Extra Punctuation

Extra Punctuation
A Study of Tim Schafer

Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw | 3 Nov 2009 11:00
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Psychonauts - a rundown of the debut game from Schafer's own studio, Double Fine, should best be acquired from my ZP review, but make sure you have a pencil handy before you watch it. Psychonauts was funny, colorful, packed with clever ideas and with the first real movement into new genres, is probably the best of the bunch gameplay-wise. It did have a bit of an overreliance on scavenger hunting and the level design could be a little confusing at times, but so many bases were being covered it was easy to steer around the potholes.

And, of course, Brooetal Legend, which shares Psychonauts' fondness for scavenger hunts but within the breathlessly duller setting of open-world gameplay.

Schafer was credited as "Writer/Director" at the end of Brooetal Legend, rather than "game designer," so it's possible he's a lot less involved with that side of things. But the impressions I've gotten whenever his games stray from the classic point-click adventure model is of a developer flailing uncertainly around, borrowing gameplay mechanics from various sources and applying them wildly and experimentally, which sometimes works out (as in Psychonauts) but which just as easily becomes a mess. I guess I'm saying that it feels odd that such a big games industry "name" seems to have difficulty with some rather basic game development concepts. Like, say, making sure that the demo you release in some way resembles the final product. You wouldn't advertise a crème brulee with a picture of caramelized sugar, especially not if the crème is made from vinegar and Styrofoam.


"Was the part about quick time events done well screwed up purposely?"
- MasterMayhem117, from the GameX Live Chat With Me comments

Sadly not, and I've been asked to clarify what, exactly, I said at the point in the video when the sound went out. It began with the words "it's very hard." And I'll tell you what else is very hard - remembering exactly what you said during a spontaneous interview on a day when you were doing one of those every few hours or so. But, I was asked if it's possible to have Quick Time Events in a game and have them work. So my answer more than likely would have been "it's very hard...to piss in a shotglass from across the room, but it's a cakewalk compared to well-implemented QTEs."

I think the God of War mid-battle system works best for me, wherein you can do a brief optional one to quickly finish off a baddie, and maybe get a different or bigger reward for it, but if you're seriously considering flashing one up out of nowhere in the middle of a cutscene, and the only punishment for missing it is having to watch the cutscene from the beginning, then you deserve to have your hands removed by a specially-appointed government agency.

Yahtzee is a British-born, currently Australian-based writer and gamer with a sweet hat and a chip on his shoulder. When he isn't talking very fast into a headset mic he also designs freeware adventure games and writes the back page column for PC Gamer, who are too important to mention us. His personal site is www.fullyramblomatic.com.

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