At UK's Develop conference, Double Fine creative director Tim Schafer revealed that the Brütal Legend developer had split itself into four teams and was working on four small, download-only games.
Conceived during two week "Amnesia Fortnights" in which the small teams had to come up with an appealing, executable concept for a game, Costume Quest is the first title to be released since the studio changed directions. It releases to Xbox Live and PlayStation Network next week.
Unlike the studio's previous games, Schafer is stepping out of the main creative role for these four titles. Costume Quest is led by a studio animator, Tasha Harris, who worked at Pixar prior to joining Double Fine.
The game is being published by THQ, which also signed another of the Amnesia Fortnight projects. Two more are yet unannounced, but all have reportedly been signed.
In this interview, Schafer discusses why this new direction is the right one for his studio, how publishers and developers both fit into the equation -- and why, all that being said, the team might unite once again behind one big project of the right one comes along.
So, well, here's Costume Quest. It's done, basically?
Tim Schafer: Yeah.
And how long did it take you to make it?
TS: Less than a year. It [woke] fond memories for me, from the first game I ever worked on, which was Secret of Monkey Island. That took nine months. This is roughly similar, and also it was text-based, so it was also a similar kind of feeling of just...
Like, it feels it was yesterday Tasha [Harris] and I were talking about this game. Like "Wouldn't it be cool to do..." And all of the sudden... Compared to like Psychonauts and Brütal Legend, which we just lived for four or five years, you know.
What kind of effects did that have on the game itself? Did it stick closer to what you were thinking? Did you have to make fewer compromises?
TS: Well, it forces you to be disciplined about your scope and to be focused on core gameplay mechanics. You know, Brütal Legend, I think definitely you'd see that we had time to think about a whole bunch of stuff that could be in the game. You know, "you should be able to drive and fly." You know what I mean.
When you have like a year to make a game, it's kind of like, "Let's do one thing." And Costume Quest has the two things. It has combat, and it has exploration. So, you're just stuck to those things.
You know, every time you come up with a new idea, when you have a long schedule, it always seems like there's room to put stuff in, but with a short schedule, it's pretty clear that you just have time to basically do the basic idea that you have, which I think makes better design actually, [if] you know what I mean. You focus. You like make one thing work, and you just...
It stops feature creep.
Talking about combat, since you knew combat was, as you sort of put it, like 50 percent of the game basically, did you find that you were more intent on making the combat fun, making it balanced, instead of adding new features?
TS: Yeah. It's such a thing that's repeated over and over again that you really have to make that core thing work. I tried to add things. It's my nature, because we're all about having new ideas, so it's all like, "You know what else would be cool?"
And the great thing about being kind of removed from that project -- I just had that studio creative director role -- I could say things like that, and then Tasha and her producer Gabe [Miller] can be like, "But we don't have time. We don't have time to do that."
If there was something I really liked and was super passionate about, I might bring it up over and over again until they, you know, gave in, but I respected their schedule. I can't go make them late, you know what I mean? So, I just give my opinion.
It was great to have that because sometimes when I have all the power to be like, "You know what? We're going to do this. We're going to add this thing..." I think it's dangerous for people to get their way 100 percent of the time. That's what I learned at Lucasfilm. (laughs) I'll just leave it at that.
When you talk about like adding things or not adding things, are we talking features? Are we talking just monsters? How granular are we getting on the adding scale?
TS: It's more like features. It's more like the sentences begin "You know what else we can do?" And whenever you're saying that "You know what else we can do?" it's always true. You could also do that thing, and it would be cool.
But it gets to like where there's good editing. It's like a writing task, almost. If you can add anything to a book, you keep writing. You could just add another chapter. You could add another paragraph.
Someone told me once about writing and editing. The important thing about editing is that you have a spider web. Imagine a spider web, and you were to cut strings out of it here and there. It wouldn't make the whole spider web looser, as long as you cut the right strings -- because all the strings around it would bear more weight, and it would actually make the thing more solid. That's the good metaphor for editing that I know, and I think that's the same for game design.