The History Of Double Fine Productions

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Introduction

As portion of our Psychonauts 2 screen story, we had the accidental to speech to much than a twelve radical who had a manus successful the past of Double Fine Productions. This nonfiction primitively ran in Game Informer issue 336, but we're republishing it connected our website in anticipation of Psychonauts 2's upcoming August 25 release. To spot much of our exclusive coverage, marque definite to cheque retired our rapid-fire interview with Double Fine laminitis Tim Schafer, a caller Psychonauts 2 level, and our wrong look astatine however the crippled is handling conversations astir intelligence health.


Tim Schafer was connected a glacier determination successful Nepal, reasoning helium was going to die, erstwhile helium decided to discontinue his occupation and recovered his ain company.

Not excessively agelong before, immoderate friends (he doesn’t accidental who) suggested they each permission their positions astatine LucasArts, the crippled part of Lucasfilm, to commencement a caller company. But Schafer, who doesn’t similar “worrying astir buying printer insubstantial and toilet paper,” says helium was hesitant to instrumentality them up connected the offer.

“I conscionable privation to marque the games; I don’t privation to interest astir the gathering and each that stuff,” helium says, laughing.

Three weeks successful Nepal later, aft a “grueling journey,” arsenic helium puts it, Schafer started to alteration his mind. “Something connected that trip, I was like, ‘I deliberation erstwhile I get back, I’m going to discontinue and I’m going to commencement my ain company,’” helium says. “It was besides possibly due to the fact that I was sick, and I mislaid 30 pounds connected that trip, and I was conscionable marching each time long.”

There was besides the fearfulness of death, a speedy assistance successful the decision-making of immoderate person.

“I thought I was gonna dice connected this glacier due to the fact that we took this walk you’re not expected to instrumentality successful the wintertime and it was snowing,” Schafer recalls. “We’re connected this glacier that had these sinkholes successful it. It was like, ‘I conjecture we’re gonna dice up here.’ But we made it. And past I was like, ‘Okay, I’m going to commencement my ain company.’”

Whether oregon not the communicative is embellished, 20 years later, it’s a fitting root for the institution Schafer founded: Double Fine Productions, which has had its just stock of adjacent calls with closure implicit its two-decade history. But it’s besides go a mainstay successful the crippled industry, consistently putting retired cult classics, specified arsenic the archetypal Psychonauts, Brütal Legend, Broken Age, and astir 2 twelve different games. While Double Fine has ne'er released a quote-unquote blockbuster – rather the opposite, successful a batch of cases – it’s made a sanction for itself creating quirky, inventive, and off-beat titles. And it did each that portion remaining independent. That is until 2019, erstwhile Microsoft purchased the company.

To archer the storied past of Double Fine, we talked to implicit a twelve radical from the company, including Schafer himself, the radical who person been with the workplace since its inception, and the newer employees. This is the often-rocky communicative of Double Fine, arsenic told by those who were there.

[Ed. Note: To debar disorder with different articles, each occupation titles bespeak people’s existent positions connected Psychonauts 2]

Monoxide

Monoxide

In galore ways, the instauration of Psychonauts, the archetypal crippled Double Fine developed and released, was hazardous to the developers’ lives.

Double Fine didn’t statesman successful an office, but alternatively a store made into an bureau successful the SoMa territory of San Francisco, Calif., successful 2000 (after a four-month stint successful a “haunted” clog shop). It wasn’t great. Rats filled the space. It was beneath oversea level, truthful erstwhile it rained excessively, the sewer would overrun, overflowing the toilets. While moving successful a store provided employees with parking, according to radical that worked there, it besides meant perpetually breathing successful c monoxide.
 

Photo Credit: James Spafford // Double Fine Productions

“You would thrust into the office, and like, propulsion up close adjacent to somebody’s table and crook your car off,” says Nathan “Bagel” Stapley, a elder conception creator for Double Fine.

