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Brainstormed Out

Asif is given the task of adapting his Amnesia Fortnight project into a full-fledged Psychonauts level.

Published: January 20th 2023

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Episode Transcript

PAUL: He never did anything for us.


How do you guys feel about Asif making a level for the game?

Do you feel betrayed? Abandoned? Bewildered? Jealous?

PAUL: Sure.


This breaks a lot of rules.

The Gods Must Be Hungry.

-Asif Siddiky. -[CHEERING]

I have not done this before, ever.

-KEE: Man, we made a video game, you guys. -ASIF: Yeah.


TIM: Luckily, Compton is completely in turn around at this point, right?

ZAK: Compton. The idea now is to actually take

The Gods Must Be Hungry as a core concept.

And that's going to be the base of the Compton level.


EMILY: Asif has sort of been interning under Ryan.

ASIF: Just, like, learning basic whiteboxing stuff

and placing assets and things like that.

That just kept evolving over the months

and I started doing, um...

little parts of the real world in the game.

Yeah, just a bunch of small tasks

that eventually, like, ballooned to the point

where I was making content that would eventually ship in the game.

EMILY: So, we are here, at the last brain, and, um...

...time is tight.

ASIF: So, um...

Zak sort of pulled me aside and asked how I would feel

about doing one of the brain levels.

And it would basically be The Gods Must Be Hungry.


And so, when it was suggested, like: "Let's bring that in as a level.

Um, and let Asif make it."

I was like: "That makes so much sense."

It's a great setup for the ideas.

And also, Asif has always been...

You know, we'll do these interviews, or he'll watch a team meeting,

and he'll be sitting in the back there, taking notes, and then...

I'll get this email after the meeting saying: "Here is some ideas."

EMILY: He, uh, sends me...

some drawings, like, incognito sometimes, about meetings.

Do you know this?

Oh, he does.


ASIF: Like, everyone who, like, is, uh...

like, an avid consumer of something wants to, like--

or entertains the idea of, like, making content within that medium, like...

It's been the same for us for all these years.

Like, even before we got into, like, doing game documentary stuff,

like, we all grew up watching movies and, like, we wanted to make a movie.

And then, we started doing--

making documentaries about the chip music scene,

and then we all started writing chip music.

And... I think it's just a natural thing that happens.

Like, the more and more you get, like...

deep into covering something and learning more about it,

and see how other people create stuff in that medium,

like, makes you just want to do it more and more.

Um, so...

Yeah, I would say that pretty much, like, as soon as we started working here

and, like, covering Double Fine in 2012, like...

it just became more and more appealing to, like, work on games and...

I definitely wasn't alone in that.

Like, the three of us, like, talked about game ideas for forever.

TIM: And, I think, some people can't stop making up ideas

and stuff like that, and...

you'd see, you know, Asif kind of pushing against that

and wanting to share those ideas.

And I think that is great to let him just have that opportunity

to now do it in the level.

Uh, cool. I'm, you know...

I very well may not get an opportunity like this, so, like...

Let me just...

say yes and worry about being scared later.

So, uh... So, we are going to have Asif

because that was his Amnesia Fortnight level-- or project.

He is going to work on that with Will and Emily.


Excuse me?


-Asif, our new... -Came out of nowhere.

Yeah, he is our new designer.

-I don't know where they found him. -Yeah.

So, now we are on team Compton!

It's Asif, me, and Will!

And we are trying to figure out

the last of the Psychic Seven's brain we go into.

PAUL: You seem to work with Emily a lot too.

And how has your, sort of...

professional relationship developed over the course of this project?

You seem to always be on the same teams, and...


-Will, you don't drive me crazy! -Cool!

It happens, it's life.

It's called collaboration.

-Oh, did you get that? -Sometimes people drive people crazy.

That guy?

He is super easy to work with.

And we can just go...


And just... it works.

WILL: It just works.

And that's just really awesome, you know.

Like, I don't think I've had any disagreements with Emily, so, um...

It's really fortunate that we started out on the same team.

And now we can continue.

EMILY: Yeah.

Do you want a cookie?

-I want a cookie. -Let's go get a cookie.

Do you want a cookie? Okay.

