During his early years at LucasArts, Tim Schafer helped the fledgling game publishing company create new adventures beyond those starring Indiana Jones and Luke Skywalker. Among the highly acclaimed games he helped design were The Secret of Monkey Island, Full Throttle and Grim Fandango.
In 2000, he left to found his own studio, Double Fine Productions in San Francisco. Its first game, 2005's Psychonauts (originally for Xbox, then for PS2 and PC; now available for download on Xbox Live), was critically praised as well. His next project, Brütal Legend, is scheduled for release this fall for Xbox 360 and PS3.
Last week, Schafer talked with USA TODAY before unveiling the game to journalists covering the Game Developers Conference.
Q: Some details of the game have been announced, but can you fill us in on the story?A: Brütal Legend is about a roadie for a heavy metal band who gets pulled back in time to a barbaric world where demons are enslaving humanity, and it's actually his roadie skills that he has to use to save the day. He meets a band of humans who are trying to put together a rebellion against the demons. They are really good leaders. They are very charismatic. They are really inspiring. But they can't get the practical details together of making the swords and doing all the things they need to do to have an army. And Eddie says, "You guys are like rock stars. You need someone to actually figure out the practical details, build you a tour bus and take it on a tour of destruction across the land."
Q: Where does an idea for a game like this come from?A: I always think the recipe for success for a game or any sort of a fantasy experience is to think of a character that hasn't really been explored before, who is unique and has special abilities that not everybody has, and plop them into whatever is the most interesting situation to plop them into. Roadies are these really interesting characters, I think, because they live a rock 'n' roll lifestyle (but) from the grunt's point of view. They are the guy who has to haul the amp on stage and haul it off. Plug it in, clean it all off, and they don't get any of the credit, really.
I always thought that was a great combination of superpowers. He can fix anything with duct tape. He can tune a guitar in two seconds flat. He can make anything, fix anything, but also that kind of humility and that secret fantasy life that I like to think about him having, like, "Someday, I'd like to prove I am a hero." And that's what he gets to do in this game. He gets to go back to a world where he does get to prove that, you know, I really am good at a battle axe.
Q: As a fan of heavy metal, you are getting some of your favorites involved with the game, right?A: The hard part is confirming exact bands, but I can say my favorite bands growing up have always been some of the great classic acts like Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, and Ozzy Osbourne and Black Sabbath. Some of those, and bands like that I've had the chance to meet through this game. It's really just a great excuse to meet all my idols and bring them together. Lemmy (Kilmister) from Motorhead and Rob Halford from Judas Priest (are involved). There's going to be more. You meet those guys and they are just natural-born performers. Heavy metal is especially conducive to character creation. If you go to Iron Maiden shows, there's just a lot of theatrics. They are just natural behind-the-mic actors.
Q: How did Jack Black get involved? Did you create this game with him in mind?A: When we started off we were like, "Let's make a character that is as cool as Jack Black." He'll look a little bit like him and act a little bit like him, and when it came time to cast him, we thought, "Do we get a Jack Black imitator? What if we actually got Jack Black? No, there's no way we could actually. But maybe, just maybe, someone could set that up with connections." We managed to get a meeting, just me and him. I brought a big binder of concept art and I was like, "This is my one chance. My one shot. He's going to think I'm a dork, but going to do it." We got the meeting, it turns out, because he had played Psychonauts, our previous game, and he had liked it. He had played all the way though. He's a real gamer. I've seen him online on the Xbox playing late at night. He plays games all the way to the end. He's not faking it, which is great. He liked the game and said, "I want to do it."
Q: For fans of your previous games who may not like heavy metal, what can you tell them to get them on board?A: It's exactly like the old games in that we are just as committed to making a really unique world and taking a unique character and putting him in that situation, and telling a story and have it be funny and full of detail. We pride ourselves on putting a lot of love and attention into the game. Every little detail, every interaction, has some reward for the player, and I think that is important. Adventure games are all about details — if you happen to take this one object and use it with this other object, in a really weird place, at a weird time. If you happen to write a really funny dialogue line for that, even if it didn't solve the puzzle, people will appreciate that. We still live by that.
Monkey Island wasn't for people who just love pirates, and Full Throttle was not just for bikers. It's that we use the lore of pirates and the lore of bikers to create a world that is unique. There is a lot of fantasy worlds out there that are just straight fantasy, what you might call elves in tights, high fantasy. And I think that is great for people who like that. But I feel like there is no reason there can't be another fantasy world.