“What we’re doing is unique” – why It Takes Two’s director loves co-op games

We speak to Josef Fares from Hazelight about making co-op only games and why collectibles should be a thing of the past

Dr Hakim talking to Cody and May in an It Takes Two cutscene

It Takes Two is the latest co-op adventure from Hazelight, the studio behind co-op only prison drama, A Way Out. This time around, instead of following two escaped convicts, you and a friend play as May and Cody – two parents on the verge of divorce who are suddenly transformed into homemade dolls. Each level represents a change in genre; you and your partner might be solving a puzzle in one moment, tackling a precarious aerial obstacle course in the next, and then blasting bugs with machine guns shortly after.

We spoke with Hazelight’s founder, and game director on It Takes Two, Josef Fares about the impact of coronavirus, designing co-op only games, and making a muddle of gameplay experiences feel coherent.

Like much of the game industry, indie studios have struggled during the global pandemic, with studios having to suddenly adjust to working from home. “Actually I’m surprised that there aren’t more delays coming,” says Fares. “I mean, obviously, we’re still seeing more delays, but we were lucky because when the pandemic hit we had completed the first pass of our design and only 30% of people were still working in the office.”

While most of Hazelight’s work could be done with employees working from home, motion capture would have been impossible to handle remotely. “Fortunately, we timed our motion capture sessions with our great actors in London exactly right. The first lockdown happened before we had done most of our shooting, and then when things opened up a little bit there was enough time before the second lockdown for the shoot to happen. So we were very lucky that everything ran on time, otherwise, we would have had to delay as well,” says Fares.

Riding frogs in It Takes Two

Of course, Hazelight also benefits from being a studio that specialises in co-op only games – with few ways to interact with friends and loved ones during lockdown, games that can be played together are in high demand. “What we’re doing at Hazelight is unique,” explains Fares. “I’m actually very surprised that you don’t see more co-op only games, and I would love to see more games like this one. Co-op games are underestimated from a creative perspective, it allows you to make really great stories and mechanically cool experiences.”

While It Takes Two’s narrative is tonally similar to a romantic comedy, its gameplay changes significantly between levels. “I’ve talked a lot in the past about how the design and the writing should go hand in hand,” explains Fares. “For us, It Takes Two feels like a perfect balance of these two. It’s not just about keeping the experience extremely varied so there’s no repetition, but I believe that sometimes the mechanics are underestimated in terms of what they can do for the storytelling.

“You don’t necessarily have to have a game based on one mechanic and then tell your story. For some studios, it’s like the writers and the designers are working on two separate games – we’re about making sure the mechanics combine well with the story.”

Battling wasps in It Takes Two

Jumping between different types of gameplay means that It Takes Two can be a little tricky for players with less experience playing platformers or action-adventure games.

“We have to find what kind of games we want to make. If you’re not a fan of action-adventure platformers, then I’m not sure it will click,” says Fares. “However, I would still argue that this game has so much variation that even when there are sections where people feel that a certain mechanic isn’t really for them, it changes up so fast that it’s not a big problem. The game is diverse all over, but we don’t have any way to adjust everything based on the player’s level of experience. We have done a lot of internal testing, and we actually found that people who do not normally like this kind of game are loving it.”

Pulling so many genres together was one of the biggest challenges facing the team at Hazelight. “When you play It Takes Two, it feels so natural to go from one mechanic to another,” says Fares. “Making everything feel coherent was one of the hardest things to get right. We have to create everything so that it feels unique, but at the same time the experience has to feel fluid for the player.”

Cody and May playing a game in It Takes Two

The varied gameplay extends beyond main missions, too. It Takes Two also features a number of fairground-like distractions like competitive minigames and races, but there are no collectibles.

“Here’s the thing,” says Fares, “did you ever really miss having collectibles or coins in a game? The reason we made so many toys and minigames was to create a world that’s interesting and interactive. It’s definitely nicer to have the audience react and be curious instead of just running around picking up coins and stuff. We have roughly 25 different minigames across It Takes Two for you to find and play with. It’s better to find content that is actually interactive, rather than just collecting something – that’s part of our design philosophy.”

It Takes Two is out today, and you can grab it via Steam or Origin.