-EMILY: They are poisoned cookies! -WILL: Oh, god!


-WILL: Where are these cookies?! -EMILY: Cookies!

EMILY: Wo-ho-ho-ho-ow!



Big cookie!

You got the weird one.

-[WILL GRUNTS] -EMILY: Cookie time!



What are we going to do?


What are we going to do?

EMILY: We are trying to figure out the story of Compton Boole.

ZAK: So, Compton's big problem.

This is actually the biggest, uh...

your biggest problem as well.

We don't really know what his mental condition is.

Stuff that we've talked about before is that...

he can talk to animals, he is Dogen's granddad,

he is one of the original Psychic Seven.

Uh, he is very close friends with Cassie.

Cassie and him had sort of a bond.

And you get the Brainstorm power inside his mind.


TIM: Yeah, they really focused on the animation there, and not...




-Asif. -How's it going, you guys?

Oh, now I remember!

-[LAUGHTER] -Okay!

-It still needs to be a cooking game. -We are doing it!

And we are doing it, and it's going to be rad.

It's going to be awesome.

Treating this as an analogue for, like, how he feels about, um...

the Psychonauts becoming, like, a government agency, right?

Because he initially joined for the whole mind expansion thing, and...

Maybe that's how he felt about cooking in general.

That was, like, his way of communicating with people.

Because he is not good at doing that.

And then, um...

the game show being, like...

-Wait, what did you say? -...grafted on top of that.

He got into cooking, because he is not...

ASIF: Oh, I was saying that's just, like...

That's just his way of, like...


communicating or, like, you know, relating with other people basically.

-TIM: That's interesting. -Yeah, interesting how it works out, yeah.

Ah, you know, everyone has to make it personal in some way.

-But, uh... yes. -[EMILY LAUGHS]

Thanks, guys.

That's awesome.

Don't forget deep frying.

You know, it's-- it can be a high pressure.

And, um, he just wants to do a good job, so.

He's got a good team to work with.

ASIF: There are a lot of people touching it.

And, like, you don't want to be the person that, like...

drops the thing you are carrying, right?

Or, like, your corner of it, so.

In that sense, like, I feel a lot of responsibility.

Trying not to let-- let anyone down basically.

I mean, that's the thing I'm--

We are going to try and let everything happen, but, like...

-Just-- just saying. -Yep.

EMILY: There is pressure to do this level

a lot faster than the others, because, I mean--

And, oh, also...

They want the level to be small, because there is a lot of large levels,

and we can't go crazytown, because...

...people will die.

People will die.

Asif is kind of thrown into, uh...


...a kind of a tough situation, where it's like:

"No, it's two weeks.

If you don't figure it out, we gotta start cutting stuff, or..."

It's a little bit more, like, dire at this point.

ZAK: I love the whole, like, game show, VHS.

And I would really lean in hard to that.

And do, like, weird transitions and fullscreen effects.

And it seems like you are already thinking about it that way.

I know you guys had ideas for, like, commercial breaks,

and, like, live action, and, like, a theme song.

And, like, really embrace that.


ZAK: Current-- current Compton idea-- have you seen?

TIM: I... haven't seen it in a couple days.

It's going to be... amazing.


And, I don't know what these guys are going to say.

We'll see-- we'll see on Monday.

I'm going to, like, present that stuff up there.

And they are going to be like: "Why isn't this, and this,

and this, and this in there?"

And I'm going to be like:

"Because it doesn't work together!"

But, we'll-- we'll see what happens.


Drinking water!

EMILY: Okay! Okay, so, first!



So, like, static-y.

And then you hear a little: "Ting!"


And there is dramatic soap opera music.

Channel 3!

Cassie is like: "Why didn't you come?"

Dramatic soap opera music.

"Because, my dear...


...I had birds in my ears at the time."


Channel 4!


Scary music.




EMILY: All right.

And... "Welcome, welcome, welcome!

I'm your host, Ford Cruller!

And this is Temporary Game Show Title."

-ZAK: "Yay! -EMILY: "Yay!"

EMILY: And Ford explains the rules.


"Now, let me introduce our first contestant.

Hello, young man. What's your name?

