In an interview over on GamesIndustry.biz (currently not published in its entirety, so just to be fair, there may be additional information that adds context to this), 2K boss Christoph Hartmann talks about the need for games to become photo-realistic. Not simply for its own sake though, as a visual marker of technology. No, because without such technology, we apparently won't be able to get new genres, or any real emotion from the ones we already have. Here's the relevant snippet from the site.
"It will be very hard to create very deep emotions like sadness or love, things that drive the movies," he said. "Until games are photorealistic, it'll be very hard to open up to new genres. We can really only focus on action and shooter titles; those are suitable for consoles now."
He's certainly not the first person to say this over the years, and he won't be the last - and this isn't intended to be a hatchet piece about someone saying something silly in a much longer interview. It is however an example of a commonly held position that's not simply wrong, but that actively hurts the drive for realism and in-game humanity by missing the point of what makes us laugh and cry.
The argument about genres can easily be summed up in one word: No. Photo-realism is no automatic boon to anything not intended to be set in a realistic world. Better graphics are something to strive for, sure, but every genre that exists got its start without photo-realism, and while many of them obviously benefit from visual improvements over time, cool new experiences are always popping up without that crutch. This is a non-discussion. The answer is no. End of story. No. No. Thrice: No. If you believe that, even a little, you have no imagination or understanding of just how awesome gaming is.
When it comes to the emotional side though, things get much more interesting - not for what needs to be done, but for what already happens. There are certainly games like 2K's own Spec Ops where modern graphics play an important part - walking through the carnage of a mortar strike for instance wouldn't work anything like as well if it was a few splattery sprites instead of, say, this:
It's not however usually the graphical fidelity that makes a moment emotional, but the combination of concept and response. It doesn't matter if it's 'realistic' as long as we're sufficiently swept away by the moment to consider it real. When Bambi's mother is shot, we don't see ink and paint; we see loss and confusion, desperation and emptiness. To use a later Disney movie, Jessie's heartbreaking song in Toy Story 2 works regardless of the fact that she's both a 3D model and within her own universe, a doll - the emotional descent from happiness to the cruel moment that sense of belonging is just snatched away is something that can resonate with us just as well as anything else. Or, proving that it can go both ways in the same scene, how about the opening of Up and its amazing adult life montage?
It's no surprise that animation tends to do these moments so well. While realistic to a certain point, the real magic is in control; animators and voice actors alike can focus so tightly on the details like the glimmer of a tear in an eye, or take things grander with the understanding that we won't object to something like a character having expressive almond eyes that we'd find creepy as hell if applied to an actor.
Just as importantly, because the visual experience is inherently divorced from reality, we're not subconsciously looking for problems - in any way. In most cases, we don't even have a mental line - nobody thinks of "Pixar's Wall-E" in the same way we subconsciously see "Christian Bale's Batman." We just accept the fictional construct and embrace it for what it is - the only real exceptions being when the reality intrudes with something like a celebrity voiceover so that we're constantly reminded that we're just watching Will Smith bop around the screen as a fish or whatever.
(And of course, the more realistic things get, the greater the chance of problems emerging. LA Noire for instance offered phenomenal facial animation, but its character work - while far from great - constantly jarred by being not... quite.... right. This is usually referred to as the "Uncanny Valley" effect - that in getting close, but not close enough, our response becomes one of revulsion/distance rather than acceptance. It's not hard to think of examples from film or games.)
Games have far more in common with animation than they do film, but with an important extra element - we're not simply passive observers. We get far, far more time to get to like and empathise with the characters, even over a relatively short 10 hour game, as well as being the instigators of the events that spark powerful emotions - love, happiness, pain, betrayal, the fear of not belonging, whatever.
If those emotions are tied to realistic characters, as in (apologies, but it's the highest profile recent example) the PS3 game Heavy Rain, then that's great. The work just as well though with Psychonauts' Raz realising his father loved him all along (not to mention many smaller details, like discovering seemingly happy-go-lucky teacher Milla's hidden pain in one of the most startling secret rooms ever), the scene in Sanitarium where a ghost girl walks through the devastated family her death has left behind, or many, many, many other examples from games cartoonish, grounded, dramatic - or even outright comedic. Comedy after all is the genre that really knows the value of an emotional sucker punch. If it can make you laugh, it can make you cry. Two words: Jurassic Bark. Sob.
(And this is only if we're talking about things with a foot planted in a desire to even be vaguely realistic. There's many an effective art game out there that finds emotion by different routes entirely.)
In short, photo-realism is a perfectly fine thing to aim for, but as far as emotions go, it's just a shell like any other - a creative choice, not an end-goal. Emotions themselves are always going to be inside it, and powerful enough to breathe life into anything from a real person with carefully modelled sweat on their brow, to the unexpected death of a cartoon rabbit. Why, with the right writing, character design, and concepts, a good designer can even make us feel sympathy for a coloured rectangle.
