Join us for a two-week journey chronicling some of the video game industry's most celebrated game designers!
Tim Schafer: "It's about creating personal games."
Our first featured Game Masters developer is legendary adventure game master Tim Schafer.
Schafer began his industry career as a tester at LucasArts on the early Indiana Jones games, before becoming a writer and programmer on The Secret of Monkey Island (1990). While at LucasArts, Schafer worked on adventure game classics such as Maniac Mansion: Day of the Tentacle (1993), Full Throttle (1995), and Grim Fandango (1998). He left in 2000 to found his own studio, Double Fine Productions, releasing Psychonauts (2005) thereafter.
In 2008, Schafer teamed up with comedian Jack Black for the well-received heavy-metal-inspired title Brütal Legend (2009), before shifting gears to work on smaller titles, including Costume Quest (2010), Stacking (2011), and Iron Brigade (2011). Double Fine's latest game, Double Fine Happy Action Theatre (2012), was released on the Kinect.
Earlier this year, Double Fine raised $3.3 million through the crowdfunding platform Kickstarter to create a new point-and-click adventure game. The studio is also working on a new side-scrolling adventure game called The Cave, due for release on XBLA, PSN, and PC in 2013.
Check out our interview with Tim Schafer after a few words from the man himself:
GameSpot AU: Tim, you've been making games for, like, a zillion years. What do you think the gaming industry needs right now to evolve?
Tim Schafer: Things like developers being able to control the prices of their games, and more of a focus on digital distribution. Artistically, I would like to see games tackle subject matter outside of the realm they normally do: so, for example, I'd love to see more games be about more varied emotional things that happen in people’s lives outside just action and combat.
GS AU: Is there room in the industry for individual creative visions, rather than those crafted by a team of developers? Can we have a games industry equivalent of a Quentin Tarantino or a David Lynch, creating games that are uniquely theirs?
TS: I think so. The sorts of games I make, even though they’re great collaborations with a lot of talented artists and brilliant people that I get to work with, I still try to make them unique. I think the word “auteur”--and maybe I’m misusing the term--can be applied to both an individual and a group. So for example, the team at Double Fine could be an auteur in that they making something that’s a personal or artistic expression that only Double Fine could make.
What I’d love to see more of in the industry is games that look like they can only be made by one development studio…you know, because they’re so unique and have the stamp of that particular studio and the people who created it.
There are some great artists and technicians and actors out there, and while they're all collaborating together, you know when you’re looking at a David Lynch film. It doesn’t sound very proletariat to say that an individual should be modified in that way, but I think if you ever stood in the middle of a house designed by Gaudi in Barcelona or watched a David Lynch film you’d see that there is an intense pleasure in being inside of the unique imagination of one creative individual. I think there’s something really special about that.
GS AU: What has become easier throughout the years as the gaming industry has grown?
TS: I think the fact that you slowly become a little more confident in your own ideas. I think when you do something creative it's natural to edit and censor yourself and be afraid to expose your vulnerable ideas to the public--they could be cruel and laugh and they might make fun of your ideas. I think as I get older I feel less afraid of coming out with anything that I feel I can. That’s a very liberating thing. Like when you’re the shy kid in school, you worry about what you wear but as you get older you stop caring. I think that’s true creatively too. Every year we learn a little more about working with other people. I think when you’re doing creative collaborations it’s critical to learn how to work well with other people so that you get the best of what your whole team has to offer.
It's also become a little easier to find out how you’re doing with your game. You can get a lot more feedback about your game because of the internet and because of focus testing. It was a little harder in the ‘90s when we were a lot more isolated and we just had to wait for magazine reviews to get printed…we didn’t have these resources that we have now.
GS AU: Has anything become harder?
TS: I guess I feel it gets harder and harder to do original creative properties, at least in the mainstream. Games are getting more and more expensive, and I think people are getting more averse to risking their money. They want to place safer bets, like licenses and sequels. Luckily, I think the indie gaming community has stepped up and made a lot of creative games that have challenged that notion. Just like independent film has brought a lot more life to the film industry, I think that indie games are doing the same for the games industry.
