Back in the day when I was wearing braces and LucasArts was involved with games other than the Star Wars franchise, I got my hands on a six-pack of games from that publisher. It included Indiana Jones & the Fate of Atlantis, which was a better story than the latest film and executed in a far more appealing way, and Sam & Max Hit the Road which is about as madcap an experience as I had at that age. The other memorable entry from that box was Day of the Tentacle, which like the previous two was an adventure game in the SCUMM engine, and distinguished itself with very clever writing that made you laugh and think in equal portions throughout the experience.
The mind behind the game belongs to Tim Schafer. He continued to show his chops as one of the very finest in both game design and smart writing at LucasArts with his follow-ups, Full Throttle and Grim Fandango. Nowhere else have I ever seen stuffed clockwork bunnies used to clear a minefield, nor are you likely to find another game where soft, noir music accompanies characters looking like the stuff of Aztec nightmares. However, it wasn’t long after the release of the latter game that LucasArts kicked out anybody unwilling to enslave themselves to the Star Wars franchise, and a lot of people like Tim were left looking for work.
Rather than hire himself out, Tim Schafer opened his own design studio called Double Fine. The first production of Double Fine was Psychonauts, an action-adventure about a young psychic named Razputin who runs away from the circus to join a summer camp where he can learn to use his mental abilities. Raz is already something of a prodigy and gets himself in without having to pay tuition. Karma’s rather unforgiving, however, and soon he’s put to work by the camp’s staff to help uncover a dangerous threat by exploring the minds of people around him. It’s fun, colorful, original, smart, and very funny in places.
I only picked up Psychonauts recently after recovering from the nearly crippling injury I’d inflicted on myself for not doing so sooner and found myself as delighted as I was during the rocking strains of Full Throttle‘s soundtrack or seeing Manny don a fine suit in Grim Fandango. It’s been a while since Double Fine’s been heard from, but they’re coming back with a rocking vengeance in October (or should that be Rocktober?) with Brütal Legend.
Jack Black lends his voice to Eddie Riggs, a roadie who is the absolute best in the business and carries on kicking ass behind the scenes despite his belief that real heavy metal is dead. He soon finds himself in a parallel world where demons have enslaved humanity and everything looks like a cross between an Iron Maiden video and Nordic mythology. Riggs, armed with his Flying V guitar (or “axe” if you will), an enchanted axe (an actual battle-axe in this case), and some sort of hot rod, has an entire world of metal to explore and it’s unclear if he’s been chose to become the world’s savior or its destroyer. Either way, it’s incredibly metal and I’d love to play the full version when it releases next month. I believe a demo will appear on X-Box Live Arcade soon, and the best thing about demos for games like this and Batman: Arkham Asylum is that they’re free.
Tim Schafer is an inspiration to anybody who writes speculative fiction or has ideas that might be seen as somewhat off the wall. Check out the opening of Brütal Legend, and whatever you might be thinking of writing, be sure to make it just a little more metal.