It Takes Two Interview with Hazelight and Turn Me Up

We spoke with Josef Fares of Hazelight alongside Louis Polak and Scott Cromie of Turn Me Up.

It Takes Two will debut worldwide for Nintendo Switch on November 4. To discuss this, we recently interviewed Producer Louis Polak and Executive Producer Scott Cromie of Turn Me Up Games, the developer in charge of the Switch port. In addition, from Hazelight Studios, we spoke with Josef Fares, the Writer and Director of It Takes Two.

Nintendo World Report (NWR): Turn Me Up Games is no stranger to the Switch. You’ve ported the Borderlands Collection and Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons. Could you talk a little bit about porting It Takes Two to Switch? Were there any unique challenges?

Scott Cromie: First of all, as you mentioned, the Switch we have a ton of experience on. It’s definitely been a bread and butter platform for us over the last few years. It’s a surprisingly powerful platform if you understand it, which we do just based on the other projects that we’ve done. At the same time, It Takes Two is a beautiful game and I think the biggest challenges were player expectations. At project onset it was like, “Do we feel like we can do this right?” And at the time it hadn’t received a game of the year award. At the point that it did, kind of the stakes went up, but thankfully we again knew what we were doing and really feel like we were able to apply everything that we’ve learned over the last five years and all the games that we’ve released on Switch to It Takes Two and I think the final product is evident of that.

NWR: As far as graphical features, did you need to pare anything down for the Switch version? And speaking of framerate and resolution, were there any challenges in that area?

Scott Cromie: So our targets were the same as any game that we’ve done previously, which was 720p handheld, 1080p docked, 30fps, and we achieved that. As far as visual optimizations, there’s always some, but our goal is to deliver an experience that is everything you’d expect, but with even more than you might not.

NWR: One other Switch technical question. Could you tell us about the implementation of local wireless play for the Switch version?

Louis Polak: I can touch on that. In this instance, we did build a custom solution. The game wasn’t natively built to support the local wireless system so that was one of our major challenges that we needed to overcome because we knew that was a number one priority to support that feature on Switch. And especially with this being a co-op, split-screen game. So we ended up building that from scratch and we’re stoked to have it in.

NWR: Josef, this question may be more directed at you. In the past, you’ve spoken about a slight inspiration from Nintendo in relation to how your games are easy to get into and accessible for all players. I wonder if you could please speak a little bit about that. And I know this isn’t the first game from Hazelight to appear on a Nintendo system, but nonetheless is there any extra exciting element because It Takes Two is coming to Switch?

Josef Fares: Look, I’ve always been a huge Nintendo fan. Still today, I have memorable moments of playing the 8-bit stuff, you know renting it, and actually buying the Super NES, and all those great memories so obviously I’m a huge Nintendo fan. So for It Takes Two to come to Switch is just great. From a perspective of porting to Switch from the beginning, it is not something we could focus on because the focus is on making the best game possible. And for me even if I love what Nintendo does, for me hardware is hardware. If it takes any focus from the actual vision then there’s not going to be focus on it. So I’m really happy with Turn Me Up Games. I think the port is really great, looking really nice and really fluid so I’m real happy for that. But with Nintendo, I often say that this is a love letter to Nintendo in a sense especially It Takes Two because I really love their approach with design. And there’s a lot of Easter eggs and stuff because of my love for Nintendo. I’m a huge fan. I mean Mario Galaxy 2, Twilight Princess, A Link to the Past. A lot of games that I played and loved. It’s crazy to be part of this industry and have the opportunity to win game of the year so I’m so proud to be in a place, to have started a studio that people are recognizing and praising. I’m really happy for that. However, I do have to say what I like about Nintendo’s design is the simplicity. And it’s not necessarily that I want more players to play it. That’s not the important part. It’s not important that everyone plays the game. It’s the way they approach design that I like. There’s a simplicity to it. It might be easier for other players to play, but it’s not important that everyone should play. I tend to want to play a new game now and there’s so many tutorials in the beginning and so much going on and it’s like, “Oh shit.” You almost have to read a whole book when you start a game. And I’m really not a fan of that. And there’s a reason why in Brothers, A Way Out, and It Takes Two that you don’t see any menus, any collectibles, any upgrades. None of that will ever be in any game that we do. We like to be very clean. It’s almost like iPhone design in a sense. Very clean and slick, but it’s very nice.

NWR: I do greatly appreciate that design approach. I feel like even Nintendo themselves have gone back to that more in recent times. For example, Breath of the Wild versus Skyward Sword. It’s great to hear that kind of design philosophy for your studio.

