Tim Schafer Games: the History of, and my Love of BROKEN AGE


Double Fine Adventure was what turned me into a Kickstarter fiend for a few months. The only thing that ended that fun was a mix of finances and seeing certain projects I funded just take way too long. Still I pledged $100 to DFA with trust in what Tim Schafer and Nathan “Bagel” Stapley coming together and combining their efforts to create a modern point and click adventure based off the strength of Tim’s previous work and where it’d lead had he not had to move on to things such as Psychonauts and Brutal Legend. This is not a commentary on those games, but more to explain my views of what became BROKEN AGE and my feelings towards it versus how certain reviews and opinions have formulated based on preconceived expectations based on misunderstanding and lack of comprehension on the part of the backers.

Being a backer meant that for the last two weeks I have gotten to playtest, look for bugs, analyze the game and prepare for whatever post release onslaught could be coming. The fans on the boards who were negative… and I mean NEGATIVE and I can understand most of their issues. Yet, those issues are mostly based in falsehood expectations that they had. Not one of them have I heard complain about the story or the art. Many of them have complained about length and character, but the second is to each his own. Some people love Natural Born Killers, others hate it, the same with True Blood, My Little Pony, Ben 10, Batman and many many other things. One person will say the character was full of emption and I could really relate and another person of the same exact character can say they had no emotion and could not relate at all. These are things that happen with every creative piece of art ever made and BROKEN AGE truly is a piece of art and it is a game.

It is is not an interactive story, or an animated children’s book which you can press buttons on. It is the perfect example of an adventure game that exists as it would’ve had if when Double Fine was created did nothing but point n click games. This is how they would evolve. They wouldn’t just be retreads of Day of the Tentacle or Full Throttle or even Grim Fandango, but the next step, following the path that gaming has taken from going casual, back to hardcore, a return to casual and then reaching a happy medium that isn’t exactly a perfect balance and definitely won’t please all, but would allow for something fun, creative, purposeful, enjoyable, engaging and for some challenging, while others truly easy. For those who find it too easy though they would be getting something that no other game possessed. A special kind of charm, a witty humor, a sense of logic and story building that only Tim Schafer and a team he helped hand select could create.

My personal largest issue is people saying this is not what they expected and yet their expectations are all based on their own personal nostalgia and conception of what a Tim Schafer game is instead of the reality of it or at least to sound less biased, that there is another view of that and that the most important one is Tim Schafer’s. I will leave this argument and focus more now on the game itself and a couple of facts on the history of Tim Schafer games and Double Fine.

I feel to look properly at BROKEN AGE we must skip Monkey Island, as those were mostly Ron Gilbert games in which Tim got input but did not show us what type of game he would make. Day of the Tentacle is the first place when one sees the type of game Tim would make. Something that would take the genre to the next place. While multiple characters had been used in Maniac Mansion, finding a way to have those characters work together was new. DOTT was not as hard as people seem to remember though. Dave Grossman co-directed it and lots of his work which would be seen later on Moop & Dreadly and the Telltale Games catalog was definitely in place here… and they were equally Tim’s. Simplifying things to extract humor and thoughts but not making things so hard. The same can be said with Full Throttle, a game that was much more about fun, humor and story then trying to make things hard or complicated. It was short and balanced and even combined a difficult but not impossible action sequences, the first hint that Tim felt the best way to expand the genre was to simplify puzzles and add different types of gameplay. Full Throttle also showed Tim’s great and intriguing choices in voice casting and focusing on getting performances that would really show off his hilarious quips and really thought out storytelling. Mark Hamill, Maurce LaMarche, Tress Macneille, all inspired choices who at the time were established actors known to animation and genre fans worldwide. Then with Grim Fandango he flipped EVERYTHING upside down and made a 3D game with difficult controls, an abstract plot and even more abstract casting with voices everyone knew… Tony Plana, Maria Canals, Alan Blumenfeld and Pamela Segall-Adlon were all established actors with careers. It was an indication that if Tim could he’d really reach as far and as wide to get performances above and beyond that of a normal video game. The kind of performances we have all slowly now gotten used to, but back then… not even close to the norm.

Then… Tim Schafer stopped making point and click adventure games. Psychonauts had puzzles, but it was also an action platformer and one that took that genre into new directions with a heavy emphasis on conversations, visual cues, great storytelling with depth, and amazing acting performances. There was some really interesting casting on it with Armin Shimmerman, Josh Keaton and Tara Strong. He also proved a dedication using a lot of the talent from Throttle and Fandango. Then came Brutal Legend, turning the entire third person action adventure game in new ways and at times trying to do also way too much by adding Real Time Strategy. Yet, inspired casting, dialogue and story really leaped and showed Tim’s true talents as a director. Jack Black, Brian Posehn, Tim Curry, Jennifer Hale, Cree Summer and of course getting those legends of Rock.