Raz, you abandoned your family to go to the psychic summer camp

without their knowledge.

How did that make Frazie feel?

A. Horrible.

B. Scared.

C. Awful.

D. All of the above.

...get you onto the next round.

So, is this still a cooking show?

-EMILY: Yes. -ASIF: Mm-hmm.

TIM: Okay, that's just what happens in-between?

ASIF: Those are the physical challenge things.

That's, like, the thing you compete in.

-TIM: Cooking. -Cooking!

Yeah, I mean, as long as you are not losing the cooking show.

Because I really like the cooking show.

EMILY: Yeah, yeah! I was thinking--

We were looking at, um...

Hold on, I'm going to show you.

Like, the cooking show--

TIM: Often something gets approved,

people have a moment where they all are together and like:

"That's a great idea!"

And then you don't check in with--

And then you check in, like, in a couple of weeks,

and it's something totally else.

You are like: "What? What is this thing that you are doing now?

Because we approved this other thing. It was a great idea."

And, like: "Well...

You know, we actually tried to work on it--

we just changed-- we just changed it to this other thing."

It's like: "Well...

Just try and remember the feeling we had that made that work-- sense.

And is it not valid?

Like, did you learn something that made that--

proved that that wasn't going to work?"

It's like: "No, we just kind of moved into this other thing."

It's like: "Wha--"

Don't let that go for no reason.

Like, if you have a good reason, then you should abandon it.

But if, like...

You try and remember what you liked about that thing,

and why you got excited about it, and try and keep that alive.

I just-- I mean, like, the cooking show theme

definitely seemed to strengthen his-- his problem of being overwhelmed

and being, you know, overstimulated by stuff.

-Did you want to talk about that? -That was one of the things.

EMILY: I was taking it more in the direction of

he is sort of reliving, uh...

you know, with recording and reliving sort of past things.


You know, how you do that thing in your mind where you repeat, like:

"Oh, god! Why did I do that?"

ZAK: I don't know, I really like the TV stuff.

I don't think it would actually be--

I think it makes for a nice frame,

because the game show stuff is so frenetic.

It's just that I--

I worry about diluting what you are kind of parodying.

Because if it's, like, a cooking--

If it's Iron Chef, it's, like, such a--

"Okay, we are parodying this, like, over the top cooking show."

And then, if you add-- and it's also The Newlyweds,

you know, or Jeopardy.

You just-- you start to water it down a little bit with the parodies.

It's a less clear idea.

ASIF: You mean, like, the trivia thing too?

-TIM: Yeah. -ASIF: Mm.

TIM: Is that trivia thing, like, a thing that player is doing?

They are answering trivia questions?

ASIF: Yeah, it was meant to be, like, a dialogue tree interaction.

And it's sort of your only opportunity for, like, getting more story

or, like, other characters in the level.

-Mm-hmm. -ASIF: Um...


TIM: Yeah, the trivia thing. I'm not saying don't do the trivia thing.

I'm just, um...

I like the cooking show thing.

That's why we decided why we are going to do this, right?

We were, like: "Like Gods Must Be Hungry."

And wanted that to be...

Cool, that sounds good.

-TIM: Cool, all right, is that it? -Thanks, guys.

I think I'm always the first one to run out of the meeting room, but...

Uh, is anyone else? There goes Geoff!

All right! Good, good, good, good.

ZAK: We gotta play Tijuana Taxi.

I don't know what that is, but I'm sure it's totally offensive.

EMILY: Uh, Compton...

Compton's been a little difficult.

-With the food, and animals, and... -ZAK: I know, I know.

Have to have Cassie, and...

-...backstory, I don't know, I just-- -And Brainstorm.

-And Brainstorm! -Yeah.


ASIF: Yeah, I mean, ideally, like...

The idea was that we would save a bunch of concept time

by already having this idea

and just, like, plopping it straight into the game.

But the problem is that...

there are all these other considerations that we have, um...

for, like, things about the character that have already been decided.

And then, there is also a power that's kind of already figured out

that we need to introduce in this level, and...

It-- all of these things don't necessarily fit in.

They don't slot in perfectly with The Gods Must Be Hungry,

basically, is what the problem is.