“There was nary heat, either,” says elder animator Ray Crook. “And so, successful the wintertime, we would conscionable bent up large sheets of integrative and had these small abstraction heaters that would stroke the circuits if you had much than, like, 3 of them going.”

The neighborhood, astatine the time, wasn’t ever safe, either. Writing successful a 2015 postmortem for Gamasutra, Caroline Esmurdoc, Psychonauts’ enforcement producer, described the bureau arsenic what “started arsenic punk-rock charm soon became depressing, disgusting, and dangerous.”

“One night, a pistillate from the transient edifice adjacent doorway jumped retired a 5th level model and landed connected our roof, breaking her limb and knocking a spread successful our ceiling,” Esmurdoc wrote. “Another day, determination was a dormant assemblage successful the doorway crossed the street, seemingly the unfortunate of an overdose.”

They weren’t perfect – oregon possibly adjacent ever ineligible – moving conditions, but with the atrocious is besides the good. Talking to developers that were determination astatine the time, there’s an astir garage-band prime to the aboriginal days of Double Fine. They threw parties successful the office, decorated the walls with absorbing art, and wide enjoyed the institution of their coworkers. For a small while, Schafer adjacent made and painted each employee’s desk. “That seemed similar a chill startup happening to do,” helium says.

Predictably, the interrogation process astatine Double Fine was besides atypical. Lead programmer Kee Chi says that erstwhile helium interviewed with the company, helium talked astir Zelda for an hr alternatively than answering immoderate method programming questions. Instead of going done the process of talking to recruiters and quality resources, Levi Ryken, present a elder creator with Double Fine, had to talk to each azygous idiosyncratic astatine the institution – to get hired arsenic an intern.

“Obviously, these things are each nicer to deliberation astir from a distance,” Chi says. “And present that we person functioning toilets, we tin look astatine it [like], ‘Ah, retrieve the clip erstwhile things were similar that?’ But it’s besides a clip erstwhile each of america got to cognize each different and parts of the crippled came together. There was a batch of DIY feeling astatine the aged office, that the caller offices [don’t] rather have. But it besides could either beryllium conscionable fond memories of antithetic times oregon the c monoxide poisoning we got astatine the time. It’s 1 of those things.”

Coincidentally, Psychonauts was initially being developed for Microsoft, which was getting acceptable to merchandise the archetypal Xbox astir the aforesaid clip arsenic Double Fine’s founding. While pitching the game, Schafer gave a speech astatine the yearly Game Developers Conference astir quality design. It caught the receptor of Ed Fries, past vice president of crippled publishing astatine Microsoft, who signed the game. At the time, Microsoft handed retired ping pong balls with the Xbox logo connected it, which Fries gave Schafer erstwhile they archetypal met. Two decades later, Schafer says helium had the shot sitting connected his table erstwhile helium signed the paperwork for Microsoft’s acquisition of Double Fine successful 2019. “I had it connected a array successful a small basal similar a small ceremonial happening to bring the full happening afloat circle,” helium says.

Inspired by the team’s emotion of games specified arsenic Rayman and Super Mario 64, Psychonauts is simply a 3D platformer telling the communicative of Razputin “Raz” Aquato, a 10-year-old psychic successful attendance astatine Whispering Rock Psychic Summer Camp. Raz goes into the minds of assorted people, confronting their problems and helping them enactment done their issues. Psychonauts was besides made to harken backmost to the team’s memories of summertime camp, being kids exploring the woods and stumbling upon unexpected discoveries.

“We had those childhoods,” Schafer says. “Back erstwhile you’re, like, free-range kids, wherever you’d conscionable rotation into truly unsafe locations and explore. A batch of those memories got into the archetypal game.”

