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Happy Action, Happy Developer: Tim Schafer on Reimagining Double Fine
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Happy Action, Happy Developer: Tim Schafer on Reimagining Double Fine

February 3, 2012 Article Start Previous Page 4 of 5 Next

In addition to the sudden scramble to pitch and even develop these... if I'm not mistaken, they were no real major staff changes in terms of headcount or anything, right?

TS: We never laid anyone off during that time.

So you basically were able to split your Brütal Legend team into four?

TS: It was amazing. We talked about it for so long, and part of the secret was that the team had worked together on Psychonauts and Brütal Legend. There's at least 20 people here who worked on Psychonauts. There's a team here who has worked together for a long time. So when we split up, the communication was already there, and the experience was already there, and that helped a lot.

But also, making smaller games than we were used to was like... What's the metaphor for that? I don't know. If I knew more about baseball, I could totally use the right terms for a baseball metaphor. But anyway, we went from a huge, huge game to making these much more manageable and easy-to-understand games that helped us go multiplatform.

We had a bunch of producers and experienced project leads. And it worked also because the teams were really on top of this. That's Nathan's game, and Iron Brigade was Brad's game. He made all of the decisions about what that game should be. I only got involved as a creative director as needed, but the ultimate responsibility for the game, if it was good or bad or whether it got done, that was all Brad. So that's how the system worked. We really passed down the responsibility of each project to the project leader.

I'm having a hard time wrapping my head around how you had enough artists for each game. Were they bouncing back and forth?

TS: That would be the biggest problem. Our lead artist, Lee, and our lead programmer, and our main designer, and our lead animator, all got a project. Right? And that was great for that project, but that meant the other project didn't have a lead animator, or a lead programmer, or a lead artist. So a lot of time we promoted within. We promoted lead programmers from our programming department, or we hired.

There wasn't an official art director at the beginning of Iron Brigade. We had to scramble because of that later. We had to go back and change some art and stuff. The team probably had extra problems because of that. But we did the best we could, and patched the holes, and fixed them as soon as we could, until we had four teams that pretty much had everything they needed.

You yourself described this as a scramble in reaction to not having Brütal Legend 2 to work on. Obviously it worked out. There were no layoffs or anything. But has this been an unqualified success? Is this a studio you can continue to run this way?

TS: Yeah! It was a struggle because of the problems I just mentioned, the holes to fill, and that's where the teams had the most struggle, I think. It was a lot of work to get them all signed. There was a lot of pitching, and pitching, and pitching. And the games came out, and they were all well-received, and sold copies, and did okay. None of them were flops, and they were all really great games that I'm really proud of. So yeah, it's a great success, and we're doing it some more.

The only thing that has changed in the plan is that when we started out... there's a certain kind of game like Castle Crashers, or Shadow Complex, or Limbo that was kind of like telling us that there's a rising market for a game that size, XBLA or PSN games. And this year, I won't say what the future of that side of games is. Because those platforms seem to be figuring some stuff out, and did not have as great a year this year [2011] as they had last year.

It's kind of interesting, yeah, to see that some people are actually making more money on Steam now than they are on XBLA.

TS: Yeah. And we're on Steam now. We're having a blast. I love that direct connection with our players. We can actually put a game on sale if we want to. We can add a patch whenever we feel like it. I mean, oh my God, the fact that I can't patch Brütal Legend on the PS3, even though it's a known bug that corrupts your save game, and I want to fix it, and we have the fix. It's checked in and ready to go, but I can't patch the PS3 version of the game, because of all the layers of bureaucracy between me and the player. But on Steam we can patch that thing today, you know?

Or like that damned Psychonauts bug on the 360 too.

TS: [laughs] Wait, which one?

Well maybe it's been patched since, but when I tried to play it on the 360, Raz's textures would just disappear on his body.

TS: He turned blue! That was... I don't know if they ever fixed that! That's part of the backwards compatibility wrapper, that was the last bug, and they couldn't fix it, because they had to go work on... DVD-HD, or whatever. See, I don't even remember what it's called now. HD-DVD?

Yeah, HD-DVD.

TS: They had to go work on that. That was so important. So they couldn't fix that bug. And where's HD-DVD now?

And meanwhile here's Psychonauts with a new version on the Mac.

TS: Yeah, and we're still talking about Psychonauts.

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Maximilian Lundsten
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Really lovely interview.

Ali Afshari
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I enjoyed this interview. In regards to Schafer not being able to patch Brutal Legend on the come? What kind of red-tape can possibly cause Sony to not allow a patch that can fix an obvious bug that can hinder the player's experience? That must be extremely frustrating for Double Fine and any other developer.

Nicholas Avenell
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Well, you have the developer, the publisher and the console maker, and any title update for the major consoles has to go though a testing process before it goes live (Feel free to insert a cynical comment about testing here). If the developer's not in a working relationship with the publisher, then it's unlikely anyone will be willing to pay for the testers to check the title update, so it won't go up.

In Steam, they're publishing directly to the platform, and Valve don't screen title updates. You patch it. If you break customer support, you're who they're shouting at. Freeing, but also dangerous :)

Ali Afshari
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@Nicholas: Thanks...that makes sense. I still think there should be some way to make sure all updates get through, but I guess I'm being to naive :)

R. Hunter Gough
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I played the demo the other night with my 2 year old. She loved the balloons, and just as she was starting to grasp that her actions on-screen matched her real-world actions, the room filled with lava and she became terrified and hid. We'll try again later. :)

Also I totally agree with Tim about "that Kinect launch title for kids". My 2 year old is facinated by it, and keeps wanting to play the demo, but try as she might she just can't keep her hand steady enough to select things on the menus. I'm hoping that after a few sessions with HAT she'll develop the coordination to play the other game, too.

Nicholas Sweeney
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Great interview and great "video-toy"! :) My 4 years old is really loving it!

jaime kuroiwa
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I can't recall any interview with Tim Schafer that didn't make me smile. That guy's magic.

...and let me just say: The screenshot of children burning in lava made me spit coffee.

Tora Teig
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Such a great heartwarming interview, I need to play Grim Fandango and Psychonauts again, because I forget how brilliant they are. Thank you, Frank!

Kenneth Blaney
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I know it is cliched to say, "I thought of that first," but when I saw "Once Upon a Monster" I immediately thought it was a great idea because it is EXACTLY what I would have done except with a "Dora the Explorer" licence. And, because I am apparently very egocentric, whenever someone does something I would have done, I automatically think that person is a genius (although in Schafer's case I thought that ever since "Psychonauts").

Lots of kids TV shows do the same thing, that is, they invite the child to do something and then pause while they wait for the child to do it. Of course, a TV show can't actually interact with a viewer, so the effect only works to give the illusion of interactivity to a child. With a video game, like Kinect, you no longer have to simply rely on the illusion, you can actually interact with the child.