Josef Fares is a passionate man. The filmmaker-turned-game developer’s debut game, Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, is a remarkable fable about the power of the family. While the quality of this game spoke for itself, Fares took to the stage for the follow-up to A Way Out, memorable taking Geoff Keighley’s 2017 Game Awards broadcast by addressing the camera and saying , in part, “F — the Oscars!” It was a secular moment, of course, but it also showed Fares’ exuberance and natural flair for scandalous people. Hazelight Studios’ upcoming project, It Takes Two, tackles the oddly under-represented subject of love. And after talking to Fares about the co-op adventure, it’s clear he has a lot to say about, well, everything.
“Video games aren’t always about fun; it’s a misconception that a lot of people say, “Is this fun?” says Fares. “The best times of my life in video games haven’t been ‘fun’.” Game director and founder of Hazelight cites experiences like Journey or moments from The Last of Us opening sequence to emphasize his point. His own game, Brothers, memorably ends with a powerful moment that clearly isn’t meant to be fun. “Some parts of the game are fun, but I would say more, depending on the scene, it should be interesting.”
That’s all to say that It Takes Two begins in a place that is decidedly no fun: the specter of divorce. Cody and May are a married couple who have fallen in love. Nothing particularly heavy happened, Fares says, but the grind of everyday life exhausted them and they decided it might be best to go their separate ways. Their young daughter, Rose, is not a fan of the idea.
“She created these two little dolls and she tries, like the kids, to talk to them and try to affect them in some way or another, and they magically transform into these dolls in this fantasy world. ”, Explains Fares. From there, it becomes a journey of discovery, both in how the couple rediscover what originally brought them together, as well as in the attempt to rediscover how the heck to get back into their normal bodies. They are joined by an anthropomorphic love book, which acts as a kind of relationship guru. It’s a cute setup, but Fares and his team at Hazelight use it as a vehicle to push the storytelling and gameplay as close as possible.
Check out the It Takes Two trailer, and it’s hard not to have the whiplash. It presents the vanity of the story, then flashes a series of game clips at a breakneck pace. This type of editing style is relatively common in game trailers, but it is perhaps closer to the reality of It Takes Two than many of its contemporaries. Fares recognizes the importance of novelty and surprise in games, and this is something Hazelight leans on in an important way.
“Because we’re making a narrative game, every situation has to reflect what’s going on in the game,” he says. “So if the character needs something, it has to reflect the gameplay as well. I think in narrative games in particular the repetition is super dangerous. Once you have that, sometimes you get the feeling that the designers and the writers are making two different games, if you know what I mean.
He takes a slight detour by saying that he’s not talking about games that rely on repetition, like those where the goal is to level up and improve your character. That’s another discussion, he said, before sticking in a quick jab: “Because for me just changing the colors and numbers on enemies is just the wrong way… I think 10 years from now, I hope no one will do that, just have numbers going up, up, up, up, up, up. “
Fares believes that for a storytelling game to be truly successful, there has to be a strong relationship between the story and what the players are doing at any given time. “No matter what the character is going through, it has to reflect the gameplay as well,” he says. “It’s going to be incredibly varied. I think we’re going to break some sort of world record in terms of the mechanics we have.
The reality of budgets and deadlines makes it difficult to completely avoid repetitions, but Hazelight’s previous work has shown their willingness to find creative solutions. In A Way Out, for example, players encounter multiple obstacles while trying to escape a prison in co-op. Rather than having them retrace their steps every time they run into a locked gate, out of reach lane, or whatever, Fares felt it was important to respect players’ time and have the sequences which introduce a transition from problem to problem. resolution phase, as can happen in a movie. It’s one way to avoid repetitions. Another is to happily overwhelm players with the amount of stuff they can do.
“For example, we have a level where they have to work on their attraction; as a couple, they’ve lost their appeal, ”says Fares. “And this attraction metaphor is actually a piece of a magnet that we break in half so that they have some kind of magnetic pull towards each other. And we have another section where they feel like they’re not giving each other enough time, as it can happen in a relationship. In this section, Cody can temporarily control the weather, and May – thinking she’s too thin in her life – can make copies of herself. “We tried to marry these two, so they’re tied to their emotional states as well. This is how we push for this game. ”
The goal, Fares says, isn’t to introduce mechanics and systems that players have to fully engage and master for hours. Instead, his team want to come up with new ideas and concepts quickly, asking Cody and May (and the players) to solve the issues they face as they travel from their hangar through the different rooms of their house. House. This trip includes some fantastic detours, such as a trip in a snow globe they bought together on vacation. In this case, Fares says there is almost like a city in this glass dome. That feeling of never knowing what will come next makes for a game that Fares says people won’t be able to put aside. “I’m telling you, it’s a guarantee. I know I sound very arrogant all the time, but it’s a guarantee. This is very important for a narrative game. “
Fares wants people to get together with a friend or partner and enjoy It Takes Two – it can’t be played solo, after all. But he also wants them to finish the game. “I know people came to me and said, ‘Wow, it’s fantastic that 51% of the A Way Out players finished the game,’ and they told me that was a percentage. extremely high, but in fact it saddens me. That means 49% of people didn’t complete it. It’s not something I should be happy about.
“Right now every journalist has to stop writing about replayability because we have to solve the problem that people don’t even finish our games. People don’t even finish the games. Hear how sick it is: It’s so sick that the developers and publishers literally focus on the first part of the game because they know that is what people are going to play. It’s an ongoing mass psychosis!
Hazelight’s emphasis on variety and telling an engaging story that ties into what players do is how the studio tries to hook players into the closing credits. It’s not about offering open worlds (“I call them ‘open rehearsal games’,” Fares jokes), but rather creating very varied and more directed linear experiences.
It’s a bet in which Fares is characteristically extremely confident. At the start of our conversation, he makes an incredibly bold statement: “That’s another thing I can guarantee you with It Takes Two: it’s impossible, and quote me on that, getting bored of this game. can put that as a title. I can literally give 1000 dollars to anyone who says, ‘Oh, I’m tired of this game now because it doesn’t surprise me. ” Thousand dollars! I guarantee. I will give it to anyone who is tired. But they have to be honest about it.
Fares’ explosive confidence is both refreshing and entertaining. But it clearly comes from a sincere place. In an industry where concentration testing can often shave the edges of a creative endeavor until it becomes a harmless sphere, Hazelight aims to stay firm in her ideas and tell the stories she wants to tell – that whether it be on prison breaks or romantic breakups.
“We play the game we want to do, then when we take [the] Thu [to] gamers are testing it, we want them to like the game we’re making, not tweak it to what they want, ”says Fares. “It’s different. I think it’s very important instead of adjusting the game for the player. They have to understand our game, not the other way around. I guarantee people will love this. For sure. I have no doubts. If people don’t like this game, then I don’t know what to do. It would be crazy. I wouldn’t accept it. This is unacceptable! So everyone is wrong! He punctuates the last sentence of contagious laughter.
It’s hard not to get carried away by Fares’ worldview. He’s charismatic and charming, able to say provocative things without sounding like a complete asshole. In an industry where so many developers seemingly aspire to become film directors, Fares comes the other way. After spending a decade directing feature films in Sweden, he has turned his creative energy to the medium he loves. Fares says It Takes Two was inspired by a life spent watching games from the outside.
“It’s almost like a love letter for my love of gaming – especially Nintendo; I’m a huge Nintendo fan, ”he says. “But it’s time for Nintendo to compete with each other.” With that, he broke down completely, looking around for a few seconds, perhaps momentarily surprised by his own good-natured pride.