Following on from the heart-wrenching Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons and the campy, action-filled prison break game A Way Out, the next game from Josef Fares and Hazelight tackles a completely different genre once again: the rom-com.
Out later this month, It Takes Two follows Cody and May, a couple on the verge of divorce magically transformed into toys and having to adventure to find their daughter and break the spell… all the while being tormented by the book turned mischievous relationship guru, Dr. Hakim.
From the first few hours, it’s a pretty wild adventure – just read our It Takes Two preview here – and we followed our play session up by sitting down to chat with the outspoken Josef Fares.
TSA – You’re probably still best known for swearing at The Game Awards and we were wondering… what is your favourite swear word? You can say whatever you want.
Josef Fares – Okay, let me say it. Are you ready?
TSA – Yeah!
Josef – [7 seconds of Lebanese swearing] Now to explain that? Oh my god… It’s a Lebanese swear word – the best language to swear in! [More swearing] it’s got so many nice swear words, but I don’t know how to explain that or translate that.
TSA – [laughs] That’s all right. You know, I’ll just put ‘Lebanese swearing’ in square brackets.
TSA – Moving on to It Takes Two, what was the initial appeal of doing a rom-com as the kind of narrative genre?
Josef – Actually, it was that we just felt that something that hadn’t really been done in gaming. We at Hazelight want to try something different. Why not? It hasn’t been tested. It also fitted the theme of the game mechanics.[…]
I talk a lot about how, and you’ve seen this when you played, how everything doesn’t just change the mechanic for the sake of it, there’s an aspect of the story that follows the mechanic as well.
But romantic comedy just felt like something that hasn’t been done. I mean, it obviously wasn’t easy, even in a movie it’s not easy and the average romantic comedy is a special thing to do anyway. But why not, man? I mean, let’s do it! We would like to throw ourselves in. I like to do some stuff that is new and exciting. That’s how you push the boundaries, you know?
TSA – It feels like through your games that you really like to explore these kind of fractured relationships and people splitting apart, coming back together, that kind of thing. Is that a real theme that you think is part of your work?
Josef – Look, here’s the thing – we at Hazelight, what we’re doing is totally unique. I mean nobody else is doing this. You have your single player that does co-op campaigns, you have your four player shooters, but nobody is writing and making a game from the beginning fully designed that way. It’s sad because I want more to do it and there’s definitely a market for it, but what that means is that when you have co-op you can create unique mechanics for the players, you can create unique situations, you can create unique characters and create dramatic situations between the characters. When you have two people you can create a more interesting dynamic between them both mechanically and story-wise, so that’s why I think it fits our against very, very well you know.
Even in one of the best story games you have out there today, like The Last of Us and God of War, there are two characters involved, you know? I mean you’re playing only one, but there’s still like a dynamic between two characters are very interesting and obviously when you have two characters with different personalities, you will have relationships.
TSA – Yeah, that’s definitely true. Given the theme of the game, do you think of yourself as someone that always gives relationship advice to your friends?
Josef – [laughs] It’s hard to believe, but I’ve actually… I have actually saved a relationship to be honest. I mean people I know see me as crazy, but I would say I can give some very good advice. Nine months ago I actually helped my friend and relative to not divorce his wife, and he’s actually very thankful for that! So yes, to answer your question. If you have marriage problem come to me!
TSA – Well, my follow up question works quite nicely. Have you ever considered being an agony aunt with a newspaper or website column?
Josef – [laughs] I’m not sure I’m the expert on this, but why not? I’m not the writing kind of a guy, so if something I would have a I think I would be quite successful if I did a Twitch or you know if I was like a, what do you call it today? YouTuber?
TSA – A relationship influencer?
Josef – Exactly. I might have a good following. I’d say I could become quite big on the internet.
TSA – [laughs] So what was it that really went into creating the character of Dr. Hakim? You obviously do the motion capture (but not the voice), but what else?
Josef – Yeah, exactly. It’s actually it’s funny someone asked me this, and I got this paper. [Holds up a bit of paper to the camera) I got this paper in my post. Dr. Hakim says he can help you with everything, and he’s actually the inspiration for this.
He is, I mean, he’s obviously very cheesy and full of cliches and he’s supposed to be very quirky and funny, but actually a lot of stuff he says has a point. Obviously he promised Rose, their daughter, that he’s going to put them back together, […] and he will put them through a lot of stuff later in the game. I mean, I call him a psychopath with a heart. He’s cheesy and he’s a weirdo, but I like him.
