Can Psychonauts 2 exist? Maybe, but not as you hope

Tuesday, 14th February 2012 10:06 GMT By Patrick Garratt

Is Minecraft’s Markus Persson about to descend like some benevolent fairy tale prince and rescue Psychonauts 2 from reality’s thorny tower of fiscal woe? Only in dreamland. Patrick Garratt’s trousers are on the block.

The first game, according to Minecraft developer Daniel Rosenfeld, cost $15 million to make. Do some napkin maths; nothing on that scale is feasible for a sequel. Yes, a new game could be made for PC and Mac in a smaller form, with a smaller team and a shorter play-time, and less production and no marketing, but would this be Psychonauts 2? In name, maybe.

Last week, Rock, Paper, Shotgun editor Alec Meer and I crossed swords on Twitter about the plausibility of Minecraft developer Markus “Notch” Persson funding Psychonauts 2. I don’t believe it will happen. Alec thinks it could. I said I’d eat my jeans if it does. I hope I’m right; my trousers stink.

There are significant difficulties stopping Psychonauts 2 existing, a primary factor lending to the reality that it doesn’t and almost certainly won’t. Psychonauts 2 makes no sense. Psychonauts was not a “bit” indie project thrown together by Schafer and friends after a few beers and a happy-prod of fan capital. It’s an endlessly inventive, cock-out funny computer game with between 12-18 hours of play-time that fell flat on its ass in 2005. It released on Xbox, PS2 and PC, and its initial tanking was at least partly responsible for Majesco quitting the triple-A business. Schafer said in 2007 that Psychonauts had sold a total of around 400,000 retail copies, nearly two-and-a-half years after release.

Psychonauts’ art and tone is as ridiculous as it is enthralling, about as far away from the mainstream as it’s possible to be. In truth, it’s a miracle it was ever made. It has broken platforming, a cast of mentalist children and a plot traversing a set of pseudo-physical minds. It’s insane. It had two soundtracks released, one of the game’s music and one of cut-scenes and a remix of the main theme, and is packed with a nauseating level of visual and conceptual variety.

Psychonauts was a disastrous, horribly expensive masterpiece.

Let down your hair?

Quite why anyone thinks Notch is just going to turn up with some money and allow Schafer to make the sequel everyone imagines is beyond me. Schafer has failed on multiple occasions to secure a publishing deal for a second game. There’s a simple reason for this: it’s too great a risk. I have little doubt Notch will reach the same conclusion. As Alec pointed out last week, there’s nothing to stop private investment creating a smaller scale project, and this is true. But will it be the Psychonauts 2 fans want, a 12-hour game dripping with polygons, hand-painting and a giant Schafer script? Common sense says no.

Schafer took to Kickstarter last Friday to create a new point-and-click game for PC. As of the time of writing, over 50,000 people have pledged nearly $1.8 million to make it. That’s powerful. It isn’t, however, powerful enough to make Psychonauts 2. The first game, according to Minecraft developer Daniel Rosenfeld, cost $15 million to make. Do some napkin maths; nothing on that scale is feasible for a sequel. Yes, a new game could be made for PC and Mac in a smaller form, with a smaller team and a shorter play-time, and less production and no marketing, but would this be Psychonauts 2? In name, maybe.

If Notch funds a game called Psychonauts 2 made by Double Fine, I will eat my own trousers. I’ll eat part of them, anyway. Will it be the game the relatively tiny, hopelessly devoted fan-base have been crying over for the past seven years? I seriously doubt it. Buy the original on PC, if you don’t already own it. Then put down the fairy story: the happy ending you’re looking for is in another castle.




  1. LewieP

    Hmm, I dunno.

    There’s more to the 400,000 sales figure than it seems. It’s continued to be popular on Steam, it received a release on the Mac app store, it’s available as a Xbox Original, and lots of people will have bought it preowned, or played friends copies. Word of mouth after the fact has probably expanded the potential fanbase beyond the sales it made in the first two and a half years.

    Not to mention that Notch wouldn’t have to fund the entire thing. Publishers have turned down funding Psychonauts 2 previously, but I imagine some publishers would be more interested in funding a game that already was partially backed by Notch/Mojang.

