Hey, do you remember Pyschonauts 2? It was funded on that site called Fig a few months back, by Tim Schafer and Double Fine? I know it can be hard to remember, Double Fine has really slid off into the background with this game, haven’t that?
Well, the silence has been broke, for now with a new update and an accompanying video. There are two big pieces of news in this update, one of which will doubtlessly spark some form of controversy.
The potentially incendiary bit of news is that Double Fine isn’t working on Psychonauts 2 alone. They’ve partnered with a studio called The Molasses Flood, who previously worked on their own crowdfunded darling, The Flame in the Flood. Their role doesn’t seem to be minimal either, as they’ve started the bulk of the animation and modeling work in-game.
It’s mentioned that most of Double Fine is working on the finishing touches of a game called Headlander, leaving the possibility that they might take over The Molasses Flood’s work, but nothing like that is mentioned.
The other big news is that Double Fine has welcomed aboard lead designer Zak McClendon, formerly the lead designer of Bioshock 2 (sorry, no Ken Levine here). Having a new lead designer is a big shift for a game, even with Tim Schafer still at the helm. This marks the first real video update for the game as well, which were numerous during Double Fine’s previous crowdfunding endeavors for Broken Age and Massive Chalice.
This video represents a massive shift (no pun intended) in the way Double Fine operates. When Double Fine first launched Double Fine Adventure (later renamed Broken Age), Tim Schafer stated he wanted to “show us how the sausage was made,” taking us inside the process of developing video games. To their credit, they did just that, filming every step of the process from coming up with an idea, to finally shipping it and reading the reviews.
That philosophy carried over to almost everything Double Fine did afterward. They held weekly streaming secessions and video chats for Massive Chalice, they filmed two of their “Amnesia Fortnight” game jams, and they even showed us a bit of the remastering process for Grim Fandango and Day of the Tentacle.
Only now is Psychonauts 2 getting its first update though, nearly seven months after it first appeared. The accompanying video is only a three minutes long, and we have a handful of photos. It’s a far cry from the monthly 45 minute documentary episodes, and a “side quest” interview with a member of the development team every few weeks.
When you combine that with the fact that only those who donated at least $33 to the campaign can post comments on the Fig page, it creates the notion that Double Fine has pulled an about face. Gone are the days of the open door policy and the sense of community, replaced with a cold and indifferent Big Video Game Company #57294 that doesn’t want to tell anybody anything.
That maybe isn’t true, in fact it probably isn’t. But as a Double Fine fan, it’s sad to see this sudden change in policy, not being able to see the team we grew close to ever since 2012. As a fan of the medium, it’s a shame we don’t get to look inside the process of development quite so closely anymore. Truly transparent and detailed documents on the development of video games are few and far between, and there’s still an air of mystery around the profession.
On the other hand, can you really blame Double Fine for shutting the blinds? Look back at how much heat they got during Broken Age’s and even Massive Chalice’s development after every update, after every new episode of the documentaries came out. They were criticized and berated constantly, for things that happen in game development all the time like delays, running out of money, the cancellation of a game, and review embargos.
It’s easy to hate a company like EA or Ubisoft when you don’t know anyone there, but when every person on the team is given an interview and is filmed constantly, that creates something different entirely. It wasn’t about hating Double Fine, it was about hating Tim Schafter personally with the usual confetti of death threats and crowdsourced bitterness. There was a time when Double Fine was one of the most beloved developers, but that shine isn’t quite so bright anymore.
It was a great experiment, and I loved every second of it, but it was doomed to fail from the start. The fact of the matter is, people aren’t ready to see how the sausage is made. Not yet anyway, and so Pyschonauts 2’s development will remain largely behind closed doors.