‘Psychonauts 2’ devs reveal how they had a wellness nightmare

Video games are a vector of escape.

When you’re stressed, there are few more relieving feelings than getting lost in a video game world that’s not afraid to be fun, happy, and a little weird.

Few developers manage to strike this balance better than Double Fine. Known for games like Brutal, broken legend Age, and The cave, the now Microsoft-owned studio systematically creates games with a distinctly eerie but vivid charm and tone. For studio manager Tim Schafer, these games perfectly reflect the nature of the team.

“It’s a healthy team, and that style is just our taste,” says Schafer. “There is no right or wrong answer about what you can put out in the world.”

With Psychonauts 2, Double Fine follows a 16-year-old game that tackles serious mental health issues, but does so in an uplifting rather than frightening way. Psychonauts resonated with a large and passionate community, and that’s because Double Fine has strived to create a healthy community.

Double Fine is a studio that stands for creativity and positivity above all else. Schafer, Artistic Director Lisette Titre-Montgomery and Senior Systems Designer Lauren Scott spoke with Reverse on how the studio applied this mindset (pun intended) to Psychonauts 2 ahead of the game’s release on August 25.

The cause

Schafer describes Psychonauts 2 as a humanist because he discusses the moral and philosophical agency of people so that he does not strike towards a specific group.

“No one on the team would be comfortable with the kind of humor that strikes and belittles people,” he explains. “So naturally there is a love for humanity and the human condition and empathy for what everyone is going through.”

It’s clear from the start as players investigate the mind of Dr Loboto, a dentist who kidnapped Truman Zanotto, leader of the Psychonauts, a group of agents who set out to solve problems in the minds of the people. What initially appears to be a dull office level in the mind of a tooth-filled dentist.

Raz, Lili et cie. are constantly craving jokes on each other, and a cheerful creativity not found in many games is instantly displayed. Still, there is a tragedy behind Dr. Loboto’s predicament, as he really can’t seem to remember who manipulated him and why he kidnapped Truman.

Being light-hearted and cheerful doesn’t mean Double Fine is oblivious to the issues people face. In Psychonauts 2, you will meet characters suffering from anxiety, depression, multiple personality disorder and alcoholism.

While Psychonauts 2, Double Fine worked with Take This, a nonprofit that advocates for better representation of mental health in games. As a result, the game opens with a content warning about the mental health issues the game is addressing and encourages players to visit the Take This website to learn more about the topics covered in the game. Psychonauts 2.

From a writing standpoint, Schafer prioritized depictions that were respectful of the issues the characters face. However, the game also gives a positive outlook to people who battle these inner demons, as Raz leaves their minds in better shape than they found.

“Raz is a very resilient and upbeat kid led by Richard Horvitz in this truly indomitable way,” Schafer said. “He bounces off all the things he’s going through and also has an innocence about him. When he gets into these really adult situations, he sees the positive in these things and is very solution-oriented. “

Double Fine articulates these themes through the aesthetics and design of the game’s levels, as well as its story and dialogues. Title-Montgomery and the other Double Fine artists devised enemies that would be literal manifestations of concepts like doubts and regrets that seem surprisingly appropriate. Each level also has a vibrant and unique color palette, which sometimes reaches euphoric heights.

Double Fine focused on making the gameplay fit with the narrative. For example, a level set in the mind of a man named Compton who faces extreme anxiety involves players in a timed cooking competition so they can feel the same pressure as Compton. In turn, the game then shows how you can overcome this struggle in a positive way.

“As they play, players need to ask themselves questions similar to those the character asks in a narrative way,” says Lauren Scott. “It’s the best of times when you can merge those two things.”

The spirit of Brain in a jar is one of the most psychedelic and uplifting levels in the series. Microsoft

The Double Fine team added what Scott describes as a “salad bar” of accessibility features to ensure the game can be enjoyed by more people, including an invincibility toggle, more combat. easy and drop damage suppression.

“People should be able to have the experience they want when playing a game,” Schafer says. There is no reason to exclude people based on your feeling that they don’t like your game.

The effect

“Anytime someone responds to creativity with creativity, it feels good,” Schafer says. In addition, the Psychonauts The community has shown incredible enthusiasm for the game and the team that supports it. The sequel exists because Double Fine raised over $ 3.8 million through a crowdfunding campaign on Fig, and fans have been eagerly awaiting more since.

The developers of Double Fine showed great appreciation for the interactions with their fans during our chat. They chatted about everything from little moments like a grocer recognizing Title-Montgomery’s shirt and striking up a conversation meeting hordes of fans at PAX, an indie gaming event.

“Some levels sometimes hit people hard because they bring up a similar topic in their life,” Schafer explains. “A lot of people have told us about times when the positive work Raz did in the brain meant a lot to them.”

You can find many fantastic fan art with just a glance at Twitter. Schafer says he especially enjoys seeing creative Psychonauts cosplayers.

“The ones who always follow me are the cosplayers,” Schafer says. “There was a time when three G-Men came to see me at PAX. You look at the love put into this costume and the creative expression. It’s such an honor for them to show up in your game’s costume, and it happens every year at PAX.

Developers want to see Psychonauts 2 fans cosplay Lizzie, another Raz intern. Microsoft

Looking ahead, Schafer, Title-Montgomery, and Scott want to see fans cosplay Lizzie, a goth intern who heckles Raz throughout the adventure. It would be a complicated costume with lots of trinkets and bracelets. Still, the developers can’t wait to see someone succeed.

Few games spark excitement and joy like a new Double Fine title, and the studio’s positive, collected approach to making games seems to be paying off once again with Psychonauts 2.

Psychonauts 2 will be released on August 25, 2021.


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About Jennifer Amaro

Jennifer Amaro

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