The Life And Career Of Tim Schafer

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Introduction

Tim Schafer likes Star Wars. But arsenic acold arsenic he’s concerned, Lucasfilm’s video games were the company’s top originative output. In the aboriginal ’80s, George Lucas’ burgeoning machine part explored a fewer forms of amusement extracurricular of the movie industry. In 1984, the institution released a sci-fi-inspired sports crippled called Ballblazer arsenic good arsenic a primordial first-person shooter acceptable successful abstraction called Rescue connected Fractalus! To Schafer, these games were a revelation. The video crippled industry, connected the whole, seemed astir magical.

“I was determination astatine the beginning,” Schafer says. “I retrieve my dada bringing location a Magnavox Odyssey, the archetypal location arcade console ever and conscionable being truthful fascinated with it. Sometimes it feels comic to explicate to radical wherefore it’s breathtaking to spot things moving connected a screen. I’m trying to speech to my girl astir it. She’s grown up with smartphones, and I’m like, ‘No, you don’t understand. TV was controlled by different people, and past you could marque dots determination connected it!’ It was truthful fascinating.”

Schafer rapidly became a video crippled fan. He devoured substance adventures specified arsenic Zork, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and Scott Adams’ Savage Island series. After his dada brought location a fewer Atari consoles arsenic good arsenic an Atari Computer, Schafer began experimenting with designing his ain games, but helium didn’t initially deliberation astir pursuing a occupation successful the video crippled industry. In college, Schafer studied machine science, however, helium was astir passionate astir originative writing. Authors similar Kurt Vonnegut (Slaughterhouse-Five, Breakfast of Champions) were his icons, and helium dreamed of being a writer.

“I thought I would constitute abbreviated stories and get a occupation astatine a database programming [company],” Schafer says. “All the jobs backmost past were database programmers … I loved video games, but, successful my head, they were made by companies. I would deliberation of Atari as, ‘Oh, it’s this big, monolithic gathering afloat of scientists and robots and immoderate big, monolithic brain.’ But I realized later, ‘Woah, they were conscionable young kids. They were young programmers each by themselves making these games.’”

One day, a person told Schafer that Lucasfilm Games (rebranded to LucasArts successful 1990) was looking for developers who could programme and write. Schafer felt that helium had unknowingly been preparing for a imagination occupation his full life. He thought backmost to the days helium spent playing LucasArts games connected his Atari, and helium knew helium didn’t privation to walk up this opportunity. He conscionable had to nail the interview.

“I had a atrocious telephone interrogation with David Fox [the decorator and programmer down Rescue connected Fractalus! and Zak McKracken and the Alien Mindbenders],” Schafer says. “He was truly nice, but helium asked maine what Lucasfilm Games I had played, and I told him I truly liked the games I had played connected my Atari 800, similar Ballblaster. He was like, ‘Ballblaster, huh? That’s what Ballblazer was called erstwhile it was pirated.’ [laughs] I was like, ‘Oh, God. He got maine determination due to the fact that I had a disc of each their pirated games. Piracy’s bad, kids. Don’t bash it. You’ll extremity up similar maine and person your ain institution and stuff.”

While Schafer was convinced he’d blown the archetypal interview, helium wasn’t deterred, and spent respective nights crafting a cleanable screen letter/resume. In a cheeky motion to the occupation helium hoped to 1 time attain, Schafer designed his missive to look similar an early-’80s graphical escapade crippled implicit with ASCII creation depicting the Lucasfilm campus. Interview beryllium damned, Schafer got the job.

A transcript of Schafer’s screen missive to LucasArts, which helped him get the job

Life On The Ranch

Life On The Ranch

After the occurrence of Star Wars, George Lucas built Skywalker Ranch adjacent Nicasio, Calif., to relation arsenic his idiosyncratic movie improvement workshop. The grounds contained an carnal barn, outdoor swimming pool, fittingness center, vineyard, and gardens afloat of fruits and vegetables for the onsite gourmet edifice to use. When Schafer joined Lucasfilm successful 1989, the field besides housed a question representation mixing installation and served arsenic the firm offices for the studio’s galore accountants and lawyers.

“It was amazing!” Schafer says. “I mean, close retired of college, to spell to enactment astatine Skywalker Ranch, you know? This was earlier Episode 1 was adjacent imagined, truthful this was Star Wars successful the magic times … determination were a batch of celebrities astir Skywalker Ranch. Jack Nicholson stopped by. Pearl Jam would grounds records there. At 1 point, Michael Jackson was astatine the Fourth of July picnic. You had to get utilized to like, ‘Don’t spell up to people. Don’t fuss them. Be chill astir celebrities.’”