GS AU: So you don't think the AAA space has opened up a little bit more to new ideas? Doesn't the popularity of some indie games in the mainstream space signal that things are changing and that people are welcoming new ideas?
TS: Whenever a game is successful, whether it's something like Limbo or Fez, it is a lot easier to get another game that looks just like it made the next year…but that’s not necessarily a good thing. It doesn’t mean that games that are creative are getting signed--it just means that games that look like previous successful hits will be made.
No matter how successful a creative game is, it doesn’t usually get abstracted into the thought that creative games sell.
GS AU: Where does the audience come into all this? How have audiences changed compared to audiences 20 years ago?
TS: I think that there are people who want games like they had when they were younger, when games were harder. I think people have sensed that games are getting easier, and I think that has brought new players…that has not necessarily been a bad thing because there’s a big diversity of players now.
There are some people who want games to be harder and others who want games to be easier, and I think the interesting thing is they’ve found ways to get organized and demand the thing they want. That was our experience with [Double Fine's] Kickstarter project: fans got together and said they wanted an adventure game.
GS AU: There was a lot of discussion after your Kickstarter success around usurping traditional business models and changing the balance in existing publisher/developer relationships. Were these valid points? What do you think the industry can learn from Double Fine's success on the crowdfunding platform?
TS: It shows that there are avenues people haven’t thought of for creative funding. Some things make more sense on a smaller scale, and others make sense on a bigger scale. For example, a big publisher may not want to fund a graphic adventure. That's cool. But for fans, they don't care about that stuff, they just want to play the game. With Double Fine's Kickstarter, the fans managed to get organised and fund it themselves. It's not taking anything away from the publishers. It's brought more people to the market to play games in fact, so [this model] actually benefits publishers in the end.
I'm also happy to see other Kickstarter game projects are getting funded. I hope it's going to continue because I have lots of other ideas for games that would work for Kickstarter.
GS AU: If we move forward 20 years from now, what would you like the gaming industry to look like?
TS: I think it would be really great if games were really, really broad. I would like it if there was a game for everybody in the family--mum, dad, kids, middle-aged people, teenagers, etc. I also think it would be great if games were as emotionally-enriching as books are, and seen as something for the entire society and not just something purely for hardcore fans. I think games have something to offer everybody.
GS AU: Is it important for games to achieve mainstream recognition as an art form?
TS: Yes, mostly because I think it's a shame that people who have preconceived notions about what they are or what they can be are missing out on them.
Of course, there are practical considerations too: if games are considered art then they are treated a certain way by the government, and issues like censorship are handled differently. I would like games to be seen as having artistic merit for that reason. As for seeing games on the news only because of violence in gaming or something negative like that…well, that's changing. Twenty years is about enough time for that to change, right?
GS AU: Here's hoping! Final question: What do you see as the role of the modern video game developer? Philosophically speaking…
TS: I think the role of the modern game developer is to be brave, pursue new ideas, and follow inspiration to create games that are both entertaining as well as personal and meaningful.
Stay tuned for tomorrow's Game Master: Peter Molyneux!
I've always loved Tim Schafer's games. Double Fine is a truly gifted company that delivers just what gamers needs.
Tim Schaeffer a Game Master?! He's a kinda funny guy, both funny looking and with a sense of humor. But what game would give him the title of Game Master? I can't think of anything he has done that wasn't derivative and I've been playing games since Maniac Mansion and before. Some people cite Psychonauts, but that game was mediocre at best, boring if I'm being completely honest.
@bbagnall thats crazy talk! psychonauts was unique, and nothing was derivative about brutal legend. that game kicked so much butt! I think hes a game master for his 'bravery' in game design. He makes games he loves, not games for the sake of making lots of money, or making them popular with everyone.
WHAT? no Patrice Désilets nor beautiful Jade Raymond? no Tetsuya Nomura? and, above all, no Shigeru, master of masters, MIYAMOTO?... any of these can crap on Peter-Promise-Everthing-Do-Nothing Molyneux.
On a happy note, I cant wait for Hideo Kojima, ThatGameCompany and Will Wright's interviews, especially Will Wright's, I haven't heard anything about him since he left Maxis after developing Spore.