Warning: It Takes Two spoilers in the next question.

NWR: I know you’ve already talked a lot about the Cutie the elephant scene. In my playthrough, that was such a memorable moment. And you’ve probably heard this from multiple people, but it was very heart wrenching and maybe mortifying.

Josef Fares: It wasn’t planned to be that, but I’ve always thought it was an important scene for the character’s growth and development and it was a scene planned extremely early. And I can say we had to drawback a little bit. It was way more violent in development. We took it back a little bit. And for me it’s fun. It’s dark humor. I know a lot of people react strong to it, but they don’t actually die. They just throw it down the shelf and it’s fine. It’s just a doll. But I think the reason people reacted to it is because it comes from nothing. Nobody expected it in the game. We had another game with a torture scene where you could torture a guy with 20 different tools and nobody really cared, but for a toy everybody is screaming about it. But I’m really happy for that scene. It wasn’t done to make an effect or a scene or nothing. It’s just something I really love and still to today it’s a very funny scene actually.

NWR: The humor is great.

Josef Fares: It’s dark humor.

NWR: Yes! Yes. Because the game is so accessible, I do wonder if you happen to have a segment of the audience who really weren’t expecting certain elements of the narrative such as significant others who aren’t super accustomed to gaming. Many folks may not be expecting the kind of narrative and dark humor from a video game.

Josef Fares: For sure. The subject was chosen because it’s not a common one in video games. It also helped a lot with the design, when you are designing a game about couples. There always a word that we have for the game’s we design. In It Takes Two it was “collaboration.” In A Way Out it was “trust.” And Brothers was about “loss” obviously. So collaboration lends itself both to the story, and divorce, and the couples and also how we designed the game. Part of the design was that you’d scream at each other and that you’d communicate. We often say that’s it’s a good way of testing a relationship with someone when you play It Takes Two and see where you guys are at, you know relationship wise.

NWR: Totally. It sounds like Hazelight is already deep into development of their next game. Has the overall reaction to It Takes Two or maybe even the Cutie scene in particular had any effect on the development of your next game? Maybe more moment like the one with Cutie?

Josef Fares: No. No. No. No. I mean of course there’s always going to be an influence. But to be honest with you, I try to tell my team as much as possible not to dig too deep into reviews. I don’t do it. I can see the rating given by a review, but I don’t read too much. Especially when you’re in the position that we’re in where people are recognizing us and winning game of the year awards and blah blah blah, you slowly start to adapt yourself to what you think people are liking and why we are successful. And I think it’s a danger that you could lose your own voice. It’s even more important to remember why you took those decisions you took and why they are so important. But obviously we can see things that we we can always improve on. But it’s important not to say, “Let’s try more of this or try more of that. And people may like this.” And I say a lot. We make sure that people loves our games. Not make games that people will love. There’s a difference between that. So we try as much as we can to really just follow our passion and vision from the beginning. So I’ve already let It Takes Two go in my mind. It’s not even in my head anymore. Just sitting here doing an interview about It Takes Two is weird. I’m sitting hear answering slack messages and getting feedback about our new game. So my head is somewhere else.

NWR: One last thing. Could you talk a little about recording your voice actors? Do you have the story set in stone before recording or do the actors have some opportunity to improvise? Did your two leads record together?

Josef Fares: It’s a combination that’s different for every game, in It Takes Two especially. Normally, we have the whole story. And what I mean, how it’s starts and ends. Every scene. We have storyboards of every scene of the game and what’s going to happen. This is pretty much before we start with the gameplay. And then from that we start the gameplay and in It Takes Two we tried to connect the gameplay and the story. The story is done and the script is being written and then the story will sometimes change and adapt to the gameplay and vice versa. It’s kind of like a collaborative, but we do know where we’re going and where we’re heading and stuff like that. And the actors we mocapped here at Hazelight. Both Cody and May, great actors. They came along really well. We had a great time. They came from England to here. We did all the shoots here. We did everything. Hardly outsourced anything. We started at around 35 and ended up around 60 people which is quite few for such a content heavy game as It Takes Two. And it was almost 2 hour and 20 minutes of cutscenes, that’s like a feature length movie. Like an animated movie. It’s kind of crazy that we pulled that off. Sometimes when I think about it I’m like, “Fuck.” And we were inspired by Pixar. And some people are even saying it’s almost like playing a Pixar movie. So I’m really happy that we could pull that off. But yes. The actors could improvise. We always try to get the characters as close to the actors as much as possible so we can get the best out of it.

NWR: Thanks so much for your time and looking forward to your next project.

Josef Fares: Yeah man. Dude it’s going to rock.