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The game is once again a couch two-player co-op adventure game where you play Cody and May, a bickering couple. On the verge of telling their daughter that they’re getting a divorce, they suddenly turn into small wooden dolls. They’re trapped in a fantastical world, and the only way out is to cooperate. To change back, they have to fix their relationship. It’s like a marriage-counseling adventure, coming from the same imaginative minds that made A Way Out.
EA Originals is publishing the title for Fares, who touted the new romantic comedy game with his usual rhetorical flair.
“It’s a very warm story. You don’t have to worry about feeling anxiety playing this game. You’ll just feel happy, in a natural way,” he said.
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Fares, who famously said “f*** the Oscars” during The Game Awards, spoke about his new game with gusto during a briefing with the press. Then we played the beginning levels of the game for a couple of hours. I was paired with Nick Pino of Tech Radar. I thought the game was very well done, with lots of humor and challenges related to being characters who were as tiny as mice in a big farm. In the game, we had to defeat a rampaging vacuum cleaner and
Here’s an edited transcript of Fares’ group interview. The game will debut on the PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC via Origin, and Steam for $40. Players will be able to upgrade to next-gen consoles for free.
Question: What was your inspiration to follow up A Way Out with a love story?
Josef Fares: We wanted to push forward with co-op, take it to the next step. The rom-com hasn’t really been tried in gaming. Something we love to do at Hazelight is testing what hasn’t been tried. It’s more fun to do something different. It’s always fun to create a moment between players. Of course, a rom-com for two players, it couldn’t fit better. But it was definitely challenging. Combining the story and the gameplay is the toughest thing.
Question: This is your third project based on cooperation between two characters as a core design element. What attracts you to that concept?
Fares: When we experience stories, we do it together. We go to the movies or the theater together. We listen to music together. I think co-op is underused in games. Normally it’s done in cases where you have a single-player mode that you can also play co-op, things like that. But designing a story for two players, with two unique characters who have different personalities that you play, there’s so much to be explored there from a creative standpoint, and especially from the storytelling standpoint. That’s what we want to keep pushing. What can we do with that?
People miss split-screen a lot, too. I love experiencing stories with other people. You can see lots of online streamers, when they go through stories together, those are the best moments. We all want to experience things with other people. What’s better than a great story co-op game with a lot of crazy elements?
Question: Will there be choices to make during the game that will end up changing the narrative?
Fares: No, not at all. This is a totally linear experience, an action platform. It’s not about choices at all. Thank god for that. Otherwise we’d be working on the game for 20 years. We have choices that create different gameplay scenarios, but no, it wouldn’t fit to have story choices in this game. In the future we might try it.
Question: Is there any way to fail in It Takes Two, or find a bad ending? Some relationships aren’t possible to save.
Fares: I’m not going to go into details about what will happen in the story, but as I said, there are no choices. Just think about how rom-coms normally work. This game is about love. Without spoiling anything, the parents will make some choices that feel very egoistic. But that’s part of their evolution as characters. It’s a very warm story. You don’t have to worry about feeling anxiety playing this game. You’ll just feel happy, in a natural way.
Question: How much content will there be in the two chapters of the demo that people will play?
Fares: It’s more than an hour, but it’s just a small taste. There’s way more to the game than what you’ll play in the demo. You’ll understand, though, the way the game is going to hit you. You’ll never be able to second-guess what’s going to happen, what goes on. The funny thing is that we don’t have a huge amount of variety in what goes into the narrative, a lot of interaction there. Almost all of the content is quite polished. It feels nice and crisp. I’m lucky to have a team that’s super skilled. I’m not the guy coding, obviously. I have people who are way better than me. I can’t even look at code. I’d go nuts. But you’ll have a great experience. I wouldn’t even call it a demo. It’s a chunk of the game, and there’s way more to it than what you’ll play there.
Question: Is there cross-play between platforms?
Fares: No, we don’t have that. Maybe we can do it in the future. I’ll have to ask the coders if that’s possible.
Question: Do you have features that use the DualSense controller with the PlayStation 5?
Fares: It has higher framerate and higher resolution, but other than that, there’s no particular–the thing is, the next-gen consoles came very late for us. We didn’t have the time to take full advantage. We might come later with some upgrades, but right now it’s just better framerate, everything that you get with a more powerful console. You’ll get a technically better experience with a PS5 or an Xbox Series X.
Question: Have you been inspired by any movies, like Pixar films? There’s a similar vibe.
Fares: Thank you for the compliment. We sure have. Pixar is extremely good at what they do. I’m happy that people are thinking of that. There’s a lot of inspiration — how they tell stories, how the characters look. I have a great respect for Pixar.
Question: Would you say that the story leads the game design, or the gameplay shapes how the story comes together?
