The Independent Gamer is a curated roundup of news from indie gaming, landing here every other Friday.
It Takes Two is the game on everybody’s minds (and consoles) this month.
From publisher Electronic Arts (under its EA Originals label) and Swedish game developer Hazelight Studios, the co-op platformer has romantic comedy vibes as it explores relationships and divorce with playful humor and a touch of darkness. It was released March 26 and has enjoyed an overwhelmingly positive reception.
In fact according to Hazelight’s founder Josef Fares, who directed the game, it has been “quite insane.” He recalls to The Hollywood Reporter over Zoom, “It’s the most craziest reaction I’ve had for a game, for sure, or for anything I’ve done. Shocking in a positive way.”
The title is Hazelight’s second after 2018’s prison-break game A Way Out, but Fares’ third as he directed Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons in 2013. “It’s always been this co-op thing,” he says of the types of games in his portfolio. “Obviously we’ve become better at mastering how co-op is done.”
Story-wise, Fares says he felt the gameplay of It Takes Two worked in that collaborative setting, with players able to “mess” with each other and engage in quick banter as they play beside one another. “It felt like, this could be a romantic comedy,” he says, of the initial concept that became the journey of a couple on the verge of divorce — but who are forced to cooperate and actually confront their relationship.
Of co-op games in particular, Fares is quick to note that a lot is yet to be discovered in the “underestimated” genre. “Great stories have more than one character,” he points out, adding that people are accustomed to watching movies and TV shows together for the joy of experiencing a story with another person. That idea translates to playing a story together. “When you have two characters, you can create some really cool, strong characters with very interesting dynamics between them.”
Fares emphasizes that his goal at Hazelight is to do things that haven’t been done before in gaming. “That’s the only way,” he says. “You have to take risks, take chances that you’re going to learn something and push this medium forward.” He believes that, while video games in general are progressing narratively, they’re not totally there yet.
“When the interactive medium gets better at telling strong stories, I think emotionally it will be [an] even stronger impact than [a] passive medium — movies,” he says.
One of the things that Hazelight does, Fares goes on to say, is that it creates mechanics that reflect what is going on in the story. “The gameplay itself is quite hysterical, fun, crazy, shocking, mad — there are many words to describe the gameplay,” he says.” Then there’s the characters, such as the Book of Love, that don’t take themselves too seriously. “It is a hard balance,” he says of striking the right tone. “Because there is a heartfelt story behind all of this,” he explains, adding that it’s still a light-hearted action-adventure game.
Fares says that, sometimes, he feels in video games that game writers and designers are almost working on two different projects. “The writer’s writing a story and the designer’s making a game, and then you add it together — some games, you play them almost until the next cut scene comes so you can see the story,” he says. “We really want to combine those as much as possible.”
He says that there aren’t any specific romantic comedy-type inspirations that influenced this game, though he is a big fan of the “simplicity and playfulness” of Nintendo games and Pixar movies. “Here’s the thing, when you’re doing a game and you have to add mechanics to it — whatever you do when you combine the mechanics and story, you don’t have the same control over the story as you do in a passive .”
That’s one of the challenges, emphasizes the director, who has made six feature films in his career including 2003’s Kopps, which was a festival favorite. “How to pace it exactly.” The pacing of It Takes Two and variety in the gameplay experience has received praise, which Fares suggests may come from his background in movies.
“I get inspired from pretty much everything,” he says, “but mostly also the urge of doing something that hasn’t been done.” During the making of It Takes Two, he says it was important to trust his instinct.
Fares, who references a love of video games since childhood, also looks ahead to what interactive storytelling may look like in years to come. “I do believe that this industry has potential to become huge, impactful in storytelling,” he says, noting that movies, for example, have had a much longer time to perfect their technical and creative practices. “I think we’re scratching the surface,” he says of games. “Me and Hazelight, that’s what we want to do, be part of pushing the medium forward.”
And in the greater scope of things, “it’s just a matter of time,” Fares says, before games grow out of the “basement culture” where they originated and are recognized more regularly in the mainstream arena.
“For me, I don’t even discuss with someone that says ‘games are not art,’” he says. “It’s not even a question.”
Horror Survival Game Dead by Daylight Launches New Chapter
Canada’s Behavior Interactive announced on March 30 that its horror survival game Dead by Daylight has a new chapter titled All-Kill.
The new story explores the world of K-pop music and culture. “Inspired by the high energy and vivid aesthetics of this global phenomenon, the team brought to life an adrenaline-pumping chapter that oozes with style and blood,” said Dave Richard, creative director for the multiplayer game, in a statement.
Narrative Cyberpunk Thriller Heading to Steam
Austrian development studio Clockwork Bird (The Ember of the Stars) announced that its cyberpunk thriller Silicon Dreams will arrive on PC via Steam on April 20.
Players take on the role of an interrogator-model android tasked with identifying deviants among their own kind.
Brazil’s Independent Games Festival Announces Finalists
The biggest festival in Latin America announced its international finalists for Best Game on March 31, as follows: A Short Hike (Canada), Curious Expedition 2 (Germany), Figment 2: Creed Valley (Denmark), Genesis Noir (USA), Interrogation: You Will Be Deceived (Romania), Liberated (Poland), Not for Broadcast (United Kingdom), Pathologic 2 (Russia), Per Aspera (Argentina), The Signifier: Director’s Cut (Chile).
Visit the website to see finalists for best Brazilian game. The ceremony takes place May 6, broadcast online.