Develop Conference 2010, Day 3, Tim Schafer Keynote

July 15, 2010

I’m going to post this now, because I can, thanks to the wireless network they’ve kindly got setup for the conference…

(Edit: There’s a more professional write up of the session here: )

Tim Schafer – Double Fine
Successful, Creative, GSOH: Tim Schafer’s Personal

Talking about his last 20 years in the games industry.
Talks through some basic stuff, length of dev cycle, risk aversion, how hard it is to keep people together on one of those long projects.

Publishers described as unstable, like a big warehouse where the weather outside might be chaotic, but the weather inside isn’t necessarily safe either.

“Every game we’ve ever made has been cancelled … we still shipped because we’re stubborn.”

A lot of developers don’t get second chances, just as you’ve got your team together at the end of the first project (Worked out ineffecencies and team mismatches), there’s no project to sustain the company and the team disperses with the collapse of the company.

(Joking, sort of:) Use someone elses money when building a company. 😉

Amnesia fortnight project – Effectively taking 2 weeks off, splitting team into 4 groups and each group had to make a game in 2 weeks. 3 groups had leaders, other group had to self organise. Doing this turned out to be a big morale boost for the staff.

They did it again after Brutel Legend was released, then they got a phone call to say the publisher was cancelling BL2 “Done deal = its a deal and we’re done”

By this point they had 8 game prototypes that they could ship around to publishers (So they chose the 4 best).
All 4 games got signed. The company stopped being a cockroach and turned into a flat worm, they “tried to kill us and we split into 4 pieces”. Multiple publishers (different games with different publishers), gives the developer more stability, less chance of a change of management killing your only game & the company as a result.

More creative diversity in company, 4 games with different thematic elements rather than 1 game about heavy metal, more flexibility. In a 1 game studio every game defines you, but with 4 games that effect is softened. Don’t completely have to change your business plan when switching from a AAA rock game to a AAA kids game.

Shorter dev cycle. More games going on with faster dev cycles means you can ‘get in & out’ before anything can happen like management change(s). More post mortems, more opportunities to improve dev processes.

More opportunities: multiple projects = multiple leads, more room for staff to get promoted. Multiple projects can compete with eachother in a friendly way.

Make your bets on people not on ideas. The different project leads are somewhat following their interests, eg the lead artist on Brutal Legend leads a game with more of an artistic bent. Someone else might be doing something with more of a good gameplay focus. (Caveat, ideas are still important, but it’s the staff that realise the ideas and execute on them, no people, no game)

Doing smaller games after doing large games has it’s appeal, but they aren’t convinced they will always do small games from now on, they might do some small games and a medium/large game for instance.

Effectively the company was saved by its own creativity (In doing these 4 prototypes, which are easier to sell than just a design document because when pitching you can show the publisher what you’re aiming for with a prototype instead of merely telling them with a design doc).


– Has heard of stories where companies with multiple projects sometimes rifts can develop, but it hasn’t happened at Double Fine thus far, the teams pulled together as part of the surviving the loss of the big project, also because they were all close together in a small building.

-Self publishing? If they can get some extra money they’d like to start self publishing. (Some games are downloadable, some are retail)

-Tims job has changed a little bit but fundamentally stayed somewhat the same, has ended up writing dialogue for all the projects.

-Adventure games used to be the only ones that had story, some elements common in adventure games still exist.
-Games where you don’t know what to do are ‘illegal’ now, which is a shame since that’s what adventure games were all about (& getting friends/family together to solve harder puzzles). Talks about how balancing difficulty of the puzzles is certainly a problem. Nicer if the game senses that you’re struggling and tries to keep you engaged with hints. The term ‘Confusion entertainment’ is used. Maybe it’s just out-dated, but could be that those of us in industry have to get through so many games that we don’t have time to play hard adventure games.

-Maybe because people talk up games they’ve completed more than those they haven’t, shorter games might be selling better.

-Interesting how both Dr Greg Zeschuk (Bioware) and Tim Schafer both have talks that relate to how moving away from AAA console titles might be wise. Schafer jokes Greg is just saying that in the hope he has less competition for AAA console titles.


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