Um, so, we are just trying to figure that out.


ASIF: Is there any way we can move

prototyping of the Brainstorming power up?

Because I know you had talked about doing some more tinkering with that

and, like, what it is, so that it can come from that and how it functions.

We should at least be able to have those discussions.

ASIF: It's weird in a way, like...


In the current state-- because, you know, the powers are always evolving, and...

They get retooled and, like, sometimes completely changed

based on what the needs of a level are.

All right, and Brainstorm...

-ZAK: Goats! -AMY: Yeah.

AMY: So, each lightning strike will scramble it into something else.


AMY: And then, if you hit it...

Oh, god.

It's supposed to-- So, they sort of cycle through

the things they can scramble into.

And then, if they take any damage at all, you can lock them into that form.

Um, and that's something that, I think,

the Compton team is going to be using for puzzles there.

Where you are transforming different food ingredients

into different stuff and using them.

And you'll be able to sort of swap through these pieces.

I did something really bad.

ASIF: In this case-- in it's current form,

the power that we are supposed to be basing this level around

or at least introducing to Raz in this level...

is completely, like...

you know, antithetical to, like, the gameplay of Gods Must Be Hungry.

You need a specific outcome,

and this, like, just generates a bunch of random outcomes right now.

But some early things I was playing around with Brainstorm was...

...creating opportunity and danger at the same time.

So, you want to open that little case to get the Challenge Marker in there,

but now you've made the floor dangerous.

So, you have to be a little bit more careful getting over there.

ZAK: So, that's just sort of, like, thematically embracing

the random nature of Brainstorm

by having it turn on stuff that's, like, both good and bad...

-Exactly. -...or unpredictable.

That all seems super cool.

The way that Brainstorm is used in these cases is

there is a switch that you can only press with Brainstorm.

But it doesn't feel like you are using Brainstorm... a sort of, like, psychic way. -Yeah.

It's just: "Here is the way that I press this button."

-Right. -It's just a shock switch basically.


Is there a world where we don't have Brainstorm?

ZAK: S-s-su-u-re.

I don't know.

-Will and Emily. -EMILY: Hm?

What do you think?


"This power doesn't really fit with this character, guys!"

But, um...

That's-- that's not really my--

my place.

WILL: Excuse me?

Hey, diddle, diddle.

Hey, diddle, diddle. Put the Will in the middle.


So, where are you guys at now?

What is the structure, like, as you see it?

Just-- just sort of going through all these strange, like, uh...

nonsense game show.

to reinforce the, like, overwhelmed feeling

of just, like, changing.

Now, I don't want to break my own rule about not worrying during brainstorming,

but, I think-- a lot of this is giving me very strong Hollis vibe though.

-Like, it's very similar... -EMILY: Yeah, yeah, I know.

-The wheel of fortune. -The lights and stuff.

That being really Vegas-y looking.

That's the problem with-- if you make a game show world

it still would look like Vegas world.

ASIF: That's also another major constraint.

Just, like...

We now have all the other levels kind of figured out.

So, like, now, this...

This level can't necessarily step

on things that other levels have done, right?

It just feels like it's really crowded territory in our--

in this one particular game

to, like, do a... real show-y game show world.


So, you can first, like, focus on what is the environment now

besides the arena.

Is it the arena? Is it such a big arena that it's like a town?

Or is it a small arena

and there is stuff outside of the arena that you live in.

Or what is the setting for the game?

Focus to the arena is better than, like, um...

expanding it out into, like, an arena town, I guess, for me.

Because, like, you want to be able to, like...

See all the options.

Yeah, but if you just have the whole level set in one big bowl,

will it feel like you are really exploring at all?


EMILY: Yeah, we are also sort of fighting

that it's supposed to be one of the smallest levels, you know, so.

I didn't know that it was supposed to be one of the smallest levels.

EMILY: Yeah.

Oh, maybe that one big bowl thing is starting to sound good then.


The three of us will...

-TIM: I just want to have an aesthetic. -...come up with something.

TIM: Yeah, just a nameable aesthetic.


TIM: A nameable location.

-TIM: All right, you guys. -Thanks, Tim.


We'll get out of your office and talk about stuff.


