Double Fine Productions
|Industry||Software & Programming|
|Headquarters||San Francisco, California, USA|
|Key people||Tim Schafer, founder and game designer|
|Products||Psychonauts, Brütal Legend, Broken Age|
Double Fine Productions is an American video game developer founded in July 2000 by Tim Schafer after his departure from LucasArts. He started Double Fine with programmers David Dixon (Ocean of America, Capcom, LucasArts) and Jonathan Menzies (LucasArts) in what was once a clog shop in San Francisco. After several months of working on the demo for what would become Psychonauts, a mixture of personnel from the Grim Fandango development team and other new employees were slowly added to begin production.
Though the company's first two games Psychonauts and Brütal Legend were critically praised, both underperformed publishers' expectations. The future of the company was assured when Schafer turned to several in-house prototypes built during a two-week period known as "Amnesia Fortnight" to expand as digital, smaller titles, all which were licensed through publishers and met with commercial success. Schafer has since repeated these Amnesia Fortnights, using fan-voting mechanics, to help select and build smaller titles. Double Fine is also credited with driving interest in crowdfunding in video games, having been able to raise more than $3 million for the development of Broken Age, at the time one of the largest projects funded by Kickstarter. The company has continued to build on their independent developer status and has promoted efforts to help other, smaller independent developers through its clout.
The name "Double Fine" is a play on a sign on the Golden Gate Bridge that used to display "double fine zone" to warn motorists that fines on that stretch of road were double normal rates. The company is based in San Francisco. The official Double Fine website is also host to seven webcomics, which are created by members of Double Fine's art team and are collectively referred as the Double Fine Comics.
Double Fine's first completed project was Psychonauts, a multi-platform platform game following Raz, a psychically-gifted boy (named after Double Fine's animator Razmig Mavlian) who breaks into a summer camp for psychic children to try to become part of an elite group of psychic heroes called Psychonauts. Critically praised, it was released for Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 2 and Xbox. However, despite its acclaim, it did not sell well initially. It was later re-released on Xbox 360 under the Xbox Originals banner, as well as for Microsoft Windows via GameTap and Steam.
Double Fine's second project was Brütal Legend, a hybrid real time strategy, action-adventure game following a heavy metal roadie named Eddie Riggs, whose name is derived from both Eddie the Head, the Iron Maiden mascot, and Derek Riggs, the artist who created the mascot. The story follows Eddie as he is transported to a fantasy world in which demons have enslaved humanity. Tim Schafer has credited the inspiration for the game to the lore, fantasy themes, and epic Norse mythology of heavy metal music found in both its lyrical content and its album art. Brütal Legend was published by Electronic Arts and was released in North America on October 13, 2009 for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, and later for Microsoft Windows.
During the development of Brütal Legend, a publishing issue arose. Activision, having acquired the rights to the title through its merger with Vivendi Games, decided to drop it and forced Schafer to locate another publisher. During this period (around 2007 to 2008), Schafer attempted to boost the company's morale by engaging the team in an "Amnesia Fortnight". For a two-week period, the employees were split into four groups, told to forget their current work on Brütal Legend (hence the "Amnesia"), and tasked to develop a game prototype for review by the other groups. Each of the four ideas were successfully created and praised by the whole company. The four projects produced were Iron Brigade, a project that later became Sesame Street: Once Upon a Monster, Tiny Personal Ninja, and Operation Your Desk is Disgusting. The process was repeated later near the end of Brütal Legend, providing an additional four prototypes. Schafer credits the concept of the Amnesia Fortnights to film director Wong Kar-Wai. During the long, three-year filming of Ashes of Time, Wong had taken some of his actors and film crew to Hong Kong to shoot footage for fun, ultimately resulting in the films Chungking Express and Fallen Angels. Schafer noted these were some of the director's more famous films. Schafer eventually signed a publishing deal with Electronic Arts for Brütal Legend.