    They could also cut costs by making it a PC only release (at least initially) rather than developing it as a multiplatform game from day one. I expect that they could keep things simple by using largely existing tech rather than a fancy high end new engine and things.

    It’s going to be interested to see what ends up happening.

    #1 3 years ago
  2. Patrick Garratt

    They can make it, yeah. But it won’t be the full thing people want unless they’re capable of securing millions and millions and millions of dollars. Double Fine swapped to “cheap” games for exactly this reason. They get to make games with the content they like to produce because the market doesn’t support “big” releases of this style of product. It just doesn’t add up. No one’s going to risk anything, especially not an individual. If it’s not a no-brainer it won’t happen.

    I’m always prepared to be wrong, but I just don’t see the logic. If people can’t make a large amount of money out of it, it will never be. The first one failed: why won’t a sequel?

    #2 3 years ago
  3. Old MacDonald

    It’s also worth noting that the investor who ensured the PC release of Stacking, Costume Quest and the updated Steam-version of Psychonauts has expressed interest (basically by saying “I’m in” on Twitter).

    Then there’s Double Fine themselves. If their adventure actually sells, that’s basically free money since they didn’t spend any of their own resources developing it. Combine with maybe another Kickstarter campaign … well, I don’t know.

    The point is, what Notch said is “let’s make Psychonauts 2 happen”. Not “I’ll fund it all myself”. It’s always easier to raise money when you’ve secured some already.

    (it has to be said though that I don’t think Psychonauts 2 would be the best use of Double Fine’s talents, and I doubt it’ll be a huge success if they do make it)

    #3 3 years ago
  4. Patrick Garratt

    My point is that unless there’s a clear route to a sizeable profit no one’s going to risk millions of dollars. There’s no question Double Fine could find some funding, but it would have to demonstrate that the entire thing’s commercially viable. It appears it hasn’t been able to do that so far.

    #4 3 years ago
  5. Old MacDonald

    I’m not so sure Notch is in it for a sizeable profit. I actually think he’ll be satisfied if he can make his investment back, and get a game out of it.

    #5 3 years ago
  6. Patrick Garratt

    The perfect investor! One that doesn’t mind if they lose all their money :)

    #6 3 years ago
  7. Ignatius_Cheese

    How much money does Notch have to throw behind it though? Along with Dracogen of course.

    It would be a complete waste of money unless it reached the right audience. XBLA/PSN along with Steam release for PC & Mac seems the best opportunity of getting any return.

    #7 3 years ago
  8. barchetta

    The point about money accumulating money is valid – a snowball-effect of ‘me too’ big investors could raise much more than the kickstarter er.. kickstart. Probably more concerning is the fact an awesome game bombed last time around. Perhaps, in these more indie aware and receptive times it would stand more of a chance but there would likely be some long soul searching and no small amount of risk in making a ‘direct’ sequel.

    Here’s hoping they don’t do a disservice to a great game.

    #8 3 years ago
  9. Old MacDonald

    6: I didn’t say that and you know it. :)

    7: There are also small/mid-sized publishers who’d no doubt jump on the chance to bring it to retail, as long as they don’t have to actually fund the development. A company like Atlus or Kalypso would love to publish it, I’m sure.

    #9 3 years ago
  10. Patrick Garratt

    @9 – ;)

    #10 3 years ago
  11. absolutezero

    Notch basically, more or less, has millions upon millions to play with. Mojang has an incredible amount of money with a small amount of staff working on small not all that expensive games. I think that Notch could easily bank-roll a full Psychonauts game by himself.

    I very much doubt he will, not because it makes financial sense but because hes scarily lazy and will be on holiday. Notch’s twitter is more or less where his mind goes to spit out random, he tells jokes that people take seriously (like the episodic gaming is the future thing, that one flew over alot of heads) and to talk to other developers and writers.

    The thing with Mojang is that its unpredictable, they are sitting on a mountain of money, with no one to answer to but themselves. It could happen, its not going to.

    Also never forget the influence Notch has upon the Minecraft fanbase, exposing that young audience to something like Psychonauts? Amazing.

    #11 3 years ago
  12. NeoSquall

    @9 Don’t forget Paradox, they’re specialized in niche PC games and digital distribution, which is an ideal situation if you ask me.

