Over at Gamestudies.org, there’s a fantastic 2003 interview with Tim Schafer, creator of some of my all-time favorite LucasArts adventure games. Schafer studied computer programming at UC Berkeley, got bored with computer programming and thought about becoming a writer, then landed a job with LucasArts right out of college. He worked on Day of the Tentacle, Full Throttle, and Grim Fandango, and then opened up his new production company, Double Fine Productions, which last year put out the game, The Psychonauts, which, though it didn’t sell well, ended up on tons of top-10 lists.
In the interview, Schafer talks about worlds being the initial inspiration for his games, and characters being the motivational force to keep players playing. “The goal,” he says, “is really to create this total immersive fantasy experience, where you’re sucked into a strange world, where you are the character, and you’re having all this fun, and you get to do anything you want.”
CP: I’m curious when you’re starting a new game and inventing a new world, what’s your process? How do you go about creating a world?
TS: Well, often, the world is the initial inspiration for the game. One day I was listening to someone tell me their stories of spending the summer in Alaska. They had hung around this one biker bar, with these people with names like Smilin’ Rick and Big Phil. And I thought, “Wow, what a crazy world that is.” It’s so apart from everybody’s life, and yet it’s right there, it’s so mundane in a way. And that’s where Full Throttle came from. The world was the starting point. And Grim Fandango, also, seeing the Day of the Dead art, that was the starting point too. So it wasn’t so a game idea, and then “let’s make a world to fit it.” You sort of stumble upon some world, and thing – that’s something that’s never been brought to life before. Let’s bring it to life. Wouldn’t it be fun to run around in that world?
I found all his thoughts about making games to be easily transferrable to the crafting of fiction or comics. Eventually, I want to teach the old LucasArts adventure games right beside novels and comics in creative writing classes. Problem is, it’s hard to get some of them to work on new computers (I never have been able to get Grim Fandango to work). Some clever fellows have created engines to help out: check out SCUMMVM and QUICK AND EASY.
UPDATE (3 days later): Since some Studio 360 intern reads my blog and steals my ideas, here’s Kurt Anderson interviewing Schafer about the Psychonauts.