These Amnesia Fortnight periods proved fortuitous, as Schafer considers these to have kept the company viable. Upon completion of Brütal Legend, Double Fine started work on its sequel, but was told to stop development shortly after as Electronic Arts decided against publishing it. With no other publishing deals lined up at the time, Schafer turned back to the eight game ideas developed from Amnesia Fortnight, believing they could be developed further into short, complete games. Schafer also looked at the success of smaller focused games like Geometry Wars on the various download services, realizing the potential market for similar titles. Schafer and his team selected the best four, and began shopping the games to various publishers, and successfully worked publishing details with these. Two of these games, Costume Quest and Stacking, were picked up by THQ and released digitally on the Xbox Live and PlayStation Network storefronts; both games were considered successful and THQ expressed interest in helping Double Fine produce similar titles in the future. Iron Brigade (originally titled Trenched but changed due to trademark issues) was developed as an Xbox Live Arcade game in association with Microsoft Game Studios, and similarly received positive praise from journalists. A fourth game, Sesame Street: Once Upon a Monster, was published by Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment in association with the Sesame Workshop for the Xbox 360 using the Kinect controller; though initially not a licensed title, Schafer and his team found it to be an ideal fit for their first licensed-property game. The four unused ideas may be used for a game in the future, according to Schafer, but believes some of them may be unsellable to a publisher.
The development groups for these games were headed by the former leads from Brütal Legend: lead animator Tasha Harris for Costume Quest, lead art director Lee Petty for Stacking, lead designer Brad Muir for Iron Brigade, and lead programmer Nathan Martz for Once Upon a Monster. This was to not only put these teams under people who had been in the industry for a long time, but as a means to help promote these leads. The remaining staff were split among the four teams, with some later swapping to make sure each team has appropriate resources when needed, such as artists and programmers. Double Fine did not have to lay off any of the staff during this time, and instead were able to hire Ron Gilbert, Schafer's former collaborator at LucasArts, to work on the new titles, as well as a future title that Gilbert has envisioned. Schafer stated that though they could likely make another large game akin to Psychonauts or Brütal Legend, they would likely keep the smaller teams to continue to work on these smaller titles, due to the gained experience shared by the company.
In November 2012, Double Fine, along with the Humble Bundle group, announced Amnesia Fortnight 2012, a charity drive based on the previous Amnesia Fortnight. During this, those that paid a minimum of $1 had the opportunity to vote on 23 concept ideas. After the completion of the voting period, Double Fine developed the top five voted ideas into game prototypes that were available for those that purchased the bundle. The prototypes were (in order of receiving the most votes): Hack n' Slash, a Legend of Zelda inspired action/adventure, where players need to hack to solve puzzles, led by senior programmer Brandon Dillon, Spacebase DF-9, a sim game set in space, led by designer-programmer JP LeBreton, The White Birch, an ambient platform game (inspired by Ico and Journey), led by art director Andy Wood, Autonomous, a retro-futuristic sandbox robot game, led by art director Lee Petty, and Black Lake, a fairytale exploration game led by senior artist Levi Ryken. In addition, the purchaser received the initial prototypes of Costume Quest, Happy Song (what would become Once Upon a Monster), and Brazen, a Monster Hunter-style four-player online co-op homage to Ray Harryhausen, which was led by Brad Muir, who was also project lead of Iron Brigade. The development of the prototypes was documented by 2 Player Productions.
The Indie Fund announced at the Electronic Entertainment Expo 2013 that they have provided funding for two titles from Double Fine. The first game created with Indie Fund backing was revealed on October 15, 2013 to be Spacebase DF-9, a fleshed out commercial version of one of the Amnesia Fortnight 2012 prototypes. The game was released as an alpha version on Steam Early Access, and will be developed with user feedback received during the early access release period. The other game partially funded with Indie Fund backing was revealed on December 10, 2013 to be Hack 'n' Slash, another full commercial version of an Amnesia Fortnight 2012 prototype. Hack 'n' Slash is scheduled to be released in the first half of 2014.
