Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Tim Schafer-From Pirates to Psychonauts

Video games are my true passion.  When not doing homework or working, I'm most likely playing my Playstation 3 or some other gaming device.  Video games, in my opinion, are quickly becoming one of the prominent medias in which one can demonstrate some form of creativity, but you wouldn't know it just browsing your local game store.  In recent years, game studios have constantly released rehashes and updates to their previous titles, throwing a "3" or "Ultimate" in the title.  While many of these games are a lot of fun and well made, they really do nothing to push a game genre forward.  Games like "Portal" and "Heavy Rain" only come along every couple of years or so (not including the thriving "indie" game scene).

Call of Duty, I'm looking at you.
Enter Tim Schafer, founder of Double Fine Productions, and 20+ year veteran of the gaming industry.  Tim is regarded as one of the most creative, if not the most creative, member of the video game industry today.

Tim got his start with Lucasfilm games, where he assisted with the production of cult classic Maniac Mansion.  His real creative breakthrough came when he wrote a majority of the script for The Secret of Monkey Island.  The game, meant originally to be a serious game, became a hilarious point-and-click graphic adventure, and a game that completely redefined the young genre.  The point-and-click genre, for the most part highly serious, was rocked by the hilarious Monkey Island.  Monkey Island led the way for a genre that began to become known for inventive story-telling and humor.

Tim followed up his success of Monkey Island with other point-and-click graphic adventure games such as Day of the TentacleFull ThrottleGrim Fandango, and a sequel to Monkey Island.  Much like Albert Einstein, Tim Schafer was already considered a star in the game industry, but his next major contribution didn't come until 2005, seven years after Grim Fandango.  This time, it was in a whole new genre.  During the seven, Tim left LucasArts and founded Double Fine Productions.  This was also a time when games were getting less and less creative.  LucasArts passed on Tim's newest game, a 3D platformer called Psychonauts, deeming it too "creative".  To Tim, being creative was a stigma.  An executive at another major game publisher told Tim, in reference to Psychonauts, "This is really great. This is creative. It's too bad people aren't going for this stuff right now."  Needless to say, Psychonauts was a hilarious hit, and Double Fine continues to make creative, often humorous titles today, such as a game where Halloween costumes come to life or an adventure as a Russian matryoshka doll.

Be the Unicorn.

How does Tim Schafer come up with these titles?  First, Tim creates the world of the game.  As a kid, he was fascinated by miniature trains and the little cities that surrounded them.  He would explore every little nook and cranny of that miniature world, and he translates that process to creating the world of his next great game.  To populate this newly created world, he thinks, "What's the coolest character that could fill this world." He goes through a couple of ideas, before selecting what he believes is the coolest.  He considers characters to be like a robot suit.  Wearing the suit of the character allows you to do things one normally couldn't do. Once this main character is created, Tim fills the world with characters that make sense with the developing backstory.  To Tim, "Backstory is one of the most important things about your character."  Tim wants the gamer to feel that the world of the game has existed all along, and you get to experience it when you turn on the game.

Currently, Tim is still with Double Fine, and has just started work on a new game, going back to his roots of point-and-click adventures.  What sets this new game apart is that it's all funded by fans.  Double Fine has brought the new "Kickstarter" initiative to the mass media.  Double Fine also just released Happy Action Theatre, a game geared towards smaller children and families.  Tim was inspired by his own daughter to create Happy Action Theatre, as one day he  watched his young daughter struggle to play a family game using the Xbox's Kinect.  It is incredibly easy for anyone to play Happy Action Theatre, having no set rules or goals, really.  

The game industry needs more figures like Tim Schafer.  If the game industry doesn't want to end up like the movie industry, it needs creative minds to create new ideas, not just re-hash old ones.  Like a robot suit, a game lets someone experience something that they may never get to do, such as glide around as a superhero or solve puzzles with a portal gun.  I for one am looking forward to Tim Schafer's next big project, and to see what new story and innovations he has given the gaming world.

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