Fares: It’s a combination. That’s what we tried to find. The examples I showed in the trailer — we always try to find how game design and story can go together hand in hand. You can sometimes play some games that have a very strong story and a very different design. It’s almost like the writers and designers are working on two different games. Here we try to marry them as much as possible. Sometimes we can do it very well, and sometimes we do it in a metaphorical way, like the examples you saw with attraction. But in the end it’s an interactive experience. That’s something we always try to take to the next level. If you look at Brothers, A Way Out, and It Takes Two, It Takes Two is much more responsive and interactive than A Way Out was, for instance.
We try to go exactly down the middle, so they meet somewhere in there. But gameplay and story are both equally important. We never say, “We’ll have fun gameplay here, and then put in the story here.” One thing I always tell my designers is that games aren’t always about fun. Some of my favorite moments in gaming aren’t about fun. The opening of The Last of Us wasn’t fun for me. But everything in that scene fit. It’s important that we find design that fits where the story is at in the moment. Depending on the story you’re telling, you can create unique, special mechanics that fit the narrative in each moment. We want to push that.
I know that sometimes my team can get pissed off at me a little bit, because we’ll do huge scenes that take a lot of time to create, and then they only go on for a minute or two. But it’s important that if we go this way to combine these things, we keep on pushing that.
Question: Can you point to particular moments from A Way Out that inspired you to go in such a different direction with your next game?
Fares: There weren’t any specific moments. We just knew that we wanted to take–we had different directions in different moments, but eventually we ended up where we wanted to take co-op to a different level. We wanted to try some different ideas, starting from a totally new beginning. I give credit to EA. We get to do literally just what we want. We wanted to do this IP with no interference at all. We can do what we want, whatever we want. It’s more fun that way.
A Way Out was a huge success. Even today I think it’s sold 3.6 million, 3.7 million. We could easily have done a second game like that. But we wanted to try something different. And our next game after this will be different as well. Otherwise you get a bit tired of doing the same thing over and over again. I’m not saying we wouldn’t ever do a sequel to anything, but for us it was nice to try something totally different.
For me and for many of the designers, we love action platformers. In a sense this is a love letter to Nintendo games. I think many of the people who play this will see my love and the designers’ love for Nintendo. We’ve hidden some Easter eggs here and there where you’ll see inspiration from some of my favorite games.
Question: How much couples’ therapy is It Takes Two equivalent to?
Fares: Is that a real question? [Laughs] I want to meet whoever asked that. You know, Hakim is a pretty cheesy character, but you know what they say. Cliches are cliches for a reason. It’s not about just knowing. It’s about realizing. This guy is very cheesy, very obvious, but if you listen to him closely, what he says, if you do realize it, it will definitely be equivalent to a therapy session. I don’t know how many, but let’s say as long as the game, which is around — depending on how you play it, maybe 12 to 14 hours. Let’s say it’s 14 one-hour therapy sessions. Let’s market it that way.
Question: It Takes Two seems to feature a lot of asymmetric gameplay. Which one of the gameplay styles was the most fun to make?
Fares: It’s hard to say what’s the most fun. Every mechanic–that’s the problem with this. When you create unique mechanics like this, you need to fine-tune them and polish them. They all have their challenges until you figure it out. We do a lot of internal and external testing. But here’s the difference. When we test our games, we don’t adjust the game so the audience tells us this is what they want to play. We adjust the games so that they understand what we want to do with them. There’s a difference in that approach.
The most fun mechanic, it’s hard to say, but they all have different challenges. Some took a lot longer to develop than others. But there’s no specific one that was more fun than any other. Sometimes you work on a mechanic early and you can see where it’s heading, but it could take–there are some scenes in the game, some bosses that took a year, a year and a half to finish. As a player, you might play through them in three minutes, or 30 seconds. Boom, goodbye to all that work. But it’s worth it.
Question: My partner isn’t used to playing video games. How hard would you say this game is for newcomers?
Fares: If you’re not used to controlling a third-person camera with a stick, it’s going to be tough. However, try it out. Maybe it’s a good therapy challenge, to play it together. I believe it could work, but there would be some challenge in using the camera. Try it out. You’ll have fun anyway.
Question: Are the characters based on any real people or real experiences you’ve had?
Fares: No, they’re not based on anyone real. The mocap actors are real, and we have some inspirations visually as far as how the real parents look in real life. But the inspiration is from any relationship out there that needs a bit of love. This is a game about love, about spreading love. You’ll feel the team’s love. When you play the game you’ll feel it coming into your hands, coming into your body, and you’ll start shaking when you’re done with it. We have some beautiful scenes prepared for you. And some uncomfortable scenes as well. Or not uncomfortable, but some not so funny scenes, maybe.
Question: Speaking of those scenes, your brother was a big part of A Way Out. Does he have a role in this game?
Fares: No, he doesn’t have a big role in this game. However, I have an Easter egg with him somewhere in the game. If you can find it, I think you’re going to like it.
Question: How different is the story in the finished game from your earliest concepts?
