How Amnesia Fortnight Saved Double Fine

With Brutal Legend 2 cancelled, the studio's future was unknown; but Tim Schafer had a creative idea that rescued the company.

Double Fine is in a good place right now. It crushed crowd-funding records with its Double Fine Adventure campaign, and its founder--Tim Schafer--is one of the most respected and adored personalities in the business. But Double Fine's story could have been very different.

Brutal Legend 2 was cancelled, but Double Fine lives on.

At a 2012 Game Developers Conference session titled "Creative Panic: How Agility Turned Terror Into Triumph," this week, Schafer looked back at an idea he had in 2007 that he says saved the company from going under.

In the middle of development of metal music-themed action game Brutal Legend, Schafer had an idea that would prove instrumental, even if he did not know it at the time. He decided to split his 60-person development team into four groups, challenging them to create short but complete games in just two weeks. The result, as Schafer said, was a "massive success."

Not only did the process give developers at Double Fine a morale boost, but it also allowed employees to try out new roles. No longer were developers locked into any one specific job. Programmers could become producers. Artists could become designers. Staffers were able to explore their capabilities, and Schafer was able to discover hidden talents of his employees.

He called this initiative "Amnesia Fortnight." It was "Amnesia" because the process made it so developers forgot what they were working on (Brutal Legend) and "Fortnight" because it lasted two weeks. Why two weeks? Schafer said "Two weeks equals infinity," and "One week is too short."

Double Fine is living mighty fine these days.

But the team couldn't take more than two weeks off from Brutal Legend, so the staff returned to work on the action game, which it would ship with Electronic Arts in October 2009. The game won strong reviews from critics, and Schafer was ready to make a second entry.

Schafer had a vision for Brutal Legend 2. He pitched it. He was ready to make it. But much to his chagrin, it was cancelled, leaving Schafer and the rest of Double Fine in despair.

"We had no new ideas," Schafer said. "We thought we were going to go out of business."

But the San Francisco-based developer did not go out of business. In fact, the cancellation of Brutal Legend 2 was a pivotal moment in the history of Double Fine, one that would lead the developer to new pastures of game development.

Double Fine's second Amnesia Fortnight session was held in 2009, and this effort yielded tremendous results for the developer. Once again, Schafer split his team into four separate groups, tasking each with building a complete game in two weeks. Only this time, the stakes were higher because they knew the goal was to make commercial products.

The team delivered.

Once Upon a Monster was a product of Amnesia Fortnight.

According to Schafer, the second Amnesia Fortnight "turned the battleship into a fleet of tugboats." The process produced four new games: Costume Quest, Iron Brigade (Trenched), Stacking, and Sesame Street: Once Upon a Monster, all of which were well received.

Looking back on the Amnesia Fortnight process, Schafer said a major lesson learned was that a developer should identify its brand and stick to it. In the case of Double Fine, this identity was hard to pin down. It encompassed an array of elements, one of which was the element of surprise.

"Fans should expect the unexpected," he said. And Double Fine's development track record has been a testament to this ideal. With games about foul-mouthed roadies (Brutal Legend), Russian stacking dolls (Stacking), and mechs (Iron Brigade), gamers are never quite sure of what to expect from Double Fine.

For Double Fine, agility equals survival, multiplicity yields growth, and diversification leads to new opportunities. "We weren't bailed out by anybody" Schafer said. "Creativity saved our company."

Written By

Eddie Makuch is a news editor at GameSpot, and would like to see the Whalers return to Hartford.

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Discussion

33 comments
Agent-M
Agent-M

Brutal Legend can wait its turn in line. I thinks its long past due for Psychonauts 2 to be developed.

Kriminalac
Kriminalac

Give us Brutal Legend 2 !!! and make it on PC this time (and all the other consoles) !!!!!!!!!!!!!

smbius
smbius

I wonder if Happy Action Theater was a product of Amnesia Fortnight - my family and I love that game.

ilikepandas
ilikepandas

I wonder if Double Fine wanted to could they make Brutal Legend 2 or does EA own the rights to it or some BS like that?

