Psychonauts 2: Tim Schafer and Double Fine’s little engine that could

By Stephany Nunneley, Friday, 4 December 2015 02:42 GMT

You heard the news. Psychonauts 2 is a thing. Ahead of its reveal at The Game Awards 2015, we were fortunate enough to have a chat with the mastermind behind the original, Tim Schafer.


It’s been eleven years since we last saw Raz and his fellow Psychonauts fly off on a rescue mission to save the kidnapped Grand Head of the Psychonauts, Truman Zanotto. But you can’t blame Double Fine for the decade-long cliffhanger, as there were various circumstances beyond Schafer and company’s control.

The biggest obstacle standing in the way of development was Majesco owning the publishing rights to the game. It makes it rather difficult to develop a title when the publisher doesn’t have any interest in backing it – and you can’t really blame Majesco for giving it a thumbs down. At release, the game didn’t exactly rake in tons of cash for the company, and by the end of 2005 it had only sold 100,000 copies.

It had staying power though: over the years it has become a cult classic and has been on many “best games ever” lists. Initial sales may not have been something for Majesco to brag about, but Psychonauts was a sleeper hit. By the end of 2012, the game had sold over 400,000 copies. Thanks to retail sales, digital shipments through Humble Bundle, GOG, Steam and consoles services, lifetime units sales of Psychonauts currently stand at close to 1.7 million.

Psychonauts is the little engine that could, and now that the publishing rights have been returned to Double Fine, the time is right for the long-awaited sequel.

Psychonauts 2


1.7 million strong. And growing.

You may think Tim Schafer and the rest of the folks at Double Fine have only been playing lip-service to fans regarding a sequel, but you would be wrong. They were sincere and very serious when time and time again questions pertaining to Psychonauts 2 were met with “yes, it’s something that we’d definitely be interested in doing.”

Of course they would. And why wouldn’t they? Double Fine loves Raz and co. as much as you do. Maybe even more.

“It’s been a long time coming and we are really excited about it,” Double Fine boss Tim Schafer told us. “It’s been 11 years since we shipped and 15 years since we started it. It is very important to us, as our company launched around that game and the character Raz.

“This game and those like it fill a void. To me, what’s missing these days are 3D action-adventure platformers that are cheerful, and have humor and color instead of being gritty and dark.

“I mean, I love games where you go around shooting people but I think there should be alternatives. Games where you’re double jumping, telling jokes and exploring mysteries – and going into people’s mental worlds. There is definitely room for that in this industry.”

According to Shafer, Psychonauts 2 picks up close to the first game’s cliffhanger, where Raz, Lili, and the rest of the Psychonauts flew off to rescue the kidnapped Truman Zanotto. The sequel takes place after having successfully rescued Zanotto.

Where as the first game took place at the Whispering Rock Psychic Summer Camp where Raz was in training to become a Psychonaut, the sequel is set at Psychonaut Headquarters.

Upon Raz’s arrival, he is able to see the Psychonauts in full effect, and finds out “all is not perfect” – there are internal struggles within the organization. There are even some nefarious schemes going on within the Psychonauts power structure, according to Schafer, and they turn out to need Raz “more than he needs them.”

While Psychonauts 2 is still very early in pre-production, Schafer has been working on and off for ten years on design ideas and character roles – along with a story which pre-dates the release of the first game.

“I had these ideas for a backstory in relation to Raz’s family and the curse (to die in water) put on them, and his family of circus performers,” he said. “And all these other things that are seeded a little bit in the first game will be explored more deeply in Psychonauts 2.

“We have also been working with our artists to try and illustrate these early ideas. Because it is still in the early design phase, we don’t have much to show other than concept art.”

“It’s been 11 years since we shipped and 15 years since we started it. It is very important to us. Our company launched around Psychonauts and the character Raz.”

As far as size, the action-adventure platformer will match that of the original, and Raz will once again be using his psychic powers for battling and problem solving. New abilities will be thrown into the mix alongside his familiar skillset. The game will also contain all new real-world locations and mental worlds to explore.

“The gameplay will be mostly refined compared to the original, along with some changes to the UI,” Schafer offered. “We also want to make the characters look and feel right from the very beginning.”