Most interesting! In movies the directors get all the attention. So it's time to look at the game designers.
Big Publisher: We don't want to fund your graphic adventure.
Tim Schafer: How appropriate. You fight like a cow. (Successfully raises $3.3M for Kickstarter, beats Sword Master).
If you don't understand this, then you need to drop what you're doing and go play Secret of Monkey Island immediately.
Australia, finally! I'm tired of everything happening in U.S, Europe and Japan. This sounds good, looking forward to Hideo Kojima's interview.
Wish I could go, I look forward to reading interviews and history on some of the most influential and important games ever!
There certainly are developers that are unique. Take Suda 51 for example. Whether you like his games or not, you can tell when was made by him. With the game industry expansion we're seeing these days, with things like the Wii and mobile and social gaming, developers shall be taken more seriously and we're certainly going to see more uniqueness.
Good job. This is the kind of thing I like to read. Informative work about the people who keep gaming from falling into a corporate morass or unpersonable dreck populated by 10-year-olds who seem to enjoy questioning everyone's sexuality.
Working hard lately Laura. What with E3 and the articles, you've become my favourite Gamespot AU employee now that Dan's up and gone. As for Tim - really amazing man. Surprised you didn't mention Sesame Street: Once Upon a Monster there - really cool game. Im heading to ACMI next week for the expo and one of the shows, really happy they have this on. What with ozcomiccon and this, Im getting my geek on in Melb. Then I might just head to ManaBar, lol. :)
Hi Guys , for awhile now it has been on my mind of who was really the first company/designer to bust loose with games that made people say WOW games have come a long way such as Heavy Rain just foe an example , I just can't help but think these type games could have been produced for quite some time if all the designers put more effort into the contents graphics etc. just like the older games and the saying goes "if it works don't fix it" ? now that my expectations are so high I will really be picky on what to spend $60 on ! as for now there has been so many of my favorites 3rd person games , I am buying all of them because they are ALL good ! ....
just a thought which really does not matter now ! GET DOWN and BOOGIE MY FRIENDS !
@vivalatour Yeah I don't think studios aren't trying hard. "Hey, should we make this game likable?" "Nah, let's make this a half-assed game that nobody will want to play, so it isn't enjoyed and we don't make money."
I demand Grim Fandango to be republished right now.
Wii motion controls and playstation move would be a nice way to preserve the original controls!
"I think the role of the modern game developer is to be brave, pursue new ideas, and follow inspiration to create games that are both entertaining as well personal and meaningful."
Tell that to Activision, EA, and other sequel-happy publishers. No, I didn't include developers because, let's face it, they have no say in...well...anything.
@RYPER I have to agree with you but companies cant be different or brave in new ideas. becuase what if it does not work out and they loss money.
they wait for other to take action with the new ideas (Wii or Wii u) and take the idea and make something out of it.
I wish I could go just to shake Tim Schafer's hand. I wrote a walkthrough for monkey island-from memory-when I was ten years old. That game inspired me to be a gamer. Then he go's and leads an online charge resulting in my favorite types of games coming back from the abyss. Legend!
Also referring to one of Schafer's comments in the interview, I look back on Grim Fandango and Psychonauts almost as if I'd read a book. I think the reason games can be emotionally enriching and stay with you the same way books do, is because like books, you have to immerse yourself and live in them for long amounts of time to reach the end of the story, unlike a movie, which you consume and leave after an hour or two
Very much agree, Schafer's characters are some of the most interesting and different people you could hope to meet.
Don't see your point of films though, i think your watching the wrong stuff :-)
@synj I love film, and I enjoy good ones. But the feeling I get after spending a few days or more reading a book is more similar to the feeling I get from a good (story driven) game, as opposed to a movie, unless I've decided to sit through The Lord Of The Rings trilogy or something.. I think there's an effect had from the length of time you inhabit a fictional narrative, of which books and games usually provide more of. Not always better, just different
You should feature some more indies. Jenova Chen seems like a really interesting person, as do Jon Blow, "Superbrothers", Dan Pinchbeck, and Edmund McMillen.
Not always "celebrated game designers" when compared to some others, but I think many that deserve attention don't get it as often as they should.