Articles

Editorial: Schafer Makes Games 30 Dec, 2009, 12:12 / 21 comments

A few months ago a real games journalist suggested that Tim Schafer was wasted on games and should be a novelist or film director instead.

"Not wasted!" say we. Jason has more (article discovered scrawled onto a cave wall in Iceland... the search for the body continues).

Comments

  • deadworm222 on 26 Jan, 2010, 13:41…
    Good article. Play Black Velvetopia or Milkman Conspiracy or Lungfishopolis and then tell me that Schafer's gameplay sucks.

    I thought the best part about Grim Fandango was exploring Rubacava. No book or movie could give the same sense of exploration.
  • Melancholick on 01 Jan, 2010, 19:17…
    There is something to be said about the fact that Tim is a relative neonate within the gaming genres that he's taken on for recent titles.

    I mean, we tend to think of the guy as a giant of industry--and rightfully so--but the situation with Psychonauts and Brutal Legend is akin to a masterful music video director putting together his first full-length film. With Adventure Games, an immersive, methodical means of storytelling is completely merited; you soak in every line of dialogue, pick up everything you can, and linger about within the "diegetic" world at leisure.

    Suddenly having to counterbalance that design aesthetic with platforming, sandbox exploration, RTS elements and other "traditional" gaming components HAS to be a learning experience, and the fact that Tim is very much in the Suda 51/ICO vein of trying to mesh his staggering storytelling abilities with an intuitive "now go here; blow this thing up... oh, and don't forget to go grab that item, before we get to the next such-and-such" is really just sort of... unavoidable.

    He'll continue to refine the balance, or he'll likely back off a bit from the design mechanics and distill his ideas into someone else's area of expertise.

    Or he'll join Telltale. Or something. Signs point to nothing in particular.
  • SurplusGamer on 31 Dec, 2009, 17:11…
    I do think in many ways Tim's ideas about gameplay are a bit old fashioned and I see Kroms' point. But it's a difficult one to explain. When I think of games that really integrate story and gameplay well I think of stuff like Portal, Shadow of the Colossus, Left 4 Dead and I think what these have in common is that they are very cutscene light - they do almost all of their storytelling inside the gameplay itself. Tim is still quite heavily reliant on cutscenes to tell the story, and in a way I don't think he needs to be - he already creates such rich and interesting worlds as it is.
  • Kroms on 01 Jan, 2010, 16:04…
    Portal got it half-right, I think. I love the game, but unless you're paying attention there's a lot of back story you'll miss. On the other hand, the backstory is somewhat irrelevant to what's going on in the game (you don't really need to know why GLADoS was installed), so it's not a big issue.
  • SurplusGamer on 04 Jan, 2010, 11:54…
    But isn't that the strength of games? They can let you be as involved in the story as you want to be. Films and books have a harder time telling you what to pay more or less attention to while games have an especially powerful ability to draw your attention to what you need to know but also let you explore for yourself if you want to see more.

    Portal is a supreme example of this and so is Left 4 Dead. You need to know that you're up against a bunch of zombies and trying to get from point a to point B with your 3 companions. But if you pay attention to the surroundings, or comments that the characters make occasionally interesting bits of backstory are revealed, and you gradually develop an idea of the world beyond what it is that you're actually doing from moment to moment, and what the characters are like. I'm not saying it's the greatest story ever told - but what's there uses the medium to maximum effect to tell it.

    By contrast, Brutal Legend develops all of its characters in cutscenes (with a couple of exceptions) and all the backstory is delivered in convenient little statues scattered around that tell of the history of the world. That's the difference as I see it.
  • syntheticgerbil on 30 Dec, 2009, 20:11…
    The picture you chose above the article quote is hilarious.

    Otherwise, great article, I agree with it every bit.

    There's also something to be said about fads and everyone jumping on a critical bandwagon. Like the article says, why now after 20 years?
  • jp-30 on 30 Dec, 2009, 19:48…
    Here's the old Mojo news post if anyone wishes to read the original comments it generated.
  • Udvarnoky on 30 Dec, 2009, 19:51…
    And here's a working link to the CHUD article since the original URL linked to in the article and the above news post apparently no longer works.
  • RatherDashing on 30 Dec, 2009, 17:24…
    Great article. Designers like Schafer push games away from simple entertainment to something more meaningful. If gamers want games to be recognized as important as novels or films, we most certainly need better designers who push new ways of playing games.
  • Kroms on 30 Dec, 2009, 17:50…
    I think my only problem with Schafer's games is that he's never done anything that could work exclusively as a game. I mean, Jason's right: the gameplay does lend a third dimension where you can explore everything. But he's never used that gap between player/character, the way Team Ico uses the rumbling controller or MGS1 had that whole Psycho Mantis/torture bit.

