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Tim Schafer's new video game isn't a game at all

Tim Schafer's new video game isn't a game at all Exclusive

February 1, 2012 | By Frank Cifaldi

February 1, 2012 | By Frank Cifaldi
More: Console/PC, Exclusive, Design

Double Fine Happy Action Theater, available today via Xbox Live Arcade, is more of a video toy than a video game, as lead designer and Double Fine studio founder Tim Schafer tells it.

"It really is just a freeform device that you play with," he tells Gamasutra. "You make up how to play with it as you play with it."

Whatever you want to call it, the Microsoft Studios-published work marks Schafer's return to creative leadership over a project, a role he has not played since the studio's 2009 retail game Brutal Legend, published through Electronic Arts' EA Partners label.

It is but the third Schafer-helmed project released this century, surely a source of frustration among fans of his notable body of work, including LucasArts adventure games Full Throttle, Day of the Tentacle and Grim Fandango and Double Fine's own Psychonauts.

Double Fine HAT offers players "ages 2 to 102" (according to Microsoft) 18 augmented reality activities. There are no goals (though there are Achievements), there are no rules...there's not even a menu to speak of. The program is specifically designed for children to jump in and out of at will and use their imaginations with virtual props that range from pits of lava to birds that perch on a player's shoulders.

The game was inspired by Schafer's young daughter, Lili, who was having trouble playing even the younger-skewing Kinect games on the market.

"The Kinect is such a natural interface for games. There’s such a low barrier to entry. But it’s not low enough," Schafer tells us.

"We think of [games] in terms of these goals and objectives that can be demanding on the player, because the buttons on the controller are so accurate. You know when they press the A button, or turn the stick. But the Kinect, you’re not entirely sure what they’re doing, so the experiences have to be a lot more forgiving.

"And I was like, what if we just make them completely forgiving, and there’s no failure? So the game has no failure case, it has no real goals except for the goals you make up for yourself given the tools that we give you."

Double Fine Happy Action Theater is available now on via Xbox Live Arcade for Microsoft's Xbox 360 console.

An extensive chat with Schafer about the origins of the game, Double Fine's fascinating transformation from a triple-A retail studio to a bite-sized digital game publisher, and just how the heck you playtest a game that doesn't have rules will be available on Gamasutra Friday.

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