After Brutal Legend and how it fared though Double Fine went smaller and Tim became a department head, while other voices in Double Fine showed how equally awesome they were. Costume Quest, Stacking, Iron Brigade, Middle Manager of Justice were all brilliant and definitely Double Fine games which also felt like Tim games even with Tasha Harris, Lee Petty, Brad Muir and Kee Chi as directors.

All this brings us to BROKEN AGE and I’ll start with this. I love it, I understand any negative reviews and complaints but respectfully disgaree with them and I think this is something all gamers who want a new experience that at the same time feels old. Tim’s handprint is all over this thing. The jokes are aplenty and funny. Some are easily missed if you don’t experiment at illogical things, but there comes the real fun of adventure games. This is the linchpin of everything for me. Tim has created something that is funny, heart warming and full of depth. Are the puzzles easy? I guess. I’ve seen plenty of people also stating they were stuck in places and actually turning to a walk-through or asking for a hint, so I think the balance has been hit. A delicate balance that any game of this type will have had trouble juggling. I believe they have done so successfully. We also really get everything we’ve gotten from Tim in the past, innovation, the next step. This is the game he’d of made in 2014 as an adventure game especially if Psychonauts and Brutal Legend were point and clicks if he had complete control without publishers and never turning to Kickstarter in the first place. Turn to Kickstarter he did though and that created a whole different setup. Because this might not be the game he would’ve made under a publisher. A publisher would’ve maybe given him that little amount asked for and then he’d make a game and publishers would complain instead of fans. All this could be wrong, but it’s what I feel and isn’t that what reviews are, feelings?

I think the biggest thing that makes BROKEN AGE special is twofold.

Firstly, taking the evolution of casting to the next level. Tim brought in a ton of old friends along with him, including the folks with him since Day of the Tentacle and even bringing back Jack Black, as well as Cree Summer and even recruiting Wil Wheaton again. It’s the NEW people that are so exciting though. In the leads Elijah Wood (yes, that guy!), Masasa Moyo (best known for Team America: World Police and Young Justice), and David Kaufman (Danny Phantom and animated Jimmy Olsen); joining them in minor roles are major voice actresses like Hynden Welch and Grey Delisle with a final extra special appearance by the creator of Adventure Time & Bravest Warriors (and the voice of Spacy Lump Princess) Pen Ward. It’s like the greatest cast ever in forever for anything.

Secondly is the art style. No game has ever looked like this, because no game has ever tried to look like a painting by Nathan Stapley (well other than the Flash game on Double Fine.com based on his comic book). While he’s been an employee at Double Fine for a long time and was previously at Lucas Arts, his personal work is something special and other worldly. His palette and style has a frenetic energy that has not been seen by many… not even his occasional mate and fellow Double Fine employees Scott Campbell, Levi Ryken or Lee Petty. “Bagel” is a very special artist and that comes through every image in the game. While Peter Chan and the other artists I mentioned had a major part in the concept art, the final look of this thing is still all through the eye of Nathan.  Words really do it no justice, so here’s two screen shots.  One from the “fantasy” world and one from the “space” world.  Both have all the artistic influences in here and really show off how absolutely beautiful this game is.

The final word from me is you need to get BROKEN AGE. Be it now (released February 28th, 2014) off STEAM to experience the awesomeness of ACT 1 and marvel at an amazing Part 1 or waiting for the whole game off of Humble and other sources. I say play it now… as you get the entire game. Also grab the soundtrack.

MoCCA Fest 2012: Pre-Show Acknowledgments! (now with more stuff!)

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above image created by Rick Parker

The 10th Annual MoCCA Fest is coming up this coming weekend April 28-29th, located for the fourth year at the 69th Regiment Armory on Lexington Avenue between 25th and 26th Street on the island of Manhattan in New York City. I have attended the fair since 2002, and actually before that when it became a conception when the 2011 Small Press Expo in Maryland was canceled.

Every year it has provided me with a great chance to catch up with friends, discover new comics, hear amazing stories, get awesome original sketches, and feel like a part of history as through its panels it preserves the history of comics just as the museum does, while creating a new history by embracing the next line of comics through the fair which features many times students, independent comics artists who expand the pantheon and artists from around the world including Norway, France and this year as you’ll see below a cadre from Australia.  By being located in a central location not far from Madison Square Park and tons of awesome restaurants and with exhibitors who sell as many prints, t-shirts, pins, stickers, and even plushes as they do comics, there’s actually something for everyone!