    It's not a big deal, but it'd be nice to see.
  • Udvarnoky on 30 Dec, 2009, 18:05…
    I really don't see how Psychonauts or Brutal Legend could have worked in any other way but as a game. Yes, the story and world for those games are strong enough to make adaptations to other mediums possible and justifiable (still waiting on that Psychonauts comic or animated series, myself), but that's not the same thing.

    It all comes back to that troubling, implicit suggestion that having an exceptionally strong story/universe is a liability rather than a bonus when they're found in games. Why is that? It's as though people are trying to say that there's a point where the writing can get too good for a mere video game and that really bothers me. If Brutal Legend had exclusively been the multiplayer stage battles (which, again, is the game's core idea) people would have appreciated it perfectly for what it was, yet because Double Fine went ahead and constructed this giant world and full-fledged storyline for it, it's not seen as the epic bonus it should be and instead makes it a great novel or movie trying to be something it's not.
  • Kroms on 30 Dec, 2009, 18:14…
    No, I'm agreeing with you - I think that the interactivity is what makes the world come alive so well. My favorite moment in Brutal Legend was sitting in the Plow, watching the sky change and the wildlife fight around me in a world I can't be in during a movie or book or play or whatever. It was a surreal, beautiful moment, one only possible in games.

    I'm just saying that I'd like to see more elements where he does things that make the whole thing work as a game and a game only. I can't see anyone doing a good job adapting Shadow of the Colossus into a movie, but Psychonauts would kick ass as an animated series. Know what I mean?
  • Udvarnoky on 30 Dec, 2009, 18:20…
    Not really. I think Psychonauts and Shadow of the Colossus have equal potential to be turned into a movie (as far as there being enough substance to make it work, not me actually wanting it to happen), but they're both clearly games that were always envisioned as games. Just because Psychonauts has all these great characters and dialog and a richly realized world doesn't change the fact that it was clearly, on some level, Schafer wanting to make his own Mario/Zelda. That's a game concept, not an animated series concept. But heaven forbid you instill enough quality/effort into your game's story that it could have been made into a movie.
  • Kroms on 30 Dec, 2009, 19:00…
    Psychonauts' emotional pitch comes across using techniques you can adapt into a different medium; cutscenes, for example. Shadow of the Colossus uses the rumbling controller to get you involved in the gameplay, to show you how magnificent and terrible this thing you're doing is, or controls that mirror your actions (this article skims the idea a little). That's part of the package. Apart from the fact you're running around and setting kids on fire or get to tickle them with a feather or something, there's not much in Psychonauts that makes the game work exclusively as a game.

    I get your point; I agree with it. But - I think Erik Wolpaw summed that up best when he said he'd tried as hard as he could, with Portal, to reduce the "gameplay delta" and the "story delta" as much as he could and make them the same thing.

    What I'm trying to say is that, roaming and exploration aside, Schafer tends to translate whatever emotional resonance or story he wants using techniques already inherent in movies or books, whereas Team Ico go for something that you actually can't adapt, like how your sixaxis rumbles with Yorda's bending hand muscles as you drag her along.
  • Udvarnoky on 30 Dec, 2009, 19:17…
    "Roaming and exploration aside." That's a pretty damned big aside, don't you think? I'm not sure how convincing an argument an example of force feedback makes for when discussing how adaptable a game is into a noninteractive format, but does the Xbox controller not rumble when Raz takes a hit?

    Many of the fundamental ideas in Psychonauts' concept, such as presenting people's psychic landscapes as playable levels, personal demons as boss fights, etc. are hardly "inherent in movies or books," and are in fact tied pretty heavily into the fact that Psychonauts is a video game.
  • Kroms on 30 Dec, 2009, 20:09…
    Psychonauts's story is tied into the medium, sure; the levels ARE the story.

    I can't explain my point without you having played Team Ico's games. Have you tried them? The controller rumbling when Raz takes a hit isn't my point at all.
  • The Tingler on 31 Dec, 2009, 04:45…
    Um... I should also point out, Kroms, that Shadow of the Collossus is being made into a movie.
  • Kroms on 31 Dec, 2009, 06:04…
    Yeah, with the guy who wrote the new Street Fighter movie on board to write.

    I'm having a hard time imagining it not sucking.
  • Kroms on 31 Dec, 2009, 09:28…
    ...The irony of my badly-written post will forever haunt me.
  • The Tingler on 31 Dec, 2009, 14:31…
    Hee. :)
  • The Tingler on 30 Dec, 2009, 15:15…
    Wow, that was a hell of a ramble! A very good one too. This isn't really the place for my response, but I totally agree - Tim's a gamer, and is the right medium. His games don't have to have perfect gameplay - no game does.