Mcgnnis1
Mcgnnis1

Shaffer Rocks, and Thank you so much for making Brutal Legend> I love heavy Metal and Brutal Legend turned out to be (for me at least) the Reeses equivalent of games.

Ghost345
Ghost345

He is indeed a man of men

evilweav
evilweav

Tim Schafer is a bastion of hope during these tumultuous times.

Mark07041971
Mark07041971

Hey, Schafer, I'll wait another several years for something--ANYTHING--from the Brutal Legend universe...hell, I'll send you $100 right now just for the promise that it'll actually happen one day...

Raxyman
Raxyman

Too bad to hear that Brutal Legend won't be getting a sequel... Then again, they decided NOT to do insted of doing a crappy sequel just for the profits... So long as you keep doing games with originality, there will be gamers supporting you.

the1Jugg
the1Jugg

I loved Brutal Legend... except for the awful RTS thrown in. I wish I could play it and skip those sections. From the demo it seemed a LOT more like a God of War style game, and I'm sure that was intentional. I would only play BL2 if it changed that aspect.

fin
fin

Awesome. Keep on making new titles instead of sequels like everyone else does.

wasakawaka
wasakawaka

Brutal Legend was a great game that didn't get any traction. I loved the game, the writing, the voice acting, graphically it was good. An all around solid 8 in my opinion and worth the money. I'm sad to hear the sequel was cancelled. RIP BL2.

KnightSparda
KnightSparda

Why did they cancel Brutal Legend 2...? That game rocked! (by all meanings)

awwitz
awwitz

A very honest and quick-thinking man, Tim Schafer.

ITLM16
ITLM16

surprising i very much enjoyed Brutal Legend, and i want them to make Brutal Legend 2

ChewieOnIce
ChewieOnIce

@KaBo0m The games weren't made in 2 weeks. Just thought up.

ChewieOnIce
ChewieOnIce

@Warlord_Irochi 'I still have hopes for a Brutal Legend sequel someday.' I have hopes for a sequel to pretty every Schafer game old and new. I think that's it's a testament to their quality, immersive stories, great characters and dialogue that people want to return to these worlds. And though it's unlikely that sequels to most of his games will be made (esp the bigger onese like Psychonauts and Brutal Legend), it's a bittersweet feeling because I know that instead they're focusing on new IPs that will probably just as wonderful (and sequel worthy).

scratchisme
scratchisme

@KaBo0m Can you image what someone could say about a Picasso painting they bought?

Bubbagum_Bish
Bubbagum_Bish

Wow. I had no idea they did this. Well done.

coop36
coop36

long live Double Fine

Warlord_Irochi
Warlord_Irochi

I still have hopes for a Brutal Legend sequel someday.

Gamer_4_Fun
Gamer_4_Fun

Please..please... I beg you and I believe I speak for all the metal head gamers around the world...bring brutal legend 2 back to life :'(

Timbydude
Timbydude

@KaBo0m Except it wasn't. A prototype was made in two weeks. The entire game took substantially longer and had a $2 million budget.

KaBo0m
KaBo0m

I'm absolutely furious. I cant believe i paid $15 for costume quest when it was made in 2 freaking weeks!!!!

Weelemur
Weelemur

Glad to see they're doing well, maybe someday we'll see Brutal Legend 2

muzza93
muzza93

Brutal Legends awesome

ahpuck
ahpuck

I love a story with a happy ending.

dxBIGBOSSxb
dxBIGBOSSxb

"Double Fine lives on." Best four-letter sentence in history next to "Live long and prosper."

fend_oblivion
fend_oblivion

"Not only did the process give developers at Double Fine a morale boost, but it also allowed employees to try out new roles. No longer were developers locked into any one specific job. Programmers could become producers. Artists could become designers. Staffers were able to explore their capabilities, and Schafer was able to discover hidden talents of his employees. " ^ Best idea ever. Not only does it give the team much needed respite, but also gives the members roles that they dreamed of having.

pizzyp3300
pizzyp3300

I still hope for brutal legend 2 though

JohnF111
JohnF111

Oh I thought for a minute it was wild partying for a fortnight that saved them... My bad.