Back in October of 2016 I was headed to San Francisco on business to attend a conference. I was only going to be there for a week before heading back home to Australia. I wanted to make the most of my trip and knew that one of my favourite game development studios wasn’t too far away from where I would be while overseas, so I decided to reach out to Double Fine Productions and ended up being invited to visit the studio and meet the team.
To be honest, I wasn’t expecting them to be able to grant my request, which would have been 100% acceptable as they are a production studio hard at work on upcoming games. But I did get a reply, and to my surprise, they were more than happy to have me come and visit the studio and meet the team members that worked on some of my favourite games of all time.
I had arranged to visit the studio on my last day overseas, after the conference was over and before I boarded my 17 hour flight back to Australia. The whole time over there I was just waiting in anticipation, waiting for that final day to arrive.
Hopefully you’ve heard of Double Fine Productions, I’m sure if not you’ve at least come across their games or have heard of their studio CEO and founder Tim Schafer. They are most notably known for Psychonauts, Brutal Legend, Broken Age, the remasters of LucastArts classics Grim Fandango, Day of the Tentacle and Full Throttle along with many other incredible titles. Their games and even the studio itself aren’t as well known as other game studio’s such as Naughty Dog for example. But their games have always held a special place in my heart, they are well written and always fulfil my number 1 requirement for a game, they are fun to play.
My love for Double Fine was further cemented back in 2012 when they KickStarted “Double Fine Adventure” the game that would go on to become Broken Age. Part of the pitch to backers was the promise of a fully transparent development process presented as an episodic documentary series created in a partnership with 2 Player Productions.
If you are interested in how games are made and want to get an insight into the development processes and hardships Double Fine went through during the development of Broken Age you owe it to yourself to check out the Double Fine Adventure documentary. You can find the full playlist on their YouTube channel (also check out their brilliant Amnesia Fortnight game jams once you’re done).
The documentary series is a great companion piece to the Broken Age game, and together makes for an all round complete package that is one of my favourite gaming experiences. I’ve bought Broken Age on 4 different platforms just because the game and development process resonated with me so strongly. I’d watched the complete series a number of times, which resulted in me knowing quite a lot about Tim, the studio and the staff that worked on the game despite never meeting any of them.
The day finally came, the day I would get to step foot inside Double Fine Productions. My hotel was outside of San Francisco so I had to take the train in. The whole time trying to contain my excitement while also quite nervous at the same time. I’d been supplied the address of the studio, which unless you were you’d likely never find the studio. From the outside it looks just like most other San Fran buildings, but then I took the lift up, arrived at the floor and approached the door. It was like walking onto a film set. It was surreal to be standing in a place I’d seen so much of through my computer monitor. I was actually here.
I was greeted at the door by James Spafford (Spaff), Double Fine’s community manager and all-round awesome guy. He got me settled and found a place to store my luggage (I was flying back home shortly after my visit so had to bring it all with me). But this is when he informed me of some unfortunate news. “Unfortunately Tim’s not in the office today, he had to go to LA for business”. I was disappointed for about 2 seconds before remembering I was on the other side of the world standing in the place so many of my favourite games were brought to life.
I had brought my copy of ‘The Art Of Broken Age’ with me in the hopes of getting Tim and the development team to sign it. While it wasn’t going to be possible to meet Tim, Spaff would later introduce me to the team and I’m glad to say my art book is now full of signatures.
I visited in the middle of October and the studio had gone into full Halloween mode. It was great to experience as Halloween isn’t really celebrated as passionately in Australia. In the studio entrance hung torn, blood stained plastic shower curtains with an accompanying blood trail on the floor leading into a closet. The reception area of the studio looked like I’d stumbled into a murder scene. Was the person in the closet the last studio visitor? To this day we’ll never know.
Spaff then began showing me around the office. There were only 2 rule’s, I couldn’t photograph any staff computer screens, and no photo’s of the “wall of Post-It note idea’s” they had up for Psychonauts 2, besides that, anything was far game. I was led into a side office and introduced to the “The Paul’s” (Paul Owens and Paul Levering of 2-Player Productions ) where they were working on the Blu-Ray release of Double Fine Adventure at the time.