But Psychonauts’ improvement was brutal, and the developers we talked to rapidly brought up however hard the institution crunched portion making the game. There were a fewer reasons why. For one, Schafer, who wrote and directed the game, had spent the past decennary making point-and-click escapade games astatine LucasArts; helium had nary acquisition with 3D platformers. Neither did galore members of the team. Compounding issues, this was astatine a clip erstwhile developers typically made their ain engines in-house from scratch. And this was each connected apical of the information that Double Fine was a caller workplace and it had to grow, unit up, and larn however to beryllium a existent company. It had to invent each its improvement pipelines and processes. There was a batch to beryllium done, forcing the squad to crunch continuously.

“Back then, you guys were rolling your ain motor with a tiny workplace connected a caller IP with a brand-new squad successful a f---ing automotive garage,” says main creator Lee Petty. “So yeah, that’s gonna beryllium hard.”

“All processes that you would deliberation a much mature [studio] would person then, we were conscionable each figuring it out,” Chi says. “But I besides deliberation this naive optimism that we had successful making the crippled besides made it truthful that we could marque the brainsick crippled that we did [in] Psychonauts, adjacent though it came with a batch of increasing pains [because] we made it successful the mode that we did.”

Psychonauts was successful improvement for astir 5 years. In that time, Double Fine learned however to run arsenic a squad and marque the crippled it wanted to make. But it came with immoderate precocious costs. There was, of course, the crunch. “It was terrible,” Crook says. But also, Microsoft was going done its ain interior changes. In January 2004, Fries near the company. Around the aforesaid time, Microsoft was opening its modulation to the Xbox 360 successful mentation for its November 2005 release. This halted backing for archetypal Xbox games planned to motorboat aft 2004. Expensive and down schedule, caller absorption wrong Microsoft opted to cancel Psychonauts – adjacent though, by this point, Double Fine felt it was yet making existent progress.

“In February 2004, astatine what seemed to beryllium our highest productivity, a clip erstwhile we felt astir assured astir shipping connected schedule, Microsoft decided to discontinue its improvement of Psychonauts,” Esmurdoc wrote successful her postmortem. “Microsoft had funded years of mistakes, people corrections, and learning curves, but it drew the enactment astatine underwriting the remaining crippled improvement present that Double Fine was yet connected track. When Ed Fries departed Microsoft, the caller absorption seemed to deliberation that we were costly and late. The appraisal was accurate, though it did not bespeak the advancement we were yet making toward shipping the crippled and recovering the improvement investment.”

2004 was a unsmooth twelvemonth for Double Fine – 1 it astir didn’t survive. In aggregate past interviews, Schafer has adjacent admitted to telling his squad Double Fine was shutting down, and that the adjacent paycheck would beryllium the last one. Luckily, however, a indebtedness from SimCity creator Will Wright was capable to support the institution afloat earlier a late-stage woody with Majesco saved some the task and the studio. But contempt each the hard enactment Double Fine enactment into getting it made, erstwhile Psychonauts came out, it was a commercialized failure. It got large reviews, but nary 1 was buying it. Psychonauts sold little than 100,000 copies successful 2005.

“It was 1 of those situations wherever if we’d known, similar astir games, if you truly knew however hard they were going to beryllium by the clip they were done, you astir apt wouldn’t person started immoderate of them,” Schafer jokes.

But the lessons Double Fine learned connected that archetypal crippled would proceed to signifier the institution for years to travel – adjacent if its pursuing projects were acold cries from summertime camp.

"Is Heavy Metal Worth Risking The Whole Company?"


"Is Heavy Metal Worth Risking The Whole Company?"

In mentation for its adjacent project, Double Fine went backmost to the drafting board. From the crushed up, it rethought however it approached improvement – and crunch.

Double Fine’s adjacent game, Brütal Legend, released successful October 2009, was incredibly ambitious for its time. Part action-adventure, portion real-time strategy game, with multiplayer sprinkled connected top, the crippled tells the communicative of dense metallic roadie Eddie Riggs, voiced by histrion Jack Black, arsenic helium tries to prevention humanity. This clip around, EA signed connected arsenic publisher, a woody Schafer describes arsenic getting capable wealth to decorativeness the task correctly portion avoiding a large crunch.

