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Amnesia Fortnight: How Double Fine Embraces the Future

January 4, 2013 Article Start Previous Page 4 of 4

And you might end up -- in your case, JP -- not that you had any problem working on BioShock, I'm sure, but it wasn't your idea.

JPL: Yeah, yeah. And the best you can hope for in those situations is just, like, you're one instrument in an orchestra. I think you get that when you're making smaller things, that you're not so much an orchestra anymore as a bunch of bands. And, yeah, you can lead a band or just be part of a band that's a very collaborative thing. And that's awesome, because the orchestra has its own limits. I'm going to walk away from the metaphor...

CR: As a musician and composer I've always found that analogy to be total nonsense. An orchestra is not a unit that creates music. Actually, an orchestra interprets a composer's work. Like, an orchestra isn't in real-time creating a thing the way a band works. So they're actually not analogous.

JPL: Particularly if you have a really strong auteur figure at the head of development, you're kind of like -- some teams, and I kind of feel sorry for them, but they are put in the position of interpreting that person's work. Even though it is more collaborative, and, yes, there the analogy breaks down, and we'll abandon it.

But, I don't know. Just the scale of it. Doing something creative in a group of 30 or 50 or 100 people feels really different from doing it with a dozen people. Game development, I think, is pretty inherently collaborative. Individuals can do it, and should. I'd love to see more of it. But I think small teams, I think it's a balance between the creative freedom that you get from working individually on the small thing and just the big scale and what you can do with production values.

I think, honestly, with triple-A games, we're kind of seeing the limits of production values. You have to make some Faustian bargains in order to bring the big spectacle, and get all that money up on the screen. It ends up limiting what you can say, in some ways. Whereas going broad and going through different ideas, that's wonderful. That makes me more optimistic about the future of games than just what the big huge players are doing now.

CR: To get back to your question about how the games were pitched, after the games were voted on, then the project leads like JP and the other four people who were in the top five, they then pitched the games internally to the studio. But, just like everything else in Amnesia Fortnight, that was still on the live stream being watched by thousands of people, so only technically "internally." But that was the pitch to Double Fine people saying, "Yes, please work on my game."

At that point all of us who were not project leads went back to our desks and filled out a survey, ranking the order in which we would prefer to work on the games. And then Isa [Stamos], our product director, and Tim, and our producers all basically sat in a room and tried to figure out how to put all the Tetris pieces together in a way that would make as many people as possible on the games they most wanted to work on while not shortchanging any teams for not having enough artists or programmers or whatever else. This was actually the first Amnesia Fortnight ever where each team got their own audio person. So that was cool. They had to solve all those resource problems in a way that actually made it possible to make five games to some standard of completion.

JPL: That was very much an internal studio process. That was Tim and Isa...

CR: That was not live on the stream.

JPL: No. Yes. That was very private -- because it does get into some "who wants to work on..." It's a little bit political. Though not in a backstabbing cloak-and-dagger way.

CR: [Film crew] 2 Player [Productions] still filmed that, though. I just remembered now. Yeah, because there are bits of that in one of the 2 Player daily videos.

JPL: "So-and-so wants to work on this." Yeah. So, yeah.

CR: So we're never safe!

JPL: The fact that we're willing to open the kimono that much is just astonishing.

You're just taking it right off.

JPL: The kimono is hanging open onstage at the microphone, yeah.

At that point, once we got our teams, we knew what our teams were gonna be on Tuesday afternoon, and so that was less than 48 hours after the voting closed, and then we were off to the races and doing our crazy game development thing. So that's something that we just did. Yeah.  

CR: It's really fortunate that it worked out this way. Middle Manager of Justice came out today, so that's a bit more current, but The Cave is pretty much wrapped up at this point. It was actually really fortunate that we had this period of time during which Amnesia Fortnight could come in and not just ruin things.

Not disrupt life too much. Kinect Party just came out.

CR: This also happened earlier in the year. I remember earlier in the year -- we have a weekly meeting every Monday where the whole company is in the meeting. And I remember there was that period of time for, like, a month, where every company meeting it was like, "Wait, which game came out this week?" I can't even remember everything, but it was a bunch of stuff. Like, Psychonauts shipped on Linux and Mac. Yeah, we make a million games all the time. It's really weird.

But that's why the company's around. I think that's why we put Double Fine on our list of top developers for 2012. Not just because we're like, "Good job, guys!" But we wanted to hold it up as an example to our readers, so they go, "Oh, I could do this."

CR: Yeah, man. I hope so. One of the things that's been most terrifying -- and you're just as aware of this as I am for the same reasons -- we seem to be in this period right where mid-sized developers are just closing left and right. All the time. It is actually fairly terrifying. Being at a company like Double Fine that is being really, really proactive about staying out in front of that trend feels almost like a relief, in a way.

JPL: At least we're doing something instead of holding onto a status quo that's crumbling.

CR: Yeah, exactly. I feel like we have another console generation where stuff effectively works the same way that it does now.

The one that's upcoming?

CR: Yeah. But after that --

JPL: And that might end in disaster.

CR: Who even knows? We just have no clue. I feel like in the past you could be relatively certain about what it would mean for there to be a new console generation.

Yeah, the N64 vs. PlayStation vs. Saturn -- you wouldn't have necessarily predicted that Sega was going to tank in America and that Nintendo wouldn't do so well, and that Sony was going to win.

CR: But fundamentally the market didn't change.

JPL: You didn't know who was going to win, but you knew that the console business model would win. And now I think that's in doubt, especially if Valve is releasing a console. So, yeah.

CR: You were saying, "Why are you on the Wii U?" earlier. That's what's nice about working with the same tech for so many years. We have this slow accretion of additional platform support onto this one engine, and on top of that we're now developing our 2D engine on top of Moai, which supports PC and mobile and that, similarly -- we're already on the hook for also Linux and Mac for that thanks to the Kickstarter. So it just keeps us honest about just supporting as much as we can all the time. Because who knows where everything's gonna be in two years?

You don't want to be backed into a corner, because that can be a real significant problem.

JPL: I think betting big on a single company seems like the worst idea. So that's another reason. It's another reason not to be a fanboy.

Article Start Previous Page 4 of 4

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Michiel Hendriks
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I'm not much of a reader, I usually scan articles, you will rarely see me with a book. But sometimes there is stuff to read that really captivates me. This article is an example of this. You've picked two people who are great in talking in depth about the things they are invested in. And the subject itself, I think is one of the most signification (game industry) events from last year.
War. War never changes. But DF is clearly on a game changer roll (pun intended). Sadly I didn't have the time to follow the DFAF streams so I just saw the 2Player shorts, but there is so much game dev insight going on. It's pure creativity, and none of the industrial game creation. I'm glad I sponsored DFA and Amnesia Fortnight. And in the words of IGN, I was blown away by the quality of the prototypes.

ps, if this was 2012 for DF, I'm looking forward to 2013 (no pressure ;))

Carlo Delallana
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All these DF articles are really recruitment tools ... DF should do a Child's Play auction where game devs, designers, artists, etc. bid to be on the next Amnesia Fortnite :)

... meh, on second thought, this is a bad idea. AF is part of DF's core culture, someone coming in from the outside might kill the vibe ...

Jason Drysdale
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Great read--thanks!

Josh Foreman
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Great interview! Good job, Christian.