We then moved toward the main meeting room but stopped to view the impressive trophy cabinet showcasing all of Double Fine’s awards, ranging from e3 game of the show awards, to BAFTA’s and one of the rarest pieces of merchandise that may exist…A Brutal Legend branded ZUNE mp3 player.
Just past the trophy cabinet lies the main meeting room, which will look familiar if you’ve watched the Double Fine Adventure series. It’s the room often seen when Tim has announcements for the project staff. As such a prominent place in the series it felt surreal to be standing inside the room itself. The room was loaded with gaming consoles, modern and retro, as well as a PSVR kit. It was also much smaller once in there than it appears in the documentary, in fact the whole studio is. 2Player have shot the series in a way that made me believe the studio was much larger than it actually appears in person.
The couches are decorated with cushions featuring artwork from their titles. Actually just about everywhere you look in the studio you’ll see framed artwork, plushies, concept art or home decor items highlighting their 2 Headed Baby logo or iconic characters from their games. The studio is one giant time capsule that showcases the Double Fine legacy to anyone that walks through it’s doors.
A separate meeting room contained a drum kit, large cardboard cut out promo displays for Grim Fandango and Brutal Legend while the walls were lined with framed and signed posters for Psychonauts, Full Throttle, Headlander and an unsettling Granny that seems to stare right into your soul.
I was then guided over to the other side of the office which are where the workstations and developers are. Many of which were off in VR land as they were hard at work on what would become The Rhombus Of Ruin on PSVR at the time.
Spaff introduced me to each member of the team and I got to have some great discussions with many of the developer’s ranging from game development, to the Star Wars bounty hunter figures that embellished their desks. Each member of the team signed my Broken Age artbook as I met them, some even forthcoming mentioning they didn’t work on the title. It didn’t bother me and I still encouraged them to sign the book anyway as it would be an amazing memory of my trip to the studio.
I felt honoured to meet many of the faces I’d seen throughout the Double Fine Adventure and Amnesia Fortnight documentaries such as artist Levi Ryken and Programmer Anna Kipnis who are Double Fine veterans that have been involved in many titles over their tenure.
I was glad to be able to meet and have a casual chat with Lee Petty while at the office. Lee has worked as the art director on Broken Age and had just recently shipped Headlander at the time. While the core staff was working on completing Rhombus Of Ruin, a small number were heading into full production on Psychonauts 2. Lee was doodling some new concept art ideas while we spoke. Who knows if these will ever see the light of day or make it into a game. Double Fine are in full focus mode on Psychnauts 2 and haven’t announced any further internal projects as yet.
After meeting the whole team Spaff took me to the back end of the studio where they had a lunch room and a wall packed with fan submitted letters and fan art. It was heart warming to see some of the submissions sent in and to see how much Double Fine games had touched so many others. Nearby there were large wooden storage cabinets that Spaff opened up to reveal a heap of assorted Double Fine merchandise. Next came a moment I’ll never forget, he started trawling through the cabinets and offloaded to me almost more Double Fine swag than I could carry. I had to re-arrange my luggage before leaving to store my new souvenirs.
That was quite a touching moment for me. I’d travelled half way around the world and got a guided tour around one of my favourite game studio’s. They went the extra mile to welcome a total stranger into their offices and treated me like family once inside. Tim if you’re ever reading this, you have an incredible group of staff at Double Fine. The interactions, behaviours, and attitudes they portrayed to me shows you pick your staff well and the way they all (especially Spaff) went above and beyond to make me feel welcome in your studio was uplifting.
While I didn’t get to meet Tim Schafer and get that prized autograph in my artbook we did have some banter over twitter after I’d left.
It was expensive to fly all the way to LA just to make you sad, but I figured you’d appreciate the personal touch!
— TimOfLegend (@TimOfLegend) October 15, 2016
And a massive thanks to Spaff for allowing me into the studio. Hopefully I can come and visit you guys again or catch up if you ever make it down under. To all the staff of Double Fine Productions, thank you once again and I look forward to playing Psychonauts 2 once it releases.