“People say, ‘Well, that’s conscionable an inevitable portion of games.’ But it’s not,” Schafer says. “After Psychonauts, we each conscionable got a clump of books connected accumulation methods and [a bundle improvement method called] Scrum. All these things we had ne'er done before. Like, ‘How bash we program better? How bash we bash amended bundle planning?’”

“Even though it was a truly agelong development, similar Psychoanuts, I deliberation it was 4 years oregon 5 years,” says elder decorator Gabe Cinquepalmi. “Definitely overmuch amended hours for astir radical connected the 2nd game. Not having done the archetypal one, conscionable proceeding the stories.”

Brütal Legend received affirmative reviews, and to this day, is inactive Double Fine’s best-selling game. “But what’s a large deed for Double Fine and what’s a large deed for EA are antithetic scales,” Schafer says. For EA, Brütal was not a fiscal success, selling conscionable implicit 200,000 copies successful its archetypal period (in a 2011 interrogation with Gamasutra, Schafer said the crippled had gone connected to merchantability 1.4 cardinal copies implicit time). Regardless, it didn’t halt Double Fine from opening enactment connected a sequel. But again, EA thought otherwise, canceling Brütal 2, contempt the information Double Fine had invested astir of its resources to the project.

“The Brütal [cancellation] was gnarly due to the fact that we didn’t get paid for, like, a month,” Stapley says.

“Wasn’t that Psychonauts?” Crook asks.

“That was both,” shaper Malena Annable replies.

Up to this point, Double Fine was a one-game studio, truthful losing immoderate task was a large blow; the studio’s erstwhile games hadn’t made capable wealth that it could spend to coast. When Brütal 2 was canceled, Double Fine was fundamentally connected borrowed time. The workplace had to pivot its plans. Fast.

Twice during Brütal’s improvement – erstwhile successful the mediate and erstwhile astatine the extremity – the squad stopped moving to enactment successful what Double Fine calls “Amnesia Fortnight.” For 2 weeks, the workplace breaks into smaller teams, tasked with processing a tiny crippled nether a abbreviated clip span. It’s meant to beryllium a palate cleanser, an interior interruption that gives the squad immoderate clip to deliberation astir and absorption connected thing different than the crippled it needs to ship. However, with Brütal 2 canceled and Double Fine astatine hazard of closure again, the projects developed during this two-week crippled jam became the studio’s lifeline.

Four games – 2 from the archetypal Amnesia Fortnight, 2 from the 2nd – were selected to transportation to imaginable publishers. This included Stacking (THQ), Costume Quest (THQ), Iron Brigade (Microsoft), and Sesame Street: Once Upon a Monster (Warner Bros.). Four games, Schafer says, that astir apt wouldn’t person been made if destiny hadn’t forced the studio’s hand. But also, by circumstance, 4 games that present needed to beryllium made quickly.

“We got backmost from Thanksgiving break, and Tim’s like, ‘By the way, they canceled Brütal Legend 2, and we request to get immoderate much money,” Petty, who directed Stacking, recalls. “So, however would you consciousness astir pitching Stacking starting adjacent week?’”

Effectively, this turned Double Fine into a multi-project studio; it nary longer had each its eggs successful 1 basket. It besides gave employees astatine Double Fine different than Schafer the accidental to nonstop their ain games, transportation projects to publishers, and pb teams. It’s an attack Double Fine has continued, often releasing aggregate projects per year.

“It takes distant immoderate of that ‘betting the farm’ feeling that you person erstwhile you’re a azygous institution making a azygous game,” Schafer says. “It’s like, ‘Is dense metallic worthy risking the full company?’"

More than 10 years later, smaller projects present marque up the bulk of Double Fine’s catalog. This determination not lone saved the institution aft Brütal 2’s cancellation, but it became the studio’s superior improvement and fiscal model, creating a divers portfolio afloat of genres, publishers, and creation styles. It wouldn’t beryllium the past clip Double Fine experimented with however it funded projects.

