"I'm ready to die for my game."
For a night full of big news--Bayonetta 3's reveal, the surprise release of Zelda: Breath of the Wild's DLC, a new Death Stranding trailer, a touching tribute to early game designer Carol Shaw--the most memorable moment of The Game Awards may have been the introduction to a new trailer for A Way Out. Director Josef Fares gave an impassioned, colorful speech first about how The Game Awards were better than the Oscars, repeatedly stating, "F*** the Oscars!" and even flipping off the camera. From there, he referenced the "EA s*** going on with loot boxes"--EA being the publisher of A Way Out--before talking about his own game. It was a bizarre, hilarious few minutes, during which host Geoff Keighley did his best to rein Fares in. The one thing that could be taken away from the whole segment is that Fares is a guy with opinions--and he very strongly believes in them.
Hours before The Game Awards, we had the opportunity to speak with Fares about A Way Out and his views on the industry. Fares, who previously directed Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, believes he has a truly unique project in A Way Out, which he says is "such a different co-op experience that no one has played before." Unlike your typical co-op game, that cooperative aspect is not optional. Multiplayer is mandatory either locally or online, the latter of which welcomingly provides you with an option to share the game with a friend, meaning only one of the two has to purchase it. (Were it up to Fares, he would just give the game away for free altogether, he says.)
Despite developer Hazelight being a relatively small team, Fares was never worried that his ambitions had grown too big. "I'm crazy. You know what I mean? There are passionate people, there are crazy people, but there's me up there," he says. "Here's what I say: I'm ready to die for my game. This is how passionate I am. I do everything for this. I live, breathe, s*** this game. It is everything for me. Even if the whole word told me this is s***, I still know in my heart it's not, it's great. I know when people play it, they will understand what I mean, what's it doing."
Fares is intent on creating a game that is different from anything else on the market. "What we're trying to do at Hazelight is find something that is fresh and unique all the time," he explains, "which means we have shooting in the game. It's a very small part--it's only there when it makes sense. Yeah, sure, we could have polished the shooting for three years, make that super good, but for me, I get tired of repetition. I'd rather have a diverse experience."
There's no questioning that Fares believes in A Way Out, but what is it about the game that makes him so confident? He refuses to identify any one single aspect, instead attributing his confidence to a gut feeling--and stating that it's this kind of risk-taking that the games industry needs more of.
"It's just something you feel," he says. "Also, I'm not afraid of failing. And I think this industry needs risk-taking. Many people [said] to me in the beginning, 'Why don't you have single-player, how come it's a co-op experience only?' Some people will complain about that; that's fine. Let them complain. How will you go with your vision if you keep doubting yourself? What's really the problem with failing? I don't fear failure. I don't fear that. I welcome it. But it doesn't happen, though, because I believe in my thing, and I go with it and trust it.
When I do a big-budget game, it's going to be the same Josef Fares.
"With that said, it doesn't mean I don't listen. The question is this: I don't ask myself, 'What do the players want to play?' The question I ask is, 'What do they want to play that they don't know they want to play?' It's not like I'm saying, 'F*** the gamers.' Absolutely not. I want people to play this, obviously, but I want them to play something that they haven't played before."
Fares rebuts hypothetical arguments that he only takes risk because he's working on relatively low-budget projects. He already has ideas for his next game, which he believes will be closer in scale to a triple-A game, but he says that working on a bigger game won't change his approach. "Trust me when I say this: When I do a big-budget game, it's going to be the same Josef Fares, talking to you like this," he says.
Later in our conversation, Fares again returned to the fear of failure, which he says is "way more dangerous than failing. ... When you fear failing, you stop doing stuff. And when you actually fail, you try to take [the] matter into [your] hand to do something about it. But the fear of failing stops so many game, movies, whatever."
Fares also recognizes that this viewpoint will attract criticism that he's merely "delusional," but he says he doesn't care: "I will never stop believing in what I do. That's not possible."