Brutal Legend Interview: Tim Schafer Talks Metal, Rubik's Cubes, Psychonauts, Sequels and More

By Chris Faylor, Sep 07, 2009 8:44am PDT Recently, Shacknews and a handful of other gaming sites participated in a roundtable discussion with Tim Schafer (Grim Fandango, Full Throttle, Psychonauts), meant to see the respected figure discuss developer Double Fine's latest project, Brutal Legend.

And talk about Brutal Legend he did, explaining what's in the demo, why the multiplayer aspect was designed first, thoughts on downloadable content, and so forth. But in addition to chatting up the October 13-due title, the conversation also saw Schafer touch on some of his past work and even offer advice on avoiding publisher problems.

The Demo

It's a singleplayer demo that shows the beginning of the game, showing the basic mechanics of the game, giving you a taste of what you'll be doing in the game.

It's the first few minutes from Eddie waking up in the Age of Metal, and the accident that takes him back in time, and it shows how he first comes upon his axe, The Separator, and how he uses his guitar, Clementine, and how he puts together his hot rod, Deuce. You meet Ophelia, who's a major character in the story, and you get to do your first double-team attack with her, which is a combined attack you can do with another character.

And you get to fight a little boss monster.

The Soundtrack
We had a whole team of people working for years on that soundtrack, just getting all the license rights. Sometimes it was just a question of money, but a lot of the times, a lot of the older bands had broken up. Sometimes you have to find all the members of it and get them to agree to license a song.

Each one had its own set of challenges. It was especially challenging because we were pursuing a soundtrack that was kind of a labor of love, like we really really want these songs. It's not like, go to a label and grab us a handful of hot hits--I think is a much easier way of doing a soundtrack, because you can just swap in whatever you want.

We really wanted these specific songs, and so we needed to find those original bands. It was worth it in the end. Some of the bands got really excited about being part of the game, and some of them, like Lita Ford, had a new song coming out and made it special to the game. She actually changed some of the lyrics and stuff. It was fun.

On Jack Black's Involvement

Unfortunately, he only knew COBOL, so he couldn't really help with the programming too much.

He mostly was involved with the character [Eddie Riggs]. We'd talk about the story a lot. And he improvised a lot. He'll definitely be playing the game, it'll be interesting to get his feedback because he plays a lot of games. I look forward to hearing that. He did not do any actual programming or design work on the game.

Lessons Learned from Psychonauts
Psychonauts was kinda developed like an adventure game was, where we built a lot of assets and we built a lot of worlds, we built a lot of environments, we built a lot of different characters and stuff, and then at the last minute tried to pull it all together and make it work and it didn't work and we were out of time and we had to start over on some stuff.

We really took a more character-centered approach with Brutal Legend, where we started with Eddie. We just built Eddie, and then we said, "What is the essential thing for Eddie to do? It's for him to walk around while playing heavy metal music and swinging his axe around." So we got that working.

So, we immediately had Eddie and his axe fighting, we made some enemies for him to play, and just that really basic visceral feeling of being in a heavy metal world doing axe combat was--right off the bat, we had our game playable and kinda fun in that way.

Then we had the car, and you could drive your car over dudes and swing your axe around, and that's when we knew we had something that was gonna be cool. And then we just expanded outwards from that, which made it a much more--we know the whole entire time that we could play the game and have it fun. It was kind of a different methodology towards approaching the game.

A Psychonauts Sequel? Remake?
That'd be awesome, wouldn't it? I think that would be awesome. I love that game and I would love to do something with it someday, but right now we're not working on that. If the fans keep talking about it, maybe it will happen.

On LucasArts Revisiting Vintage Games

People sometimes ask me, "How can I play Grim Fandango on my PC?" And I'm like, "Oh my gosh, well, it's kind of tricky. There are certain websites to help you through."

But if they made a new version that ran on modern computers, that'd be great, or on Xbox, I think that's be great for modern players to be able to go back and play those games. I think they're doing it as sort of a "let's test the waters." I've heard it was a success. Maybe they'll do more.

Turn the page for more on multiplayer and Rubik's Cubes, plus DLC and sequel talk. _PAGE_BREAK_

Designing Multiplayer First in Brutal Legend

The reason we started with multiplayer is because we knew that we knew we wanted to have it.

We're going into production, and you first have to do the scariest, most out-of-control thing--you should always tackle the hardest problem first, because you don't want to be doing those when you're right up against your deadline. We're like, "what do we know the least about? Well, we've never done multiplayer, so let's do that first."

So that was the very first thing we worked on until we felt good enough about it to--we felt like, as a team and as a company, we've done singleplayer games, we've done story, we know characters and dialog and so we're like, we don't need to prove that right off the bat. let's prove we can make a good multiplayer game. So that's what we worked on, four years ago now.

Singleplayer as a Multiplayer Tutorial
We know that the multiplayer game has a lot of different elements to it, a lot of different mechanics--they can play guitar solos, change the weather, they can use their axe to hack and slash your guys, they can just fly around and order their dudes around--and that's a lot of stuff to just jump into.

So we added a video tutorial, that we put into multiplayer that you can watch, but also the singleplayer campaign itself is a kind of step-by-step lesson in how to play multiplayer. We made our multiplayer game before we made the singleplayer game, so when we made singleplayer, we were like "every mission, let's unlock another couple of these mechanics and teach you how to use them so by the time your first big epic battle happens you know how to use these more complicated commands."

Will Brutal Legend teach you how to solve a Rubik's Cube?

Yes. Just by watching that video, you'll learn how to solve a Rubik's Cube. Heavy metal and Rubik's Cubes go together very--I mean, a cube is pretty metal, right? It's got all those edges.

I don't even know where the idea for the Rubik's Cube came from. There's one in my hand right now though, it's something I do when I'm on the phone.

Downloadable Content
We're currently tossing around ideas for DLC. We want to do stuff that would actually be fun and that we have the time to do. We have to choose whether to do that or to work on new stuff, a new game. Nothing's concrete yet.

Brutal Legend Sequels

That would be great. I would love that. We'll have to wait and see.

There's a lot of story. When I do a game, I usually do a lot of backstory and research and stuff. There was a big epic story that we were only able to tell a small part of. There's definitely more stories to tell in the world of Brutal Legend.

As a metal fan, what excites you the most about Brutal Legend?

I've always wanted to do a proper visualization of the fantasy described by heavy metal. I didn't think the rock videos of the 80's really did it, they really didn't have much of a budget. You'd have like, one guy walking through an abandoned church with a plastic sword and you'd be like "oh god this song is great but this video is really cheap looking."

Switching Publishers

It's always, of course, risky to switch publishers. I think I would advise people not to do it if they can avoid it. But it turned out to be for the best, I think.

EA Partners has been really excited about the game as it is, without changes--without changing the genre of music, without changing the gameplay--just Brutal Legend on its own terms.

I think that has been really refreshing and I think it really makes for a better game.

On Avoiding Publisher Problems
If you you can get a game made in a year and a half, I think you can avoid these things. That's my new goal, to try and make games quicker, because stuff happens at publishers. They merge, people change jobs, and if your new game takes three or four years to make, you're going to encounter some instability out there. So get them done quicker, I guess, that's my goal.

But also, I mean, there were things that we did that helped us weather the storm that I don't know how to recommend. Our team really cared about the game and they were really dedicated and they kept on working and no one really freaked out or lost faith in the project. I think that's just the strength of having a game that everyone believes in and everyone on the team is invested in.

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