While Psychonauts 2 being in development may be good enough news on its own, it gets even better: the band is getting back together.

Original co-writer and now-Valve man Erik Wolpaw is back to help with the script by “some miracle,” according to Schafer. Art director Scott Campbell, background artist Peter Chan and the original’s composer Peter McConnell are returning as well.

There are at least eight others who worked on the first Psychonauts still employed at Double Fine, each equally as excited to be working on the sequel. There will also be newcomers to the project to help bring additional characters in Psychonauts 2 to life.

Many of the original voice actors are also returning, such as Richard Horvitz who Shafer said is “very excited to be returning” as Raz. Nicki Rapp will once again provide the voice of Lili.

Double Fine wants Psychonauts 2 available on as many platforms as possible, with PC only confirmed as of press time. Particulars on consoles haven’t been nailed down at present due to the approval processes at Sony and Microsoft.

A couple of early, in development concepts.

Going the crowdfunding route with Fig

Kickstarter owes much of its success to Double Fine. Honestly, it does. The studio was one of the first companies in 2012 to use the crowdfunding service to develop Broken Age, which began under the working title Double Fine Adventure.

The original funding goal was set at $400,000 to cover both developments costs and to film the documentary. At the time, it was the largest crowdfunded video game project ever having raised over $3.4 million thanks to 87,000 backers. Three years later, it is still one of the highest-backed video game projects on the service.

Double Fine followed up its success on Kickstarter in 2013 with Massive Chalice, which is number 26 on the list of most funded titles. The Studio asked for $725,000, and in the end, 31,774 backers pledged $1.3 million to bring it to life.

It isn’t any wonder the studio is a fan of crowdfunding, but the team has always wanted to do something more for its backers than provide them with a game copy and swag. Enter Fig. The new crowdfunding service started by Double Fine’s former chief operating officer Justin Bailey.

Fig’s approach to crowdfunding is different from Kickstarter in that it will support only a few projects at a time, will focus entirely on games, and if the developer opts-in, backers receive a return on their investment.

All projects will be curated by Fig beforehand by the firm’s board of experts for appeal and viability. Those sitting on Fig’s advisory board include not just anyone: Tim Schafer, inXile’s Brian Fargo, and Obsidian’s Feargus Urquhart – each planning to support Fig by crowdfunding their next titles. Participating developers just need to concentrate on one thing: making a great game. Fig handles the legal and financial aspects, ensuring studios meet their obligations.

Developers can also opt for traditional “rewards-based crowdfunding” or equity investing, or a combination of the two. This means those who support a game will not only be granted rewards, but accredited and non-accredited investors will earn a share of the game’s revenue upon release.

Previously only available to accredited investors who reported a minimum annual salary of $200,000 or possessed a net worth of at least $1 million were allowed a return investment, per Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) regulations. However, thanks to an amendment to the JOBS Act, regular folks will become actual investors.

With this next campaign, Psychonauts 2, anyone can be an investor – but they can’t invest more than 10% of their annual income or net worth. Fig will soon be take non-binding reservations from these unaccredited investors, with $1 million worth of shares being set aside for backers, who can invest $1,000 at minimum and $10,000 maximum in order to see a return.

“We saw the opportunity [with Fig] to give back to our backers by giving them royalties from a game.”

Allowing fans to earn a share of the profits is something Shafer wanted from the start. He asked about the possibility when Double Fine was crowdfunding through Kickstarter, but he “was told by some experts” it was illegal to share revenue unless it was technically an investment.

“Since we launched Double Fine Adventure, followed up with Massive Chalice, I had this question [regarding investing],” he said. “There are already people uneasy regarding crowdfunding. They think it is strange that we get all this money, and the nagging question was always there, like ‘what if you have a big hit?’ ‘why do you get to make money after I have given you all this cash?’ That always bothered me.

“So, I asked about it, but was told by experts it was illegal – that there were laws against that. So I didn’t think about it further until Justin [Bailey] brought it up that the laws were changing. And we saw the opportunity to give back to our backers by giving them royalties from a game.”

Now that the SEC has updated the JOBS Act, Schafer said it changes crowdfunding from being more than just a great opportunity for “patronizing the arts” as it turns into an actual investment.

