Inside the Mind of Tim Schafer, a Brutal Legend Interview
Written Sunday, September 27, 2009 By Dan WebbView author's profile
Interviews can go either one of two ways in the gaming industry, or any entertainment industry in general actually. They can either go down the tight-lipped-can't-say-much-about-that avenue, or they can go down the free-flowing-entertaining-conversational avenue. Thankfully, our interview with Double Fine chief Tim Schafer this week was the latter... but then again, we never expected anything else.
Join us as we talk Ronnie Dio, the soundtrack, Jack Black, Activision and what's up next for Double Fine.
So this pre-order early demo incentive, I’ve never really understood it myself... Give a demo of the game before everyone else to pre-order folk who’ve already paid for the game, and then make those wait who are on the fence and want to sample it...
You know, the marketing of the game is really more of a publisher obligation. Although we do care about pre-orders... that’s the thing that people care a lot about these days... the pre-orders. If there are a lot of pre-orders, then everyone gets excited about the forecast for the game. Then the marketing budget for the game goes up and then the sales of the game go up. It’s like a cycle. I would love it if people pre-ordered the game because it just helps build the momentum behind the game.
So Brutal Legend started off as a multiplayer game, would you say it was more a single player game now? If so, how did you get there?
I think it’s definitely equalled out, so in some ways it’s like we made two games, but they are unified with the same game mechanic. We spent a couple of years really focusing on multiplayer and then we spent a couple of years really focusing on single player and keeping that same mechanic going.
And now they just knit into one another?
Yes, and now they’re seamlessly knit into one another. The single player game is like a tutorial for the multiplayer game.
Have you worked or met with Jack Black before Brutal Legend?
This was the first time when pitching the game.
What was it like working with him?
It was really fun. He’s a really nice guy and down to earth and we had a lot in common, like we both had babies around the same time and we had a lot of stuff to talk about. We both like heavy metal for instance. He’s really a genuinely funny person and when you’re hanging out with him, you kind of have to remind yourself he’s a really famous movie star. It’s easy to forget because he’s very down to earth.
Did you see his outfit for the VMA’s?
Yes, I did *laughs*
Was that your idea, or was that Jack’s own doing?
Well he’s been working out a lot... obviously.
*laughs* So it wasn’t a suit?
Not as far as I know. Let’s just say that something was changing the quality of his voice and we’re concerned he maybe abusing performance enhancers.
So did you base Eddie Riggs on Jack Black? Or did you have the idea of a character and Jack Black just kind of fit?
Well it was more like, as we were talking about designing the character and what he’d look like. Talking about what were the inspirations for it. Jack was one of the main things we talked about because of how he acted in School of Rock and Tenacious D where he embodies the serious awesomeness of rock and metal, but also the ridiculous over the top side of it, you know, and unifies those together into one experience.
I think that’s what Eddie in this game is all about. It’s not a parody of heavy metal, but it also doesn’t take itself too seriously. And that’s why he was the perfect guy for that role.
So Ronnie Dio [Black Sabbath] was in the title to start with and down to play Lord Doviculus, but now Tim Curry is set to feature in that role. Was that a licensing issue?
Well I really like Dio and respect him a lot, and wanted him to be in the game, and it was really frustrating for me that it didn’t work out. But I think in the end for that character, it was the best thing because Tim Curry, when you hear his voice with it, you’ll realise it fits perfectly for that role. You know, especially if you’ve seen Legend and you’ve seen him do the Prince of Darkness... you really can’t imagine anyone else doing that role.
Was there any truth in the rumour that you couldn’t have the two Black Sabbath artists on one disc though?
We recast that voice mostly based on what we needed for that character. There are tricky things to figure out with licensing with heavy metal acts, there is a lot of landmines to navigate, and it definitely simplified things. Dio has got a great voice and he’s done some of the best songs in the genre. I love his music, so I would’ve loved the chance to work with him.
Was it hard to get Curry on board?
The casting was a little bit like a snowball. We had nobody and then we had Jack. Then once we had Jack Black, a major figure, then all of a sudden it was easy to get Rob Halford, and Lemmy, and Ozzy... you know, the more of that we did, the more legitimate the project became.
It became easier to cast people with the stature of Tim Curry. I found that people like that are drawn to creative projects. I think they gain kind of a sense, like is this a cheap project, or is this the real deal? I think they could tell that Brutal Legend was a very serious embodiment of what heavy metal was all about... the very serious treatment of it.
Then for Tim Curry, who aren’t like metal heads, it gives them a chance to do a creative character like Doviculus who’s an evil demonic, powerful force who is also a little kinky, and into like a pleasure and pain thing. I think that really appealed to Tim for obvious reasons.
This wasn’t his first video game right?
He was in Gabriel Knight in the early 90’s. Remember Gabriel Knight?
