Interview: Double Fine’s Greg Rice On Indies, Development, And Psychonauts 2

You may or may not have read our short interview with Tim Schafer, but if you didn’t, go ahead and give it a read. However, while I had a natter with one of the gaming industry’s most recognisable names, Double Fine’s Greg Rice was waiting patiently for his turn.

After I was done and Tim left, it was time to catch up with Greg Rice about what’s happened since the last time we spoke a year ago. I had reserved the harder questions for him, so join us as we discuss Double Fine’s activities in the past year, Amnesia Fortnight, Bit Rot, and the past nearly 20 years of Double Fine.

TSA: It’s been around a year since I last saw you, what’s been happening since then?


Greg Rice: A lot has happened! Where do we start? I guess we launched a lot of Double Fine Presents games last year, which is exciting. Kinda our second round of Double Fine Presents games: GNOG, David O’Reilly’s Everything, and then Gang Beasts right at the end of the year. They’ve all done really well, were well received, and they seem to have found an audience of people who understood them and gave them time. They’re all really diverse and interesting games and it’s cool to see people give them a chance.

TSA: That’s a very interesting set of words to describe Everything. When I played that game that I just couldn’t get my head around it.

Greg: Sure, yeah, there’s a lot to take in! It’s literally about Everything! Yeah, that’s a super special one to work on, because I’d just never seen a game like that before. It was cool to work with someone like David, who comes from a different industry and doesn’t come with all the trappings of the videogame industry along with the good and the bad.

So you just get a lot of fresh ideas and you can tell that he had a very clear vision of what he wanted to make and ultimately delivered on that. I still play it all the time, still finding new stuff and getting interesting things out of it every day and I feel like it’s a really cool game that can sit alongside your everyday life, reflect on it and also just be a nice relaxing thing too at times. I was proud of that one for sure.

Right at the end of the year we put out Gang Beasts on PS4 and put V1.0 on Steam, it’s been a phenomena, it’s starting super well and it’s sold millions of units. It’s their first game so it’s been cool to see the journey of going from just putting this thing out for free on the internet and just having it explode and ultimately end in a lot of success for those guys.

TSA: I notice that a lot the games you’ve brought to Rezzed this year are the same games we saw last year. Is this a case of you guys slowing down?

Greg: No, at the moment we’re actually speeding up! I think it’s just a matter of games taking a long time to make. It’s a case that the games we showed early last year are now getting closer to their actual launch. Knights & Bikes is now fully playable from start to finish; it’s starting to march towards its release and they have a new demo here this year.

TSA: Ooblets was very early last year.

Greg: Yeah I think it was one of the first times we showed it off! It’s just been growing and evolving over time and it’s something that people are just looking forward to living in that world and spending time in it, so giving people as much time as they can with that game is good.

But we’ve got new stuff in the works, going back out there and take some of the success from the last round of games and hopefully turn it into more of that. Rezzed has been a great place for us the last few years to meet new folks and see interesting, strange new games, so hopefully we’ll spot something here that can be a Double Fine game.

TSA: There’s certainly a few games I’ve seen out there this year that could be contenders for that. One of the other sources for games at Double Fine is the Amnesia Fortnight, how is it that those come about?

Greg: It’s always different, not a super scheduled thing, just when we can find the right time to slot it in. So that’s an internal process. We have two divisions, so we have Double Fine Productions which is where we started. They’re the team who is making Psychonauts 2 – a large game for us at this point – and we do have another project in the works at the moment.

So it’s whenever we can find a moment in those dev cycles where it’s good to put those things to one side for the moment – often times when we’ve shipped a game or at the end of a major milestone. We’re always trying to find a place where those schedules line up internally and set aside what we’re doing and work on new stuff.

Ultimately it has a lot of purposes, it’s a way to take a break and recharged, get reinvigorated when we’ve had our heads down for a very long time. It’s a way to see new ideas in the studio and get people to take a chance on something they want to do something different. Someone who’s an artist may lead a project for the first time, or someone who hasn’t done it before may want to take the art when it’s not their common role. It’s a really fun, exciting time to be in the studio to be brainstorming, jamming and that sort of thing.

A lot of our games have come out of this as well, things like Costume Quest and Stacking, and Iron Brigade, which were really our first round of smaller games that came out and more have continued to come out of it as we’ve done them.

TSA: I take it there’s been one since we last spoke?

Greg: I think the last one was a little over a year ago.

TSA: So maybe not then! You’re overdue!

Greg: You see, now I’m curious. It was probably over a year ago, but we’re making them more of a public thing now. The first two were closed off, internal processes, but the last couple have been live streamed; our film crew has worked alongside us and filmed every day of work and ultimately put out these kind of daily episodes of the two week process.

