Double Fine Productions has a problem. Well, more like 3.3 million of them.
Since launching arguably the most well-known and successful video game campaign in Kickstarter history, the quirky developers of beloved games like Grim Fandango, Psychonauts, and Brutal Legend, are on the hook to make Double Fine Adventure (DFA), quite possibly the most talked about adventure game in the last decade. The real trick will be making it the most played, and Double Fine briantrust Tim Schafer knows it.
Discussing the making of DFA at the Double Fine Adventure Adventure panel at PAX 2012, the President and CEO, alongside Double Fine producer Greg Rice, laid his process bare, making a hall-full of friends in the process.
If you’ve ever put something off, changed your idea in the middle of a thought (because you lost it), or considered tossing out plans wholesale for fear that no one will like them, you probably have a lot in common with the self-deprecating developer. Turns out the studio didn’t have everything ready to go when the seconds counted down to zero and corks popped. $3.3 million dollars funded, now it was time to make a game. That’s actually when that process began – by design – explained Schafer, onstage and throughout the 25-minute showing of the Double Fine Adventure Documentary that filmakers 2 Player Productions have begun shooting for their throng of Kickstaer backers.
His process is as fascinating as it is overwhelming. Thumbing a stack of notebooks evoking John Doe’s journals from Se7en, Schafer shows how his games spend their infancy slow-cooking in the deep pages of his scrawled manuscripts, alongside non-sequitur ramblings and complaints about his poor memory and girls he’d loved and lost from the sixth grade. This is not a senselessly scatter-brained man, just proof that extremely-functional attention deficit disorder pairs well with game design. Once his ideas take form, Schafer talks himself into doing what sounds like the part of the process he likes least: telling someone about the idea for the first time.
Pitching his good friend and partner in Double Fine crime, Ron Gilbert (best known for Maniac Mansion and the first two Monkey Island games), the industry vet speaks in adorable fits and starts, flush like a boy talking himself into asking a girl for a first dance. Schafer’s not wanting for confidence, he wants to hear that his ideas are good, naturally. And if they’re not, he wants to find better ideas. Because he cares so much, nothing matters to him more than getting it right.
And getting it right means uncertainty, and not having all the answers all at once. But he’s okay with that. Walls pasted with sticky notes, "art jams" – long sessions that bring all the artists together to concept the art direction – and asking hard questions about story continuity alongside Rice; each is an inexchangeable part of a vulnerable but self-assured process. That and the pizza orgies.
Once a Double Fine game is playable, Schafer traditionally gathers a group of people to a marathon game testing and super-noshing by the slice. If the art jam is how the team finds out how the game should look, the pizza orgies are how they find out how the game should play.
By the end of their PAX panel, Rice simplifies all of this with a rosy-scheeked Cheshire aside, affirming the core "how-to" of good game making. "Look for good ideas, ignore bad ideas." Ricean megascience.
If Double Fine Adventure Adventure doesn’t work out, perhaps they’ll create Pizza Orgy: The Game, one attendee offered, during a lively question and answer session as the panel wrapped.
When asked if Pizza Orgy: The Game would be a "party game" in genre by another guest, Schafer simply said, "That depends on who you invite. Sometimes its really sad."
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