WILL: I'm kind of brainstormed out.

So, brainstorming feels like...

doing a ton work without doing any work.

So, you still have the feeling that you did no work.

But you still just mentally sat there

and, like, just kind of ground away

at this, like, thing,

this ethereal thing with all these floating pieces

and you are like: "How do they all fit together?"

And you leave those meetings just exhausted.

PAUL: And is the brainstorming phase starting to eat into the production phase?

-PAUL: In terms of those twelve weeks? -It is, yeah, yeah.

Technically, should have started on Monday with that.

But, I don't think anyone has done that yet on any team, so.

No, absolutely not!

Uh, well, maybe Gristol?

I feel like we followed Peter Chan's thing, like...

ASIF: Which we didn't have the advantage of this time around, so.


ASIF: We've seen it, like...

...happen to everybody else, and...

I mean, really the only difference is, that, like, I'm just...

you know, a participant versus an informed observer, I guess.


For as much, like, stuff as I have helped out with,

you know, whatever I did on AF,

that doesn't necessarily prepare you for, like...

level design at this scope, basically,

with, like, this big of a project and this many different considerations.

So, this is definitely, like...

a whole new challenge for me at this point.

EMILY: I think Asif is freaking out a little bit.

Like, he is doing a very good job, but I think--

or I feel his pressure a little bit,

I sense it, I sense it off his aura.

But he-- he is doing fabulous.

He is great.


TIM: But I'm kind of--

I'm just always a little lost about where we are.

Like, what problem are we trying to solve, because...

At various points it all seemed fine to me,

but it seems like...

it's still kind of...

flipping around.

ZAK: I think it's-- Right now, the way that it is

is there is, like, five ideas

and there is lots of things that people think about

that solve for four of those ideas.

And then it's like: "Yeah, but what about this thing?"

It's like: "I don't really know how that fits."

And so, there is a bunch of different versions of it

that seem like they work together,

but they don't necessarily do...

all of these things.

WILL: The god thing is a big question mark.

This big, like, looming thing that we don't even know what it would be.

ZAK: Yeah.

WILL: And it's also an additional thing of, like...

I feel like the--

the game show or whatever is going on should be overwhelming,

not... this thing that's coming.

But the god is the game show.

And it seems like that's just a writing problem

of figuring out, like, what does that god represent?

But just the god is the driving force that makes the game show tense.

So, they-- they are the same thing to me.

This thing that you have to please.

And it adds to that--

that feeling of helplessness of being a tiny thing,

and the tiny thing in the giant kitchen,

because the god is giant, you know?

ZAK: Uh...

I mean, it could be...

just giant kitchen-themed.

That seems straightforward to me?

It's just a flooded kitchen instead?

It's just a bunch of messy stuff.

-Flooded kitchen? -Mm-hmm.

That's totally moving in an entirely different direction, but...

ASIF: I mean, I like that better than just a straightforward clean kitchen.

Which would be like every other game.

Every other cooking game.

ZAK: He is incontinent.

-ZAK: That's his problem. -He is incontinent?

ZAK: You have to go into his brain and solve his incontinence.

TIM: Gross.


ASIF: It's a Gastronauts task.


TIM: Bob Z's level.

You gotta bring in the Gastronauts.

You figured out where you are going to put them in the plot yet?

Where you are going to put the Gastronauts?

Uh, could we still create an overwhelming game show set

without, like, some of these, uh...

specific shapes we associate with older shows?

TIM: But-- so, this is the path that I am confused about, because, like...

The cooking-- the high pressure cooking show is overwhelming and it works.

Why are we talking about moving down another path?

Like, what's wrong with it?

ASIF: The game show was something we tried to preserve for a long time.

There has to be, like, characters,

and story elements, and exploration,

dialogue trees, and, like, puzzles,

and all that kind of stuff, right?

Like, these are the expectations that all of the levels have.


So, it was a way to, like, bring more of that stuff in.


-WILL: There is the play-doh level... -ASIF: Just stop motion.

WILL: ...where everything is made of play-doh.

Where is the play-doh level?

WILL: That's the one we are about to make for this.


