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Episode 1 - The Phantom McMenace

Hello Psychobackers!

So much Psychonaut news is in the air!

First of all, the original PlayStation 2 version of The Excellent Game Psychonauts is now available in the PlayStation Store for PS4, in addition to PS3. (Out in Europe in a few weeks time, when the PEGI rating goes through!) The new PS4 version features widescreen support, faster load times, and trophies. It's a great way to go back and wander alone at night along the perfectly-safe paths of Whispering Rock Psychic Summer Camp! One word of caution: The squirrels are all LIARS.

Psychonews™ item #2: Psychonauts in the Rhombus of Ruin, our Psychonauts Adventure in Virtual Reality, is going to be shown for the very first time next week at E3! New Psychonauts content for the first time in over 10 years! More info on that game below.

Oh, and finally, we're making a sequel to Psychonauts! Surprise!

Wait, you already knew that? But how...? Are you psychic?

Oh, that's right. You made it possible! Well, you'll be happy to know that Psychonauts 2 is going well. We are working through the pre-production phase, taking advantage of this time where a lot of our team is busy on Rhombus of Ruin or shipping Headlander (a non-Psychonauts game that nonetheless focuses on heads) to do something I've always wanted to do: Get ahead on the design! Amazing!

And leading that charge is new-ish Double Finer and Psychonauts 2 Lead Designer Zak McClendon! We are super excited to have Zak join us for the project, mostly because now all the great designers we know in the industry who have been telling us how great Zak is for years will finally pipe down. Pre-Fine, Zak was Design Director at Harmonix, Inc. and before that he was the Lead Designer on Bioshock 2. He is super smart and his talents are as supple and versatile as his hair. And if you don't believe me you can watch 2 Player Productions' mini-documentary on the man—A Zakumentary if you will.

We will never reveal the secret, codified meaning of the pushpins' colors!

Zak has been leading company-wide brainstorming sessions, gathering our collective thoughts on The Excellent Game ten years later—working out what we are still proud of, and what we want to make better. Because, I'm not sure if you remember the video we made with the champagne and tiny fireworks, but we want this sequel to be the best game ever. So we've been taking a deep look into the first game, analyzing the mechanics, identifying the heart of the game play, and prioritizing the feature set to better support it.

We want to revamp the collectibles, the PSI Powers, the interface, to make sure they all feel great, do useful things, and support the narrative of the game.

Along with this, Zak’s been leading the whole studio in brainstorming brand new ideas for moves, powers, combat, collectables, gameplay systems — anything and everything you can do or interact with in the game.

A storm of brains

These have all gone up on a huge board of 3x5 cards and we’ve begun the process of winnowing down to the ideas we think we’ll tackle (or at least will start prototyping). A lot of the details of these will be worked out when we start building them, but we have a pretty good high level idea of the gameplay goals, scope, and specific features for the game right now. An outline, if you will.

We've also been designing the game's Mental Worlds (i.e. the "brains," or levels in the game). Which of course involves even more 3x5 cards and marker sniffing. If you'll indulge my rambling for a minute, I'll try to explain my THEORY OF BRAINS™

I believe each mental world gets its character from a unique combination of five main elements:

  1. A specific host
    Boyd is a guard. Edgar is a painter. Fred is an orderly.
  2. A mental condition
    Boyd is paranoid, Edgar is creatively blocked by rage, Fred is tortured by feelings of failure.
  3. A base setting
    Boyd's house is in a suburb. Edgar is in a spanish village. Waterloo World takes place on the hex tiles of a board game.
  4. An aesthetic twist
    Boyd's suburb is flavored by 1950s cold war paranoia. Edgar's village is painted on black velvet. Fred's board game uses Napoleonic France as its visual theme.
  5. A gameplay twist
    The streets of Boyd's neighborhood are twisted into gravity-defying ribbons. Edgar streets are patrolled by a giant bull. And Raz goes through several, nested scale changes in Waterloo world

We have another whole board that just says, "Super Amazing Features."

There you go—a numbered list! What was once scary art and inspiration-dependent is now a simple, quantifiable scientific formula, no more threatening than the instructions on a box of instant oatmeal! Games are easy!

For Psychonauts 2 we created lists of ideas for each of those five elements. We wrote them on 3x5 cards, shuffled them up, dealt them out, re-dealt them out, and then dealt them out just three more times, until we hit on combos that got us excited. Some of the best ideas come from the strangest combos, so unsurprisingly, this method has led us to some surprising places.