TSA – Yeah, it was a it was an RPG character, he’d be chaotic-good.
Josef – Yes, exactly! Chaotic, for sure.
TSA – Did you read any real relationship advice books in order to create him? Or to create some of the relationship scenarios for the game?
Josef – Yes, I mean, me and [Hazelight’s other writers], we sat down we talked a lot about it. There was obviously some research, but here’s the thing, we don’t go in deep on the divorce subject. To be honest with you it’s mostly light hearted, but there’s definitely an aspect of researching this. Like, you know, what kind of relationship problems and stuff, but not on a deep level […] However, I do believe that this game can help you in relationship because it’s got such a focus on co-op. We have done testing with partners coming in, and you test yourself because you need to talk to each other all the time and you test your level of cooperation. So it could be kind of a therapy session to play together.
TSA – In A Way Out, you had very dynamic split-screen presentation, where it was always shifting left, right, horizontal, but with It Takes Two it feels a bit more strict and right down the middle most of the time. Is that something that you learn from A Way Out that maybe didn’t quite work so well?
Josef – No, actually. To be honest with you, I think it fit for A Way Out a lot to play with the camera and the split-screen or something with the three… No, I just would say that for this game, it feels better [to have a steady split-screen] and fits better. We will play with the camera as well in this one, but this game and this type of mechanic and everything, this style was better, I would say.
TSA – You have got a lot of mileage out of this particularly split view by giving Cody and May different roles through the game. Was that a challenge to come up with for every single kind of genre that you try to tackle, to make sure they’re complimentary abilities?
Josef – The thing you’re talking about is the most challenging. Again, going back to that the mechanic should relate to the story, that’s important as well, even if it’s a metaphoric way, like a magnet and their attraction like you see in the gameplay trailer. Even that is important, but at least there is a connection to the story, and then you have to find, like you say, different mechanics that you can combine in a good way. […]
You have to understand, we also wanted to have a coherent feeling throughout the game, so you don’t feel like you’re playing a different game. […] You have to feel like it’s the same game, but you’re doing totally different things. Now get all those things super-polished and finding the tone that works all over and also, a lot of people forget, the enemies, the bosses you meet with these mechanics are designed for them.
You can’t reuse the enemies for the sap and the match for something where you have a hammer. In a normal game you can like use your weapon to take out the enemy that’s similar to that or a different colour that shoots ice or fire or whatever. Here you can’t choose, you have to almost start over for every level.
Now imagine that going on for 14 hours was a lot of madness going on, and everything needs to be polished, and add on to that 25 different minigames and a huge amount of interaction.
TSA – I’m sure the whole team was very thankful when he came up with this game idea…
Josef – Trust me, they are used to me now because they know I love variety, and they’re all into this. But of course there are some points, for instance, that fight scenes you play there on the plane. That takes one minute to play. That took six months to do for one minute of gameplay!
TSA – The thing that I enjoyed when playing was that I was the one fighting on top of the plane and my co-op buddy? He stops playing to watch; he stopped flying and the plane crashed!
Josef – [laughs] Yeah, but I believe that the moment when you have it, even if it’s only one minute and it took us a long time, it’s so important. If we would have reuse that, it would have destroyed that moment. Everything you see now in It Takes Two only happens once; it becomes more of a special moment, you know.
TSA – There’s kind of some nuts and bolts platforming ideas in the game, like a section where you’re grinding on a rail, for example. Were there temptations to reuse that little idea later on in the game?
Josef – I mean, the only thing we reuse is the movement. You have the grinding, the swinging and the jumping, but other than that, it’s new mechanics every time. We want the experience to be fresh and unique the whole time. We could have easily made this game be 200 hours with just taking the same mechanic and just ‘ba-ba-ba-ba’, but the whole idea is that you never get tired, you always want to see what’s around the next corner. The game will always surprise you like, “Woah, what is this? What is that? What’s going on?” That’s the idea.
TSA – As it’s constantly shifting, I definitely got a bit of Conker’s Bad Fur Day vibe to the game.
Josef – Oh, I love that game! Yeah! Are you kidding me?
