If the right project came up, could you reverse the studio back into doing bigger packaged games?
TS: I think we could, but it would involve growth. I could take up maybe one or two of the existing teams, and then add employees to make a Psychonauts/Brütal Legend-type game again. But I wouldn't take up all four teams, because there are too many people now who are on a senior enough level.
Yeah, you can't have all the seniors on one game.
TS: No. Well, you could. It's great, because when you have a real professional like Lee Petty, he can run his own game, but he can also help me on our game, or get the Vault Viewer [a Psychonauts spin-off app for smartphones] working with Ron Gilbert. He can just help out where needed.
But I think it would be a waste of his talent to have him not leading a project, because he's so good at it. So if I was going to do a big game, I think it would be by adding 24 more people onto the studio.
So, could we do a big game again? Will we do more XBLA games? The answer is that now that we have multiple teams, we can try anything. So there are a lot of things like, "Hey, why don't you get into mobile games?" Well, in the old model, we'd be basically switching the whole company over to mobile games, and that would be a really big jump, and I don't know if we could do it.
But now that we have multiple teams it's like, let's take three people and put them on that. Or free-to-play or social, I wouldn't want to bank the whole company on them, but I can assign a small team to it, and meanwhile keep working on the games with our AAA engine while we're doing that at the same time. So the company can be really agile, we can get into new markets quicker, and if they don't work out it's no big deal. We just reassign that team to something else.
So these teams are independent enough to just kind of be like, "Hey, you! Start experimenting with Facebook, and we'll all keep on doing our things."
TS: Yeah, and that's how we ended up doing a kid's game. It would have been kind of risky and scary to assign the entire Brütal Legend team to a kid's game. It wasn't quite sure to have as much support back then. Now we have the Happy Action Theater team too, so we have a good team. We can follow up our successes by investing more in that, and if we have the world's biggest flop, we can leave that behind and try something new.
Is the Happy Action Theater team Tasha Hariss' old [Costume Quest] team, with you as lead? [Ed. note: Harris recently left to join animation studio Pixar.]
TS: It's a combination of people from various teams. We can kind of mix various teams. I had a couple of Iron Brigade programmers on it, it had an art director... actually the art director for Costume Quest.
How far along is Ron Gilbert's game? Are we going to see it soon?
TS: I don't know when we're going to be showing some people stuff. Pretty soon we're going to start leaking some stuff out.
Is that his office right next to yours?
So is the secret of Monkey Island hidden in that brick wall between you guys?
TS: [laughs] It's only inside of Ron's dark and twisted heart.
Finally, let's briefly talk about your memories of the four Amnesia Fortnight projects very quickly, starting with Costume Quest. What do you remember most about the making of it? Now that it's been out in the wild for a while, are you still into it? Do you still like it?
TS: Yeah. The only bummer is that we didn't get a chance to make a sequel. Now that we've released it on Steam, there's a chance that if we stumble upon some extra money we can make an add-on pack for it or something ourselves. But I really like that game.
I was watching It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown on TV the other day with my daughter, and I was thinking about all these great Halloween memories I have from that movie, and it was reminding me of Costume Quest in a really nice way. I remembered that that was in the inspiration for the team.
They looked at that as the kind of feeling they wanted to create, the great memories of Halloween and the warmth of the fall season and the spookiness and big kids and the way a kid looks at Halloween, and the candy, and all it fits together. I was watching the show and looking back on it -- I was feeling like the team did nail that aspect of it. I was really proud that that game does really capture a similar feeling to its original inspiration. If you can be half as good as Charlie Brown, you're doing okay.
The next one was Stacking, right?
TS: Yeah. And Stacking is just a beautiful game. That was unlike Costume Quest, where I wrote a lot of the dialog. I didn't write anything in Stacking. So the whole thing was a surprise to me. I could actually play it beginning to end, and I only knew about 10 percent of the puzzles from talking to Lee. So I actually got to play it like a fan, like a player. I had a really great time with that game. It had a really beautiful, unique feeling to it, and hilarious characters, and the whole basic premise being so original, I'm really pleased with it.
Iron Brigade reminded me of a smaller Brütal Legend.
TS: Well you can see that it's the one that uses the engine most directly. And also being made by Brad, who was a big part of the combat design in Brütal Legend. You can see his influence on that, and him being a combat guy. It's natural that he would make a game like that.
But the fact that Brütal Legend had four player co-op was Brad's thing. He loves playing games with his brother, who lives across the country, so co-op has always been important to him. So that game is all about co-op. He's never that interested in PVP, he wanted to do co-op, and I think it's great to see that kind of personal influence in a game.
And then finally, Once Upon a Monster. That one I felt... even though that wasn't necessarily your project, that was probably inspired by your life situation, having a young daughter.
TS: It really was Nathan's game. Het set off in the beginning to do something uplifting, which he'll talk about in interviews, but it's true. He's worked on a lot of dark games, and like me he's always lamented the fact that games are really narrow in focus. They seem to recycle the same points of view over and over again. Dark, as gritty as possible, shoot everything in sight kind of mentality, which can be exactly what you want sometimes. And I'm not putting games like that down. It's just that there's more to life than that, and there should be more games than that.
An emotion that doesn't get explored too much in games is joy. And thinking about that is a great, unique challenge. And that's a great thing that if one of the arms of Double Fine can reach out and touch that while we have Brad destroying monsters with giant grenade launching guns.
Did you get to go on set at Sesame Street?
TS: I did not go on to the street itself, but I did get to go to the filming of the intro to the game, where we had Cookie and Elmo in person. And that's where we filmed those videos I did with Cookie Monster, and that was as exciting for me as meeting Ozzy Osborne.