrigue and mystery out of every pore. It might be because your character can’t speak; or maybe it’s the fact that you get your mitts on a swanky set of Smart Glasses; or maybe, just maybe, it’s because TV chatty man Jonathan Ross is in it. Probably not, though.
Actually, ‘mystery’ is an appropriate word to chuck around when it comes to The Bradwell Conspiracy. There isn’t actually all that much known about the ambitious-sounding, narrative-driven puzzler, which I mentioned to game director Georg Backer when I had the opportunity for a chinwag with the former Lionhead developer last week.
The team at A Brave Plan has been chiselling away on The Bradwell Conspiracy for a while now, although Backer made it clear the team made a conscious decision to hold back any information until recently.
‘We’ve been working on this game for three and a half years, nearly four,’ says Backer. ‘We’ve been fairly quiet on it just because of the whole mystery-thriller [element], so you have to be very careful about what you give away.’
‘I wanted to do something that felt very much JJ Abrams-esque/Steven Spielberg-esque. I didn’t want to do horror, I didn’t want to do some hardcore sci-fi/fantasy, I wanted to something nice in the middle, which I feel that Spielberg and JJ do really well.’
As mentioned, the Bradwell Conspiracy is set against the backdrop of Stonehenge, specifically in the nearby museum. The concept is simple: you wake up with a banging headache amidst a fair amount of rubble, your vocal chords all but knackered thanks to a working men’s club in the 70s level of dust and smoke. Even at an early stage, Backer had a clear design philosophy when it came to concocting Bradwell’s mute protagonist.
‘I wanted the main character to be you; I didn’t want to give any name or gender or anything. I didn’t want to pre-print the main character. The other thing I wanted to do is to try and find another way of doing conversations that [don’t utilise] dialogue trees. These are always difficult to do because you have to do them really well, and they take a lot of time to do. And even games like Mass Effect sometimes…you feel like you aren’t sure if that decision has a huge impact or not,’ he said.
You don’t make the journey alone, either. Players quickly stumble across another survivor, Amber, who is trapped on the other side of a nearby door. It’s here that one of the game’s chief mechanics comes into play, namely taking photos with the AR Smart Glasses. Even when prototyping, Backer said this was an element he ‘definitely wanted to try out,’ though wasn’t initially sure if it ‘was enough’ as a communication method. After some deliberation, it got the thumbs-up.
Bradwell doesn’t have you snapping photos for Instagram likes, though. Since you can’t speak, it’s your only way to converse with Amber, who guides you based on the pictures your snap. It’s an interesting concept, although I was curious as to how comprehensive the response system is – how limited would her feedback be?
‘The dialogue system tracks what photos you’ve sent her beforehand, what she knows at any given point, where you are in the chapter, and what you’ve experienced together, and that kind of decides the responses per item or photo you send. You and Amber are working together, but we didn’t want it to feel like Amber is just this voice in your head.’
While The Bradwell Conspiracy takes place in the future, Backer observed that it was important to ‘set the world in something that’s tangible,’ and that any mechanics introduced would need to ‘tie into the world and story,’ and ‘feel coherent.’ As such, there’s a sense of believability to proceedings; it’s not too far-fetched, and the technology is based on things people are flirting with today.
‘We’re not trying to go down the full-scale, physics-based systems like Portal or whatever, as that’s a whole different ball game,’ he added.
Speaking of puzzles, Backer also highlighted another key gameplay wrinkle, namely the SNP. Described as ‘3D printing on steroids,’ the device forms a key component in Bradwell’s puzzle-solving shenanigans, allowing you to not only print 3D objects into the world, but also reclaim them.
‘In order to print those objects you need blueprints, so you’ve [got a scenario] where you need to collect [programmable matter] and blueprints in order to print objects in order to solve puzzles.’
I was also able to have a natter with art director and narrative designer on The Bradwell Conspiracy, Holly Pickering, who highlighted anime as her inspiration for creating the ‘Brutalist’ aesthetic that defines Bradwell’s clean, sci-fi-esque corridors.
‘We went for this really paired-back, really clean look for the most part… I was really inspired by anime background art, impressionistic paintings. Things that gave the impression of detail without actually needing to create a lot. The main architecture style we ended up going for was this, like, Brutalist style. We knew we always wanted the graphics to be kind of nostalgic in a way and to have this kind of warm feeling to them. [For example], the 60s and 70s has this really warm, homely feel to it, so lots of the furniture you’ll see is [inspired by that era],’ she told me.
‘Brutalism is something that kept coming up, and it’s so often associated with negative, dystopian images, but for me Brutalism architecture reminds me of the Barbican, which is one of the nicest places you can ever go. I was like, wouldn’t it be nice if we can make a game that would make people appreciate the [positive] elements and how warm Brutalism can be?… It’s all about everyone being able to come together and enjoy these spaces, and that’s kind of what we thought the Bradwell mindset would be.’
Pickering also described how one of her pet peeves is that a significant chunk of sci-fi ends up having a ‘Blade Runner, space station vibe,’ which is something she wanted to avoid. In particular, she notes that the film 2001: A Space Odyssey was a major ‘initial inspiration for us, just because it was one of those interesting sci-fi films of the time that actually closely reflects how our future ended up going.’
Of course, I couldn’t wrap things up without broaching the topic of Wossy, who most will probably know is a major video game aficionado and has done more than his fair share of voice over work.
‘I asked him [about appearing in Bradwell] and thankfully he said yes, and then we wrote all the best-worst puns in the world and put them all in one section. It’s cringe; as a Brit, you just gotta cringe and get through it. And it’s great,’ Backer said through his chuckles.
Bradwell’s cast is made up of a diverse range of actors and actresses from different backgrounds, something which Backer and Pickering are clearly very proud of.
‘We’ve got a really nice diversity as well in terms of not only gender, but where people are from, their backgrounds, and so on,’ said Backer.
Pickering added: ‘It’s was really important to me, as I grew up in quite a multicultural area and I just get really annoyed when you see games where it’s just like “Bob Smith” or whatever, and it doesn’t feel reflective of the world that we live in. Our team is just so diverse it felt a disservice to them not to include that stuff. It feels unnatural if you don’t do those things.’
So, when’s it out? Backer wouldn’t commit to a release date, as publisher Bossa’s keeping mum on the subject right now. Interestingly though, it sounds like Bradwell is migrating to other formats besides Steam.
‘We’re going multiplatform,’ he succinctly commented, putting a massive grin on my boat in the process.
In lieu of a launch date, check out a trailer for The Bradwell Conspiracy below.