Q&A: Tim Schafer psychs out digital distribution

Double Fine chief discusses new possibilities for Psychonauts, thoughts on future of online distribution.

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Designer Tim Schafer's name is known by loyal fans who have enjoyed the humorous and memorable games with his name on them, such as Grim Fandango and Day of the Tentacle. Most recently, Schafer's San Francisco studio, Double Fine Productions, released the critically acclaimed Psychonauts for the Xbox, PlayStation 2, and PC last year.

While the game may not have been the smash hit that Double Fine fans (and employees) might have hoped for, it will soon be available for download through Valve Software's Steam online distribution system. We sat down with Schafer to discuss what the new deal means for Psychonauts and for games in general.

GameSpot: How are things going at Double Fine?

Tim Schafer: Great! It's been an exciting couple of weeks. We announced our new publishing deal with Vivendi, we won a BAFTA award, and now Psychonauts is being rereleased online. Several evil schemes of ours are all coming together at once.

GS: Could you tell us a bit about the digital-distribution deal for Psychonauts, as well as how the deal came about?

TS: Majesco asked me a while back what I thought about digitally distributing Psychonauts, and I was like, "Sure, but you mean in the future, right? When we all have teleporters and robot butlers and Internet connections that can download something as big as the Excellent Game, Psychonauts?" And they said, "No, now." And I thought that sounded crazy. But then I was casually chatting with a friend at Valve, and he also suggested this sort of crazy, futuristic idea. And that's when I realized that the Internet was hungry for Psychonauts, and it would not be happy until it had taken it, and so I just had to get out of its way.

GS: At the risk of sounding crass, how well do you expect the downloadable version of the game to do?

TS: I think it's going to do really well! It's the full version of the game, but the price is much lower, and there has been time now for the reputation of the game to grow. So it's going to be monumentally huge, and probably destroy the Internet for a couple of days, if not forever. If you don't get any e-mail on the day Psychonauts comes out, just remember: It's for a good cause.

GS: If digital distribution does extremely well for Psychonauts, will that success pave the way for a full-fledged sequel?

TS: Hey, we're ready. We're pretty busy with the new game, sure. But we've been doing some cloning research, and if a publisher approaches us about making Psychonauts 2 then all we really have to do is go down to the basement and see if any of the clone baby programmers can type yet.

GS: If not a sequel, then any thoughts on using digital distribution as a platform for episodic Psychonauts follow-ups, like Sam & Max, Half-Life 2, and so on?

TS: That is a good idea. We could call it the "Brain of the Month Club!" (You know, in the old days--before digital distribution--a concept called the "Brain of the Month Club" would have been impossible, and kind of gross. But not anymore!)

GS: What are your thoughts on digital distribution as a delivery system? Is it a viable alternative to the traditional model of developer-and-publisher-put-boxed-games-on-retail-shelves yet? If not, what will get it there?

TS: It's a very exciting time for digital distribution. People have talked about it for years, and I always thought, yeah, sure, someday maybe that will happen. Now, all of a sudden, it's here! I mean, I'm actually doing it as a player: I'm downloading tons of games from Xbox Live Arcade, and soon I'll be doing the same on the Wii. Just the other day I downloaded a test version of Psychonauts from Steam. And I was thinking, holy crap, the future is here! Now where's my flying car?

GS: While we have you here, could you tell us about how things are going on Double Fine's next project? Will that game be digitally distributed as well? How far away do you think digital distribution of full-size next-gen console games is?

TS: Things are going great on the new game. It's definitely a full-sized, next-gen game and it's so big that it's hard to imagine it being feasible to download, but you know, I thought the same thing about Psychonauts, and I was very pleasantly surprised there! So who knows? At this point, nothing would surprise me. Well, the flying car thing would actually surprise me because people would crash all the time and the government would never allow it.

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