Schafer and his LucasArts household observe the merchandise of The Secret of Monkey Island, which is inactive considered 1 of the astir important escapade games of each time

Lucasfilm’s machine and crippled part was tucked into the backmost of the Ranch’s facilities, but Schafer inactive recovered it to beryllium a near-idyllic workspace. Over java breaks, helium could locomotion retired connected the balcony and ticker cervid graze successful the field. When helium returned to his desk, helium and his cohorts would gag astir and speech astir their favourite machine games. “It had a truly well-funded startup benignant of vibe, and past astatine lunch, you’d locomotion down to the main house, this beauteous Victorian, wherever determination was gourmet nutrient for $3 a day,” Schafer says.

However, Schafer’s clip astatine the Ranch didn’t past agelong arsenic immoderate of the higher-ups astatine Lucasfilm yet got fed up with the rowdy antics coming from the games team. “They kicked america retired due to the fact that games radical bash things that they don’t similar astatine the Ranch, similar ordering pizza astatine midnight and being a small spot rowdier,” Schafer says, laughing.

Schafer and the remainder of the LucasArts squad moved into the Kerner Complex successful San Rafael, Calif. The gathering was besides location to the movie peculiar effects elephantine Industrial Light & Magic. At the time, ILM was moving connected films specified arsenic The Hunt for Red October, Back to the Future Part III, and Total Recall. The applicable effects for galore of these films required a batch of exemplary work, and Schafer remembers watching standard figures of World War II bombers exploding extracurricular his bureau windows.

Schafer successful Die Hard 2

“Fun things would happen,” Schafer says. “They’d beryllium like, ‘Hey, anyone wanna beryllium an extra? It pays 50 bucks. You’ll beryllium an other successful Die Hard 2.’ We ran retired determination [at] 11 astatine nighttime to 3 successful the greeting and conscionable walked astir this tract with fake snow. They filmed america walking successful antithetic directions and enactment murphy flakes connected our shoulders.”

Schafer’s clip astatine LucasArts was unforgettable, but it wasn’t each amusive and games. He had been hired to implicit immoderate superior enactment … enactment that besides progressive a batch of amusive and games. As it would crook out, Schafer’s originative output implicit the adjacent respective years would effect successful immoderate of the astir beloved escapade games of each time.

Monkeying Around

Monkeying Around

Before Schafer joined LucasArts, George Lucas had licensed the Star Wars video games to companies similar Atari. This meant Lucas’ ain employees couldn’t nutrient games connected to the company’s monolithic blockbuster franchise. “They’re like, ‘You guys person to conscionable marque up stuff; we can’t bash Star Wars,’” Schafer says. “It was this aureate property of having entree to a large chunk of George’s wealth and conscionable being told to marque up worldly from scratch.”

Star Wars games whitethorn person been disconnected the table, but that suited Schafer conscionable fine; helium was much excited by the imaginable of moving connected strange, archetypal ideas. As soon arsenic Schafer started, helium met a superb young decorator named Ron Gilbert who was already moving connected a point-and-click escapade crippled called Mutiny connected Monkey Island – aboriginal retitled The Secret of Monkey Island. Schafer joined the team, spending days researching superior pirate lore and speechmaking books similar Treasure Island to get into the close headspace. However, erstwhile Gilbert asked Schafer to constitute dialog for the game, Schafer hesitated. Instead, helium wrote a mates of jokes astir a three-headed monkey, which got a laughter retired of chap crippled decorator Dave Grossman.

“I was like, ‘Later, Ron volition travel up and he’ll constitute the existent dialogue, which volition beryllium superior pirate lore,’” Schafer says. “And past Ron came up and helium played it, he’s like, ‘Oh, that’s funny.’ I was like, ‘I’ll enactment thing superior successful determination later.’ And helium [goes], ‘No, that’s the dialogue. That’s the dialog for the game.’ I was like, ‘You’re gonna permission the three-headed monkey enactment successful there?’ He goes, ‘Yeah. And you cognize what? We should get [LucasArts artist] Steve Purcell to gully a three-headed monkey and enactment it backmost there.’ I was like, ‘Are you kidding?’ I was terrified that this raw, silly gag was going successful there.

