Extra Punctuation

Extra Punctuation
A Study of Tim Schafer

Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw | 3 Nov 2009 11:00
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Brooetal Legend (the umlaut lifts the sound) seems like something that Tim Schafer has been working towards for a while. I don't think there's been a single one of his games that hasn't had some heavy metal inspiration in there somewhere. Even Grim Fandango's fiery beaver parts had a bit of a Rammstein feel to them. Christ, that was a weird sentence.

Tim Schafer is a "name," and that's always a good thing. By "name," I mean someone who can help sell a game by having the words "A game by name" emblazoned on the front of the box. The modern industry has become so commercial and design teams have become so committee-driven that very few new names are created - all the current names are old hands, like Schafer, Peter Molyneux, Will Wright, most of the original Doom team, etc. But while names are perfectly healthy in a creative industry, there tends to be the delusion that a name can do no wrong, and a name is always human, just as flawed and squishy as the rest of us.

Schafer earned his stripes with incredibly good writing, but I'm yet to be convinced that he knows what he's doing gameplay-wise.
Let's go through his resume.

Day of the Tentacle - back in the days of old LucasArts, when the business model extended beyond rattling a stick around the Star Wars feed bucket, Schafer's first game in a lead role was this sequel to one of the company's earliest point-and-clickers, Maniac Mansion. As for its gameplay, well, you can never ask for much of that from the retro adventure, where you generally push piles of random objects around and throw them randomly at the scenery (also known as the "crazy homeless woman simulator"). But that said, DOTT's time travel mechanics made for uniquely compelling puzzle-solving, so for a point and click adventure the gameplay was decent, which is kind of like saying that for a shopping trolley full of cream cakes the wheels were pretty nice.

Full Throttle - Schafer's second LucasArts adventure was a grim and macho tale of biker gangs in the near future, pioneering a new, more intuitive "verb coin" style of interface that Monkey Island 3 would later use, but was unfortunately enamored with teeth-grindingly unskippable minigames. On-bike combat sequences were roughly equivocal to a fighting game in which all the characters are inflatable clowns, and some of the puzzle design was shockingly bad, especially that one memorable moment where the puzzle solution is to spend half an hour kicking various parts of a wall.

Grim Fandango - often held up as Schafer's magnum opus, Grim Fandango was one of the last official LucasArts adventures before the great betrayal and, indeed, story-wise, it eats the entire adventure genre for breakfast on a bed of noir waffles. But with Full Throttle having soured everyone on minigames, GF was back to pure crazy homeless woman simulation, mired by a very tedious inventory system in which you scroll randomly through all your items one at a time like you're looking for the end on a roll of sticky tape. And the game wasn't above some seriously bizarre puzzle logic, as in the point where you have to make your monster sidekick vomit gelatin over a set of dominoes so they won't fall over and detonate a bomb. Yeah.

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