In February 2014, Double Fine, and the Humble Bundle group began another charity drive titled Amnesia Fortnight 2014. During this drive, those that paid a minimum of $1 had the opportunity to vote on 29 concept ideas. In addition, those that paid more than the average will get to vote on a concept idea for a prototype led by Pendleton Ward, the creator of Adventure Time. After the completion of the voting period, Double Fine developed the top voted ideas into game prototypes that were available for those that purchased the bundle. As with Amnesia Fortnight 2012, 2 Player Productions filmed the production of the prototype, which was available to people who purchased the bundle, as well as on a Blu-ray, along with the prototypes on a DVD, for those who paid a minimum of $35. The four pitches that were made into prototypes for Amnesia Fortnight 2014 were Dear Leader, an emergent narrative game led by Anna Kipnis, Little Pink Best Buds, a game about little pink creatures who want to be your friend led by Pendleton Ward, Mnemonic, a surreal, first-person noir adventure led by Derek Brand, and Steed, a game set in a storybook land full of inept heroes led by John Bernhelm. One idea, Bad Golf 2, was not selected as a prototype, but a group of Double Fine fans have started working on developing the title themselves, with the blessing of its conceptor, Patrick Hackett and permission of Double Fine.
Double Fine has received financial investment from Steven Dengler through Dengler's investment company, Dracogen. The investment started as a result of a Twitter conversation between Dengler and Schafer in March 2011, where Schafer commented that the cost of bringing Double Fine's games to personal computers would be high. Dengler asked Schafer for a monetary value, though at the time Schafer believed Dengler was joking around and offered a value of around $300,000. However, as more formal conversations ensued, the company worked with Dengler to set an amount, signing an initial deal to bring Psychonauts to the Mac OS X and to bring Costume Quest and Stacking to Microsoft Windows.
Following this initial agreement, a subsequent deal was made with Dracogen for three iOS mobile games, the first which is Middle Manager of Justice. The game itself is based on another idea from the Amnesia Fortnights, a simulation game with RPG elements that involves managing teams of superheroes and then fighting as those heroes in battles. Dengler's children helped to provide some of the drawings of superheroes for the game. Middle Manager of Justice was released for iOS in December 2012. The Android version was released on August 14, 2013.
Dropchord, a motion-based rhythm puzzle game for PC, Mac, tablets and smartphones, was financed by Dracogen. It was a launch title for the Leap Motion Airspace app store when the Leap Motion controller was released on July 22, 2013. It was also released for Ouya on July 31, 2013, and for Android and iOS on August 1, 2013.
As of 2012, Dengler has invested about one million dollars into Double Fine, which Schafer said has "paid off for both sides". Schafer has said that Dengler's funding has allowed the company to realize the ability of self-publishing, and believes they would be able to self-publish a triple-A title with Dracogen's financial assistance.
In February 2012, Double Fine and 2 Player Productions announced a crowdfunding campaign through Kickstarter, initially codenamed Double Fine Adventure. It aimed to create a new 2D adventure game featuring art by Double Fine's in-house artist Nathan Stapley. The Kickstarter effort was started because the adventure genre has been perceived as niche and commercially risky. The project aimed to collect $300,000 for the game's development and $100,000 for the filming of the game's development by 2 Player to be released alongside the game. The project reached its $400,000 funding goal in under nine hours of the month-long drive. Within 24 hours, Double Fine Adventure had raised more than a million dollars, becoming the most funded and most backed project ever on Kickstarter until it was surpassed by the Pebble watch in April 2012. The game is being developed with the Lua-based Moai platform, and is scheduled for release in 2014. The game was ultimately named Broken Age.
On May 30, 2013, Double Fine started their second crowd funding campaign through Kickstarter. The game, Massive Chalice, is an upcoming Tactical strategy video game for Microsoft Windows, OS X, and Linux, which will be directed by Brad Muir.
Additional projects through publishers
Although Double Fine has experienced success through crowd funding, the company has not renounced working with publishers. Their crowdfunding success has, however, granted them enough independence to be more selective about the publishers they work with and the types of publishing deals they are willing to accept. Talking to gaming news site Polygon, Schafer explained: "We've changed our relationship with publishers. They used to be our sole source of income. Now that we've been self-publishing, we can kind of pick and choose who we work with and work with publishers that have similar goals that we have...[who] have the same kind of mission and believe in the same kind of things we believe in."