One my favourite games. Yes, for sure. You know, I say that this game is a love letter for Nintendo, so I’m very happy to take up that. Yeah, it’s one of my favourite games, Bad Fur Day.
TSA – Yeah, it’s having the squirrels versus wasps thing.
Josef – For sure. You remember that turd boss in that game? It was so fun!
TSA – We were we were expecting that to be a song about poo at some point….
Josef – Yeah. No, [it’s not all of that] but it’s definitely that Bad Fur Day is part of the Nintendo inspiration, I would say. For sure, I love that game.
TSA – Right it’s time for another silly question. If you had if you had to make a direct sequel to any of your games, what would you call it? I’ve got some suggestions for A Way Out, but I’ll let you go first.
Josef – Okay, if I had to… I’m not a sequel kind of a guy, but if I really had to, then I would choose Brothers because that’s the furthest away, because I don’t like to do the same thing. I would do Brothers, because that was done 2011.
TSA – Cool. So what would you call it?
Josef – Uh…. Well, have you have you played through Brothers?
TSA – I still haven’t, I’m afraid.
Josef – Ah OK, so then I can’t, because I would spoil it for you!
TSA – I guess that’s fair. Well, I’ll give you my suggestions for A Way Out sequels, which would be A Way Back In, or just the classic 2 Way 2 Out.
Josef – [laughs] Okay, we got it! A Way Out – A Way Back In. Yeah, perfect!
TSA – Another quick question. Will you ever work on a three player or four player co-op game or, like Valve, are you scared of the number three.
Josef – Super scared of number three! It Takes Three would be a sequel to do…
No, I’m not scared at all, I just… Who knows? I’m not gonna say never to anything, but I will say that what I will never do is I will never work with a mobile boring, you know, Candy Crush type of a game. That I will never do, but who knows what I might do in the future?
TSA – For It Takes Two you’ve have to come up with idea after idea after idea. It almost feels like literally everything that you came up with is probably ended up in the game, but I know how game development works. Can you tell us one, maybe two ideas that didn’t make it into the game, and a little bit about why?
Josef – I can’t really go in because I would spoil it! When you’ve played through the game, we can talk again, I can show you. There’s some some stuff that we couldn’t get in, and mostly it’s because it’s either that the story didn’t work, or the design didn’t work. They both had to be coherent.
I can’t go into it exactly, but yes, of course we had to take away some things. We couldn’t use everything. I know some can feel that we just did everything and put it in, but you have to understand that every mechanic has been really hard to work, to polish to a level.
TSA – Well, maybe I can put a different spin on the question, which would be to name a genre or a style of game that isn’t It Takes Two. For example, do you have a card-based basler?
Josef – A card-based battler? I’m thinking… No we don’t, no.
TSA – Is there? Is there a MOBA section?
Josef – Not really. But we do have we have chess in there, a full playable chess game as a mini–game. So you have a couple of strategic games as well, I would say.
TSA – Oh, yeah, you’ve got loads those minigames which are really quite fun, though I was a bit peeved when I had the hammer and my buddy had the nails and in the second minigames, the throwing nails were totally OP.
Josef – I think you have to be better at the hammer….
TSA – Yeah, though my problem was that he shot me with a nail so I couldn’t move. He cheated!
Josef – Ah, okay! That’s a good one. It’s hard to shoot the other player, especially if you’re dashing around.
TSA – One last question, which is to do with Rose. She’s made all of this happen, as she’s trying to get her parents to reconnect and not get divorced, but how did you avoid that getting too dark? Because it is a serious topic, but it’s a very, very light hearted game.
Josef – It’s all about the writing tone, how she reacts, and we also were very keen not to victimise her very early, she stood on her own. She was her own individual person and stuff like that, and that she wasn’t just the girl crying in the corner and being very sad and dark. I think that’s one of the reasons, but there will be moments where the parents will do stuff that is questionable, but that’s part of their, like, character growth that they…
TSA – That they have to get further apart to come closer again?
Josef – Yeah, but also, they do stuff that’s quite egoistic. I think that’s part of the storyteller that they forgot about their daughter, you know? I mean, that’s most important part of it; sometimes that happens when you’re in a state of divorce, you almost forget what’s important for you: the family.
Thanks to Josef for taking the time to chat with us. Make sure to check out our hands on preview of It Take Two. The game is out for PlayStation, Xbox and PC on 26th March 2021.