    #12 3 years ago
  13. RPRezo

    OK. The points you are pointing at are fine. But your conclusions from them are just WRONG.

    If Tim will make a Psychonauts 2 for 2mln instead of 15 – will it still be a worthy sequel? Yep. Even it will be a 2d adventure game instead of a 3d-platformer. Even more so, maybe.

    You see, people love Psychonauts not for it’s gameplay. They love it for story, characters, world and insane creativity. And you don’t need a giant budget or Mario-style gameplay to stay truthful to all that.

    So yeah, Psychonauts 2 are totally possible. And you need to start cleaning your trousers.

    #13 3 years ago
  14. Patrick Garratt

    @13 – If you say so, dude :)

    #14 3 years ago
  15. Freek

    @13 Those are some heavy rose tinted glasses, i’m surprised you can even see through them!

    After Brutal Legend bombed DF got out of the business of big budget games. Psyconaughts 2 is a game that isn’t just financially highly risky, it’s no longer the type of game DF makes.

    #15 3 years ago
  16. Ignatius_Cheese

    @15 That’s not to say DF couldn’t go back to making those types of games. I mean, who would have thought that they would come out with a classic point and click adventure game! I suppose having Ronzo on board would have been a bit of a hint.

    DF has re-organised itself into smaller teams to enable them to work on multiple, smaller budget titles. So long as the financial/publisher backing is there, larger titles can co-exist by utilising all the talented staff on a larger project.

    Obviously Scott Campbell would need to be brought in as a freelance artist… ;)

    #16 3 years ago
  17. ManuOtaku

    I can see it happening, never say never, the world always give us surprisses, why this cannot be one of them?, and if homefront is getting a sequel, why in the world psychonauts cant?

    #17 3 years ago
  18. fightclubdoll

    Et tu, Brute??

    …please clean those trousers regardless, I mean that was days ago and they’re still unwashed?? That’s making for some nasty nasty eats.

    =-) This is all a masculine ploy to cancel Valentine’s Day …I’m on to you… and it won’t work. Happy Valentine’s Day! Viva Psychonauts 2!!! Viva la revolucion!!

    “In this dojo….” – RAZ.

    (Also, Thorny Towers was destroyed in Psychonauts 1…)

    #18 3 years ago
  19. Mace

    It’s unmissable that this foolproof “logic” has a good deal of rhetoric thrown in. Firstly, Psychonauts itself is not mainstream-incompatible. The fact that it didn’t make a huge impact is more likely due to it being a cartoony platformer, and there are a few of those, rather than it being too challenging and bizarre. When the market gets more aware of its humorous and experimental edge, and this is now more possible with an expanded internet- and indie-culture than at the time of release, it hits right at the nerve of a large part of the mainstream. One indicator of this is its skyrocketing popularity after the recommendation by Zero Punctuation. Next, Double Fine is likely to accumulate more public and publisher awareness with their current campaign. The other points about financing still are not completely refuted, rather their certitude remains to be seen. I’d say it depends a lot on the initiative of Schafer and those who want to get it started.

    #19 3 years ago
  20. DSB

    I think PatGar is spot on, but I’m not so sure that I’d offer to eat his trousers.

    If Notch was going to fund it, at least exclusively, then he’d have to use the majority of his fortune. I realize that he’s a passionate developer, but I still don’t see him as a guy who just throws most of his money away, if nothing else, he still has a responsibility to Mojang.

    Then again, there are lots of ways to skin a cat. What Notch could do is fund early development, providing publishers with a far better pitch than simply a powerpoint with some executive speak thrown in for good measure.

    Or, they could attempt to bypass the publishers until distribution, and rely on private backers. It’s a lot more appealing than buying stock in a publisher. Your returns will be nothing compared to the winnings of funding a succesful videogame, and there are rich people (maybe even developers) with money for that sort of high risk/high return venture.

    Which brings us back to square one – Psychonauts wasn’t a succesful videogame. Can people get past that? I wouldn’t eat my pants betting they couldn’t.

    #20 3 years ago
  21. fightclubdoll

    I don’t think that the claim that “Psychonauts wasn’t a successful videogame” is legitimate. At best, it’s a uni-dimensional perspective.