We write the best ones down, and generated a list of approximately three million brain ideas. Next we looked for the most logical (and sometimes, least logical) place to insert them into the story. Presto! Instant game! Easy!

The hi-tech solutions are always the best!

Okay, so maybe "easy" isn't the right word. But it is fun. And you'll be happy to know that 2 Player Productions is filming every meeting. I'm not sure what format or schedule their final documentary is going to have, but they're recording everything, and one way or the other you'll get to see the Gelbwurst get made. (Gelbwurst is a delicious sausage made of BRAINS. Popular with German zombies.)

While all that brainy stuff has been going on, we've also been prototyping the mechanics and visual direction of the game.

"But Tim," you say, "How are you doing that if so much of the team is working on Rhombus of Ruin and Headlander?" Well with the help of our friends at The Molasses Flood, of course!

The Molasses Flood

is an indie game studio based in Boston formed by many ex-Bioshock veterans, and known for their excellent, crowdfunded rouguelike survival game The Flame in the Flood. We have never shipped a game in Unreal before, and they have, and so their wisdom and experience is flowing thickly all around us, like a wave of sweet, sticky... uh I don't know... Caro Syrup? Using some old animations and some new, they've got Raz up and running around in a metrics test room, performing prototype versions of Raz's basic move set, plus some simple psychic powers. This forms a great test bed upon which we can try all sorts of new movements and PSI powers for Raz and start building out or world.

Alongside that, they are also turning some of Peter Chan’s original concept art from the first game into new props and environments to explore what the "wonky" Psychonauts art style could look like on modern hardware, with all of Unreal 4's bells and whistles. This will help us set a bar for visual fidelity that is both true to the original, but also contemporary and awesome looking.

TMF rebuilt some elements from the original game so we could have a common point of reference when talking about Psychonauts 2's updated look. Here you can see Zak typing at the art.

Scott C. shares some some early character ideas with us, along with some good vibes

Getting back into the Psycho-Saddle has been a blast, revisiting the old characters, digging up the old art, reconnecting with old team members--but also dreaming up new characters, creating new art, and working with new team members like Zak and skilled collaborators like The Molasses Flood.

And we did jump right back into it--the day after the Psychonauts 2 Fig campaigned closed, I was in the sound studio with Khris Brown and Richard Horvitz recording voice for the Rhombus of Ruin. We were talking about Raz and his motivation and the nature of his relationship with Lili—It was like picking up a conversation with an old friend after ten years of not talking, and having it feel like it was all just yesterday!

Richard Horvitz (Raz), Alexis Lezin (Milla), Stephen Stanton (Sasha), Tim Schafer (Television's Tim Schafer), and Khris Brown in the recording studio

Psychonauts in the Rhombus of Ruin

One of the things that's helping us make Psychonauts 2 is that we're not going in cold. We get to warm up the world of the Psychonauts by making another game! Psychonauts in the Rhombus of Ruin is a completely original, stand-alone adventure that takes place right after the end of Psychonauts, and ends right before the events of Psychonauts 2. It's funded by Sony and exclusive to PlayStation VR.

As you will recall, Psychonauts ended with Raz, Lili, Sasha, Milla, and the Coach jumping in the camp jet, flying off to rescue Truman Zanottothe Grand Head of the Psychonauts (and Lili's father)! No longer just a camper, Raz is now going on his first real Psychonaut mission with his lifelong heroes and new girlfriend by his side. Did I say girlfriend? Is that premature? Ah who cares. Labels are for cans!

The Rhombus of Ruin team, sharing cool goggles nicely.

In PitRoR (an acronym we don't actually use but I'm going to pretend we do for the purposes of this update) Raz uses his PSI powers to manipulate the world around him and solve puzzles. His clairvoyance ability allows him to see from the point of view of other characters, and by jumping from POV to POV, the player can navigate the environment, hunt for Truman Zannotto, and free him from his mysterious kidnappers. All while Raz AND the player are wearing cool goggles.

We are going to be showing PitRoR for the first time ever next week at E3. If you're curious, you should be able to get a glimpse of it on the PlayStation Blog or one of a bunch of different E3 streams we’ll be popping in on!

Enough psycho-babble! Where are my rewards?

We have manufacturing quotes on all the physical rewards, and are starting to prototype and design everything with the hope of shipping a fair amount of it by the end of the year. We’ll make sure to share more pictures and designs of that stuff as soon as we can!

Once again, thank you for backing Psychonauts 2! And thanks for reading this first of many updates about the game. Next time, more pictures. Until then, See you at E3 and PAX West!


Tim and everyone at Double Fine Productions

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