“I inactive had that representation successful my caput of the large gathering afloat of scientists and robots that made games, similar immoderate ace astute encephalon that knows what they’re doing. And past you get successful it and you recognize everyone’s conscionable similar you. People are smarter than you, for sure, but not similar a antithetic taxon of smart. So yeah, I didn’t deliberation the crippled would beryllium ace serious, but I thought it would be, I don’t know, I thought immoderate big was going to travel on and constitute the existent dialogue.”

Later, erstwhile the squad was designing combat for Monkey Island, Schafer felt similar they deed a wall. Early concepts were based connected Jordan Mechner’s warring crippled Karateka and featured high, low, and mean attacks that players could antagonistic utilizing high, low, and mean blocks. The squad adjacent spent clip watching respective classical Errol Flynn films for inspiration. However, the radical ne'er felt similar the sword-fighting mechanics were a bully acceptable for their escapade game. Gilbert yet had the revelation that the dueling mechanic should beryllium based connected a warfare of words wherever players chose snappy comebacks and insults arsenic a mode of attacking their opponent.

“I was like, ‘You can’t – radical privation to swordfight! They’re gonna beryllium truthful mad,’” Schafer says. “I was truthful frightened by this brainsick idea, and then, of course, it turned retired to beryllium that the insult sword warring is immoderate people’s favourite portion of Monkey Island, and it’s this classical thing. That was different illustration of conscionable however acrophobic you are sometimes of ideas that don’t fit. Learning to tally with them was an important lesson.”

After moving connected The Secret of Monkey Island and Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge, Schafer moved into the relation of co-director, alongside Dave Grossman. The 2 created Day of the Tentacle, a bizarre escapade crippled astir a radical of young friends and their time-traveling escapade to halt a sentient, disembodied tentacle from taking implicit the world.

“I utilized to speech astir Day of the Tentacle arsenic being the past amusive crippled to enactment on,” Schafer says. “I ever liked the games after, but that was the past clip it felt casual due to the fact that we didn’t person 3D and we didn’t bash dependable … The brainstorming sessions were truthful amusive due to the fact that we’d conscionable walk each day successful a country eating candy and telling jokes and accidentally designing a mates puzzles a day. Those were truly fun.”

Many of the jokes successful Schafer’s aboriginal LucasArts escapade games came astir arsenic the squad goofed disconnected successful their office, trying to marque each different laugh

Schafer became the lone manager connected his adjacent project, Full Throttle. LucasArts hoped Full Throttle would revolutionize the escapade crippled genre, and Schafer had the state to trade a much superior communicative astir near-future biker gangs and firm espionage. Schafer and his squad moved into the offices that erstwhile housed Pixar and got to enactment modernizing their traditionally convoluted mechanics into a streamlined point-and-click interface. At 1 point, Schafer designed an interactive series wherever Full Throttle’s protagonist underwent a peyote-induced hallucination. This series was chopped from the game, but immoderate of its concepts yet took signifier successful the Psychonauts series.

Around this time, Schafer besides continued to refine his penning benignant and beryllium himself arsenic much than conscionable a humorist. Where The Secret of Monkey Island and Day of the Tentacle were off-the-wall cartoons, games similar Full Throttle featured unique, elaborate worlds afloat of compelling characters. Schafer began to recognize that helium could archer comic stories that inactive had bosom and said thing meaningful. Of course, arsenic immoderate creator volition archer you, creating thing of worth is hard.

Grim Fandango

“There are batch of writers that person changeable themselves; I deliberation I cognize why,” Schafer says. “And that’s astir apt thing I should larn [to woody with] better, due to the fact that [writing] tin beryllium truly isolating … When you bash thing creative, it’s 1 happening to conscionable output your ain originative ideas, but to beryllium capable to explicate them, wherefore you’re doing it – I’m not adjacent wide wherefore I’m doing fractional the worldly I’m doing. It’s hard to beryllium successful a country and beryllium like, ‘I deliberation the crushed I’m making this gag present is that three-headed monkeys are funny.’ And what if idiosyncratic was like, ‘I deliberation it should beryllium a four-headed monkey!’ Being capable to person that speech is simply a accomplishment that radical person to learn.”

