Episode 3 - Into The Woods We go!

Hello Psychobackers!

Here we are again with another Psychonauts 2 project update, and it’s a beefy one! We’ve been trying to get this update out for quite some time, but every time we were about to publish it another piece of news would come running down the corridor towards us yelling “Wait! Hold that elevator! We’re coming too!” But enough’s enough! It’s time to push the close door button, blankly stare at the floor and pretend we can’t see anyone else who wants to get on with us. Let’s get this elevator moving.

First floor: Publisher update

We’re very happy to announce that Psychonauts 2 will be published by Starbreeze Studios! These guys are developers now turned publishers. You’ve probably played one of their games, like the PAYDAY-series that they are maybe most famous for, and also one of our favorite games in recent years, Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons.

We’re really excited to be working with a publisher that has such a strong background in development, it makes them a perfect partner in our eyes -- We’re confident this will be a great marriage, and that our game babies will be the most handsomest of all time.

What does this mean for you, does anything change? If you cast your mind’s eye back to our Fig campaign, you may recall some rather attractively made brain shaped charts showing how we were putting together the funding for Psychonauts 2. There would be a portion from our generous backers and Fig investors, a portion from Double Fine, and a portion from an undisclosed publishing partner.

The only change is that the text that said “publishing partner” can say “Starbreeze” - now you know where the rest of the money is coming from! Whether you are a regular backer or an investor, you’re still entitled to everything you were before.

Ding! Second Floor!

Second floor: Development updates

As we mentioned, we’re still not quite into full production yet, but after lots of experimentation and design meetings we know a lot more about the game -- what it should look like, how we’ll build it, how it feels to control Raz, what new moves and powers you’ll have, and more! We’ve been building this all out into a massive schedule that will serve as our road map for production.

A big part of this has been reworking and refining the entire story and getting into more detail, including all the new characters you’ll meet and what surreal mental landscapes you’ll visit. That last part especially has involved whittling down hundreds of ideas that we’d love to build and it’s been wonderful to have the time to consider this stuff carefully.

But the team has not been idle while we’ve been figuring this stuff out. The next big step after our initial “proof of concept” rebuilding of the Kids Camp from the first game was to build out new areas that we hoped would demonstrate the art direction and vibe of Psychonauts 2, as well as teach us how we might use some of the current-gen tech features that weren’t available when Double Fine built the first game.

Third Floor: The Quarry

As we went through early discussions about what was important to Psychonauts, we kept coming back to the idea of open exploration and the cycle of curiosity and discovery that people loved in Whispering Rock -- the childlike feeling of going off the beaten path and discovering hidden places for the first time. We knew that we wouldn't be able to fully capture this with just the Psychonauts Headquarters, so we decided to expand our main hub to include a lot of surrounding wilderness full of mysterious new locations and, well, you’ll see later.

The Psychonauts HQ is now going to be nestled in a secret location meant to evoke the lush, damp forests of the Pacific Northwest. In addition to the high-tech spy HQ, you’ll be able to freely explore areas outside the base as well.

For our “Art Test,” we chose a cross-section of some of types of areas we’d expect the player to explore and experimented with construction, decoration, and rendering to discover how we want the “real game” to look.

It’s important to note that this “Quarry Map,” as we called it, is throwaway work. While we expect Raz will visit places that look a lot like this, the exact layout and construction here isn’t meant to ship as part of the game. It’s important to do this for early work so we don’t lock ourselves into any early decisions we aren’t quite ready to make. (This is also why the area is much more linear than we expect our game to be.)

Take a look at this short video from 2PP featuring our art team talking about the process of building the Quarry, what we learned, and how we feel about it!

From building out The Quarry we learned some important things, but mainly we learned how to construct the game at a low level.


Fourth floor: Art talk

For many modern games, an individual object model can contain a ton of detail in the textures and materials -- complex ‘normal maps’, shaders, physically-based materials for lighting, amongst other things too. For Psychonauts 2, we found really leaning on these more modern techniques took away from some of the “wonky,” hand-crafted feel we expected from the game and lead to a lot of visual clutter.

Instead, we’ve moved a lot of this detail into the actual 3D geometry of the objects and kept the textures and materials much more abstract and painterly.