We’ve ultimately released these prototypes into the wild and got fans to get their hands on them and play them. It’s a really cool way to get people involved in the process. So now it’s become a whole different thing. Last year we had 25 different projects that were pitched publically on the internet and people got to watch the videos and vote on which ones they thought were exciting and be a part of deciding which ones we choose to make.

We’re always trying to do more of that, it something that really speaks to the core of the studio in that we’re a creative studio at heart and we’re excited by new ideas.

TSA: As you mentioned earlier, you’re all hard at work on Psychonauts 2. Don’t you think there’s a huge amount of expectation from fans of the original? How do you go about meeting them?

Greg: I think you hopefully just try to defy them. There are a lot of people for whom this is a special game for them and thoughts on what it should be. I think in many ways, we would like to provide that. We want the game to be more of what you loved about the original. I think we have a lot of fans of the game, both people who worked on the original game and people who were just fans of the original game, that are now working on the new one.

We try to do a lot of diving in on what made the original game tick and what people liked about it, and where it could be improved. So I think that a lot of the core things of super imaginative worlds you’re diving into are all unique visually and have interesting mechanical twists – speaking to the lower level needs of that character and their psyche are all things that are returning. There’s also a lot of focus on modernising the mechanics and making sure that the game actually feels really nice to play and has fluid movement to it too.

A lot of the early development was actually more on that kind of front and now we’re starting to see brains and script and things like that come online to make it feel more like a Psychonauts game, so it’s really exciting.

TSA: I mentioned to Tim Schafer earlier about Bit Rot. He named a few games he would like to see again. What are the games you would like to see again?

Greg: Yeah, I do think people are starting to get better about it. It’s definitely something that with past console generations, they move onto what’s next, what’s bigger and better, and things get set aside. But I think people are starting to realise there’s a deep, cultural history here with our games and we can’t just let that erode and go away.

I think there’s stuff from the arcade generation I’d love to see again, even old Vector graphic games, things like that. That’s kind of a hard thing to emulate and no-one has really done it that well, so I think some of those experiences are just really hard to have and maybe they really don’t need to be and maybe their time has come and gone.

TSA: It’s all about preserving I find. One of the major reasons people emulate older games is more for preservation than anything else. There are certain games, certainly from the late 90’s, that are really difficult to get running. Tim hit the nail on the head earlier, mentioning games like Grim Fandango, Full Throttle, etc.

Greg: Yeah and those would have been my answers for sure. Those are games I grew up playing that I was always sad that I had to go through illegal means in order to go back and play, because there was no way to buy them on Steam. I’m really happy we’ve been able to bring those back and not only satisfy those who were fans originally, but also reach new people who didn’t play them when they were originally out, because maybe they weren’t born.

TSA: Well hopefully we can see stuff like Sam & Max: Hit the Road, or maybe even Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis…

Greg: Yeah, I certainly think all the LucasArts games that aren’t here yet should be, and there’s definitely others that could be done as well. The new consoles are definitely getting better at backwards compatibility and Nintendo’s always been pretty good at Virtual Console stuff, now with the NES Minis and SNES Minis.

TSA: Oh, like the Super Star Wars series from the SNES? That would be very different!

Greg: Once you start digging, you can find a lot! But I’m always excited about what’s next too, and shows like this one are really exciting because you’re seeing the future.

TSA: I was going to ask Tim this, but you’ve been at the company a fairly long time.

Greg: 8 years!

TSA: So Double Fine Productions is nearing 20 years.

Greg: That’s crazy!

TSA: What would you say were the greatest successes and biggest hurdles?

Greg: I think Double Fine’s biggest success is being adaptive. It’s succeeded as long as it has because the core has been about creativity in games and it hasn’t tried to stray from that path so I think it’s been exciting that you never know what to expect from Double Fine, there’s always something new. It’s always about creatively led things and trying to surprise people.

Seeing this company evolve and go from something that lived and thrived in a creative space in the AAA world when that was the only world that was there, but something that’s managed now, evolving and growing and finding its path in the indie scene as well has been really exciting to watch. I’m excited to see it continue to happen.

TSA: We’re probably nowhere near release date for Psychonauts 2?

Greg: Yeah, no. We haven’t really thought about it yet because we’re kind of in the middle of it. We’re just trying to focus on the game and make it as good as it can be. Once it’s ready…

TSA: …and meeting those expectations…

Greg: Exactly. It’s starting to look really good and everyone’s getting excited about what’s there, so we’ll be pumped to show it off when it’s ready, but for now, it’s heads down on it.

I would like to thank Greg Rice for taking the time to sit with us and discuss everything Double Fine, as well as Double Fine for arranging the meeting for this interview, and of course Tim Schafer for his flying visit.