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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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Ali Afshari
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I love Double Fine. For 10 bucks, it's a no-brainer for me...and I don't even have kids.

Scott Pellico
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As long as it keeps Double Fine's same sense of humor, it will be interesting to see how they use this platform. The barrier for players might be low, but the development for it is tough. Either way I'm pretty sure the movement of the kinect interface won't really click with 102 year olds, just sayin.

Jan Kubiczek
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so my friends problem when he pitched a family tell the fairy tale yourself toy with kinect to microsoft was that he wasnt tim schafer?

Jan Kubiczek
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@anthony: youre right of course. the thing is, this sounds as good as it sounded to me back then. and we are talking about two years ago, mate.

Jan Kubiczek
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@adam: yeah maybe its too small fry for microsoft to even support. but still, this article implies that this concept is interesting. im just implying all thats interesting here is the name tim schafer. and well yes, thats a point. ;-)

Robert Boyd
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My 2 year old, 4 year old, and 11 year old are all having a blast with this game. That's quite the accomplishment.