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Backstage with Tim Schafer

Jordan Deam | 30 Dec 2008 13:19
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Schafer's latest theme park is Brütal Legend, another action-adventure title in the Psychonauts vein starring Jack Black as a heroic roadie in a world of heavy metal mythology. On paper, it's a drastic departure from its predecessor's cognitive crusades, but the way Schafer gets into his characters' heads, you'd swear protagonist Eddie Riggs could be just another resident of the asylum at Whispering Rock Psychic Summer Camp.

"What would [a roadie] daydream about? What kind of a fantasy world would that person have? Where do you think he would want to go if he could go anywhere? I think a lot of them would want to go to the place where they can be this hero in a time where that kind of heroism mattered, and they also could bring their Camaro back with them."


It's a dream that Schafer may have shared himself at one point. "When I was 14 or 15, I really loved that music. There's always this flirting with fantasy elements ... if you watch a Dio video, there's always swords and, especially in power metal, references to dragons and stuff like that. The two worlds are so similar, heavy metal and fantasy, that they might as well just coexist. But you don't really see them full-on mashed together."

With Brütal Legend, Schafer aims to change that. Unfortunately, even with the extra star power (including Motörhead bassist/vocalist Lemmy Kilmeister, Judas Priest's Rob Halford, and Ronnie James Dio himself), Schafer has found himself re-pitching the title to a new group of investors. While Sierra was set to publish the game in late 2008, parent company Vivendi's merger with Activision became a hurdle. When Schafer and I spoke last month, Double Fine was in "mid-gap" between Sierra and the "new regime." It turns out that there may not have been anyone waiting on the other side; as of this writing, Activision is "reviewing their options" on whether to publish a host of Sierra games in progress, including Brütal Legend.

Fans needn't worry too much: Hearing the enthusiasm in Schafer's voice when he talks about his latest project, you can't help but be drawn in. "When you're excited about an idea, you don't mind talking about it to people and explaining why it's so exciting. Like, 'This is fucking awesome. You're a roadie going back in time! Do you understand? He's a man that feels that he doesn't fit in to the modern world and he gets to go back to a world where there's broadswords and battleaxes and hot rod cars, fuckin' A!'"

For a Rock Star Developer like Schafer, shopping for a new publisher this late in the development cycle is the equivalent of the tour bus breaking down. The show must go on, and Double Fine continues to work on Brütal Legend despite the uncertainty. (They're "still in limbo, but spirits are high.") But Schafer and his team can take comfort that they'll have a legion of fans lining up at the venue when they get there, nodding to each other in recognition: Even if no one else does, at least these people get it.

The closest Jordan Deam has been to a real rock star was front row center at a Neil Diamond concert. It was totally metal.

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