That was before my time *laughs*
Only just though... I’m not saying your old or anything *laughs*
*laughs* It was a point and click graphic adventure back in the 90’s by Sierra.
Did you get to meet Tim Curry then I take it?
I got to meet all the celebs except for Lita Ford who did it over the phone. Everyone else went to the studio.
Over the phone? Was that quite tricky to pull off?
Really tricky because her husband Jim Gillette was her manager and lead singer of Nitro (who’s a band we also have on the game). But he would be the studio engineer and we’d tell him the direction, and then he’d tell her, and she’d act it out and she would ask us how we liked it. Then we’d explain what we wanted changing and he would tell her, and she’d read the line again. It was tricky, but they were really nice people, so it was fun to work with them.
In general we went to the studio and we hung out with them, mostly because I wanted to get my albums signed. I had all my old vinyls from the 80’s that I wanted to get their signatures on. Now I have quite a collection of great albums with Ozzy, Lemmy and Rob’s signature on them.
How did you even start to get the track list nailed down... It’s about 105 tracks is it?
108? Ohhh, I was close. How did you start getting a track list so big, considering that games like Guitar Hero, which are specialist music games, only have around 80?
We got a little carried away because we were just having so much fun. First, just listing out all my favourite songs and which ones I wanted to have in the game. Getting those, I was like, “oh well I guess we’re done,” and then Emily our music director was like... “no, that covers about 10% of the game. We need to get all the areas of the game covered. Every mission has to have its own song. You’ve got to have some songs out in the world that you can find, like collectibles that you can add to your car’s playlist.”
How do you think Brutal Legend will appeal to non-metal fans? Do you think they can jump in, play it and enjoy it?
So is that the aim... to turn non metal fans into fans and then take over the world?
Yeah. Convert the world. We’ll take a Trojan horse.
Do you think that will work?
Definitely. It’s working so far. I bet you love heavy metal more now than when you first started it don’t you? See this is Children of the Grave by Black Sabbath, one of the greatest metal songs of all time.
So you don’t get repeated tracks all the way through?
Well in each mission there is a new song, but then that song is unlocked and when you’re driving round in the world, it goes to the playlist of your car. Then it’s like on shuffle. You can go into it and examine it, sort them by sub genre, say “I don’t want hear any hair metal” and check that off and have some control over your playlist.
Quite detailed then?
Yeah. Some people only want to hear certain types of things.
How did the whole Activision lawsuit thing feel when they turned round and tried to block the launch?
Oh that was just silly. You know, everything is all about money in the end and they wanted some money. It was just something for our lawyers to worry about. I didn’t have to get that involved in it and it never took any time away from the team, so that was good.
How did it feel for the development team that the game they’d been working on for so long could get potentially blocked?
We knew they didn’t have any sort of case to actually block it, so we were never worried that they would actually do that because they had no grounds.
Quite frivolous then?
There was no merit to their claim.
Generally you've personally have had an amazing amount of critical success with your games, but they never quite had the commercial success they maybe deserved. Which is more important to you with Brutal Legend?
Every game we make, we’re trying to make it as commercially successful as possible; Grim Fandango and Psychonauts and all those games. To keep being able to make game after game, you need to be making something that’s good and that people can relate to. When you go to a conference and people are dressed like your characters, you feel like they made a connection with that game and its characters in a meaningful way. That’s the most rewarding thing.
Both would be nice I take it?
Yeah *laughs* No reason you can’t have both.
So what’s next for Tim Schafer and Double Fine?
We’re just kicking around some new ideas and you never know. Vacation first though.
*laughs* Of course. What about DLC for Brutal Legend?
We have some ideas for all of that stuff, but nothing’s official yet.
What about a Psychonauts 2 down the line?
We have some ideas for that but there’s no plan to do that. It’s fun to think about, but we have some ideas for new stuff as well. I would love to do a Psychonauts 2 someday.
You haven’t worked on any sequels yet have you?
I’ve never done a sequel to my own game. Only Day of the Tentacle.
Would you love to work on a sequel, seeing as you’ve set the foundations with the original?
I would. The thing is though that you kind of imagine them in these contained stories, like Grim Fandango has this story that has a beginning, middle and end, and it is the correct length and doesn’t need to be expanded. Brutal Legend though, we did cut a lot of stuff out of it just to make it fit within the 4 year development project. So there are different elements of the story that we didn’t tell that I’d love to tell... that could be expanded on.
Psychonauts could just go on and on though because it’s all about people’s brains. It’s all about every level being different and you could tell a whole new different story.
So we shouldn’t expect an open ending with Brutal Legend?
Or can we?
Ooorrrrr can we... I don’t know *laughs*
You’re not going to tell me that though are you? *laughs*
You have to finish it. No spoilers!
Brutal Legend is out October 13th in North America and October 16th in Europe. The general demo release for Europe will be October 1st.
Check out our Brutal Legend multiplayer impressions from GamesCom here.