Tim Schafer is a video game legend. While at LucasArts he wrote loads of the dialogue in seminal point and click adventure The Secret of Monkey Island and its sequel Monkey Island 2: LeChuck's Revenge. After leaving LucasArts, Tim founded Double Fine Productions, and created the critically acclaimed Psychonauts. Now he's back with the heavy metal inspired action adventure Brutal Legend, which stars none other than Hollywood star Jack Black. To celebrate this rocktastic occasion, we sat down with the man himself for a chinwag on all things Brutal, Legendary, and Psychonauts.
VideoGamer.com: I think it's fair to say Brutal Legend has had a tumultuous development, what with the publisher search following the Activision Blizzard merger and the recent lawsuit from Activision Blizzard. Was there any point when you thought all my hard work is going to go to waste, that this game is never going to come out?
Tim Schafer: No. You know people ask me that and I feel like, oh should I have felt that way, because I never felt that the game wasn't going to come out. Ever since we came out with the first demo there's always been a lot of interest in it and publishers want to talk about the game. And so even when we knew there was going to be these shenanigans when we heard about the merger, there were already people calling us wanting to talk about our game. Brutal Legend always seemed like this unstoppable force. I always knew it was going to see the light of day.
VideoGamer.com: What is it about the game that made you think that?
TS: It's more just the will of the team. You just know that like, we are not going to stop working on this game. We are going to make it. Just like with Psychonauts. The world tried to kill Psychonauts in the middle of development, and we were just like, no, we are going to make this game! Sometimes you've got to teach the world a lesson and just push on through.
VideoGamer.com: The game is out shortly. What is the team doing right now?
TS: Well, some of them are relaxing. Some of them are working on... secret stuff. Secret stuff. I'm not there right now. A lot of them are playing the game, you know? We're doing some tests in multiplayer, you know, testing and thinking about ideas for a new game.
VideoGamer.com: So you think about a new game even at this stage?
TS: Yeah all the time. We're always thinking about it. But now different teams are starting to formulate what they'll be working on next.
VideoGamer.com: Was it Jack Black or no-one else for Brutal Legend? How did it come about?
TS: I'd never worked with a celebrity before, except for, like Mark Hamill was in Full Throttle, and the guy from WKRP in Cincinnati was in Day of the Tentacle, but no-one really like, you know, international movie star of the level of Jack Black, you know? So it was just a weird design with a character that was inspired by him. Like this idea of having someone who loved metal and was into both serious awesome side of rock and also the over the top ridiculous side of rock all in one, at one time, in one person. Like his character in School of Rock, or his character in Tenacious D, just embody that, that spirit. So I really wanted him to like the game. I knew he played games, so I was hoping he would play the game some day and like it.
And then, when it came time to cast the voice for the game, we were like, do we want to get a sound-a-like for Jack Black? That would be cheesy. Then someone told us that they had heard he had played Psychonauts and liked Psychonauts. So we were like, oooh. That gave us enough to have our people call his people and set up a meeting. So I got a meeting, just me and him, at the Four Seasons in LA, and I got to bring my binder full of Double Fine Brutal Legend concept art and laid it out on the table and told him all about Eddie Riggs and he signed up to do it right then. He liked it, so it was great.
VideoGamer.com: How did that make you feel?
TS: I felt validated [laughs]. I felt like, yes, we are making the right game because Jack Black likes it!
VideoGamer.com: His public persona is of someone who likes to have a laugh and joke around, but he wouldn't be successful if he didn't knuckle down when he had to. What's he like to work with?
TS: Oh he was a very hard working and professional guy. He shows up and he's really into the character and figuring out what the voice should sound like and then he does many, many takes for each line. He had almost 3,000 lines of dialogue and he just sat there with each line, like, many, many takes of each one to get it just right. Sometimes exactly how it was written, sometimes he would improvise and make it funnier. So he put a lot into it and really made the character a real person, you know?
VideoGamer.com: How much of a hand have you personally had in the dialogue for this game?
TS: I wrote all of it.
VideoGamer.com: When you started out writing the dialogue, did you have any ideas about how the style had to be, or did it grow and form its own identity as you wrote it?
TS: I don't know if I made a plan for the style of the dialogue. I mean it's very, in some ways it's an art style, you know the Double Fine style of dialogue. The story has some serious dramatic elements to it and epic elements and surprising turns, but then on a moment to moment basis the dialogue can be kind of casual and jokey. That's just how we approach all the writing for our games.
VideoGamer.com: Did Jack Black have the freedom to improvise?
TS: Yeah, I mean he takes a line and works it and works it and works it, and then sometimes it would just take on a life of its own. Sometimes after he thought the mic was off he would just do a joke version of the line, but that would be the funny one and that would be the one that we would use.
VideoGamer.com: Is that how you get the best out of Jack Black?
TS: Yeah you never know. Sometimes we just showed him game footage and let him say things while he watched it and recorded that.
