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Approximately three lifetimes ago, I sent Tim Schafer a Q&A request very soon after Psychonauts was announced.  The response was positive but the questions I sent inexplicably went missing when Microsoft PR got mixed into the works.  Now, nearly eight months after asking Majesco PR for the chance to arrange a Q&A, we scored big!  Psychonauts is close to shipping to retail and Tim gives us the highs and lows of Psychonauts, the blueprint for humor, derivative sequels, Raz action figures, romanticizing old games, and so much more!  Thanks for your time Tim!

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Psychonauts Q&A with

Tim Schafer Conducted by Omni

 

We know who you are, we know what you've been working on the last few years so answer this instead:  Do you have any deep psychological scars?  If yes, how did you get them?  If no, which ones do you wish you had?

Well I was picked on a lot by a bully named “Bobby” when I was a kid. Once he found me collecting tadpoles in a creek and he kicked my tadpole bucket over. Then he laughed. I was scarred by that for the rest of the afternoon at least. Of course, it was worse for the tadpoles.

 

I know you've answered this one a few dozen times, but I'll ask it anyway:  What's Psychonauts all about?

Summer camp. Old legends. Conspiracy theories. Trauma. Regret. Inferiority complexes. Guilt. Fathers. Mothers. First crushes. Decay. Insanity. Mutation. Disco.

 

Will there be any difference between the Xbox, PC and PS2 versions?

Yes, each one will be better than the others. Other than that, they will all be exactly the same.

 

Any project has its highs and lows but what has been the lowest point of Psychonauts's development?  What about the highest point (that didn't involve licking frogs)?

Well, the lowest point was probably when we lost our first publisher. We were really worried and concerned that they would go out of business. I mean without our game, they had nothing, really. And we really didn’t want to put all those people out of work, and devastate the Seattle economy. But we really wish them well and hope that somehow they make it through this tough time without us. If they actually did go out of business, that would be hard for them, but I have to admit that would qualify as a high point for us if that happened.

 

The adventure genre is practically synonymous with the name "Tim Schafer”.  Will you ever be able to shake the legacies of Grim Fandango, Full Throttle and the like?  Would you even want to?

Well, if I could get people to just selectively remember them, that would be great. Like if they could remember the style of Grim Frandango, the sales figures of Full Throttle, the sense of humor of Day of the Tentacle, and then somehow mash that all up together in their brain. That would be awesome.

 

People’s memories of past games are a challenge. Because as the years go by, people romanticize old games. They make them kind of perfect in their head. Or they mix them up with their memories of being a kid. So someone says, oh I “LOOOVED” that game, really what they just miss is being 13 and not having anything to worry about except what game to play next. So when you make a new game, you’re not just trying to top your previous games. You’re trying to top peoples idealized and selective memories of what’s gone before. That’s okay. It keeps you motivated.

 

Raz action figures.  A good idea?

What could be bad about that!? Well, I guess if they came to life. And were evil. And if they had little spears. And sharp little teeth. That’s an argument against, I suppose.  

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We always hear about the exploits of Hollywood celebrities and the gaming industry (or at least the ESA) likes to tout itself as bigger than the movie industry, so why don’t we hear more about the misadventures of game developers?

Probably because we’re fat and wear fanny packs and still think box goatees are a good idea.

 

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Any star power behind Psychonauts?  Celebrity endorsements?

Oh, Psychonauts is beloved by all the top celebrities, you can count on that. Like hundreds of them. Pound for pound, we have more celebrity fans than any other game.

 

How is the design process organized at Double Fine?  Is there a lot of input from everyone on the team?

Well, let’s not say “organized.” But here is how it happens. I work with designers, like Erik Robson, and we hide out in a meeting room, until people find us, and then tell us what they think. So we have to change meeting rooms repeatedly to stop that from happening. Later, we put the ideas we have into documents, and then hide them on the network, but people find those too. Eventually, despite all your best efforts, what you end up with is a collaborative work of art made by 40 or so people. And that’s pretty cool. Especially if you then take credit for it all, like I do.

 

psychonauts          psychonauts

 

Humor in gaming can be difficult to pull off yet most, if not all, the projects you have worked on managed it.  Is there some kind of blueprint you follow or does it just happen spontaneously?

Yes, I have a humor blueprint I bought off Amazon that I use a lot. It’s kind of like mad-libs. You just plug in the fart jokes and bad puns and then scan it into the computer, and then you’re pretty much done. Hey, wait a second. You’re implying one of the old games I did wasn’t funny. Which one was it? You tell me which one it was and I’ll show you the blueprint and prove to you why it’s funny.

 

Do you get attached to the characters you create?

No, but some of them get attached to me. They follow me around, they want to be my friends, they tell me to do stuff. One of them followed me out to my car the other night, trying to bum a ride home, as usual. I’m like, “You don’t have a home. You’re an imaginary, fictional game character.” And they’re like, “Oh that’s right. I don’t have a home. Huh. Well… I could stay with you!” This is why I keep a tire iron under my front seat.

 

What kind of chair have you sat on most during Psychonauts development? (Provide a picture if possible.)

Well, I don’t have my digital camera in today, but I found this picture on the web that’s kind of similar: http://www.woodchuckwoodcrafts.com/potty.jpg

 

When you retire from making games what will you do to occupy your time?

Probably sitting on a similar kind of chair, but bigger.

 

If videogames are a visual medium, why does anyone bother trying to create a story-driven game?  How does Psychonauts’s story drive the game?

Nobody does bother, for the most part. Oh, but we try because story motivates you to put up with all that tedious gameplay the law requires us to put in.

 

Most of the projects you’ve worked on have been “one-off” games without any sequels.  Would you want Psychonauts to turn into a franchise?  Are derivative sequels bad for the industry?

Kind of a leading question don’t you think? Are derivative sequels bad for the industry? I’m not sure, I mean is toxic candy bad for kids? Is carcinogenic pollution bad for the environment? (And strangely, the answer to all those questions is still, “Depends how much money it makes.”)

 

(March 27, 2005)

 

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