With its record-breaking Kickstarter campaign, San Francisco-based Psychonauts and Stacking developer Double Fine has drawn a lot of eyes to the role the crowdfunding service can play in the future of how games are developed and funded. Some have even suggested that it could threaten the traditional publishing model in a very serious way.
Following his lecture Thursday night at the NYU Game Center, Double Fine's Tim Schafer talked about that Kickstarter adventure game project, and also shared his thoughts on how to address the needs of today's adventure gaming audience, as well as the scarcity of humor in the genre.
Schafer said that while Kickstarter offers interesting opportunities in specific cases, it doesn't look to be an immediate threat to the publisher format. "I think it is a great new way to make things happen that couldn't happen before, and I don't think it really takes things away from publishers," he said. "The things you can make with Kickstarter are often things that have a special story."
"[Projects like Brian Fargo's] Wasteland 2 -- these are things that publishers have already passed on," he continues. "It's not like you're going in and taking a bunch of business away from them, yet."
When it comes to the Double Fine Kickstarter game, the team has an interesting challenge in terms of balancing innovation with serving traditional fans. "It's an interesting question... with each of those old adventure games, we always did try to innovate on those games," Schafer points out. "Each game tried to do something different, so this is going to be interesting, because we really feel like we should be doing that again. What would one of those games look like now?"
But he acknowledges many Kickstarter backers may be supporting the project in the hopes of reviving a memory, or returning to forms they remember, so it's a tricky balance: "It's not like we can go and add, like, a lot of first-person action elements or something," Schafer notes.
It's a safe bet that players can expect more of the brand of humor for which Schafer is known; NYU Game Center's Frank Lantz, also creative director at Zynga New York, observed that the designer's work has a certain "emotional warmth" in its comedy that is somewhat rare in the game industry. The work of game design generally attracts people with a more clinical bent, an engineer's mentality that sometimes comes at the expense of the unique empathy necessary for good humor.
"The question of 'why aren't there funnier games' comes up a lot," says Schafer, who lists Katamari Damacy and LocoRoco as games that have stood out to him in terms of humor. "I think it's a very imitative industry, and if someone did make a huge hit comedy thing then suddenly you'd see a bunch more (horrible) comedy games."
With a bad action film or game, Schafer points out, audiences can still have fun - it may be poor, but the elements of action they enjoy will still be there. But if comedy audiences have an experience that isn't funny, there's nothing to redeem it. Perhaps there are fewer comedic video games because of how high the stakes are, he suggests.