Make Mine Double Fine

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Tim Schafer is the gamer’s God.

While flipping through my cyber catalog of sites I check each and every day (CNN.com, TheWallStreetJournal.net, UpSkirt.gov) I came across an article on Gamespot.com which put the spotlight on Schafer, the auteur behind the undisputed adventure game classics, Day of the Tentacle, Full Throttle and Grim Fandango.

A few years ago, Schafer defected from LucasArts (the games division of King George’s LucasFilm empire) in order to start his own company, Double Fine. While Schafer enjoyed rock star status at LucasArts, I think he saw the writing on the wall that large companies like LucasArts were beginning to shift away from the adventure genre in favor of games with more mass-market appeal, such as their surprise hit Mercenaries.

Each one of Schafer’s games has been a true creative well spring – with Schafer’s pregnant imagination giving birth to some truly memorable worlds and game experiences – from the bizarro time travels twists of Day of the Tentacle (a sequel to the early 80’s hit Maniac Mansion) to the great narrative heights achieved in his magnum opus Grim Fandango, which crafts a tale of classic film noir set against the backdrop of the Mexican Day of the Dead folklore. That game’s hero – the skeletal Travel Agent to the Dead, Manny Calavera, is as fully featured a character as I’ve ever encountered in a game.

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At Double Fine, Schafer and his talented band of minions (most of which he absconded with in his exodus from LucasArts) worked for three years to develop Psychonauts – an inventive action platformer set at a camp for psychic children. In classic Schafer fashion, Psychonauts weaves a tale that begins deceptively simple (the main character Raz is sent to camp to hone his burgeoning pychic abilities) but soon widens to expose a chilling conspiracy. Your character, a fledgling Psychonaut, uses his powers to enter people’s minds and clear their ‘mental baggage’ as you seek to unravel a series of strange disappearances at this summer camp. 

It’s in these twisted minds – these areas that you explore as a ‘psychonaut’ – that Schafer’s genius is in evidence. Each mind becomes your traditional ‘game level’ – and the fun is in discovering how each character’s unique psychosis will translate into your next set of challenges. So, the Patton-esque Camp Counselor Oleander has a mindscape littered with guns and ammo and challenges that wouldn’t be out of place in Call of Duty, while a diminutive character with a raging Napoleon complex has a world that plays out like a martial board game – think Risk – where you find yourself solving puzzles to gain control of mental territory. 

And then of course, there is the fiercesome mutated Lungfish, which has been terrorizing the camp. When you finally encounter this creature on its own turf and enter its mind – where your character is portrayed as a hulking Godzilla-esque behemoth wreaking havoc on Lungfishopolis, you realize quickly that this creature is as scared of you as you are of it. This sequence features a simple line of dialogue that made me snort out my spleen. After solving the level and making up with the Lungfish it utters in the deepest, manliest voice I have ever heard:  

“Thank you. My name is… Linda.”

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Anyway, back to the Gamespot article. In the post, the site directed my attention to the Double Fine site where Schafer – in his own hilarious Blog posting – implores Microsoft to make an emulator for the X-Box 360 allowing backwards compatibility for Psychonauts. See, the deal with the 360 is it’s backwards compatible, but only kinda’ sorta’. As the two systems share completely different architecture, any game that Microsoft decides to make backwards compatible on the new system has to have an emulator programmed which can then be downloaded and stored on the hard drive. 

To date, they have done this for 207 titles and they claim that the policy is to make the most popular titles backwards compatible – a claim that most have dismissed as there’s no rhyme or reason explaining how Barbie’s Stable Adventure and Big Mutha Truckers have found priority on this list – yet excellent games like Panzer Dragoon Orta and Psychonauts continue to lag behind. The whole reason for backwards compatibility is to have a venue to preserve those true classics – be it the Zeldas or Marios or Halos or Fandangos. Not Horsey Adventures!!!

So Schafer and Double Fine have launched a grass roots campaign looking for Microsoft to get to work on the necessary programming to preserve this classic. He even offers to send his crack team of coders up to Redmond, WA to get the work done, but all Microsoft would offer is a cryptic “We have Top Men” working on it.

Anyway, if you’re a gamer and have never played Psychonauts, grab a copy. You’ll be doing your brain a favor, you’ll tickle that pleasure zone, and you’ll be supporting that small subset of truly inventive developers. At the very least, check out Schafer’s site and plea. It’s a good read and indicative of the man himself.

The man??? The God!!!

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Comments now closed (4)

  • I think you just have a man crush on Tim because he’s a whiz with Photoshop, just like yourself. I totally thought you doctored up that lead pic… until I went to his site. Maybe he’s one head in the logo and you are the other.

    I wish I got further into ‘Nauts than just watching the kid explode squirrels with his brain. Tentacle and Full Throttle are two of my favorite PC games ever. I have your Grim Fandango too and haven’t played that one either. I should… maybe after GRAW since 360 won’t have much until Fall.

  • I’ve played both Maniac Mansions and all four (or five?) Monkey Island games, as well as Zak McCracken and the Alien Mindbenders and Grim Fandango.

    My favorites are the Monkey Island games, and lest we forget, Schafer had a hand in those too, at least in the early days.

    I still remember the big innovation of The Secret of Monkey Island: you couldn’t advance until you’d finished all the tasks and picked up all the necessary items in a given area. Before that, I’d be playing the last fifth of King’s Quest and discover I’d forgotten to pick up some bird egg ten hours back, and thus I couldn’t beat the game. ARGH!

    And then there’s the classic Monkey Island swordfighting technique…when stuck for a comeback, I’ll usually fall back on, “How appropriate. You fight like a cow.”

    I miss the Lucasarts adventure games terribly. I’ll probably pick up Psychonauts at some point.

  • You are correct about the Monkey Island games. I was counting the games Tim has complete control over (those he directed) but he was a writer on the first two Monkey Island games – and both are classics.

    Just the name – Guybrush Threepwood – is genius.

    One of my favorite characters in all of his games is Glotis – the giant demon mechanic in Grim Fandango.

    I’m with you – I miss those LucasArts adventure games something fierce. We need a renaissance.

  • Here’s a fun fact I never knew–or if I did, I forgot. Orson Scott Card wrote the insults for the first Monkey Island game…and hence, deserves credit for the “fight like a cow” line…