After Full Throttle, Schafer worked connected a movie noir-inspired escapade called Grim Fandango, which followed a question cause for the dormant named Manny Calavera connected a multi-year travel crossed the underworld. Like Full Throttle, Schafer hoped to grow the explanation of an escapade game. Grim Fandango combined Aztec beliefs of the afterlife with a 1930s Art Deco aesthetic to nutrient an incredibly striking ocular style. The game’s environments were built utilizing a premix of pre-rendered 2D backgrounds and 3D quality models, which allowed the squad to plan caller kinds of puzzles that encouraged players to research the world. When Grim Fandango launched successful October 1998, it received rave reviews and a fewer “Game of the Year” nods. Schafer didn’t cognize it astatine the time, but it would beryllium his past task with LucasArts.

Under The Shadow Of Star Wars

Under The Shadow Of Star Wars

In the mid-’90s, the rights to Star Wars games had reverted to LucasArts, and by the crook of the millennium the institution was ramping up accumulation connected a bid of games to enactment the merchandise of the Star Wars prequel films. Schafer watched the tide astatine Lucasfilm crook from supporting archetypal ideas to focusing connected expanding a singular science-fantasy universe. While Full Throttle and Grim Fandango had been captious darlings, their marketplace worth couldn’t vie with 1 of the biggest media franchises connected the planet.

“Some radical successful absorption truly didn’t similar the escapade games due to the fact that they were not immense money-makers,” Schafer says. “Especially erstwhile they started making Star Wars games … They were like, ‘Hey, Tim, aft Grim, wherefore don’t you conscionable marque a PS2 game?’ That was their codification for immoderate benignant of actiony benignant of game. And I benignant of wanted to, too. ‘Yeah, sure. I’ll marque a console game. I’ll instrumentality each of the things we cognize from escapade games – the dialog and communicative and characters and worldly – but it’ll conscionable beryllium easier to usage and interact with.’”

Throughout the ’90s, Schafer played Super Mario 64, Final Fantasy VII, and the archetypal Tomb Raider games. Those experiences awakened an excitement successful him to research fully-realized 3D worlds. Inspired by those titles, helium began enactment connected a spy-themed crippled that was a premix of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, the ’70s spy thriller Three Days of the Condor, and the Hong Kong wire-fu movies of Jet Li. Schafer continued to play with the thought of letting players question deeper into their minds to meditate connected objects to advancement the communicative – circling concepts that would yet spot the airy of time successful Psychonauts years later.

Schafer has hosted the Game Developers Choice Awards a fig of times during his career. He besides received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the enactment successful 2018

However, aft a twelvemonth of prototyping this space-age spy game, Schafer felt similar it was clip to determination connected from the institution that had fixed him a career. He wanted much flexibility implicit his institution civilization and the state to prosecute immoderate task that sparked his imagination. If he’d stayed overmuch longer astatine LucasArts, helium mightiness person been asked to make a Star Wars oregon Indiana Jones game, which could person been fun, but helium didn’t consciousness similar helium had the due skills to play successful idiosyncratic else’s world.

“Making up a satellite from scratch is 1 acceptable of skills, and moving with idiosyncratic else’s satellite is simply a antithetic acceptable of skills … Before [Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace] shipped, licensing was like, ‘These characters can’t person lightsabers; they’re not Jedi.’ [That team] was like, ‘What? We made each these characters person lightsabers!’ They ended up having billy clubs oregon something. At the past minute, they had to crook disconnected the lights connected the lightsabers. If I licensed Psychonauts to idiosyncratic else, I’d beryllium the aforesaid way. I’d beryllium like, ‘That’s a psychic power, you can’t person magic! The quality betwixt psychic powers and magic is rah rah rah rah.’ I’d beryllium precisely the aforesaid mode due to the fact that erstwhile you marque a satellite you privation it to beryllium consistent.”

Schafer and histrion Jack Black during a promotional circuit for Double Fine’s Brütal Legend

In the summertime of 2000, Schafer near LucasArts and founded Double Fine Productions which has achieved its ain measurement of fame implicit the years. Still, galore fans look backmost with reverence astatine the enactment Schafer produced during the archetypal decennary of his career. Titles similar The Secret of Monkey Island, Day of the Tentacle, and Grim Fandango are inactive considered immoderate of the champion escapade games of each time. Even so, Schafer recognizes that the astir important happening helium developed during his clip astatine LucasArts wasn’t an awesome gameography, it was the formative experiences that shaped him into a decorator who could pb a team.

“Something I learned astatine Lucas was that you don’t truly spot your bets connected ideas, you spot your bets connected people,” Schafer says. “It’s not the spot of the crippled thought that makes the crippled successful, it’s the radical who are going to propulsion it, marque it work, and alteration the idea.”


This nonfiction primitively appeared successful Issue 336 of Game Informer.

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