About three months have passed since the European launch of "the excellent game Psychonauts" — time for some good ol’ talking with mastermind Tim Schafer about great reviews and not-so-great sales figures.
Tim, you’ve been keeping track of the European launch of Psychonauts on your website for the last weeks. Are you pleased with how Psychonauts is doing over here so far?
We’ve been getting such great response from the European fans, it’s been very encouraging. They’ve been so patient, waiting for the game to come out in a PAL version. (Well, mostly patient. Okay, there were a lot of impatient letters. But still, that was nice in its own way.) And now that the PAL version is out they’ve been sending in pictures and emails like crazy. I love it.
Although Psychonauts won lots of GOTY awards and received great reviews it didn’t sell so well in North America, as far as I know. How do you explain that? Was it wrongly promoted or is it just too different from other games?
We did get great reviews, and also a lot of positive buzz from players on the gaming forums. Sales are a bit of a mystery, but we did manage to get in touch with a dedicated and passionate fan community who has been very supportive and vocal. I’m still getting emails from people just discovering the game now, even here in the states, and it’s nice to hear from them.
Majesco, your North American publisher, had to shutdown part of its business a few weeks ago. Can’t a company which publishes mainly titles like Psychonauts survive in today’s market? If so, how is Double Fine holding up?
Oh sure, it’s possible to make money with games like Psychonauts. It’s just a lot easier to do something else, so that’s why a lot of publishers stay with safer bets. For them, “Why risk it?“ us a valid question. I don’t really fault them too much for that. Because for Double Fine, we know the answer to that question. Why risk it? Because making games that are original and unique is what we are interested in doing. It’s not worth it to me if you’re doing less than that.
What do you think has changed over the last years? Why did games like Day of the Tentacle or Full Throttle sell well about ten years ago but today hardly anyone would care about them?
You should check out the adventure game fan community online some time. There are a ton of fans out there who care about adventure games a lot. I think they are even more passionate and enthousastic than the kind we had back in the old days. But the rest of the industry is just so much bigger now. Other kinds of games are just making a lot more noise. That said, of course, none of us are interested in the same thing year after year. I don’t like the same music I liked back in the early 90s, so why would I like the same kind of game? Then again, I do like a lot of the music that I listened to in the mid 80s, so maybe these things just go in 20 year cycles.
Would Psychonauts’ gameplay have been possible in a different setting? Or do you see gameplay and setting/story as inseparable?
I think the two are definitely interwoven, but I also believe that you can tell any given story with a number of different gameplay styles. But if they don’t support each other, then the whole thing doesn’t work.
How do you come up with those crazy ideas anyway? What’s your inspiration?
I never know how to answer this question, because the ideas don’t seem that crazy to me! :)
Is there anything you’d like to have done differently during the development of Psychonauts?
Well, if I had it to do over again, of course there a many things I would do differently, but I only know that because we went through the process of making it like we did. You can’t regret an education, can you? I’m just glad we survived that education.
What is Double Fine currently up to? Has development of a new game begun yet?
Yes, we are working on something brand new right now. It’s very exciting but not announced yet, so I’m afraid that’s all I can say about it.
Are you impressed by the next-generation-consoles?
I finally managed to get hold of an XBOX 360 and I have to say yes. I mean, fancier graphics, yes of course. But the thing I’m really impressed by is more of the connectivity of the machine. I had no idea I’d enjoy downloading games, and playing my own music, and checking out my friend’s scores on Geometry War so much. But I do! I think it opens up a lot of exciting possibilites.
Finally, Ron Gilbert is said to be at Double Fine from time to time. Any chance you’ll be working together on a project?
Sure! I mean, you never know. Ron and I brainstorm about games all the time. If an opportunity for us to work together on something came up, I think that would be a lot of fun. Now all we need to do is find a Monkey Island fan with a few million dollars, and we’re set! :)
Tim, thanks for your time!