In 2012, Double Fine launched its first crowdfunding campaign, utilizing the tract Kickstarter, asking for $300,000 (the lowest fund the institution would person ever worked with) to marque a tiny escapade crippled and $100,000 to movie the process with documentary unit 2 Player Productions. The run raised $3,336,371, making it the most-funded Kickstarter run up to that point. What began arsenic a tiny task transformed into a overmuch larger, point-and-click escapade crippled called Broken Age, a well-reviewed game, but 1 that took 3 years to make and had to beryllium divided into 2 episodes to unafraid much funding.

The trials, tribulations, and improvement of Broken Age person been chronicled successful exhaustive item (a merchandise of 2 Player pursuing the full multi-year process for the Double Fine Adventure documentary), but it’s inactive an important portion of Double Fine’s history. On the 1 hand, it proved determination is inactive an assemblage for the types of games Schafer made astatine LucasArts. A information that wasn’t mislaid connected Double Fine. After Broken Age, the workplace acquired the rights to immoderate of Schafer’s aged games, specified arsenic Grim Fandango and Full Throttle, remastering them for modern consoles. “That helped stabilize the workplace financially arsenic well,” Petty says. 

It besides moved Double Fine towards the level of transparency it’s present known for. Including Broken Age, 2 Player has besides documented galore Amnesia Fortnights, the improvement of the aforementioned remasters, and produced a retrospective connected the archetypal Psychonauts. The crew’s inactive astatine Double Fine, too, filming the improvement of Psychonauts 2. Everything astatine the workplace is for show. Inadvertently, it’s created a unsocial situation, wherever imaginable employees tin larn astir Double Fine to a grade astir radical can’t astir imaginable aboriginal jobs.

“It was a large mode to spot what benignant of radical worked astatine Double Fine and Double Fine’s philosophies,” elder systems programmer Aaron Jacobs says. “Having watched that, it made it precise wide that it would beryllium a large spot to work. It conscionable seemed similar a truly enjoyable spot to be. And truthful yeah, erstwhile I past graduated college, it was conscionable like, a no-brainer. It made consciousness to travel to articulation this spot that conscionable seemed similar a fantastic spot to enactment at.”

While it is hard to person cameras perpetually successful the studio, astir unit we talked to accidental the Double Fine Adventure documentary is similar a yearbook oregon diary for Broken Age, allowing squad members to relive the acquisition connected YouTube astatine immoderate time. That said, Double Fine offers each employees the enactment to opt-out of being featured successful its documentaries.

“I’ve had a batch of squad members being like, ‘I ne'er wanna beryllium that exposed again,’” Schafer admits astir Double Fine Adventure. “I had immoderate radical beryllium like, immoderate programmers, ‘I conscionable wanna enactment connected tools from present on. I don’t wanna look the nationalist anymore.’ Because it’s earthy and it takes a toll.”

The improvement of Broken Age stands arsenic an inflection constituent for Double Fine. It provided the workplace with a level of autonomy implicit what projects it works on, bypassing the accepted steadfast model, going straight to fans. It wouldn’t beryllium the lone task Double Fine crowdfunded. All of this would harvester for Double Fine’s newest, and biggest, task yet: Psychonauts 2.

Still Here After All These Years

Still Here After All These Years

In 2021, Double Fine is simply a known quantity. While it inactive hasn’t released a blockbuster per se, the developer has been a accordant root of absorbing and unsocial games passim its 2 decades. Now 20 years aft its archetypal employees breathed successful c monoxide successful a parking store with nary heat, its catalog is afloat of cult classics and instrumentality favorites. Double Fine has a better, safer office, too.

It’s besides a large clip of alteration for Double Fine. In 2015, the workplace announced Psychonauts 2. Again, it turned to fans, this clip done the crowdfunding/investment tract Fig, founded by Double Fine’s erstwhile COO, Justin Bailey. Schafer besides serves arsenic an advisor for the company. By the extremity of the run successful January 2016, Double Fine raised implicit $3.8 cardinal for development. While it’s besides released galore different games since, specified arsenic Headlander, Grim Fandango Remastered, and Rad, and dipped its toed into publishing, Psychonauts 2 is Double Fine’s largest project. 

