Q & A
Hazelight founder Josef Fares feels his studio’s approach can be a positive force for gaming – and he risks his entire body for his art
You said that with Leo and Vincent, you’re playing as characters with personality, rather than just an avatar with stats… Exactly. They’re very different characters. As you saw in the trailers, Leo is more brash, cocky, short-tempered, while Vincent is more the calm and cool guy who’s more relaxed. In the beginning of the game you’ll get a very small idea of who they are – just a little bit. That’s pretty much when you choose, so you’re not choosing like, he can shoot fire and he can shoot ice. You choose what kind of person fits you best, you know? I would hope that people try to talk to the NPCs... we put them in as optional only, so if you wanted to see how your character reacts to stuff you could but you can skip them all if you want. They’re scattered all over the world, and they’re unique everywhere and [have a] unique reaction for each character. We’ve seen some people just go by them and some stop and talk to them. How much has your vision of the game changed as you’ve been making it? It’s actually quite close, I’ve put up some pictures on my Twitter, and it’s actually very close I would say. Of course you change stuff along the way, because you iterate, you go back, you do this and that… There’s a lot of stuff I want to put in, but it’s not possible. For instance, I’ve taken in a lot of fun minigame stuff in the game like baseball, basketball, link four in a row – we have arcade games. It’s in the ’70s! It’s the small stuff that takes a lot of time to do, [and] sometimes my team laugh at me like I am nuts, but at the end of the day, you want to make a great experience. If you look at my original drawings [compared to] the final game, some things are exactly accurate. You’ve already said you’re very confident about the chances of the game. Are you worried at all? Not at all. Not at all, really not. You’ve seen this. I mean, really, to be honest with me, you’re a gamer. Do you believe this is a bad game? No. Exactly, that’s what I’m saying. Even if everybody in my environment says it’s the worst game ever, that doesn’t convince me. That’s how sure I am. Some people say delusion. I can’t help it. I also think this is going to a philosophical aspect of it, but I really don’t see the reason why people are so scared of doing stuff. I think we’re missing a lot of great stuff because of this thing that’s f**king with our mind. From a kind of gameplay perspective, you’ve obviously got couch co-op in the game, but was it a big challenge getting the game online in split-screen? It’s so hard, because first of all it’s the first time we’ve worked together with this new Unreal Engine 4 because after Brothers I had a break, and then we had to restart. We have the split-screen even online because it’s part of the story, and normally you don’t have that – you have the full screen online, and you can get away with some lagginess and stuff because you don’t see the other [player]. But now you see the other player all
the time, which makes this much harder.
We have figured that out at last, and we’ve been working our asses off. Also, because of the diversity of the gameplay, every single [thing] that goes on in the game needs unique code. Has your personal approach changed since Brothers? Not really. This has been me from the first day of Brothers. I had to learn a lot of stuff, because I didn’t know anything about games. It was very hard, because there was new mechanics and stuff, so it was a different approach, we had to figure out the game. I like this kind of challenge – this is what you want. Of course you’re getting this probably from other games, but we want to push it, push it, push it, push it. Don’t be afraid to take those risks. Risks are important to take, otherwise nothing new will come up. Do you think your indie approach can be emulated in triple-A? I hope other developers are inspired from this. Sometimes people are, some are so afraid, like, ‘Oh, the players [won’t get it], no.’ Don’t you like it when someone is like, ‘Hey, man, play this. What do you think?’ It’s about respect, but it’s not about asking ‘What do you want? Okay, here, go.’ That doesn’t make sense. We see in Hollywood, every movie out there with a big budget is just numbers on a board. Trust me, that’s how they view it, they start writing, ‘Okay, we should have this, this, this,’ and that’s why they each look the same. I’m not saying it’s bad, I’m not saying that we should take that away, I’m not saying everybody should do it. I just think that more people could be more risky in what they’re doing with this big budget stuff. “Even if everybody in my environment says it’s the worst game ever, that doesn’t convince me. That’s how sure I am” In doing so, you might bring more people to gaming. Yes, that’s it. Sometimes it can’t only be about the money. It has to be that we’re working with something creative here. We can’t just say, ‘Money is everything,’ no. Again, the other way around is not good either. You can’t just take risks. There are plenty of big companies out there with shareholders and blah, blah, blah, and so on. I think with the right approach, we definitely can make a change. And with this approach, are you having fun making the game? Yeah. It’s fun, it’s like, we also did something called motion matching. What it is, to give you a small technical explanation, some games do this if you do an interaction. What you want, you normally have the animation starting with the character picking it up, right? What you do is in some games, they do a cut. When you do a cut, as a player, you don’t notice it, you just see the cut and you take it. What happens is that they pop the player to the correct position. We can’t make the cut because the other player can see all the time. We need to use motion matching, which pretty much means every time you push the button, the system knows that the object is there, so it has to adapt and then the animation starts. This motion matching stuff, we have to do it for all walk, all crawl, all run, all run fast, all jog slow, all the crawling, everything.
What you have to do is you stand and crouch a bit, then you have to record every angle for every side [for the animation]. I did this from the morning to the night, and when the day was finished, my toenail fell off. It was so painful. That’s true. My toenail fell off. This is not normal when you walk in a crouch. When the user’s controlling a character, [crouch-walking]... I see the tears in my eyes. My toenail, totally gone, goodbye. That must be a part of why the team has such faith in you. Yeah! I don’t care: take my foot, my hand, my head... Not my head.