The first Psychonauts was released almost 16 years ago, and we’ve shared many stories about this cult classic. Now with Psychonauts 2, we can continue Raz’s adventures! To celebrate the release of the game, we spoke with the legendary game designer Tim Schafer, founder of Double Fine Productions, and creator behind several gaming classics, who shares with us more details about the incredible universe of Psychonauts 2, creating games with humor, and why exploring people’s minds is ripe for storytelling.
Q: For those who have never played the first Psychonauts, how would you describe the game?
A: Psychonauts is an action/adventure platformer set largely inside the human mind. You play a young acrobat with psychic powers named Raz, who runs away from his circus home so he can pursue his dream of becoming a Psychonaut. Among Raz’s psychic powers are levitation, telekinesis, pyrokinesis and most importantly the power to astrally project himself into the mental worlds of the characters in the game.
Q: Humor has always been part of your creations and yet video games that make us laugh are quite rare – how hard is it to make people laugh through games and how do you manage to make it happen?
A: I think games are naturally funny because players are inherently mischievous and like to act a badly when given the freedom to do so. When a game reacts to that kind of behavior, comedy just seems natural. A lot of the people who work at Double Fine are just naturally funny, and that just finds its way into the game.
Q: The concept of exploring other people’s minds is fantastic but can seem quite daunting because everything is possible, how did you choose which minds we were going to explore?
A: The mental world setting for Psychonauts 2 means a level can be anything! Any art style, any location, any rules we want. We narrow that down by picking ideas that support the themes of the level, and help you understand the mental world of the person in whose mind you’re playing.
Q: Can we expect new powers for Raz? Can you give us a few examples?
A: Yes, in addition to the returning powers from the first game (PSI Punch, Levitation, Telekinesis, Pyrokinesis, PSI Blast, and Clairvoyance) Raz gains three new powers in this game. Time Bubble, which allows Raz to slow down objects and enemies in the world; Projection, with which he can summon an archetype out of his unconscious mind to help him in battle and with puzzles; and Mental Connection, that lets Raz connect to the ideas floating around him and zip over to them in a fun and dynamic way. He can also make connections in a person’s mind that can change their behavior, sometimes leading to unexpected results.
Q: In the first game, new types of gameplay were introduced throughout the story, is it something we can expect for the sequel?
A: Yes! In Psychonauts 2 we explore the story of Raz’s family, as well as the history of the Psychonauts, and the mysterious connections between them. This puts Raz into unexpected gameplay settings, like the pages of a book or backstage at an amusement park ride.
Q: The universe you created could have been explored with other media, why did you choose video games, what does this medium allow you to do that other media would not?
A: Video games are exciting because they involve so many other creative and technical disciplines. We collaborate with artist, animators, musicians, designers, as well as all kinds of engineers to make our game. And making something that takes hours and hours to explore lets us tell epic tales with a pace that you just couldn’t do in film.
Q: What do you think about Xbox Game Pass as a gamer and as a developer?
A: We’re super excited to have Double Fine’s games on Xbox Game Pass because I think it will lead a lot more people to take a chance on them and discover a game like Psychonauts 2. All of Double Fine’s games strive to be unique and a little unexpected, and this can work against you when you’re selling a $70 box in a store. But if someone is an Xbox Game Pass member, there’s no risk to trying Psychonauts 2. It’s just a download away!