Maybe there's even a few new genres somewhere in that. Stranger things have happened...
Innovative platformer Braid, differently innovative platformer Super Meat Boy and horror adventure game Lone Survivor have been added to the already immensely successful Humble Bundle 5. Anyone who's already bought the bundle will be able to grab the new games gratis. If you haven't already bought the bundle (WHY???), you'll need to splash out more than the average (currently $7.87) to get the three games included.
The latest Humble Bundle has been the best yet, packing Bastion, Limbo, Amnesia, Psychonauts and Superbrothers into one tidy and cheap virtual box. Now it's hard to know how it could be any more awesome, unless it added Half-Life 3 to the roster. We're also not sure how any future bundle can stand a hope in hell against its sheer blinding awesomeness.
Back in December, the Humble Indie Bundle 4 wowed us by making $1 million in a day. We thought that would prove a hard number to beat, but that was before we knew Humble Bundle 5 would contain Limbo, Psychonauts, Bastion, Sword and Sworcery and Amnesia. Unsurprisingly that incredible collection of games has helped smash the previous record. With the day not yet over, the latest Humble Bundle has already made $1.8 million, making it likely they'll more than double their previous total before the day is out.
Some numbers for you. So far 244,000 bundles have been bought at an average price of $7.65. Windows users pay the least, at $7.10 on average, while Mac fans stand at $9.13 and Linux users at a whopping $11.87. The highest price paid so far is $3001, by Notch, beating the second placed Humble Brony Bundle by $1. The cad. There's 13 days and nine hours left on the clock, so we can expect a lot more money raised for developers and charities before the sale ends. No wonder we named these guys our community heroes of the year.
If you want to know more about the bundled games you can check out our Limbo review, our Bastion review or our Amnesia review.
Quick question, what's the biggest name game you've ever seen in a Humble Bundle? Whatever you answered, you are now wrong, because the Humble Indie Bundle 5 dwarfs all those that came before it. Previous bundles have usually included a single household name like Braid, World of Goo or Super Meat Boy, backed up by several other smaller (but nonetheless excellent) indie efforts. Humble Bundle 5 on the other hand delivers indie darlings LIMBO and Bastion, awesome survival horror Amnesia: The Dark Descent, recent hit Sword & Sworcery and Psychonauts. Yes that's Tim Schafer's Psychonauts. You may now gasp in excitement.
Considering Psychonauts was published by THQ and cost $13 million to make, it might just be the least 'indie' game ever to be included in the Humble Bundle, but that doesn't make the deal any less fantastic. Any one of these games could headline a bundle by itself, the combination of all five of them together might just represent the best deal in gaming. You can buy the bundle at the Humble Indie Bundle website. You'll have to beat the average price to obtain Bastion, but believe me, it's well worth it.
Here's a trailer for the bundle, including a personal message from Tim Schafer himself.
If you want to know more about the bundled games you can check out our Limbo review, our Bastion review or our Amnesia review.
Yesterday, Pixar announced a batch of new movies at CinemaCon 2012, including one based around the Dia de los Muertos - the Mexican day of the dead festivities that also inspired Grim Fandango. At the same event, John Lasseter gave a release date to a previously announced project currently called The Untitled Pixar Movie that Takes You Inside the Mind - June 19, 2015. Twitter is now afluster with pre-emptive reports that these are Grim Fandango and Psychonauts movies, but sadly the facts don't match up.
John Lasseter discussed the mind movie on the Charlie show Rose last December, and said it "takes place inside of a girl’s mind, and it is about her emotions as characters." Being set inside a single mind doesn't have much to do with the concept of Psychonauts, the point of which is to jump in and out of different people's psyches.
They've siad less about the day of the dead movie, but I'm afraid what they have said will interrupt any presumptive fandango: AceShowBiz report "Pixar confirmed that it will be an original story and not be based on any previous source material".
It would have been a hell of a thing to see. The good news is, it probably will be anyway.
"Let's make Psychonauts 2 happen" said Notch a few weeks ago. Yesterday, he offered Tim Schafer 13 million to fund the anticipated sequel, before clarifying his intent. Later in the day, he posted confirmed details on his personal blog.
Even though Notch mentions he and Tim "haven't spoken much," he confirms the high profile pair are planning on meeting at GDC, which happens in a few weeks. He also mentions that the 13 million quoted by Tim was "three times higher" than his original estimate, but that he's still up for fronting the cash. The Minecraft dev says he would be operating purely as an investor, saying "I wouldn't want to have any creative input."
"I have NO idea if this is actually going to happen, he clarifies. "The kickstarter stuff obviously changes the playing field a lot. Investing that incredibly high amount of money also requires a lot of planing and discussion, and I’ve never done anything like that before, but I do have contacts and advisors to help me out.