One of the more difficult tasks of modernizing Psychonauts was how to achieve a painterly look while using all of the tech available to us in the Unreal Engine. After some trial and error we have found a happy medium between the technology and painterly aesthetic.

Fifth Floor: Into the woods

While building out this art test, we also used it as an excuse to get the whole team together for one of the games industry’s most venerable traditions -- the research trip. (This is the part where we all regret putting the Psychonauts HQ in a western US-style forest instead of say, Tahiti.) We all piled into a bus to travel to nearby Henry Cowell State Park for reference photos, a bracing nature hike, and some quality non-work time with our teammates. The fine folks at 2 Player Productions made a short video on it, which contains top-secret and possibly incriminating information about everyone’s favorite games and earliest gaming memories!

VIDEOGAMES!

Sixth Floor: Ryan Mattson

If you watch that video, you’ll see a lot of new people joining our ever-expanding team. We’ve got many DF-veterans rolling off of Headlander and other projects, as well as many new people we’ve been hiring to build out a team for a much larger game than we’ve made in a while. Oh, hey, here’s one one now! Everybody, say hello to Ryan Mattson, our Lead Level Designer.

Meet Ryan - he's a pretty nice fella

What’s next for the team? We’ll be focusing on finishing up pre-production and launching into our first Actual Real Levels for the game. These levels will need a lot more initial bake time in the initial design or “whitebox” phase, which means they won’t be showable for a while (though we might be persuaded to give you a peek on some in-progress stuff). Later down the road, though, they’ll emerge from these cocoons into beautiful butterflies of amazing gameplay and visual art! That means the next update might not be so pretty, but we’ll do our best to keep it interesting!

Let us know what sorts of things you’d like to see more of, or less of, in our next update using the comments here, our forums, or just thinking really hard about it… we’ll be sure to pick up the signal from Psychonauts HQ.

Seventh floor: Virtual reality!

For those of you itching for more Psychonauts, we’ve got goooood news. If you weren’t aware, there’s an entirely new Psychonauts adventure coming out on February 21st for PlayStation VR! Umm that’s in two weeks you guys!

Psychonauts in the Rhombus of Ruin is a standalone chapter of the Psychonauts saga — a mind-bending adventure puzzle game made from the ground up for VR that will chronicle the events between the first Psychonauts and Psychonauts 2. You probably know this by now, but:

You’ll once again assume the role of Raz, now a fully fledged member of the Psychonauts. You’ll see through his eyes in first person, using his various psychic powers to affect the world, and solve puzzles: the power of Clairvoyance will allow you to see through the eyes of others and explore the environment, while other abilities such as Telekinesis and Pyrokinesis allow you to move things around with the power of your mind… or just set them on fire.

It’s hard to convey what a VR game will be like with just 2D screenshots, so we thought we’d try our hand at a fancy “3D screenshot” This 3D video clip allows you to pan around 360 degrees and experience the world of Rhombus of Ruin first hand. The video also supports stereoscopic 3D, so it should work on your PSVR, other headsets like Google Cardboard, or just a pair of red/blue 3D glasses!

The story picks up exactly where it left off at the end of Psychonauts, with Raz, Lili, Sasha, Milla, and Coach Oleander flying off to rescue Truman Zanotto, the Grand Head of the Psychonauts. Their mission takes them straight into the heart of the Rhombus of Ruin — a mysterious part of the ocean as deadly as two Bermuda Triangles back to back!

When the rescue party itself is kidnapped and held prisoner in the Rhombus, Raz is immobilized and must use only his psychic powers to reunite his friends, reveal the identity of the mysterious kidnapper, and free Truman before the madness of the Rhombus consumes all their minds!

Psychonauts in the Rhombus of Ruin was designed to be as fun for long time fans as it is for people new to the franchise, so if you’ve never played Psychonauts before (but we know you all have, right?) that won’t be a problem.

Eighth Floor: Everybody out for the roof party!

Woohoo we made it! Thanks for reading, watching, and playing! We’ll be back in a few months with another fact-filled Psychonauts 2 project update. Until then, keep your wits about you, and don’t lose your marbles. Oh, keep your eyes peeled for more new about Psychonauts in the Rhombus of ruin real soon! Ciao!