For this year’s fest I’ve decided to do a pre-fest look at things that have been announced as debuting or being specially promoted for the event. That list is quite long, but I’ve chosen a selection that I feel gives you a good guide of NOT MISS items while divulging in the very large and expansive show, which includes excellent panels as well.

Hans Rickheit will be officially debuting his newest graphic novel Folly: The Consequences of Indiscretion

The absolutely stunning NOMADS – An Anthology will be available. It’s 40 pages of full color and seven amazing artists.

Tara and Paul Abbamondi bring their newest, a 40+ page collaboration titled The Stolen Lovelight

One of the most exciting things has to be what is being called Caravan of Comics. 12 artists from Australia will be traveling across America hitting various conventions and shops. Their first convention will MoCCA Fest. Among the talented group are David Blumenstein, who will bringing the two collections of his comic Showman? The Adventures of Brett Braddock, Pat Grant debuting the American edition of his comic BLUE through Top Shelf, Matt Taylor will be on hand with his comic Lars the Last Viking Goes to the End of The World, Jen Breach should have two comics with her, one drawn by Doug Holgate called Clementine Hetherington and the other drawn by Jase Harper called Humans Are The Weirdest. They’ll be lots of more, but those are some highlights.

The female collective of Coffee Spoon Comics will have a new collection available and I’m sure as many copies they have left of their individual minis as well. The collection will be a music issue and this great short is one of the stories.

Lawrence Gullo, best known for Baritarian Boy, should have a newest book called My Surgery available.

789 Studio’s Rain: A Collection, which received its backing and support through Kickstarter will be making its official debut at the show.

Dave Shabet will be there with the collected edition of his comic Dead Winter and who knows what else.

Sean Ford will be debuting his book Only Skin published by Secret Acres.

Alexandra Beguez and Kim Ku are sharing a table and they have a fascinating assortment of mini comics and prints.

Thomas Baehr will have his newest POLE-The Comic Strip with Penguins collection Make Guano Not War.

The Adventuring Comapny will be there with with the recently released Very Near Mint Vol.2 and more.

Nate Bear does a lot of stuff including mini comics, but one of the cool things he has is this new I Scream Truck print that I’m sure will be at MoCCA Fest. Do not miss this table, his work is great.Anthony Pugh, the artist aka LogikOne will have a self-published book on hand. As a long time fan of his works I’m excited by this.

Juan Nunez will have the first issue of his mini-series Cabeza available.

Holly Foltz will have issues 1-3 of her comic Unpleasant People at her table.

Lesser Key Studios will have their stunning Ianuae available, as well as stickers and buttons.

Tom Hart’s Retrofit comic Daddy Lightning will make its debut.

Trip City which features work from Dean Haspiel, Jennifer Hayden, Dan Goldman, Seth Kushner, Nick Abadzis and many more will be offering the Trip City Visitor’s Guide.
Pat Lewis is going to have an anthology of comic stories about television called Our Broadcast Day. This should be worth it for the “Mad Men” story by Alex Robinson on its own.

Fantagraphics are bringing a cadre of books in limited supplies as debuts, many of them not officially coming out to stores for months!

All this doesn’t mention many folks who I am excited to see who haven’t announced what they’ll have at the fest, sometimes bringing complete surprises or not wanting to a reveal and then have something go wrong. Do yourself a favor and check out the list of of exhibitors.

 

 

 

On top of the exhibit/merchandise/fest room there’s also the panels which are always exciting. You see the whole schedule at the MoccAFest site, but here’s a few selections of interest.
SATURDAY
either in ROOM A or B (check the schedule for updates and during the convention)2:15 P.M. Gary Panter receives the Klein Award, presentation by Bill Kartalopoulos
3:15 P.M. Comics creator Hans Rickheit in conversation with
4:15 P.M. “Harvey Pekar’s Final Projects”: Jeff Newelt (editor of The Pekar Project) and artists Joseph Remnant (Cleveland) , Rick Parker, Sean Pryor, Dean Haspiel (The Quitter) and JT Waldman (Not The Israel My Parents Promised Me) celebrate the life and work of comics pioneer Harvey Pekar with his widow, writer Joyce Brabner.

SUNDAY

11:15 P.M. Rick Parker Drawing Workshop. Rick is an incredible teacher and can teach something new and interesting to people with no experience to total masters of the craft.

12:15 P.M. “To Run a Comic Shop”: Alex Cox (formerly of Rocket Ship, now with CBDLF), Tucker Stone (Bergen Street Comics), Thor Parker (Midtown Comics), and Gabe Fowler (Desert Island), will tell stories of comic shop retailing.

