Longevity is a rare commodity in the gaming business. A title comes out, it takes up a two-month residency on a store's chart rack or splash page - if it's lucky - and is then put out to pasture in the used section. To the casual consumer, it's often easy to forget a game ever existed within six months of its launch.
While times are changing thanks to the galloping onset of the digital revolution, this was never more true than it was back in 2005 when Double Fine's eccentric debut Psychonauts arrived on shelves. Despite a rapturous welcome from critics and Schafer fans alike, it famously flopped at retail, nearly dragging both developer and publisher Majesco down with it.
However, since then its cult has slowly grown and grown, fed by word of mouth and the careful custodianship of its creators. Today, the game is arguably more visible than it has ever been, with its followers devouring the merest hint that a sequel might one day get a green-light. That clamour reached fever pitch last month when deep-pocketed indie talisman Markus 'Notch' Persson popped up on Twitter with an offer to bankroll a follow-up.
As we found out when we met up with creator Tim Schafer at Double Fine's San Francisco HQ earlier this month, the story of the game's troubled development and subsequent trek into cult classic territory is almost as engaging and unexpected as the off-the-wall brain-surfing adventures of psychic sprog Raz that the game itself depicts.
The germ of the idea that would one day blossom into Psychonauts was first sown while Schafer was still working at LucasArts, where he was partly responsible for the studio's purple patch of classic adventure games - from Maniac Mansion and Monkey Island, to Full Throttle and Grim Fandango.
Schafer recalls speculatively pitching a concept for a spy game to LucasArt's top brass. "You were going to meditate on objects and that meditation was going to be this vision quest that you went on in your head to figure out clues, and that's how you're going to solve puzzles," he recalls.
Its subsequent transformation into the game we know today was actually a result of a water-cooler misunderstanding with a colleague.
"I remember talking to someone in the hallway - they were like, 'I heard about that game where you go into other people's heads. Tell me more about that'. I was like, 'No, you don't go into other people's heads, you go into... wait a second'.
"It was him misunderstanding my pitch, but it actually sounded like a much better idea."
The concept was then put on ice for a few years while Schafer wound up his stint at Lucas. Frustrated that he had no ownership of the games that he felt creatively entwined with and tiring of the company's conservative corporate culture, Schafer upped sticks and set up Double Fine back in 2000.
Here’s what puzzles me. We’ve all been so terribly excited about Double Fine making a new point and click adventure game and potentially making Psychonauts 2 – as though the idea of getting games like that had hitherto been openly insane. And yet, on console, they’d already released Stacking, which is positively dripping in adventurey leftfield puzzles and Psychonautsy surreal-slapstick humour. So, before we get entirely wrapped up in crying for more, let’s celebrate lovely Stacking, which arrived suddenly on Steam just a few days ago. (more…)
Hello, you. I thought you’d like to know that Stacking is out on Steam. Stacking is Double Fine’s puzzley adventure based on nesting dolls. It’s proper lovely. There’s even “money off” until the 13th. But should you buy it? There’s no demo! Well I played a couple of hours of it on the console box, and it was okay – but don’t take my back-handed recommendation as your guide, instead, look into your heart, and if there is only a clown’s face in there, staring silently back at you, wait for Alec’s Wot I Think, which should turn up later this week.
In the second part of our interview with Double Fine‘s Tim Schafer (the first part is here), we get to talking about the nature of the adventure game, and reflect on some of Schafer’s defining classics from the 90s, Day Of The Tentacle, Full Throttle and Grim Fandango, to consider what lessons they offer for today, the reasons for avoiding 3D altogether, and I almost trick him into making a sequel to Day Of The Tentacle.
Industry legend Tim “Industry Legend” Schafer has been at the front of gaming news for the last couple of weeks. After the twitterstorm that followed Notch’s somewhat speculative offer to fund Psychonauts 2 came the record-breaking Kickstarter project, that saw Schafer’s company, Double Fine, raise over $2 million in a fortnight. I spoke to him over the weekend to find out how the process has been, what the intentions are for a new 2D adventure, to reflect on the classic adventures of the 90s, and to see if there were any other dream projects he has left. In the first part of this two-part interview we discuss the reactions to the Kickstarter, the role dads play in playing adventures, and where things are with Psychonauts 2. Tomorrow we’ll go into the lessons learned from Schafer’s previous adventures, memories of Day Of The Tentacle, Full Throttle and Grim Fandango, and how that will affect design today.
The Psychonauts soundtrack was composed by Double Fine mainstay-maestro Peter McConnell. While no soundtrack may ever replace McConnell's own Grim Fandango in my heart, this one perhaps demonstrates his depth to an even greater degree.
For all of its Danny Elfman-ish flourishes, psychedelic country guitars, and emotionally charged Spanish bullfighting music, the theme that plays whenever Raz goes to Agent Cruller's HQ is my favorite.
It crept up on me, the slowly building horns, the choir, that noble melody... and the single chord change that lifts things ever so slightly… yeah.
It felt like a good first "Listen Here" for Kotaku Melodic. If ever you need to get in the mood to mete out some justice, this piece is a good place to start.