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Legendary Status

Tim Schafer on Brutal Legend, humour over violence, Casablanca and It's A Small World

You know Tim Schafer. He wrote the dialogue for The Secret of Monkey Island, and designed Day of the Tentacle, Full Throttle and Grim Fandango for LucasArts, which everybody loves. He then set up Double Fine Productions and created Psychnoauts, a game everybody loved but not many people bought.

Schafer is currently working on Brutal Legend, a game with a massive profile thanks to a combination of Jack Black's gurning mug, nods of approval from the press and a sticky publishing history.

GamesIndustry.biz sat down with Schafer at E3 this month to talk about Brutal Legend and game design in general, why voice actors are no longer just in it for the money, how humour can attract new gamers, and why he wishes he could go back and finish Full Throttle.

GamesIndustry.biz Let's talk about your voice actors on Brutal Legend. Like, Jack Black, was he actually interested in being in a game? How did that come about?
Tim Schafer

I don't know if he was out looking for a game. We were out looking for him, because we were inspired a lot by the work he'd done in the past, his over-the-top characters, his life-long love of rock with his heart and soul. So we contacted him and found out that he played and liked Psychonauts. And he wanted to do it, just because he likes rock, likes metal.

GamesIndustry.biz So were you there for the recording sessions?
Tim Schafer

Yeah. I went to all of them. We did it mostly in person. He has almost two thousand lines of dialogue in the game, hours and hours of stuff. He's really funny, and really fun to hang out with.

GamesIndustry.biz What about the others? Lemmy and the rest?
Tim Schafer

They're all different characters, but they've all been really great to work with. Lemmy was the first one we recorded, and we were all really intimidated and scared of messing it up. He was really quiet at first. We hung out for a while, then he just totally opened up and turned out to be a big enthusiast. He collects swords and knives, and we talked about medieval battles. I got to hang out with him a little bit, and he plays videogames. He really likes StarFox.

And then Rob Halford is just such a funny guy. He's very gentlemanly. You always expect them to act like rock stars in person, but they're really good at creating characters on stage, so it's really natural for them to create characters behind the mike in the studio for a voice.

And then Ozzy is just like a frat guy. He just wants to make everyone in the studio laugh with him. He's telling funny stories, so he's a hoot.

GamesIndustry.biz Did they all seem to understand the project, or were they just there to record their lines?
Tim Schafer

Guys like Jack Black play a lot of videogames. He finishes more games than I do, like, he played through Mass Effect twice. So he knows exactly what we're talking about. And Lemmy knew all about videogames. I think in the old days, in the 90s, I didn't like to use any sort of 'celebrity talent' because it wasn't often you'd find one that actually played videogames. But more and more, as the industry ages, they know what you're talking about. More often than not now, they're game fans themselves.

GamesIndustry.biz Was Jack Black's role written for him by you?
Tim Schafer

I wrote it, but then when he goes on the mic he'll read it the way I wrote it, and then he'll do five different options that are all funnier. He improvs a lot. So it's a mix.

GamesIndustry.biz I got the impression playing the demo that a lot of his dialogue kind of sounded like you. Like your host dialogue at the Game Developers Choice Awards.
Tim Schafer

(laughter) They are written in the same way. Hopefully it sounds like Eddie Riggs, he's got a unique kind of character. But my method of writing is to get to know the characters as well as you can, and then you sit down to write it as if you're doing improve acting. So it will have an element of your voice, and it will have an element of Jack's voice.

GamesIndustry.biz When establishing the characters in Psychonauts, you set up Facebook pages for all of your characters and had them write messages to each other. Did you do anything weird like that for Brutal Legend?
Tim Schafer

Not weird, but I mean, you want to do something appropriate to what you're doing, and that was all about kids in camps, so using a social network was really natural for Psychonauts. But we have these characters that are heroes in this land of Brutal Legend, they're not really the kind of people who would have a Facebook page. I was really inspired by Norse mythology and read a lot of it, so I wrote more of an epic creation myth for the whole world. Often backstories start with the character's parents and talking about their childhood, but in this case they started with the birth of the entire world that the game is set in, and where that came from and how that led to the gods and how the sun was created and everything. And that's the way those Norse legends read too.