VideoGamer.com: Jack Black's presence in the game seems to be what everyone's focusing on, but there's a game underneath. How would you describe that game underneath?
TS: I was interested in this idea of a character who was a roadie who went back in time to a heavy metal world, and then the story of what that character would go through. Just thinking about well okay, we have this world, where does this world come from? How was it created? Who were the ancient gods of it? How would the current characters interact with these ancient gods? Who derived from who? Who made mankind and all this, where did heavy metal come from?
VideoGamer.com: It's a lot to think about.
TS: Yeah. A lot of it was inspired by Norse mythology, which gets into all of that, like where the world came from? Who made man? Where the giants came from? The giants hate the gods and all that stuff. So it was fun to figure that out for a whole world we had just created and have it be the world of heavy metal. And the idea being, like, it's not another world, it's the past, in that everything we have now that is heavy metal is this echo and memory of this ancient world that was real.
And so that led to, well what would happen in this world? It didn't seem to be a game about talking. It didn't seem like an adventure game. It seemed like action adventure just right off the bat. You've got to be swinging this broad axe around. I want to have guitar playing in the game, I want to have hot rod driving. But mostly I wanted that moment of being on the battlefield surrounded by your warriors, headbangers and rocker chics and going charge! And just leading these people into battle. That's where our battlefield gameplay came from.
VideoGamer.com: Now that the project is pretty much coming to an end, what achievement are you most proud of?
TS: I feel like what we wanted to do was make the ultimate heavy metal game and I feel like we've done that. I feel like we made the game that captures the spirit, not just literally captures the music, but captures the spirit of the music and the lyrics and lore and has the right bands and has the soundtrack - we're really proud of that. Like the really legitimate acts that people maybe don't usually include in games. Yeah there's stuff like Mötley Crüe that people have used before in games, but then there's stuff like Omen and Brocas Helm and stuff that I don't think have been in games before. I think it's great to make a game that I'm proud to show. People who really, really like heavy metal will be like, look, this is a sincere tribute to the art. I like to think it turned out that way because that was really important to us.
VideoGamer.com: Have you played Tales of Monkey Island?
TS: I haven't played Tales of Monkey Island yet. I've been in crunch.
VideoGamer.com: Will you play it?
TS: Yeah. I mean Dave Grossman's working on it. He was on the original, and so I'm sure it's going to be good.
VideoGamer.com: I've interviewed Dave about the pressure of continuing a much-loved series like Monkey Island. Brutal Legend is a brand new game. You've worked on sequels before. How do the two types of pressure compare?
TS: You can't start with that kind of pressure. I mean you have your own internal pressure for how your creative process works and that's really where you have to start. Exploring those ideas that make you happy and excited and make you think something could be there if you just thought about it some more and developing those ideas. That's how you work on that kind of stuff. If you imagine too much what people are expecting then you go crazy and you become creatively paralysed, you know? Because you're like, well but this person will like this but then this other kind of person wouldn't like that. You get kind of locked in that and unable to move. So in some ways you just have to be like, well, you're going to make something you like and hopefully other people will like it.
VideoGamer.com: It seems a lot of developers say a similar thing - they almost lock down and create something they want to play first and foremost.
TS: Because then you at least know somebody likes it!
VideoGamer.com: You're going to buy your own game, right?
TS: Well I mean it's true. Sometimes when you try and guess what someone will like, or like what someone has calculated by using a chart what they... like we think people will like this kind of game and it's like a theory, then you might end up with zero people liking the game including yourself. But at least if you make something you like the odds are other people will like it as well, because you are a person [laughs]. You're not an alien! You have the same likes and dislikes that a lot of other people have.
VideoGamer.com: Could we ever see another Psychonauts game?
TS: I would love to make another Psychonauts game. If you have a few million dollars on you, I will make one for you [laughs].
VideoGamer.com: Have you thought about what it would be like?
TS: Yeah. It's a never ending source of ideas because whenever you meet somebody who's interesting, and you think what's inside their mind look like, that could be a level in the game. And that's a game that encompasses all other settings and genres because anything can happen in someone's mind.
VideoGamer.com: So all you need is a publisher willing to pick it up?
TS: In time. You know because that's the thing. I would have liked to have made a sequel to Full Throttle or Grim Fandango or Day of the Tentacle, but just like, then we had this other idea for something else we wanted to make, you know a new game.
VideoGamer.com: You do, huh?
TS: Always. You always have some other new game you want to make and that's always more fun. People ask for sequels but deep down, I think what's better for them is to give them something new. If we had made another Day of the Tentacle game I would never had made Full Throttle, and if I had Full Throttle 2 I never would have made Grim Fandango. People when they like something if you've done it right, they should always ask for a sequel because they liked it and they want more, and that's correct. But that doesn't mean you necessarily should give it to them. I think what they would like more and what the industry would thrive on more is a new idea.
VideoGamer.com: Which is what Brutal Legend is?
TS: Yeah. But I don't know. You know, some day, I guess.
Brutal Legend will launch on October 16 for Xbox 360 and PS3.