Dr. Mick is a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist with a PhD in Human Development. He's also a YouTuber! Dr. Mick broke down his own thoughts on Psychonauts 2 in an extended playthrough. Thankfully, he didn't say "These goobers messed everything up!" and enjoyed most of it even if his professional eye found nitpicks and mistakes. That feedback was incredibly helpful and had the team hooked throughout his playthrough. On our own end, we had Dr. Raffael Boccamazzo assist on Psychonauts 2 and review the game's content. Tim is many things but he's not a doctor as far as we know. Consulting and feedback from all sources helps create a game that not only addresses mental health with more awareness but ensures the gameplay metaphors we use are unique!
For instance: panic attacks. If you've had one before—I get them from time to time even—then you know that they're pretty awful. In some cases, you can sit and breathe and work it out. Everything passes including the hardest of times. But there's also moments where you can't rationalize and you can't keep calm. The panic attack strikes and doesn't let up. It's Not Great! Translating that experience to gameplay raises questions: what might a panic attack look like as an enemy? Can you make gameplay mechanics that "feel" like calming down? Maybe you want to make the enemy scary so you can capture the feeling of suddenly tripping up and having a panic attack. That's a good idea on paper but can you ensure that the game is controlled enough that you don't create real panic? These are the sorts of questions that you need to consider. In this talk, which lasts over an hour, Tim and Dr. Mick explore what steps you might take to turn real world mental health experiences into a story that is still light and funny but never judgmental or flippant.
Watch the full discussion here:
Throughout the discussion, you'll also learn some of the concrete rules that Tim and the team used in writing and design for determining what makes something fit into the Psychonauts' world and line up with the original game. For instance, as a sneak peak, here are the five things that Tim considered when making a level:
1. The Host
2. The Mental Condition
5. A Twist
That's a loose checklist for When you're making a game like Psychonauts 2, you also need to ask questions about what it means to Be A Psychonaut. If you're exploring the mind, how do you make sure you do no harm and how can you resist the allure of exploring a mind beyond what's necessary? The Psychonauts started as a group looking to push their boundaries and slowly transformed into something closer to a spy agency. A lot of good was done but mistakes were made too. For the early Psychonauts, the only way to know their limits was to step over them. As you start to understand mental health issues and hear back from consultants and thoughtful fans, the nature of what does and does not work mixes with these story-focused questions. Ya gotta find balance.
Interested in learning design? Want to hear about how the mind works both in the real world and in Psychonauts 2? Want to know what experts like and didn't like? This chat is worth the watch. Each new question is a chance to break down the process and to think about what might change down the road if (when?) we see Raz and his friends again.