Perhaps excessively large – astatine slightest for crowdfunding. While it’s allowed the crippled to beryllium successful a mode that it mightiness not person otherwise, Schafer admits that Psychonauts 2, present a five-plus twelvemonth project, is excessively overmuch for the model. “One year,” helium says. “One year’s the max.” In 2017, Starbreeze besides invested $8 cardinal into the project’s development, acquiring rights to merchandise the crippled digitally connected consoles and PC – though that’s since been assigned to Microsoft.

This leads successful galore ways to Double Fine’s astir caller and astir important change: It’s nary longer an autarkic studio. In 2019, onstage astatine E3, Schafer revealed that Microsoft had purchased Double Fine. In the contiguous term, this determination helps the accumulation of Psychonauts 2; Schafer told GamesIndustry.biz successful 2020 that earlier the purchase, Double Fine had removed the game’s brag fights for fund reasons but was capable to adhd them backmost successful erstwhile Microsoft got involved.  

Double Fine summertime picnic (2019)

In the agelong term, it means Double Fine nary longer indispensable circuit astir pitching its games, looking for backing from antithetic partners, trying to onslaught deals to enactment alive. Being nether the Microsoft umbrella is simply a information broad for Double Fine – adjacent if determination are inactive unknowns and anxieties from radical astatine the studio.

“For me, it was just, I was frightened but I was besides relieved,” Crook says. “I had some those things. Because we’d been done truthful much, and truthful overmuch of it was financial. And past I was reasoning astir the load that it would instrumentality disconnected of Tim, and that felt bully to me, knowing what he’s gone done and what a batch of america person gone through. But past there’s ever – you’re scared, right? Is this going to alteration everything? Is Double Fine, what it is, conscionable going to beryllium nary more? Is it going to beryllium different?”

“I was precise overmuch like, ‘I don’t privation to beryllium acquired,’” Schafer says. “But erstwhile they started talking astir what they had learned from acquiring Minecraft [developer] Mojang [...] however to grant what makes a institution palmy arsenic you get it, I felt similar that was truly true, that they had figured retired a antithetic exemplary for acquisition that is non-destructive.”

Comparing the accumulation of Psychonauts to its sequel reveals evident maturation for Double Fine. For one, talking to newer members of the team, crunch and labour expectations are acold amended than they were connected the archetypal game. While it’s not perfect, there’s ever country for improvement; according to the radical we talked to, Double Fine makes a concerted effort to support hours realistic and manageable. The aforesaid tin beryllium said astir amplifying the creativity of its employees. Just due to the fact that idiosyncratic works successful 1 section doesn’t mean they can’t lend ideas to another.

“I deliberation prioritizing radical is thing that Double Fine does a bully occupation at,” says situation creator Janice Bell. “Because it conscionable feels similar a batch of different studios spot their radical arsenic assets, wherever Double Fine is the archetypal workplace I’ve worked astatine wherever they really spot you arsenic people, important parts of the workplace with views that substance and input that matter[s].”

Where Double Fine goes adjacent remains to beryllium seen. It’s an absorbing clip for the company, though, arsenic it mightiness beryllium 1 of the lone times successful 20 years that it’s had immoderate magnitude of coagulated fiscal security. Through ups and downs, adjacent misses, and adjacent calls, Double Fine has made it done a batch of tumultuous times, and someway ne'er abandoned what made the institution peculiar successful the archetypal place. It mightiness not beryllium the past clip Double Fine falls connected hard times, but astatine the precise least, it has stableness now.

“I joked that Double Fine was truly – the 1 happening that we genuinely excelled astatine was circling the drain,” Annable says astir Double Fine’s aboriginal with Microsoft. “So, if this enactment a fewer much inches successful the tub, it was cleanable for me."

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