Schafer said the ability to invest money in Psychonauts 2 will occur when Double Fine launches the campaign in December, or while the campaign is live – depending on how long it takes the SEC to review Fig’s application. Either way, fans will be able to invest, and Double Fine will remain transparent on how things progress.

“I think crowdfunding and Fig’s take on it is the future, and we’d like to use this platform for all our future games,” he said. “Some will be looked at on a case by case basis as we still have publishing partners sometimes, so it would have to make sense.

“For instance, Adult Swim Games is publishing Headlanders, which is a great relationship. They have been a great partner. It could also be a combination of Fig and a publishing partner, we could fund some games on our own. But I would love it if Fig funded all of our games from now on.”

Does this mean we may someday see a new Brutal Legend, Trenched, or Grim Fandango pop up on Fig? People like to complain about sequels, but when it comes to Double Fine games, fans are always itching for the next installment.

“I see Psychonauts 2 and Brutal Legend 2 a lot in my Twitter feed, but people want us to do something new too,” he said. “It was obvious they wanted Psychonauts 2, but it rarely occurs to many to say ‘hey make me something new!’ I like making something new.

“We don’t want to commit to making sequels but I definitely have ideas if we revisit Brutal Legend. I’d love to work with Jack Black again. Someday I think we will do more Brutal Legend stuff but right now, our future is just Psychonauts, Psychonauts, Psychonauts.”

How much money should we throw at the screen?

tim_funnyHe won’t really do this with your money.

Funding Psychonauts 2 won’t only be left up to fans who toss money at it through Fig. Instead, it will help Double Fine reach the total budget needed to develop a worthy sequel. The company is also using its own money on development, and it has another partner providing monetary backing.

This will be explained in more detail once the $3.3 million crowdfunding campaign launches this month.

“Each part can’t do it on its own,”said Schafer. “We’re going to ask for $3.3 million which is a lot to ask for in a campaign. But even that isn’t enough to bring the budget up to what it needs to be in order to match the first game. If we want to do the game along the same size as the first Psychonauts we will need more than that.

“Like we did with Broken Age, Double Fine is going to put in a large chuck of its own cash; crowdfunding through Fig will add more; and our external partner will be helping us.

“Again, not all parts can fund the game on their own, but all together we will be able to more than match the budget – and exceed it if the campaign goes even better.”

Schafer said the external backer hasn’t announced “it’s doing this sort of initiative yet,” so he was unable to provide more information.

“We can’t say their name because they don’t want to announce it yet – but I will say they are a major games industry player who has been around this industry for a long time,” he offered. “But no, it’s not a traditional publisher.”

“You are always beholden to your audience – no matter what. Your ultimate boss is the player in the end. They are the person you have to make happy no matter what. It makes sense that they become your absolute boss.”

Could this “major games industry player” be none other than Minecraft master mind and Mojang founder Notch? Possibly. We’ll have to wait until the curtain is pulled back, revealing the mysterious backer. Otherwise, it is pure speculation at this point.

The first game was a triple-A title, and like the first one, Psychonauts 2 will be as well – only independently funded.

With crowdfunding, you are beholden to a different set of people. Unlike many triple-A publishers who look at metrics which will make or break a developer’s pitch. Going directly to the source as an investor – the consumer – makes more sense.

“You are always beholden to your audience – no matter what. Your ultimate boss is the player in the end,” Schafer said. “They are the person you have to make happy no matter what. So, it makes sense that they become your absolute boss, instead of adding a middle-man who tells you what the player wants based on what their market research says. Instead, you are getting the actual players to tell you what they want.

“It’s not only more natural and more efficient – it’s better. And it works for the market. If you don’t have a good enough concept or pitch it doesn’t get funded. It solves the market itself.

“So I think there are a lot of skeptics out there because the premise is new, and they feel some developers are getting something for free. But they’re not. We’ve done this twice before. We worked really hard on Broken Age, finished it, shipped it, put our own money into it – and also Massive Chalice.

“We’ve shown than when we do a crowdfunding campaign, we’re committed, and we’re going to make Psychonauts 2 and it’s going to be good.”

Psychonauts 2 is slated to take around two and a half years to develop and will be a full release sometime in 2018.

[Images of Tim using money wisely: VentureBeat]

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