Yeah, the big advantage of play-doh is

all the things become Play-Doh Fun Factory.

And then you are molding all the stuff.

TIM: So, you are trying to make a fake food meal for a big play-doh god?

-Oh, look how cute that is! -That's pretty cute.

-EMILY: Yeah, isn't it? -WILL: We could do that.

I mean that would be satisfying to do, don't get me wrong.



Very satisfying to do.

EMILY: Where did you have that?

Are you trying to please giant animals?

Is that what the gods are?

The gods are giant, ridiculously large squirrels,

and puppies, and kittens.

It's a giant rampaging kitten.

Have a giant 30-foot-tall goat that you are cooking for.

ASIF: That's pretty good.

Can that just be the skybox?

A bunch of animals watching you through a little hole.

I like having those two worlds.

-ASIF: I think that's interesting. -TIM: Mm-hmm.

-WILL: I like that. -ASIF: Yeah.

That's a theme.

TIM: That's a fine aesthetic.

ASIF: Yeah, that feels a little bit more tied into his character.

ZAK: If this was just a big giant kitchen

and there were some fussy goats upstairs who are...

...yelling at you the whole time.

TIM: There we go.

And they talk to you-- they are NPCs, but they are still dead.

"Let me give you a quest!"

ASIF: Like, just the mouth moves and one creepy eye, yeah.

TIM: And you-- No, you think that's what's happening.

And then all the maggots that are making it move come out.


-WILL: Hunka hunka burning love. -EMILY: Hunka hunka burning love.


WILL: Oh-h!

ZAK: There you go, frog riding a squirrel.

WILL: Yeah.

ASIF: Just like in real life.

Take that, animals!


Get all uppity with us, we are like: "Yep."

Well, we pretty much nailed it.

Why don't you type all of that into the level

and press Play, and see what happens.

ASIF: That's good, there is a lot of good stuff to think about there.

ZAK: Yep, yep, yep.

All right, that was my last video.

-Okay. -Okay, guys.

ASIF: Thank you, guys.

Good luck!

ASIF: Yeah.

Uh, that was a lot, but...

-[EMILY LAUGHS] -But it's...

There is-- there is something interesting in there,

I think, that can be glommed on to.

I kind of actually want to, like, watch this footage again,

and try and process it.

How do you feel about cooking a meal for a bunch of fancy little animals, Greg?

Uh, that sounds wonderful.

This is the character that is obsessed with animals and also cooking food?

-ASIF: Yeah. -That's kind of creepy.


EMILY: I notice in these meetings, Asif, like, melts.

-ASIF: Slowly falls over. -EMILY: You slowly melt...

EMILY: ...when your brain is, like, burning out.

It's what happened every time I was a kid,

like, going out with my parents somewhere.

I would just, like, slowly fall over and then sleep in a booth.

WILL: You know, when your parents come pick you up from something

and they start talking.

-Yeah. -And you are like: "No-o-o!"

"We were leaving!"

It's the worst.

No, no, no, and then they talk at the doorway for another 20 minutes.

WILL: Now I'm thinking back to that,

I'm like: "That was the only time they got to talk to people."

I know, it's so sad!


And you are like: "Mom, come on!"

-"Mom, Dad, what are you doing?!" -WILL: "Mom, cartoons are on!"


Um, okay.

I know this doesn't quite help us get to, like, a specific aesthetic yet.

But I really do like-- to answer your question,

I really do like the whole animals waiting for a meal thing.


Because we've been talking about feeding animals.

Like, I think that's really cool.



ASIF: Because I-- I like the feeling of, like...

You are standing at this point.

And this is where all the ingredients are.

And then, you are handed down some order.

And it's like: "Cool, I know I need to grab this ingredient, this ingredient,

and go to that station, that station, and that station."


-If that is the player loop, you know? -EMILY: Yeah, that sounds clear.

-EMILY: Sure. -ASIF: I think that's pretty good.

ASIF: Um, okay.

Do you guys feel good about just, like, taking out the TV stuff.

-ASIF: And then replacing it... -Yes.

...with, like, these are what these animals want to eat.

-ASIF: Go make 'em. -EMILY: Yeah.

-Yeah. -EMILY: Okay.





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