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Tim Schafer has to be hoping the new Psychonauts 2 project goes a lot smoother than the original Psychonauts did.
The game about a psychic boy named Razputin attending a psychic summer camp-cum-government training center was the first project from Schafer’s Double Fine Productions, the game development studio he started after departing LucasArts (where he worked on such classic “point-and-click” adventure games as The Secret of Monkey Island, Full Throttle and Grim Fandango). Psychonauts was slated to come out exclusively for the original Xbox console, with Microsoft’s backing as publisher, but the studio ran into a number of delays, including the need to create a new game engine from scratch.
“We started working on it, but none of us knew what we were doing, because we’d only made point-and-click PC adventure games,” Schafer said. “Now we were doing a console game and a platformer, so it struggled a lot in the early days, and eventually Microsoft dropped us.”
Double Fine shopped Psychonauts around to other publishers—without much interest, Schafer said—and ended up with a publishing deal from New Jersey-based Majesco. The game came out on Xbox and Windows in April 2005, with a PlayStation 2 version following a few months later. Schafer said the game sold between 400,000 and 500,000 copies among the three platforms. Double Fine took back the publishing rights to the game in 2011 and re-released Psychonauts with updated versions for Windows and OS X.
“It’s actually sold twice as many copies in the last five years than it did in the first five years,” Schafer said. “It’s done better and better over time.”
IT’S ALL FUND AND GAMES
Now, just over ten years later, Schafer is moving forward with plans for the sequel. He credits Markus “Notch” Persson, Swedish creator of block-building blockbuster Minecraft, with “planting the idea” before Double Fine undertook its own crowdfunded point-and-click adventure, Broken Age, which came out last April (Notch tweeted at Schafer about the potential for a sequel in 2012).
With last month’s release of a reveal trailer (carefully disguised with a Call of Duty-esque opening) at The Game Awards 2015 and a campaign on the Fig crowdfunding/investment platform, the project was off and running. The game recently reached its $3.3 million crowdfunding goal with about five days left, thanks to over 22,000 backers…though there wasn’t much question to Schafer as to whether there’d be a Psychonauts 2.
“I had a feeling like…we had no choice,” Schafer said. “I made the choices in my head that we were going to do it, and so we just acted as if we were doing it and that’s the way you go,” he added, laughing.
However the pitch video that Schafer made for the Psychonauts 2 campaign was very clear that the game would need more than the crowdfunding cash to enable the complete project to be financed. Without question, having already gone through the crowdfunding process with Broken Age and seeing how controversy can bubble up in other crowdfunding efforts (such as when it was revealed after the Shenmue III crowdfunding campaign hit its goal that PlayStation parent Sony Computer Entertainment would be a backing partner on the project), Schafer and Double Fine were going to be straightforward about the project’s full financial needs.
“The lesson always with crowdfunding is more and more transparency…share everything you have,” Schafer said. “Crowdfunding is a really new thing still. People are always figuring out what to do, and you never know what’s going to be controversial or not. Each campaign tries to learn from the last one—and I think we learned a lot from the first campaign, obviously. I think all of these crowdfunding campaigns that have external partners have taught us that you can’t have any secrets. Even though I can’t say much about the external partner [on Psychonauts 2], I think it’s clear we’re going to be working with one.
“We could not get the full budget that we need from any partner,” he continued. “We pitched this as a game to regular publishers, and they passed on it. I don’t think we could crowdfund the entire amount and I don’t think Double Fine could pay for the whole amount themselves, but I think all three of those things—Double Fine’s money, crowdfunding money and an external partner’s—put together can make it work.
To that final point, Schafer said that there’s more than mere interest from said external partner. In fact, there’s some paperwork already signed. He just can’t give up who the partner is yet.
“There have been term sheets and…there are some non-traditional publishers who don’t want to announce they’re doing this type of thing yet, so we can’t mention their names,” he said. “And a lot of that could change.”
As for the game itself, Schafer revealed that he and the studio only recently started doing some preliminary work on it and “brought some artists together to do a kind of an art jam” to get visual takes on the concept. But he also indicated that Double Fine will be building it using Epic’s popular and ubiquitous Unreal Engine, so “we’ll be able to get started much quicker than before.”
And does he have a story—which, considering his past games, has always been seen as one of his game design strengths—already mapped out for Psychonauts 2?
“I had the backstory and the kind of rough idea of what’s going to happen in this one back when we did the first game,” Schafer said. “We planted all these seeds in the first game for the further adventures of Raz here and there, and there’s a backstory involving his family and Ford Cruller. That’s what the second game is all about. But the details of it are what we’re coming up with now.”
Raz won’t need to read our minds to determine how excited the game community is about Psychonauts 2. The Fig campaign proved that in abundance. However, it wouldn’t hurt for him to send a massive dose of soothing brain waves to counter any potential lack of patience, because Schafer said the game isn’t scheduled to be released until 2018.
Andy Eddy is a veteran video-game journalist who lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. How veteran? Among his e-mail addresses is email@example.com…though you’re more likely to reach him on Twitter at @vidgames.
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