    We wouldn’t even be talking about it.. or debating “Psychonauts 2″ if Psychonauts were not very uniquely and hugely successful. Maybe the sales data for the time around the year of it’s release was disappointing, I’ll give you that. But no one would be discussing it at all if it had truly been a failure.

    It’s kind of like “The Princess Bride” … you can’t measure the true success of it by sitting there with a calculator counting old beans.

    Art is difficult to quantify, and that’s just too bad. Money is important, and can be a valuable indicator, but there’s plenty of evidence to refute the distorted story that the money alone tells.
    If you had an equation in play that weighed the game according to the merits it’s fans and earnest critics have always recognized, you’d have an honest sum to respond to.

    Loving the game like I do, it’s frustrating to rectify how something so great didn’t really show it in the traditional business sense, but it was and is great nonetheless.

    I guess that’s all I can really say. I hope someone who speaks better than I can make the case and prevail. I am no master of industry, nor am I a champion of debate. I am a fan. And I love that game. It’s my favorite. And I do dream of a sequel. I’m not the only one… not by a long, LONG shot. What’s so wrong with that?


    PS. 40,000+ of us just bought a game we’ve never even seen because we can see what a lot of people and publishers don’t and it’s not OUR loss.

    #21 3 years ago
  22. Freek

    Homefront was financially succesfull and the sequel is being made by Crytek.

    That is what matters: does it make money. Sure, everybody on message boards hates Homefront and loves Psyconaughts, but that isn’t what determines the bottom line.

    #22 3 years ago
  23. DSB

    @21 You don’t see a difference between commercial and artistic succes?

    It sold less than 100,000 copies in a year, and sunk Majescos AAA-segment due to the heavy losses that incurred.

    It’s the same with Startopia. Possibly the most original and inspired tycoon game ever made, but no one bought it and Mucky Foot went under.

    Ultimately no one in the publishing business gives a shit about the quality of a game. They don’t play games. They only care about money and prestige.

    So whether we like it or not, that’s still a major factor in determining the possibility of a sequel.

    #23 3 years ago
  24. ManuOtaku

    # 22 “Homefront was financially succesfull and the sequel is being made by Crytek”.
    I guess you can say that homefront was financially succesfull, but i did put homefront for other reasons, mainly because if we compare both games (homefront and psychonauts) in each respective field, platformer and FPS, both have almost the same amount of support from gamers, if you compare homefront with the biggest FPS games like COD, battlefield, halo,etc., you will see it didnt sold that good almost 10-20% of the other FPS, and i guess it was the same case with Psychonauts, if we compare it with the other big non nintendo platformers, like sly, jack, ratchet, etc, therefore i think in their respective field they do almost the same, of course for being a FPS, homefront did have the advantage for being more succesfull, financially speaking, but not in section market penetration IMHO, both did almost the same.

    #24 3 years ago
  25. fearmonkey

    I played Psychonauts and it was a fun and enjoyable game, just like Beyond good and Evil which sold terribly for the money spent on it.
    I love this Kickstarter idea, and I’m excited about seeing what they can do with all that extra money they are getting.
    I have to say though, I absolutely loved Brutal Legend, right to the point where it became an RTS, and then I stopped playing it. If he would have not made the game an RTS, I think it would have done much better.

    #25 3 years ago
  26. Da Man

    Art, or perhaps actually an unsuccessful platformer with a witty setting. Oh well, each their own, beauty in the eye of the beholder.

    #26 3 years ago
  27. ManicMarvin

    Could Double Fine learn from the TellTale model, i.e. do Psychonauts Episodes? Each one set in a different mind, a couple of hours long. I know I’d stick in just as much as I paid for their adventure Kickstarter to see that happen…

    #27 3 years ago
  28. DSB

    @27 Personally I’m not that desperate.

    If anything Telltale haven’t been able to really supply any kind of quality in their games. They might be full of old characters, but they have none of the charm.

    I loved Sam and Max and Monkey Island back in the day, but it’s just not there today.

    I always felt like Schafers unique ability was building a story from start to finish. Cutting it into little pieces wouldn’t connect with me the same way.

    #28 3 years ago

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