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Over two years ago, while his studio was still under contract with EA finishing up Brütal Legend, Double Fine head Tim Schafer decided to try something entirely new. Dubbed the Amnesia Fortnight, this prototyping festival would see the studio breaking up into several teams and coming up with a variety of smaller game concepts. These prototypes then became games, got signed and changed the studio's destiny.
Schafer detailed this experiment to Gamasutra at the time. How do things work now?
The experiment worked. No more does Double Fine focus on big, packaged console games. Instead, it has concentrated its efforts on doing more and more small projects, continuously turning out new games on different platforms, and trying to forge a future as a mid-sized developer that won't end in the closure of the studio, like so many others these days.
In this interview, conducted the day after the latest Amnesia Fortnight concluded, designer JP LeBreton and writer (and former Gamasutra staffer) Chris Remo discuss the ins and outs of the process and the way the studio works in 2012 and beyond.
This Amnesia Fortnight was the first to put the prototypes up to a public vote, and the first that was live streamed from its San Francisco offices, which had a profound effect on the process.
I'm interested in discussing Amnesia Fortnight, and the evolution of Amnesia Fortnight. I get the sense that Double Fine found itself through this process.
Chris Remo (pictured below): I think that's totally correct. It's funny because, for me -- JP and I didn't work on BioShock games at the same time, but I also weirdly came from BioShock to Double Fine, but the first game I ever worked on was Psychonauts in 2004 as a tester.
I'd known Tim for a long time, and I liked Double Fine a lot, but kind of like you said, it feels like this year Double Fine has really been coming into its own in terms of a very particular identity that's not just the games, but is also every aspect of the studio really representing a certain ethos, or tenor.
JP LeBreton: It's not something as specific as an aesthetic. It's actually a more general approach to trying to do creative work in non-tiny game development. Yeah, it's really awesome and refreshing.
We started working on The Cave in earnest about a year and a half ago, which was right around the time that I started. And then a few months in, I got to be part of the first of last year's Amnesia Fortnight. And then the Kickstarter thing happened earlier this year, and now we just yesterday finished the public Amnesia Fortnight, which was a completely crazy thing. Chris and I worked on a project together.
And so I couldn't feel happier with where I've ended up, and my initial guesses about this being an interesting place to stretch one's wings creatively. It's just an amazing place and time to be there. And yeah, it's awesome working with Ron [Gilbert] and stuff. It's been a great year.
CR: Some of the most amazing and talented and awesome people I've ever worked with were at Irrational, and that was super incredible and super super cool, but the difference is -- like, The Cave is the biggest game that Double Fine is currently in the process of shipping. And it was roughly about 20 people, plus or minus, depending on what phase of development it was in. But that's the biggest team.
The difference between a triple-A studio where you have 100-plus people all working on one game, and a studio of 60-something people working on five different games of varying scopes and sizes? It's super awesome.
Irrational has to have 100 people working on BioShock Infinite, and they still have to cut multiplayer? That's nothing against them --
CR: That's the reality of triple-A development. It really is an arms race to some degree. I like that Double Fine has just opted out of it. Since Brütal Legend, it's just --
JPL: Taken a different path.
CR: Yeah. We're doing a different thing. One of the cool things that Amnesia Fortnight shows, I think [is that] as a result of making games like The Cave and all the other stuff Double Fine has made, that's a big reason it's even possible, in two weeks, to make games of such different subject matter and gameplay, but to such a high degree of quality in that amount of time. It's because Double Fine now has this history of making all these different kinds of games with our internal tech, all the same time.
There are all these different competencies that are constantly being honed in the studio on all these different kinds of things. It means -- you were saying, JP, earlier, that it's not that Double Fine has this particular aesthetic coherency that makes up a studio. Part of it is actually the ability not to have to rely on a single one kind of studio aesthetic, because you have all these people making all these different games and constantly stretching their game development muscles in all these different directions.
It can evolve faster. Everything can evolve. It's the people, it's the tech, it's the expertise -- it's even the business expertise, which is just as important to keeping the studio afloat.
CR: We have a relatively new business developer, Justin Bailey, who has just been super-super aggressive and creative about trying to explore every different business angle, as opposed to just pitching to as many traditional publishers as you can.
We still do that as one of our avenues, but there's all of these other interesting ways to potentially get things funded, and he's trying to explore as many of them as possible. It's really cool to see because, well, why not? We're an independent company. We can do whatever we want.
JPL: And our goal is ultimately self-sufficiency, where we can self-publish games and work on the sorts of things that interest us. That's a really tall order. That's way easier said than done, but I think the Kickstarter is a good example -- well, when that's your objective, you go to things like that. Maybe if it hadn't worked out, we'd probably still be trying crazy stuff.