"All I know is that IF the numbers work out and IF they still want to do it and IF they don’t decide to self fund a sequel by doing more crowd funding (which is honestly what I would’ve done if I were them), I would be most interested in doing this type of investment," he continued.
Then Notch got a little angrier: "Point is, stop hyping over this, internet! You’re going to scare me into doing things secretly instead of being open and transparent via twitter. I am incredibly scared of the very real risk of people feeling let down just because I took a chance at something that doesn’t end up panning out."
He signed off by hinting at a future where his quotes feature less prominently in news feeds: "I realize you won’t stop hyping, so I’ll just go into hiding for a few years if it falls through."
It's not a definite confirmation then, but close enough. Until then, don't believe the hype (unless posted by Notch or Tim). Then you can hype all you like. We'll have more on Psychonauts 2 as soon as it's confirmed.
Feb 15, 2012
This fan made film, Inceptionauts, was used by Tim Schafer in meetings with publishers to try and sell the idea of a sequel to Psychonauts. "It's better than any trailer we ever had for the game" Tim Schafer said to Kotaku. But it wasn't enough to persuade any businesses to part with their money, until Notch went onto Twitter last week with a simple message. "Let's make Psychonauts 2 happen."
"I feel like I was being proposed to on the jumbotron at the baseball game." says Schafer, but an offer on Twitter is one thing, a publishing deal is another. A sequel would need to at least match the budget of the original, which cost around $13 million to make. Schafer told Notch how much cash he might need to front production. "As soon as I mentioned the amount of money he said, 'Yeah, I can do that.'"
It's still not a done deal, there are private negotiations happening between Mojang and Double Fine. From a cold numbers perspective, a follow up to Psychonauts is a bit of a risk. Schafer told Kotaku that the original sold just 400,000 copies initially. "It wasn't enough for us to make money," Schafer admits, but since then sales on Good Old Games and Steam have gone extremely well. One of those Steam sales pushed Psychonauts ahead of Call of Duty in revenue earned that day.
Schafer also mentions that Double Fine have had a sequel in mind from the beginning. "We had a lot of plot elements that were backstory in that game that we planned on revisiting in the future and tying it back in," Schafer said. "We had a longer story arc planned for those characters." He's being coy about specifics, though he says that there are "ideas to take them to a more international setting."
Double Fine have been having a few funding adventures recently. Their kickstarter campaign to support development of a new adventure game currently has $1.7 million in donations.
Is there any bigger darling on the internet than Tim Schafer and Double Fine right now? After all, you guys forked over north of a million bucks just to see the man revisit the point-and-click adventure genre, a wonderful little gaming niche where bigwig publishers fear to tread.
Related to that, late last year our very own Logan Decker sat down with Tim (and Double Fine's mysterious millionaire/heroic partner, Steven Dengler) to talk about the uphill battle involved in simply porting games like Costume Quest and Psychonauts. Have a watch.
Did you love Psychonauts? Have you often wished for a sequel that would continue Raz' adventures? You're not alone. Psychonauts creator, Tim Schafer mentions to Digital Spy that he's pitched Psychonauts 2 several times to different publishers, but "no-one has taken the bait so far."
"I'd love to do that game," he says. "But I'd have to convince someone to just give me a few million dollars, that's all."
A few million dollars? If only there were some sort of successful indie developer. One who loved the original, someone with the kind of dosh to prop up development on a sequel. Perhaps someone with a nice hat and a name that rhymes with "scotch."
Enter Notch. After reading about Schafer's attempts to nab funding for Psychonauts 2, he put forward an offer of his own on Twitter. "Let's make Psychonauts 2 happen, adding later in a tweet to RPS, "I'm serious."
Tim Schafer hasn't responded yet. He's probably in bed, and it's just an offer for now, but what a great story it would be to see Mojang funding a second game in the much-loved Psychonauts universe.
Sep 30, 2011
A surprise Steam update for the wonderful Psychonauts has arrived, adding Steam achievements and cloud saves. The update also tweaks the criminally annoying Meat Circus section that had players tiptoeing along tightropes a hundred feet off the ground, having to start again with every fall. It was the worst part of an otherwise fantastic game. It will also be ported over to Macs, if you're into that sort of thing.
Psychonauts was the last title from Tim Schafer's Double Fine studio before they stopped making games for the PC. That makes us sad. But as last memories are rarely as funny and bizarre as Psychonauts' mental worlds.
You play as Raz, a boy with a talent for telekinesis who enrols in the Whispering Rock Psychic Summer Camp to develop his psychic powers. Then the camp is attacked, and someone starts stealing everyone's brains. You have to dive into different minds to discover the culprit, exploring wildly different mental landscapes that reflect the personality of the character you're invading. One level takes place in a twisted version of suburbia, in the mind of a paranoid man who thinks everyone's out to get him. In another, you're a giant stomping monster, terrorizing a city full of terrified fish. It's hilarious, inventive, and just £5.99 / $9.99 on Steam.