Fares: There are some differences, but looking at the storyboards today–we made some changes, some parts here and there. You have to adjust things a little bit. But I’d say less different than you’d see with the first draft of a movie script and the final draft. You might not know how many drafts a script goes through normally, but in the movies I’ve done, they normally go through 10 or 15 drafts, at least. It’s still the same story, but with some changes. I can’t go into exact details, obviously, but the stuff that didn’t work was where design and story couldn’t meet. That’s where we made adjustments. Sometimes the design doesn’t work as well, so we have to change that in the same way.
Question: What rom-com stories have been an inspiration for It Takes Two?
Fares: To be honest, there aren’t so many to choose from. You don’t have that many good rom-coms out there. You try to find a tone, to find lovable characters, and that heartwarming feeling. But there wasn’t any specific inspiration. It was mainly about how it’s fun to try new things in video games. We’re still a very young industry. From a creative perspective there’s so much to test. We’ve just scratched the surface. In the future we’ll see every kind of story, every kind of genre and style, whether light or heavy and so on.
Question: Is there a moment in the game that still makes you laugh or cry, no matter how many times you see it?
Fares: Definitely moments in the game where I feel heartwarmed, and definitely moments in the game where I feel like, “Ugh.” But in general this is a very lighthearted, warm story. I obviously have a special connection, because I’m the mocap actor for Hakim. Every time you see him moving, I’m that character. I’m not his voice, because my English sucks, but his body, that’s me. It’ll always be special for me. But yes, there are many moments like that.
Question: Do you have a favorite romantic comedy, though?
Fares: I’d have to say When Harry Met Sally. That’s one of my favorites. It’s extremely well-written, well-acted. There’s a very unique tone to it. There’s a retro feeling to it, too, which I love today. That’s pretty much a master rom-com. To be honest with you, another romantic comedy, more an action comedy, but True Lies by James Cameron. That one I love as well. You can think of that as a romantic comedy with action moments. I love James Cameron’s movies anyway, a big fan of Avatar and Titanic and all his movies.
Question: Are you planning to release the game on Switch or other platforms?
Fares: We don’t have any plans for Switch right now. We haven’t looked at it. We’re not such a big team. But who knows what happens in the future? We’ll see if we can make the game on Switch. If it’s possible, why not? As I said, I’m a big fan of Nintendo. I could see it coming there. But there’s no plans right now.
Question: Why did you lean toward romantic comedy when you were deciding on your next project?
Fares: Like I said before, we wanted to take co-op and try again to design a story around it. And again, romantic comedy hasn’t really been tried in games. Why not try something different and see where it goes? It’s fun to test something new. That’s what we like to do.
Question: Can you tell us more about the actors playing Cody and May?
Fares: They’re two super-cool human beings. We obviously got to know them very well. They came here to Stockholm every now and then. We became very close. We had a lot of fun. Hopefully we’ll release, some time soon, some behind the scenes footage of me and them working together. I wish I could show you some of it here. Obviously professional actors. We went to London and did normal casting and so on. I know this is one of the most fun things they worked on. They really liked being with us here at Hazelight.
We were so lucky, because right before the corona shit happened, we managed to take in a mocap session, and then when there was a moment of peace, we could fly them in and do one last mocap before things shut down again. It’s like there’s some god up there that wanted us to finish the game on time. I know many developers have run late, and there’s a reason for that. I don’t know how people have managed it without being able to be in the same space. But here at Hazelight we’ve been maybe one-third of a team at the office. I’ve been working like normal. Corona ain’t got shit on Hazelight, let me tell you.
Question: Will there be room for replayability with things like side missions?
Fares: OK, here’s the thing. I’ll be short here. Replayability, really–we should be very careful talking about this, because the dangers of replayability — all the statistics show that people aren’t even finishing games. The dangerous part is that everybody, reviewers, everyone who talks about this talks about replayability. Who’s really replaying games? Maybe a small percentage of people do that. We should focus on people finishing games.
Talking about It Takes Two in general, yes, you can replay it if you want. You’ll have different mechanics depending on how you play. But that shouldn’t be the most important thing in a game. We always get this question. I don’t understand why. How many people replay games? It’s not as many as you think.
Talking about collectibles and other stuff, I’m not a big fan of going to collect things. In the player you can see that in a funny way. “I take no shiny shit.” I’d rather that we create a world that’s interesting and interactive, instead of just collecting stuff. I know shiny shit is there for a reason, to lead the player around, but you can lead them in other ways. You can have a world that’s interactive. Try it, test it, play it, have mini-games here and there. You don’t have any collectibles in It Takes Two, which is something we’re very proud of. It’s not something I miss. Instead, we have a world that you’ll want to explore without having a number going up.
Question: Do you have any plans for DLC or other additional content?
Fares: We had plans before, but in general I feel like now we have to focus on our next project. At the moment we don’t have any plans for DLC. I’ll never say never, but right now we’re focused on the next game.
Question: The cinematics in the trailer are spectacular. Is that just for the trailer, or will there be cinematic scenes in the game?
Fares: No, of course there will be cinematics. We’ll have cutscenes, and we’ll have moments that are a little bit playable, a cinematic moment. They won’t be as passive as some moments like that. They’ll be way more interactive this time. It’s a crazy ride.
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