In February 2012, the casual video game, Double Fine Happy Action Theater, was published for the Xbox 360 Kinect through the Xbox Live Arcade by Microsoft Game Studios. The title is less a game and more an interactive toy, in which the Kinect is used to create augmented video on the players' screen, putting the players into scenarios such as walking through lava or playing in a giant ball pit. Happy Action Theater was the first game to be directed by Tim Schafer since Brütal Legend in 2009, and came about during Once Upon a Monster, finding that his young daughter had difficulty with the Kinect precision and aimed to make a game that required far less precision but was still enjoyable. Its sequel, Kinect Party, featuring even more augmented reality scenarios, was published by Microsoft Game Studios in December 2012.
On February 22, 2012, Double Fine filed a trademark for the name "The Cave", later confirming that this was not related to the Double Fine Adventure project. In May 2012, it was revealed that The Cave was the title of an adventure/platform game developed by Ron Gilbert during his tenure at Double Fine. It was published by Sega in January 2013. Gilbert subsequently left the company on amiable terms to pursue other game development opportunities.
At PAX Prime 2013, it was revealed that Double Fine had a game in development that would be released as free downloadable content for The Playroom, the augmented reality mini-game compilation that utilizes the PlayStation Camera on PlayStation 4. Titled My Alien Buddy, it built on their experience on augmented reality that they gained while making Double Fine Happy Action Theater and Kinect Party for Microsoft. The alien buddy is a deformable toy with which the player can interact. My Alien Buddy was released on December 24, 2013.
As part of a deal with Nordic Games, who gained the rights to Costume Quest and Stacking after THQ's bankruptcy, Double Fine will take over publishing rights for both games, while Nordic will help to publish and distribute retail copies of Psychonauts and these two games for Windows and Mac OS X systems in early 2014.
Double Fine's website features several free browser minigames. The most recent of these, Host Master and the Conquest of Humor and its sequel Host Master Deux: Quest for Identity, are pastiches of the adventure games Tim Schafer was involved in at LucasArts and Double Fine, and features Schafer himself as the protagonist.
- 2007 Epic Saga: Extreme Fighter - A low-res 2D fighting game, complete with moral victory quotes.
- 2008 My Game About Me: Olympic Challenge - Three minigames focused around Olympic 'events': Eating, Sleeping and Surfing.
- 2008 Tasha's Game - A platform game in which players use a cat to collect platforms to help Tasha progress through the level.
- 2009 Host Master and the Conquest of Humor - A point-and-click game in the style of Monkey Island in which Tim Schafer must find jokes for his speech at Game Developer's Conference 2009, which Schafer hosted in real life.
- 2013 Host Master Deux: Quest for Identity - An adventure platformer sequel to Host Master and the Conquest of Humor, in which Tim Schafer must convince the doorman to the Game Developers Choice Awards 2013 that he's really himself.
Double Fine announced in March 2014 that is it making its publishing capabilities and offices available for other independent developers to help them finish, publish, and promote their work. The idea came about during the Amnesia Fortnight 2014, where local San Francisco independent developers were working alongside Double Fine in their studios during the two week period, with the intent to help give them exposure through the production process as it was filmed by 2Player Productions. The idea of Double Fine providing more long-term assistance to these indies arose during this event, forming the basis for this program. According to Double Fine's COO Justin Bailey, the goal of this approach is to "help indies build their own community and empower them with the knowledge and tools they need to succeed on their own", providing them assistance "customized to what indies need without also creating a certain codependence" that other publishing means require.
The first such game created in this fashion is Escape Goat 2, the sequel to MagicalTimeBean's Escape Goat. This included a humorous video introducing both the game and Double Fine's program, which was filmed during the week of the 2014 Game Developers Conference in March 2014. For the second title, Last Life by Sam Farmer, Double Fine helped to prepare and present a Kickstarter to help with funding the final development of the title.
- 2006 Game Developers Conference: Best New Studio
- 2011 Official Xbox Magazine: Developer of the Year
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- Official website
- Trip to Double Fine from The International House of Mojo
- Return to Double Fine from The International House of Mojo