5:15 P.M. Animation! Every year the show’s ending panel is cartoons from folks also involved in comics. This year the two main features are Devin Clark of Ugly Americans and Aaron Augenblick, whose studios has worked on Super Jail, Ugly Americans, Wonder Showzen and some awesome shorts.

More Personal Movie Memories (from my working days)

Here I continue my movie memories of films I have worked on based on recollection and an old resume I found.

PRESUMED INNOCENT: I hadn’t noted this before but on all the films I worked through my teenage years my father came to set with me, which was actually a requirement. You had to have a parent and/or guardian with you. You could come by yourself as well and have a parent sign out entrusting you to the set, but my father and I had a great relationship and he got to vicariously live out his own dreams through me. What else was he going to do? He had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s when I was 10 and my mother was the breadwinner, much more dedicated to working. I think my dad loved getting to spend all that time with his son and getting to see me do my thing on a set. I know he must’ve gotten a blast over the fact that me being so gregarious, easy going and brave almost always wielded me time with the stars and/or director of the film instead of just sitting around with my fellow extras and the production assistants. On this film I took the opportunity during the amazing super spread lunch to go up to Harrison Ford and get some amazing face time. He ended up inviting my dad and me to sit down with him for lunch and proceeded to tell me stories and such. It was actually a truly great experience, not the greatest one I would have on a set, but a truly good one.

THREE MEN AND A LITTLE LADY: The scene I worked on was right in the beginning of the film at South Street Seaport. It was shot very quickly and there was practically no down time. I don’t remember getting meet Tom Selleck at all, or Ted Danson, or even Steve Guttenberg. I’m not really sure how that’s possible, but I have no memories of meeting them, just seeing them working on the set and filming. I did get to meet Ted Danson many years later though in an even cooler situation. His daughter was taking a tour of my college and he decided to come sit outside the student lounge and just relax. Back in college if I wasn’t in class or shopping that is where you’d find me. My home was too far away to go back to in between and the lounge was a chill place. I noticed Ted and we just got to talking, him asking me questions about the school and such and then just proceeding to other topics. I got to see Danson one more time after his daughter decided to attend the school and he was picking her up and he remembered so we talked some more. I’ve had other interactions with him since, related to other friends and acquaintances connections to him, but I still have yet to meet Tom Selleck and unfortunately not even Steve Guttenberg, who I freaking LOVE.

PRINCE OF TIDES: This was one of the only experiences of a film set where I felt such hate and animosity. Barbara Streisand obviously didn’t care about the extras and broke many Union rules. Our “trailer” was a bus with no air conditioning, our lunch were tuna salad sandwiches or peanut butter & jelly, both which had melted sitting inside the hot bus. We were kept waiting hours on end. I almost left this film out, but I decided to keep it in since I have those horrible memories. It has soured me to Streisand ever since. I wouldn’t mind getting a chance one day to be proven wrong.

THE PICKLE: I played an alien in the movie within a movie part of this production. My mom was Isabella Rosselini and she was a wonderful woman. Such a beauty to be around. Working on this film was an amazing adventure. I got to hang out with Donald Trump, Little Richard, Meg Ryan. I got a lot of life lessons from director Paul Mazursky. My mom hit on star Danny Aiello. She wasn’t really hitting on him as my dad was there too, but it made her day to flirt with one her favorite actors. I got to spend a lot of time with Aiello too. It was awesome. I also got to hang out with one of my regular extra buddies, Mario Bosco, who I’d done film work with before and would again. You might know him from The Hard Way and/or Maury Povich, Jimmy Kimmel, NYPD Blue, etc. This was just an awesome experience.

A BRONX TALE: Equally this was another amazing experience. Mario was on this set with me and the two of us spent a lot of time with future unfortunate convict Lillo Brancato. I had another friend of this set who also was with us a lot. Lillo brought some of his girls around the set so I got to have a temporary female to neck with. A lot of my time was spent talking to Chazz Palmintierri for hours on end as DeNiro as a first time director would take hours on end to set up a shot before filming. I got to learn how to play poker from some legit mob guys as well. I was amazed when I met Joe Pesci and I felt like I stood a foot taller than him. It was probably just an inch or two, but I was 16 and felt short at the time and he was Joe Pesci. DeNiro was a fascinating figure, but he really is as quiet as everyone says. Unless when it’s one on one and then he talks as much as anyone. I would not replace my time working on this film with anything I think.

A few more movies to go, but this is a good place to stop on memory lane for now I think.